IT is now generally accepted that in the last 15 years the conduct of our foreign affairs has undergone a fundamental revolution. The United States has progressed from an era in which foreign policy was executed only through negotiations between an ambassador and a foreign minister to an era in which the broadest and most active contacts are maintained at all levels within a foreign country. In many areas of the world, we are actually helping to build new nations from the ground up.

Before World War II, our concern with foreign affairs was much more limited. The active issues of policy requiring foresighted planning were confined almost entirely to tariff and disarmament negotiations and these occasional activities could be handled by a small corps of professional diplomats, aided by a few professional soldiers. All that was required was: first, broad policy decisions on the positions to be taken; second, diplomatic negotiations with other interested powers; and possibly third, treaty ratifications if negotiations were successful. This was the totality of foreign affairs. Even Sir Harold Nicolson, in his classic book "Diplomacy," written in 1939, treated diplomacy as the sole means available to a nation for the peacetime execution of foreign policy.

In today's world, the tools for carrying out policy have multiplied. In addition to diplomacy, they include information and propaganda; economic aid; technical assistance; scientific discovery and development; educational and cultural activities; monetary, trade and tariff controls; foreign military assistance and the maintenance of military power in being. Under these circumstances, the conduct of foreign policy becomes incredibly more complex. Today 16 separate departments and agencies of government have a major concern with foreign affairs and 20 more have a somewhat lesser concern. Each of these organizations conducts its own programs, either directly or indirectly in contact with foreign governments and peoples. Each competes for limited resources of money, facilities and skilled manpower.

The need to coördinate these many activities has been seen since the end of World War II, and many proposals have been made to cope with it. But they have not dealt with a related problem which may be even more responsible for the many shortcomings now generally recognized in our foreign policy. The second weakness is the inadequacy of planning, or perhaps more precisely of program planning, at all levels of government.

Program planning is the process by which policy objectives are translated into action programs of the scope, magnitude and timing required for their realization. Because today's policies require massive applications of manpower, money and facilities--and because it takes time to bring these assets into being--we must increasingly anticipate the needs posed by our objectives. It takes years to train a public information officer capable of working effectively in, say, Southeast Asia, to bring into being a new investment bank capable of wisely directing the flow of capital investment, to build a competent corps of public administrators in a newly developing country, or to create a limited-war military force capable of moving at a moment's notice by air to a distant point of danger. We are doing this job inadequately today because we are not anticipating sufficiently our needs for these instruments of policy execution. Hence our foreign policy often must be "reactive" simply because we have not created in advance the assets needed to take the initiative.

Last fall, for example, the Government asked for outside assistance in recruiting from private life no less than 15 financial advisers for 15 new countries, mostly in Africa. The sudden requirement was the result of a failure to foresee this need and to train a corps of financial advisers who were competent to deal both with the technical and with the political problems of underdeveloped nations. The jobs had been open for several months, and at that time there had been no success in filling them. When a likely candidate is found who is reasonably competent professionally, he undoubtedly will be shipped off to Africa immediately. But he almost certainly will not have had any special training in the economics, politics or social structure of the country to which he is assigned. And this lack of background will hamper his effectiveness as a financial adviser, as well as his ability to help prepare the country to mature politically within the free world.

This is not an isolated case of lack of planning. None of the principal agencies of government concerned with foreign affairs foresaw the emergence of new independent states in Africa even to the extent of starting special training programs for their own career personnel. As a result, posts in Africa are either entirely unmanned or filled by officers hastily reassigned from other areas of the world, and by new recruits fresh out of college.

In the field of disarmament the record of the last 15 years is largely of one makeshift improvisation after another. In April 1958, for example, the President proposed to the Soviets that a conference of technicians be convened to consider the problems of preventing surprise attack. On September 15 the Soviets accepted the proposal and asked that the conference begin on November 10. As of the date of Soviet acceptance, almost no preparations had been made, and it was not until October 2, when William C. Foster was appointed chairman, that work began on the preparation of policy positions. Groups were hastily assembled, both from within and outside government, to work for the remaining month before the conference. At the end of the conference, which reached no agreement, Mr. Foster reported to the Senate, "I doubt that we have up to this time really given the intense study of the kinds of measures which will make the [prevention of surprise attack] possible . . . I think that with hard work and deep thought and putting together competent people to work on this, not on a part-time basis but on a full-time basis, something very valuable could be accomplished."

Again in 1959 the same thing happened. In January, the United States proposed that a group of qualified scientists be convened to study the technical possibilities of detecting underground tests. The Russians delayed for nearly a year and then announced that they were ready to meet immediately. A scientific team under Dr. James Fisk, President of the Bell Laboratories, was assembled and departed almost immediately for Geneva. Most of the preparations were carried out in Geneva concurrently with the negotiations. At this conference, agreement was reached that it would be possible to detect underground explosions above 5 kilotons with 160-170 seismic stations located throughout the world. Only later did we discover that perhaps ten times this number of stations would be required to achieve a reasonable probability of detection. This predicament was the result of inadequate planning and of inadequate research to back it up. Had an agreement been reached on the basis of the technical report, we could have found ourselves in the position of having either to live with an inadequate agreement or to suffer the political and propaganda consequences of abrogating the treaty.


The lack of program planning in the foreign field probably can be laid to two underlying causes: (1) skepticism about the value of planning--owing at least partly to a misconception of its role--on the part of many career Foreign Service officers; and (2) the inevitable operational orientation of most of the top foreign policy officials.

The essential unpredictability of the future is often used as the principal argument for not planning. A Foreign Service career officer, when asked why the State Department did not put more emphasis on planning, replied, "How can you plan foreign policy when no one can possibly know what Castro is going to do two years, or even two days, from now?"

This of course is a distortion of the purpose of planning. The purpose is not to prepare rigid programs that will apply only if predictions about future events have been accurate to the point of clairvoyance. Rather, the purpose is to prepare broad, flexible programs with room for manœuvring as events take shape. One need not have been able to predict the revolt of the Force Publique in the Congo to foresee that there would be serious political instability and that political officers would be needed who were thoroughly acquainted with the forces at work there and who had, by their personal knowledge and acquaintanceship, covered all reasonable political bets, including both those who did and those who did not attain power.

Perhaps the skepticism with which some in the State Department regard planning stems from the career officer's traditional concept of diplomatic negotiation as the sharp cutting edge of foreign policy. Success as a diplomat is the ultimate in career success and usually is rewarded with assignment to the highest posts in the service. Diplomacy is an art that should by no means be depreciated, and we shall have great need for this skill over the years ahead, no matter how well we plan. But skill in diplomacy depends on an approach to problems that is quite different from that of a good planner. The diplomat must be able to make the best of day-to-day developments over which he has little or no control. The planner, in contrast, must try to anticipate future situations by building capabilities in advance to meet them.

A second reason for the lack of planning is that agency and departmental chiefs are forced by circumstance to devote practically all of their energies to operating problems. This is because the operating problems are the hot issues that demand immediate attention. They are played up in the press and are the subject of Congressional inquiries. They are the subject of urgent messages from foreign governments demanding immediate telegraphic replies. They are the latest bombshells of Khrushchev and Mao that require immediate attention. Planning, in contrast, has no day-to-day deadlines. Nor does planning bring immediate rewards. No one will know until years later whether or not a given plan has been adequate.

Even if there were no pressures of operating problems, the incentive to plan far in advance would be weak. The creation of the modern tools of foreign policy--whether they be technical systems for the verification of arms-control agreements or a corps of professionals skilled in nation building--often requires years of planning and preparation. A particular administration in Washington is thus dependent almost entirely on the assets that have been created by previous administrations and must make the best of it when these assets are inadequate to do the jobs at hand. Equally, the effort of any administration to plan and build new instruments of national power is a form of investment that will pay most of its dividends in subsequent administrations. For this reason the planning processes require greater institutionalization to ensure that future interests are not neglected by those who may never themselves enjoy the fruits of their planning.

Whatever the underlying causes of the lack of planning may be, however, the immediate cause is an inadequate organization for planning, both in the National Security Council and in the various departments having foreign policy interests. It is true that "planning bodies" exist. The N.S.C. has a Planning Board, and the State Department has since 1950 had its own Policy Planning Staff, now headed by an Assistant Secretary reporting directly to the Secretary of State. Under the N.S.C. there is also the Operations Coördinating Board, which is charged with coördinating the operational planning of the responsible agencies in their execution of N.S.C. policies.

The titles of these three organizations suggest that the planning function is adequately recognized, in both the White House and the State Department. Unfortunately titles are often misleading, and that is true here. The Planning Staff of the N.S.C. plans only in the sense that it prepares the groundwork of the N.S.C. It is composed of the deputies of the N.S.C. representatives, and its function is to steer first drafts of national security policy statements through the shoals of interdepartmental interests. It is thus no more concerned with actual program planning than is its parent body, whose function is to establish national policies. These policies are, of necessity, broad and general statements of the problems confronting us, and of our objectives in coping with them. Moreover, the N.S.C. is more concerned with short-range than with long-range problems.

A hypothetical N.S.C. policy dealing with an underdeveloped country in which we are strongly interested might read something like this: "It shall be the policy of the United States to assist Country X in establishing a stable and effective government capable of maintaining public support, of progressing in a sustained and orderly manner with economic and social development, and of avoiding the extremes of Communism or right-wing dictatorship. The United States should be prepared to assist in improving public administration, in fostering economic development, and in upgrading general education."

Before approving a policy of this sort, the Council should be provided with a reasonably accurate estimate of the magnitude of the program that must be undertaken, the time required and the costs involved if the proposed policy is to have a reasonable chance of success. For without such an estimate, the Council cannot properly weigh the costs and urgency of implementing this program against the costs and urgency of implementing other programs in other areas.

Admittedly, many of the N.S.C. policy papers do carry financial appendices that purport to be the price tags of the policies advocated. But these projections usually are not backed up by specific plans and hence do not accurately reflect the actual costs of the program if it were carried through in the magnitude needed to achieve the stated objective. More often these financial projections are based on last year's budget, increased or lowered by 5 or 10 percent, depending on the shift in the urgency of the problem. This lack of adequate plans for arriving at the real cost of any individual program affects our total foreign policy. For without such information, the Executive Branch and the Congress cannot make informed decisions on the total amount of resources that should be allocated to foreign policy objectives, or on the division of these resources among competing programs.

The real decisions controlling the size and direction of foreign programs--and therefore many of the real decisions on basic policy--are made instead as a part of the annual budget process. In theory, the budget is expected to reflect and implement national security policies. In practice, these are so broadly drawn that a correspondingly broad range of alternative budgets can be accommodated. Because of the lack of adequate plans to implement these policies--and thereby to define more closely the dollar costs--the budgets can often be jiggered substantially in support of any one program at the expense of others. The result is that the budget sets the real scope of a program, and the plans--such as they are--are then made to fit that budget.

The budget-making process may even set the direction of a program. Since that process is an affair largely between the agency concerned, such as I.C.A., and the Appropriations Committees of Congress, with the Bureau of the Budget looking in to be sure that an over-all ceiling is not exceeded, there is no direct control to see that budgets reflect N.S.C. policies. Further, the Committees of Congress are not privy to National Security Council policy documents, and it is highly doubtful that they would consider themselves bound by them in any case.

In the State Department, the Policy Planning Staff performs an important planning function--but it does only a small part of what is needed. Essentially the role of the Policy Planning Staff is to prepare papers from time to time on important problems over the horizon. The purpose of these papers is to call the Government's attention to a particularly serious situation that might be overlooked by those concentrating on a particular area or country. The staff considers its work done when it has flagged for attention such a newly emerging problem.

The other operating departments concerned with foreign affairs have limited program-planning activities. And nearly all of their efforts are similarly directed to the preparation of the annual budget. As a consequence, planning is largely limited to one-year periods. Once a budget is approved and funds provided, individual expenditures, other than regular and continuing expenses for such things as staff salaries, are approved primarily on a project-by-project basis. While the Operations Coördinating Board has responsibility for coördinating the operational planning of the departments, it lacks authority to direct such planning, it lacks an adequate staff, and it cannot concern itself with any problem that has not been specifically referred to it by the President.

Some progress is being made toward better coördination of some of the Government's activities in the foreign field. As a result of the recommendations of the Draper Committee, the State Department now approves all military aid programs to foreign nations. Also, Under Secretary of State Douglas Dillon has begun to coördinate economic aid programs and to assemble a staff for this work. And in our embassies abroad, there has gradually evolved the concept of a country team headed by the Ambassador and including heads of the local information, economic and military-aid staffs.

These developments help to create a framework in which planning can take place. But coördination is still largely in terms of day-to-day operating decisions and such planning as is done is geared to yearly, and therefore short-term, budgets. These plans are thus more likely to be concerned with policies and programs for the use of assets already in being rather than with the estimation of over-all future needs and with the development of new programs to meet these needs. Moreover, the Government's overall effort in one country or area is not examined as a single program so that the activities of the many separate agencies can all be evaluated for their completeness and balance. Instead, they are approved in small pieces over the year by a variety of agencies acting with only limited knowledge of each other's decisions.

In summary, without a clear-cut and generally understood plan bringing together the programs required in each of the essential fields of activity, the President and the Secretary of State cannot be sure that the responsible departments and agencies will start their programs soon enough or provide the magnitude of effort that is needed to realize objectives. Indeed, the record in many areas of the world is that of being too late and providing too little of those things that are vital to the success of our policies. To improve this record it will be necessary not only to revise our concept of planning, but to draw into the Government men with the background and experience to make planning effective.

We are confronted with formidable adversaries in the Soviet Union and Red China. While we should not embrace a tool of the cold war just because the Communists do, we should not deny ourselves such a tool because the Communists do use it effectively. Planning is a tool they appear to employ to great advantage. For example, one cannot imagine the Soviets finding it impossible to fill 15 jobs of financial adviser to foreign governments. They would not only be able to provide technicians competent to advise new governments in the Soviet approach to financial management, but those selected would be persuasive political advocates of the advantages of the Soviet system to the underdeveloped countries.

The Communists have demonstrated their ability to foresee future problems and opportunities and to plan well in advance to meet them. They have, for example, operated university-type training schools for potential political leaders of virtually all the uncommitted countries. In 1945, when they reinstituted these political academies, they did not know when Africa--or Southeast Asia--would be ready for a stepped-up program of political action. But they went ahead with comprehensive training programs with confidence that they would find the opportunity, sooner or later, to throw their trained cadres into the conflict.


To illustrate the type of planning needed, let us look again at the hypothetical N.S.C. policy for Country X, which called for assistance "in establishing a stable and effective government . . . in improving public administration, in fostering economic development, and in upgrading general education." In developing a government-wide program plan to carry out that policy, the following sequence of steps might be taken.

1. Preparation of a preliminary estimate of what will be needed to establish a stable and effective non-Communist government. This estimate must first identify those key needs that must be met if our policy objective is to be realized. In this example, the key needs might be a corps of public administrators, a police and public security force, public information media, and a program for economic growth. This estimate would include such things as numbers and types of skilled administrators needed; the investment requirements for economic growth; the needs for public information through books, magazines, radio, newspapers; the requirements for technicians and skilled workers; and the police forces needed to maintain order. Planning should then concentrate only on these key elements for "success" and should not be encumbered with nonessentials.

As a result of experience gained by American advisory groups who have served in underdeveloped countries, such as that to Pakistan headed by Professor Edward Mason of Harvard, we now have the resources in the United States to enable us to make reasonably accurate estimates of the initial critical needs in building a new nation.

2. An estimate of the degree to which these essential requirements can be met from the resources already available within the country. This would include personnel trained by the former government, European technicians and administrators likely to remain, and the graduates of technical and professional schools within the country and abroad.

3. An estimate of the remaining needs that must be met by the West if the minimum objectives are to have a reasonable chance of success. A part of these needs may be met by other nations, by the World Bank and possibly by the United Nations. The remaining critical needs will have to be provided by the United States.

4. At this point a preliminary estimate of costs and time required will provide a test of the feasibility of achieving the N.S.C. policy objective. If it appears that requirements are substantially beyond our capabilities in the light of our resources and of other competing requirements, two alternatives are open: to shift resources from other programs or to cut back our policy objectives. If the latter is decided, an important function will have been served by putting ourselves on notice that actual or implied commitments to foreign governments beyond our limited resources must not be made.

5. A next step is the development by the responsible departments and agencies of more detailed but still long-term plans. For example, the need for public administrators in the African countries may be so great that a major program must be established to create new institutes of public administration in Africa in addition to bringing increased numbers of Africans to the United States and Western Europe for further training. If a country has only 15 or 20 college graduates, as is actually the case in some of the new African republics, it will not be enough to spend a few thousand dollars--as we are, in some cases, doing now--to send an expert in public administration to the country or to bring a half dozen people to the United States for a limited period of training. While such a program might meet the letter of an N.S.C. policy, it would not contribute very much to the solution of the problem. Similarly, the need for public information media may be so urgent--and the dangers of Communist infiltration and control so great--that U.S.I.A. would be called upon to develop a program by which the Africans can be helped to set up locally-owned radio stations, a news agency, one or more book publishing houses and a series of newspapers.

The special importance of the planning process is that it provides an estimate of the magnitude of a problem early enough to do something about it. If instead we wait until the problem is breaking around our heads, it may be too late.

6. At this point planning should be tied integrally with the budget-making process. This will require a shift from the annual budget to longer-range commitments of funds. The approval of the policy program by the N.S.C. and the approval of the budget to be submitted to Congress must be part of a single, consistent process. The present practice of preparing budgets only incidentally related to policy decisions clearly leads to breakdowns in the execution of policy.

7. Continuing central guidance and coördination of planning will be needed to be sure that the programs will be mutually supporting, and in the aggregate will give the best chance of success while making the minimum drain on scarce resources. Revision, modification and extension of plans will be a continuing process as new situations unfold and as we learn from initial successes and failures. Finally, at each step of the way we must work in close association with our allies, especially in those areas where they have important interests.

As the cold war develops during the 1960s, we must be increasingly prepared to seize opportunities as they occur. This means that we must think through in advance both the types of opportunities that might reasonably be expected and the actions we will have to take if we are not to let them slip by unexploited. By so doing we can create in advance assets that will be available when needed. For example, revolts such as those in East Germany and Hungary may occur in the next decade. If we fail to anticipate the different ways that events might unfold and to evaluate both the risks and opportunities of any action we might take, we will not know what preparations must be made in advance. If no preparations are made, there probably will be little or no freedom of decision at the moment the event occurs. As was the case in 1956, we shall have foregone the opportunity to exploit the break because we have not prepared for it. If, instead, we have made reasonably adequate contingency plans and have the necessary assets on hand, such as trained manpower, food, communications, medicines, air transport and weapons, we shall be free to decide at the time whether and to what degree we should intervene.

Obviously we cannot make plans for every conceivable contingency. Judgment must be used in identifying those possibilities that contain the greatest opportunities and dangers. Equally we cannot create assets to meet every contingency, but it is often possible to create assets that can be used in a variety of ways. A final question is, how shall comprehensive planning be organized? To this decision, the following criteria should be applied:

1. Centralized over-all direction and supervision of planning, to ensure completeness, balance and timeliness.

2. Decentralization of detailed planning, to ensure that plans are grounded in reality.

3. Full-time attention to planning by a small but highly competent group.

4. Accurate estimates of costs as plans are made, to provide adequate bases for budget decisions.

5. Follow-up and review, to ensure that plans are in fact carried out.

Clearly, to meet these criteria, a central planning staff will be needed. Its functions will be to provide continuing leadership within the Government in the field of planning, to prepare overall plans, to allocate responsibility for more detailed plans to departments and agencies, to review the adequacy of their plans and to see that approved plans are carried out. In all the operating departments and agencies, it should have small counterparts reporting directly to their agency heads but having day-to-day working contacts with responsible line officers, as well as with the central planning staff.

Many pieces of such a program already exist. What is lacking is central coördination and direction, and a philosophy to make it work. Through improved planning, we can significantly increase the probabilities that our foreign policies will be successful and that the vast resources we are now committing to these policies will be effectively used. Without it, there will be lost opportunities, half-effective programs and waste of resources. Program planning is not a strait jacket that commits us to a particular course of action, no matter what new circumstances arise, but a means of increasing our freedom of action and our ability to grasp the initiative in the long, cold war.

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  • FRANKLIN A. LINDSAY, author of a study of the National Security Council for the Second Hoover Commission; member, Rockefeller Special Studies Panel on Economic Policy, 1956; member, Gaither Committee on National Security Policy, 1957; now with McKinsey and Co.
  • More By Franklin A. Lindsay