The Making of U.S. National Security Policy: “We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.”

The PNSR Case Studies: The Bottom Line

By Richard Weitz

The case studies cover a necessarily limited number of national security challenges and analyze a correspondingly finite record of U.S. government performance. This limitation excludes extensive quantitative analysis.

Even so, the issues covered, the geographic scope, and historical diversity of the case studies as well as the comprehensive range of scholarly discourse incorporated into their analysis, provide a foundation for the generating as set of important conclusions.

First, ad hoc, incoherent strategies are distressingly common products of the U.S. national security apparatus.

When strategy development is flawed, effective unity of effort and efficient resource allocation are even more difficult to achieve.

Overly rigid strategies often unduly constrain policy execution, especially in the field.

Strategic planning typically focuses on immediate crises rather than long-range challenges; the urgent all too often displaces the important.

The government does not effectively capture or implement strategic lessons identified from past failures.

The system evinces a mixed record in generating unity of effort during strategy development and implementation.

The U.S. national security system rarely produces integrated strategy and unity of effort and this results in either strategic failure or significant loss of strategic advantage from a national effort. Credit Image: Bigstock

Interagency conflict pervades the case studies, with some positive but mostly negative consequences.

Conflict in enduring interagency initiatives/organizations is often more fierce in the early stages of the program, before interpersonal working relationships and other non-institutional factors have the chance to mitigate tensions.

Bureaucracies filter information through organizational perspectives and provide recommendations that reflect their core mission areas or institutional mandates.

The U.S. national security system encounters difficulty in coordinating strategies, sharing resources, and otherwise cooperating effectively with foreign, state, and local governments.

Limited interagency communication often results in strategy creation and policy implementation being addressed separately, impeding unity of effort at both levels.

Interagency cooperation is possible at the tactical level even in the absence of strategic and operational integration, but requires good personal relations and other uncomfortably serendipitous factors.

Even when such tactical cooperation occurs, its ability to contribute to operational and strategic success is limited.

The U.S. national security system demonstrates a disturbingly varying capacity to provide adequate and timely resources.

Resources often do not match goals and objectives.

Allocating resources is easier for urgent tasks and past threats than for enduring and new challenges.

Sustaining constant support for long-term missions is difficult, complicating strategy implementation and policy execution.

Even when sufficient funding is provided, the process of resource mobilization and allocation is often inefficient.

The national security system recurrently fails to link ends (ideally determined at a national level by the president or NSC), ways (which are largely the purview of the operational departments and agencies), and means (resources provided through congressional and OMB funding mechanisms).

Interagency mechanisms are inadequate on many levels in shaping a national security strategy.

There is no consistent mechanism to delegate presidential authority effectively despite its importance in overcoming interagency impediments.

Agencies have numerous means and opportunities to impede long-term strategy development and policy execution.

Major actors are easily bypassed in making urgent decisions, but policies determined by a few officials often neglect institutional knowledge and achieve only limited bureaucratic, congressional, and political support, making them hard to sustain.

The U.S. national security system tends to mobilize institutional actors at different times, decreasing interagency integration and disconnecting policy commitments from operational planning.

Achieving successful policy development, implementation, and outcomes becomes even more difficult during transitions between presidential administrations.

In short, the U.S. national security system rarely produces integrated strategy and unity of effort and this results in either strategic failure or significant loss of strategic advantage from a national effort.

Consequently, positive policy outcomes become excessively difficult to achieve.

Even when the U.S. government is successful in attaining desired ends, the manner in which these outcomes are achieved is routinely inefficient, leading to wasted money, time, and lives.

The case studies thus depict a system in need of comprehensive reform.

It is our hope that this and other analyses produced by PNSR will contribute to the broader discussion of such transformational reform which future U.S. national security demands.

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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