Strategic Myopia

Strategic Myopia

On occasion, Congress has intervened to force the Executive Branch to accept major organizational change. In the case of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which imposed the goal of "jointness" on what had been a tribalized military system, Congress got it right. Unfortunately, in other instances Congress's impulse has been to centralize control of disparate functions, rather than to promote flexible, networked approaches to management. The resulting systems are deeply flawed, because they are too highly centralized to be flexible, as we have seen in the case of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Congress has also interpreted intelligence reform to mean centralizing power in the hands of the director of national intelligence.

REDESIGNING THE national security infrastructure to cope with the new challenges of the 21st century has to start with recognizing how the world has changed. We have left a period when our most serious security problems were by nature "stove-piped", when information about these problems was linear and management was hierarchical. We have entered a period when the problems we face are themselves networked: Information about them is marked by complex interaction, and organization for dealing with them must become flattened and integrated. The solution we require demands organization that is geared towards flexibility and speed. Bureaucracies are Procrustean: They tend to deal with new problems by chopping them to fit old concepts. We need a form of management that could be called Protean: able to change its shape rapidly to match evolving challenges.

U.S. military forces have been struggling for decades to realize the benefits of a networked organizational system in which intelligence and action would be intimately related. The so-called "AirLand Battle Doctrine" of the 1980s was a pioneering effort to integrate forces and real-time intelligence for the purpose of disrupting an unfolding Warsaw Pact invasion of NATO. In the 1990s, AirLand evolved into the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which aimed much more explicitly to use accelerating American advances in information technology to fully integrate combat operations in a given battle space. In the present decade, as the result of brilliant work by the late Admiral Arthur Cebrowsky, RMA "morphed" into the concept of "Network-Centric Warfare", which placed American information dominance at the heart of warfare by "networking sensors, decision makers, and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and a degree of self-synchronization."1

Civilian governance lags far behind the military in developing advanced management concepts to deal with increasingly complex problems. As a result, the civil-military relationship is becoming dysfunctional. There is an increasing tendency on the part of the Department of Defense to supplant civilian influence in the management of regional diplomacy, post-conflict operations and even in domestic emergencies--a trend that Brent Scowcroft and Sandy Berger noted on these pages in the Fall 2005 issue. Diminution of respect for the competence of civilian authority is an unhealthy trend for a republic. It is not based on an inherent or irredeemable weakness of civilian management, but on the lack of attention paid to the challenge of making civilian management more sophisticated. More broadly, the objective for civilian governance as a whole should be to master and apply the implications of information technology and especially of networking theory, in order to create "shared awareness" in the formation of policy and in its execution. As in the national security sector, shared awareness means the capacity to anticipate complexity, accommodate it in planning and deal with it in execution.

It is crucial that this shared awareness extend as far forward into the future as possible, which is to say, much further than is our practice. Leaders are not unmindful of the need to think of the longer-term implications of their actions, but they also know that representing the interests of the future often involves significant political risk to themselves in the present. Faced with such a choice, they frequently take comfort from the bromide that it is impossible to predict the future. That is certainly true in a literal sense, but it obscures a much more important fact: that it is entirely feasible to think about the future in disciplined fashion and to reach conclusions about it that ought to be important factors in the making of contemporary policy.

Forecasting will never reach the point at which it eliminates doubt. However, it can be used as part of an orderly policymaking process to diminish risk and to maximize opportunity. Our era is destined to be marked by accelerating, deep change. In such a period it is increasingly dangerous to make policy only in the short term or to look at the universe of possibilities through the filter of ideology. An important hallmark of successful governance is the timely ability to recognize what may happen, in order to have the best possible chance of influencing what does happen. Democratic governance is at risk of losing this capacity by failing to analyze the alternative paths that lead towards futures that are desirable, or away from those that are not, and especially by failing to begin that process early enough to permit adequate time for the debate and deliberation our system requires.

During the Cold War, the United States practiced "Forward Deployment": placing its intelligence sensors and its military forces at strategic locations chosen to improve our ability to engage the enemy as early as possible, on terms advantageous to ourselves. We should now be practicing what ought to be thought of as "Forward Engagement": recognizing and responding to major societal challenges sooner rather than later, when our leverage over the course of events is greatest and the costs for influencing them are lowest.

THE MOST promising response to increasing complexity in the problems facing governance is to develop a networked, small, flexible, task-oriented, managerial "supra-structure" designed to be retrofitted to the existing system. This supra-structure should supplement rather than displace existing methods. It should be allowed to grow not only as a management system but also as a culture. Its added value would be to synthesize information and action: to compensate for the innate tendency of all bureaucratic organizations to subdivide issues rather than to integrate them. Where the bureaucracy creates and defends "stove-pipes" along jurisdictional and substantive boundaries, the new system must allow officials to think and act across them.

The key to reforming processes in both the Executive and Legislative Branches is to organize according to mission rather than according to bureaucratic jurisdiction. An unplanned experiment of the Clinton Administration provides guidance: the establishment of a series of binational commissions co-chaired by the vice president and an official of equal or greater political seniority from the partner country (for example, a prime minister or a president). Five of these commissions were established: for Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, Egypt and Kazakhstan. Of these, the Russian commission was the first and the best known, ultimately serving as a start-up model for the others. In all of the commissions, the day-to-day work of managing bilateral relations was left to established bureaucratic systems, but the capacity to innovate was augmented by adding an ad hoc, highly flexible and informal system both within and between the cooperating governments. Sometimes these arrangements were negotiated in a formal way. After a time, however, they began to develop spontaneously. Transactions became much more rapid, and institutional barriers to the flow of information were substantially lowered. In effect, the management systems that evolved for the commissions were networked.

What was done on an unplanned basis in setting up these international commissions can be done for the purpose of managing our own affairs. We do not have to destroy the existing system in order to begin the process. Much of the needed new capacity exists in latent form in the White House. Presidents already have at their disposal the means to create a core mechanism by using existing elements of the executive office to operate as an overall steering body. The chief of staff, the national security advisor, the national economic advisor, the director of the Office of Budget and Management, and so on, can be used collectively as a means to assure overall coherence. To some extent they are already used for this purpose--but mostly on an ad hoc basis, rather than systematically.

The cabinet should be reinvented to serve as the primary method for managing-to-task, with different groupings of cabinet officers operating in mission-oriented partnerships for the purpose of attaining deeper coordination. Such arrangements exist in fragmentary form for national security purposes and, to a much lesser degree, for economic issues. Echoing arrangements need to be encouraged within Congress. Greater use needs to be made of intercommittee arrangements, both within and between the two bodies. Unless such innovations are made, the existing system will remain so severely stove-piped that it threatens not only the ability of Congress to deal with complex issues, but it will also severely hamper any effort by the Executive Branch to evolve.

To accomplish this kind of governance, not only new systems, but also a new bureaucratic culture are required. As we have learned from experience with military reform, networked command and control are essential, but so too is the culture of jointness--the capacity, based on constant practice, of being able to plan and operate seamlessly across jurisdictional lines. The absence of a jointness culture was one of the main causes for the failure of the U.S. intelligence community to head off September 11. It is now exposed as a fundamental cause of the Department or Homeland Security's debacle over Hurricane Katrina. To make networked governance possible, the first step is to upgrade our systems of governance. But to make it permanent, we have to change civilian career patterns, by arranging for exposure to joint planning and joint operations as an expected element of professional development. This should be accompanied by a revised approach to training at the academic level, stressing interdisciplinary study and also exploring more thoroughly the relationship between theory and practice.

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