September 01, 2008


New strategies in the war on terror....

From: The Wall Street Journal

We Need a New Think Tank For the War on Terror

August 7, 2008; Page A11

Shortly after 9/11, in an interview for a book I was writing on how to handle terrorism as a strategic threat, the pre-eminent nuclear strategist Thomas C. Schelling remarked: "What the government really ought to do is reverse-engineer the Rand Corporation of the fifties and sixties."

During that crucial epoch, Rand helped draw a sharp distinction between first-strike and second-strike nuclear deterrence, and the dangerously offense-oriented "brinkmanship" of the 1950s gave way to the more stable defensive posture of "mutual assured destruction."

Back then, Rand was situated exclusively in Santa Monica, Calif., far away from the churn of day-to-day government policy implementation. It had uniquely broad research and budgeting standards that freed analysts to think outside the box about strategic problems. At the same time, Rand's official status as a federally funded research and development center afforded its employees high-level security clearances and access to classified information and government officials.

Today, Rand's closeness to the Pentagon and other federal agencies has narrowed its priorities. A new, government-linked think tank with an expansive mandate may be the best mechanism for incubating strategies to fight terror.

The Pentagon is finally moving in that direction with its five-year, $50 million Minerva Consortia. The initiative aims to recruit a broad spectrum of social scientists - psychologists, demographers, economists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists and security studies experts - to help figure out how to marginalize al Qaeda and its ilk. Grant proposals will be peer-reviewed to ensure high-caliber work. Under Minerva, Defense Department-sponsored research is to be open and unclassified, so that those funded can exercise their academic freedom without being afraid of being co-opted into performing ethically dicey secret work.

In the late 1950s, Mr. Schelling took time off from teaching economics at Yale to work at Rand on the problem of stabilizing nuclear deterrence. While the general theory of deterrence was elegantly simple and required few secrets to understand, honing its specific applications demanded classified technical details about nuclear explosives, bomber and missile logistics, information and launch procedures, and worst- and best-case scenarios, among other things.

Mr. Schelling had ready access to such information at Rand, and it deepened his understanding of the strategic environment. For that reason, he was able to forge groundbreaking innovations in game theory that illuminated the value of communications and even negotiations in ensuring mutual deterrence - particularly through the arms-control process - and staving off Armageddon.

Much of the work funded by Minerva will be open source, and could well involve access to people - for instance, imprisoned terrorists - who might be more inclined to speak more candidly with think-tankers than government interrogators. But for such work to have maximum worth, it will often need to be validated by and integrated with classified intelligence. If primary researchers are not privy to such information, that task will go to government analysts. From the standpoint of ensuring the academic integrity of the research, it is better for the job to remain in the hands of scholars who embrace classified access as a means of retaining control over its quality.

During the Cold War, many if not most scholars opposed U.S. foreign and security policy, and some regarded Mr. Schelling as tainted for helping to devise the "deadly logic" of nuclear deterrence. Yet at the end of the day, his access to classified information did not compromise his integrity, and the extraordinarily fertile intellectual environment at Rand early in the Cold War proved central to his success.

In 2005, Mr. Schelling finally received the Nobel Prize in economics for, in the Nobel Committee's words, "having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis" albeit "against the backdrop of the nuclear arms race in the late 1950s." That's a strong recommendation for following his advice today.

Mr. Stevenson is a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College. His "Thinking Beyond the Unthinkable: Harnessing Doom from the Cold War to the Age of Terror," will be published this month by Viking.

Copyright 2008 - The Wall Street Journal

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