CULTIVATING STRATEGIC THINKING – THE U.S. NEEDS A DARPA FOR FOREIGN POLICY
(Parenthetical aside: Until Saturday, my posts will be short )
In the past few years, thanks to the media stories about the high-tech wizardry of drone planes and a zany proposal to set up a market for terrorism futures ( actually this was not a bad intel collection idea ) the public has become aware of DARPA, the semi-secret Defense lab where scientific imagination runs free, relatively speaking, of the usual bureaucratic restraints. It’s a good program.
What the USG desperately needs is a national security equivalent to DARPA that can both engage in deep thinking and have the freedom to run pilot programs to enhance America’s strategic influence that can later be expanded by our traditional power bureaucracies. This would be far more than a just a federally funded think tank – RAND, Brookings, Hoover , Heritage, AEI, CATO, CFR, Carnegie, CSIS and others all do a fine job of policy analysis. They also give statesmen a productive place to hang their hat as an alternative to whoring themselves out as corporate or ideological lobbyists. Another one of those is not what the times require.
What I’m proposing is a lot closer to a cross between a soft-power version of the Institute for Advanced Studies and a clandestine service – one with the objective of developing innovative programs to maximize the influence of American values and promote ” Connectivity ” in nations mired in the endemic, isolated, misery of the” Gap “. This is not what the USG normally does. The bias of State and Defense, State in particular, when dealing with foreign policy questions tend to be orientated toward day to day, tactical, crisis management. On occasions, the NSC has moved into a pro-active strategic planning mode, prompting vicious turf battles with State ( in the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations) but this proved to be a temporary, dependent upon the character of the particular National Security Adviser, not an institutional reform. State itself once set up a Policy Planning Staff under Kennan and Nitze but the experiment did not have lasting effects – as a bureaucracy the State Department is allergic to strategic thought and addicted to a staus quo bias.
A national security DARPA should be lean and mean with a rotating door of exceptionally bright thinkers from many fields who come in for a few years, invigorate the place with fresh perspectives and then depart. The profile should be low, if not secret, so there will be freedom to bat around and implement ( on a pilot program level) ideas without the usual bureaucratic turf conscious tug of war. I would not limit it to foreign policy/defense/intelligence experts by any means – bring in the physicists, computer geniuses, philosophers, economists, cognitive psychologists – even select writers or artists ( imagine the contributions of someone of the caliber of an Issac Asimov or Mortimer Adler for example).
New challenges require new methods. Implementing new methods requires only vision and political will.
POSTSCRIPT: Jeff at Caerdroia has a good post that looks at the nuclear proliferation program of Iran from a strategic standpoint.