Research Report


Charles P. Ries
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2016
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 69
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. iii-vi)
    Michael Rich

    Three years ago, RAND embarked on a project to take a fresh look at America’s role in the world. What are America’s international ambitions, what choices does the country face, and what are the feasible options for achieving the nation’s goals? How might the next President exercise leadership in this turbulent world, and to what end? The result is our Strategic Rethink project, in which we have gathered some of our best minds to produce guides for policymakers and citizens, educators and the media, on the most critical choices likely to face the United States during the next administration.


  2. (pp. 1-6)

    In a turbulent and disorderly world, where bandwidth is no longer a technical term relating to radio frequencies but rather a synonym for the limited capacity of decisionmakers to deal with simultaneity, the United States must have a national security decisionmaking system to support its global role.

    Every President needs a decisionmaking system that harnesses the full capabilities and accumulated wisdom of the U.S. government and the nation’s many stakeholders. Yet national security professionals—the officials who must advise the President on the most difficult decisions—cite a range of structural problems that hinder effective policymaking. Since 2004, the American...

  3. (pp. 7-10)

    A global superpower such as the United States needs a process under the President’s leadership for formulating and testing strategies for the real world; incorporating information and perspectives in real time from within and outside of government; and fashioning and communicating messages relating to our strategies to allies, friends and adversaries, and the American people. This process must be tightly linked to resourcing decisions: What resources are needed to credibly undertake a proposed strategy? What are the opportunity costs of using resources—financial, moral, personnel, military, credibility, etc.—in one way rather than another?

    The most important function of a...

  4. (pp. 11-22)

    The United States entered World War II with completely separate Army and Navy departments and no structures for their common oversight. Chief of Staff of the Army George Marshall compared the U.S. system—or rather, lack of system—unfavorably to the British secretariat supporting Prime Minister and Defense Minister Winston Churchill, observing “[O]n our side there is no such animal and we suffer accordingly. The British therefore present a solid front of all officials and committees. We cannot muster such strength.”¹ As the war progressed, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Admiral William Leahy as his personal representative to the Chiefs of...

  5. (pp. 23-26)

    For some time, analysts, practitioners, study groups, and professionals have urged improvements for the U.S. national security policymaking system.¹ Perhaps the most comprehensive review was undertaken by the PNSR, which was mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (PL 110-181). The study was undertaken by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and led by James L. Locher III, one of the architects of the Goldwater-Nichols Act that modernized and institutionalized “joint-ness” for the U.S. military services. The study was guided by a board of 22 distinguished experts, including former congressmen, ambassadors, flag officers, and senior policy-makers....

  6. (pp. 27-30)

    As other studies in the Strategic Rethink series have made clear, the environment for America’s strategic concept development, planning, and implementation (and related national security decisionmaking) has changed radically since the days of Harry Truman, George Marshall, and Dean Acheson. While Truman encountered strategic surprises, he did not have to contend with 196 other states plus nonstate actors capable of striking the U.S. homeland; economic, media, and social globalization; the emergence of environmental and energy issues as top-tier concerns; or the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle. Further, American politics once was more bipartisan, particularly with regard to foreign policy....

  7. (pp. 31-46)

    Despite the checkered results of previous attempts to reform and restructure America’s national security decisionmaking system, and the importance of personalities in policy-making in general, a focused reform of a limited number of aspects of the system could pay real dividends.

    There is broad agreement—dating back to the 1960s¹—that the time to debate and decide on changes is as a new administration prepares to take office. Newly named White House officials are especially jealous of their new prerogatives, and adversaries and friends are testing the new administration’s intentions.

    As the next administration (preferably the next presidential transition team)...

  8. (pp. 47-48)

    As long as the United States is a world power with global interests and responsibilities, the development of a coherent national security and foreign policy strategy will be essential to effective international engagement. Otherwise, our dealings with the world will be reactive, short term, and tactical. Even presidential statements of strategic intent will be declaratory, without the credibility of operational significance. With simultaneous, serious challenges facing the nation across the globe, new arenas for competition and cooperation, and a widening scope of actors that can help or harm the United States, national security decisionmaking structures need to change.

    The next...