Blog Link: Understanding institutional lag in foreign policy.

I have been working on a long term project that focuses on intelligence networks in the South Pacific. A number of off-shoots have stemmed from the central concern (mapping intelligence communities and alliances), including strands dedicated to the NZ intelligence community and the problems of threat assessments in general. In this piece I outline three undervalued concepts in the study of foreign policy and offer some observations as to the causes of Western intelligence failures to adequately adjust, forecast and assess the evolving post Cold War threat environment.

3 thoughts on “Blog Link: Understanding institutional lag in foreign policy.

  1. While fully agreeing with the analysis in your article I would phrase what you have described differently.

    Current bureaucratic security and intelligence organisations and structures created in WW2 or during the cold war (conflicts with clearly defined enemies, state actors only and an increasing focus on data analysis and signals interception rather than human intelligence or field work) fighting a symmetric conflict against similar organisations on the opposite side would be unlikely to see, anticipate or even understand the shift to small scale, asymmetric and non-state conflicts let alone have any adequate means to deal with such concerns.

    With such organisations using secrecy to cloak their actions and divert accountability it’s easy to see why these dinosaurs are both unable to use or understand the leading edge technology effectively or even anticipate (rather than belatedly over react to) current security threats.

    I’m reminded by all of this of Peter Wright’s remarks in Spycatcher about the shift in MI5 in the 1970s away from case officers and casework to computerization and how people with little or no direct experience of espionage began to run the organisation with predictable results.

  2. Thanks Daniel. That is an excellent interpretation. It reminds me of the old saying that today’s generals are preparing for yesterday’s wars.

    From what I know of the US experience, the turn away from “spy craft” (human intelligence) towards TECHINT and SIGINT left a void on the ground that resulted in failures to foresee intent, disposition, attitude and a host of other attributes of both leaders and followers. Heck, on 9/11 there were apparently less than two dozen Arabic speaking intelligence officers in the entire US inventory, military and civilian.

    Plus, as you well note, there was an assumption of some form of supra-rationality on the part of all political actors that survived the Cold War and which was amenable to Cold War style analysis and interpretation. Needless to say, that proved to be wrong.

  3. Thanks Pablo.

    Sometimes I wonder if all that secrecy is actually a burden to them as an organization. Few other sections of government seem so dysfunctional or unable to move forward.

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