The emerging future and the bureaucratic mind.

Author:Santis, Hugh De
 
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Central Intelligence Agency, Global Trends 2015, December 2000

Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, September 30, 2001

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Vision 2020, June 2000

United States Commission on National Security

New World Coming, September 15, 1999

Seeking a National Strategy, April 15, 2000

Road Map for National Security, February 15, 2001

Of the four futures studies that are the subject of this essay, all but one were written before the events of September 11. Collectively, they illustrate the thinking of current and former government officials charged with pondering the shape of the world to come. They are thus of considerable interest to the ordinary citizen as well as to strategic planners. Three of the four were prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the government bodies that, along with the State Department, are responsible for national security policy. The fourth study, a compendium of three separate reports, is the work of the U.S. Commission on National Security. Chaired by former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, the commission was chartered in 1998 by the secretary of defense with the imprimatur of the White House and the leadership of Congress.

Unlike the spate of theoretical books on the changing global landscape that appeared at the end of the Cold War,' the government studies represent the view of national security practitioners. They are meant to provide policymakers with a considered assessment of global challenges and what they might portend for the United States. With the exception of the Hart-Rudman reports, each of the studies is presented as a work-in progress, and the CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff documents iterate previous reports. Of the three reports completed before September 11, only the Hart-Rudman Commission study called attention to the vulnerability of the United States to terrorist attack, despite the 1993 truck-bombing of the World Trade Center, the assaults on two U.S. embassies in East Africa, and the explosion on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. Remarkably, all of the studies envision the same alternative futures. Such intellectual congruity is a product of the bureaucratic conformity prevailing policy preferences impose on the an alytical process.

Global Trends 2015

The CIA's Global Trends 2015, published in December 2000, a glossy product replete with graphs, charts, and four-color artwork, was intended for public dissemination. Despite the excessive use of subheads, which interrupt the flow of the narrative, it is a well-conceived document. It systematically lays out and examines the independent variables that are shaping the international order and incorporates information on such diverse issues as education, biotechnology, and the influence of nonprofit organizations. The report is loaded with interesting insights, including the implied future assertiveness of Japan and its desire for greater security independence, and the possibility of shifting alignments in the Middle East. (2)

Even so, the research design is flawed because it conflates independent and dependent variables. Future conflict and the role of the United States are not independent variables. The drafters may have chosen to list future conflict as a variable in order to emphasize the potential threat posed by various states in Asia and the Middle East on which military planning has been focused since the end of the Cold War. Future wars, whether intrastate or interstate, will result from the destabilizing effects of one or more of the study's five key "drivers": demographic change, the environment, technology, the global economy, and governance. The seeds of the terrorist attacks of September 11, and the war they have provoked, can be traced to failed governance, the culturally disquieting effects of the global economy, and demographic factors, such as the huge 25-and-under age cohort in the Arab-Islamic world. (3)

No doubt the United States, the leading exponent of globalization, is presented as a driver to highlight its unparalleled influence in the post--Cold War international political system. By doing so, however, the study mistakenly portrays it as being impervious to global change. Presumably, policymakers would like to know how global trends might affect the United States in the future. Treating the United States as a driver muddles the research design. Undeniably, the United States is influencing the world, but it is simultaneously being influenced by it. Since the end of the Cold War, as an example, the growing interdependence of the international system has made it more difficult for the United States to resort to economic sanctions, as it has been reflexively inclined to do, because its economic and political interests have become ever more intertwined. Besides, if the drafters of Global Trends 2015 wanted to examine the influence of specific actors on the international system, why not include China? Curiou sly, the study does not consider how U.S. preeminence will affect the international system. It is not clear whether this was an oversight or whether it was intentionally excluded to avoid making critical comments about American foreign policy.

Although the CIA study flags what can go wrong in the world, it does not do so in a systematic manner that might lead one to consider policy alternatives. To be sure, the United States has exhibited little sustained interest in foreign affairs since the end of the Cold War, preferring to rely on the magic of the marketplace and American military might to create a global Arcadia. Perhaps as a result, neither the intelligence community nor any other agency of the foreign affairs establishment seemed able to conceptualize the international system in ways that anticipated the fractious, even baleful, consequences of globalization. Global Trends 2015 cites numerous discontinuities and worrisome developments on every imaginable issue save cultural differences, which are noticeably absent in the study, but these discontinuities and developments are presented in such a diffuse fashion that they provide little policy guidance. (4)

Finally, there is no conclusion to the study. The four global futures--inclusive and pernicious globalization, regional competition, and regional military conflict--that follow 81 pages of trend analysis are relegated to an appendix. Do the authors not take them seriously? Moreover, they appear out of the blue, with only inferential reference to the preceding analysis, and they are presented as having the same probability of occurrence. One infers that policymakers should prepare for all contingencies simultaneously because it is impossible to make probabilistic judgments about the future. As a curious fillip to the study, the authors point out that the global influence of the United States declines in all scenarios, which undermines its presumed role as a driver of the international system. If U.S. dominance of the international system is fading, should we not be preparing for a different future?

Quadrennial Defense Review

The Defense Department's recently published Quadrennial Defense Review Report, or QDR, the recommendations of which are filtered through the events of September 11 (the QDR was published on September 30, 2001), asserts that the United States should indeed prepare for all contingencies. In contrast to the preliminary guidance the Defense Department provided to Congress in June 2001 for improved military cohesion, the QDR places greater emphasis on forward-based forces than on its standoff capability, that is, the ability to deter and defeat adversaries from platforms located far away from the combat zone. The attacks on American soil, the report disingenuously states, have reduced the protection afforded by geographic distance, when, in fact, they have dispelled the illusion of geographic security. Furthermore, the report continues, as more states gain access to ballistic missiles, American forces in the United States as well as overseas will be even more vulnerable to attack. Accordingly, it devotes far great er attention than does the earlier guidance to homeland defense and to the coordination of responsibilities between the Department of Defense and other agencies of the federal government and local police and civil support organizations. (5)

The QDR has impressively integrated the events of September 11 in its planning process. In many ways, the document is a primer for the war that was waged in Afghanistan. The emphasis on improving the U.S. human intelligence capability, the importance of basing military assets abroad and/or in gaining temporary access to facilities in foreign countries, and the growing role of special operations forces describe war planning in the fight against terrorism. At the same time, the event-driven nature of the document raises serious questions about the integration of military planning with national security strategy, which, 12 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, remains undefined.

Because the threats the United States is likely to face in the future cannot be readily identified, the QDR asserts, a capabilities-based paradigm that focuses on how an adversary might fight "broadens the strategic perspective." Actually, it does just the opposite. Developing a force posture that fails to discriminate between intentions and capabilities obscures the strategic perspective. As the September 11 attacks demonstrate, defining potential adversaries remains critically important. The capabilities-based approach stresses the importance of maintaining technological supremacy, but the attacks we experienced, and may experience again in the future, were decidedly low-tech. How congressional appropriators will respond over time to the Defense Department's request for bigger budgets-more platforms, more intelligence capabilities, more training, more research and development, more space assets...

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