David Edelstein and Ronald Krebs (“Delusions of Grand Strategy,” November/December 2015) rightly point out that in planning for national security, it is difficult to calculate costs and benefits and to accurately assess perceived threats. But that does not mean that policymakers should abandon strategizing. Similar challenges pervade domestic state-level government planning and the corporate sector, where the value of planning has long been recognized.

Having facilitated planning in the public and private sectors, I have seen much good come from even less-than-perfect processes. Large-scale strategizing forces bureaucracies to communicate more consistently with one another and with the public. And an improved understanding of risk leads policymakers to sharpen and revise their initiatives. 

Instead of abandoning strategy, as Edelstein and Krebs suggest, we should reform it. For example, the U.S. president should be required to issue a national strategy document within the first year of his or her term and then review it every other year. And the strategy should take a broader view of threats to the United States. U.S. President Barack Obama took a step in the right direction in 2010, when his National Security Strategy recognized the importance of domestic policy to the nation’s security: “We have not adequately advanced priorities like education, energy, science and technology, and health care—all of which are essential to U.S. competitiveness, long-term prosperity, and strength,” the document read.

Plans can and should adapt to changing conditions on the ground. But these are reasons to build an agile planning process, not a reason to abandon planning.


Senior Adviser, Stimson Center