Just yesterday I finished reading Thomas Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map. If you have never read this book, I suggest you read some of his articles that preceded its publication starting with the article of the same title, The Pentagon's New Map. The Gap is essentially a term for the area of the world that has yet to realize the fruits of globalization. It is characterized by a deep sense of disconnectedness from what most consider the developed economies of the world. This disconnectedness can occur to any degree across four flows as described by Barnett: political flows, security flows, economic flows and people flows. Thus, shrinking the gap is a phrase that, in the view of Mr. Barnett, describes a goal of bringing globalization (i.e. greater connectivity) to the disconnected.
Earlier on this blog, I discussed the role of logistics in disaster relief, focusing on a great article in the Wall Street Journal. Around the same time, Mr. Barnett mentioned the same article on his blog, putting the content in context of his own work and thought process on "shrinking the Gap." In particular, the following comments are important:
“Amateurs discuss strategy, experts discuss logistics,” so goes the old saw.
Good SysAdmin work is all about business continuity. I know, I know. That seems way premature, but it’s actually true. Stability and security is all about re-/establishing business continuity post-conflict, post-disaster, post-whatever. Once you have business continuity, then society as a whole discounts the residual dangers, and even if the rebels re-emerge, they never capture the high ground of future expectations. People discount them, businesses discount them, investors discount them.
If done right, the rebels/insurgents/whatevers simply become marginalized. They present no future except an end to the “chaos,” so minimalize their “chaos” and their offer to end it becomes meaningless.
You want stuff moved in austere conditions known as war, call the military.
But if you want stuff moved with the continuity associated with peace, then you want logistical pros from the private sector. Keeping the military in that business is wrong: it’s war solutions to peace problems. It’s making the Leviathan do the SysAdmin’s work. This is why the SysAdmin will be mostly civilian in bodies, because that is where most of the talent is naturally found for making the peace work. The military, to the extent they’re needed, are logically front-loaded in this process, this sequencing. (emphasis added)
With one-time disasters and also with the military-market nexus of operations we find in locations like Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, we are dealing with what I like to call islands of connectivity in a sea of disconnectedness that is the Gap.
Basically, in shrinking the gap, the goal is to keep disconnectedness benign and ensure connectivity is malignant. Islands of connectivity most recently include the disaster relief locations of Kashmir (Pakistan) and Aceh (Indonesia) and the current/former war zones of Iraqi and Afghani cities that have received and continue to receive sudden flows of political, economic and human capital. Other islands of connectivity can be found in mainland China's most inner reaches. In order to maintain the peaceful continuity of these flows as Mr. Barnett describes above, we must have resilient supply chains feeding these locations.
In the most dramatic of situations, military logistics ensuring the bulk of supply chain security will parallel civilian logistics ensuring the flow of political, economic and human capital, thus encompassing the four flows described in The Pentagon's New Map. Over time, if the supply chains that are feeding the islands of connectivity are successful, the islands will expand to gradually consume larger portions of the Gap, of disconnectedness. At the same time, military logistics will be phased out in terms of providing daily supply chain security, handed over to robust domestic security systems provided by the private and public sectors.
However, as can be seen on TV and in the news on a regular basis, these supply chains are always in flux. Consistency is terribly difficult to maintain across all four flows of capital, with interdependence amongst the flows making a comprehensive supply chain approach absolutely necessary. Although certain types of capital flows can be sequenced to precede or follow each other, they still must be comprehensively planned.
In one approach to supply chain management, Professor Joe Cavinato of the Thunderbird Garvin School of International Management describes five architectures that support the above capital flows--physical architecture, informational architecture, financial architecture, relational architecture and innovational architecture. For those new with these terms, each can be described simply below:
Physical--the actual movements and flows within and between firms, transportation, service mobilization, delivery movement, storage, and inventories.
Informational--the processes and electronic systems, data movement triggers, access to key information, capture and use of data, enabling processes, and market intelligence.
Financial--the flows of cash between organizations, incurrence of expenses, and use of investments for the entire chain/network, settlements, A/R and A/P processes and systems.
Relational--the appropriate linkage between a supplier, the organization and its customers for maximum benefit; includes internal supply matter relationships throughout the organization.
Innovational--the means by which a firm identifies, prioritizes, and brings new product/service innovation to market.
Thus, the difficulty we face in ensuring the above islands of connectivity are malignant is not only because their proximate infrastructure is so bad, it is because we are in reality having to ramp-up the whole region's dilapidated supply chain infrastructure that happens to parallel a dilapidated security infrastructure. This is due to the fact that the physical, informational, financial, relational and innovational supply chain architectures that feed into an "island" must go through at least one if not several Gap states or networks that are equally poor if not worse in terms of cost, quality, speed, and safety.
We need to improve rapidly and effectively the supply chain architectures supporting the good guys, and simultaneously destroy the underground architectures that support the bad guys and their utilization of our own. Unfortunately in the Gap, we often have to start out using the supply chain architectures the bad guys have always used, while the bad guys are often using the new architectures we are building as a way of defeating us.
Supply chain logisticians have it relatively easy in the Core, or globalized, regions of the world versus the untested regions that have either recently been devastated by disaster or for so long by armed conflict. But it is the same logisticians that, as shown in the Wall Street Journal article, already have or must now and into the future take up their necessary role in shrinking the Gap.
In my personal career, I have pursued a similar goal since the summer of 2003, although I never expected logistics would be my primary pathway to what I see as my future contribution to shrinking the gap. It was that summer that I made my second trip to South Korea for 3 months to study both Korean and the local logistics industry. After developing a better understanding of the Korean perspective of the region, its progress in logistics, and the political and security issues on the peninsula, I came away wanting to some day play a positive role in resolving the status quo with North Korea.
Having since made the trip 4 more times, in addition to 3 more Japan trips and 4 trips to China--all in the span of less than 3 years--I have been able to develop a more comprehensive knowledge of how the four flows discussed by Mr. Barnett influence Northeast Asia, in addition to shaping the role of the USA in the Asia-Pacific. Thus eventually, after several more years of logistics experience across Northeast Asia, I expect there to be a continuing role for logistics experts with such a comprehensive knowledge of the USA, Koreas, China and Japan. My specific interest is in at least consulting those leading the charge in opening up North Korea to the larger flows of connectivity that are only now trickling through its borders, whether based in the private or public sector. Every investment in work and relationships made now will be the foundation for that opportunity coming to fruition.