Deterrence and the Interagency Process, Part 2: Interagency

Deterrence and the Interagency Process, Part 2: Interagency

Greenman House
Greenman House

“The evolution of the interagency process parallels Americas [sic] purposeful adaptation to changing global realities of the last five decades. But it is not an orderly evolution because of serious structural and cultural impediments, such as discontinuities from one administration to another and poor institutional memory.” Gabriel Marcella in CHAPTER 17 NATIONAL SECURITY AND THE INTERAGENCY PROCESS.

Deterrence requires a policy to set the conditions and allocate resources. In theory, this policy is from the President. The National Security Strategy (NSS) is the general framework for security strategy. The NSS is far broader than the military and brings in other departments. The Interagency Process, coordinated by the National Security Council (NSC) and the National Security Advisor, cobbles together policy from a variety of sources. Marcella states:

“Policy is often made in different and subtle ways. Anthony Lake, writing in Somoza Falling: The Nicaraguan Dilemma, A Portrait of Washington At Work, discusses how the answer to an important letter can help set policy. Hence the importance of interagency coordination and the importance of being the one (bureau, office, agency) that drafts it. “. . . .policy flows as much from work on specific items—like the letter from Perez [to Carter]—as it does from the large, formal interagency ‘policy reviews’ that result in presidential pronouncements. Each action is precedent for future actions. Speeches, press conferences, VIP visits, and presidential travels are important. Lake elaborates: Policy is made on the fly; it emerges from the pattern of specific decisions. Its wisdom is decided by whether you have some vision of what you want, a conceptual thread as you go along.

The NSC staff does the daily and long-term coordination and integration of foreign policy and national security matters across the vast government.”

What this essentially means is the NSC, and the interagency process is a bureaucratic endeavor run by bureaucrats. Since the early 1900s, the federal bureaucracy has grown by leaps and bounds. The blog links below detail this growth. The key takeaway is the bureaucracy has turned into an unelected and perhaps unaccountable fourth branch of government. The rise of congressional staff followed a similar trajectory.

It also means that the longer it operates, the greater the path dependency. As discussed in the path dependency materials (see below), it requires a punctuated equilibrium event to break the path. Turning back to Marcella:

“The interagency is not a place. It is a process involving human beings and complex organizations with different cultures, different outlooks on what’s good for the national interest and the best policy to pursue—all driven by the compulsion to defend and expand turf.”

The last part of the quote is spot on and confirmed by both theory and analysis. Bureaucracies seek to perpetuate themselves and enhance their power. The bureaucratic agencies that run the interagency process are no exceptions.

While they may not set an agenda contrary to national security, their view of national security may not align with the president’s view or even the principal secretaries’ views. Given the loose nature of policy setting, the permanent bureaucrats can readily inject their views into both policy and execution. An example is the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) telling senior Chinese that he would alert them if the president sought to take military action against China.

The recommendations I made in some of the blog entries in the references are valid for the interagency process. SES on down are not political appointees. Thanks to the Wilsonian reforms, they are essentially permanent employees that are difficult to fire and replace. With the social justice movement, we cannot even say they are the “best and the brightest”. The Marxist roots behind many of the social justice concepts are the punctuated equilibrium that breaks the historical national security path dependency.

Rational Theories

Path Dependency and Punctuated Equilibrium Posts



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