More Than Asking Embarrassing Questions
'THE SCHOLAR IN FOREIGN POLICY'
(The following are excerpts from a speech by Adam Yarmolinsky '43 to the Radcliffe Government Association, "The Role of the Scholar in Foreign Policy." Yarmolinsky, professor of Law and chairman of the Kennedy Institute of Politics' Fellowship Committee, was formerly Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense under McNamara. -- Ed note.)
The scope of effective foreign policy making is extremely limited. It is relatively easy to take a foreign policy position, and to announce, say, Massive Retaliation or non-recognition or hemispheric unity. It is easy enough so that foreign policy making sometimes looks easier than domestic policy making; the pressures are less obvious and immediate. But any foreign policy maker who supposes that relations among sovereign nations are not determined primarily by their internal politics is in for some unhappy surprises. His bravely announced policies will have consequences, but not the consequences he anticipated. Foreign policy is really foreign politics, or domestic politics multiplied by the number of countries involved, raised to the nth power.
It is in the area of the domestic politics of foreign countries that scholars can, I believe, make the greatest contribution to our foreign policy....
Foreign policy makers today are vividly, even agonizingly aware that their own policy plans are inextricably intertwined with other countries' foreign policies. In the United States, massive retaliation has gone the way of Manifest Destiny.
Our own foreign policy makers are anxious to consult the scholars about the future shape of other countries' foreign policies. Our State Department has recently organized a number of regional advisory groups, consisting largely of the most distinguished scholars in the field to advise them on the future shape of our policies. The Department's Policy Planning Council maintains a stable of scholars in residence, while leaders of the Opposition gather their own bands of scholars around themselves.
The only trouble is that what the policy makers are worrying about among themselves and discussing with their advisers is primarily foreign policy and not foreign politics.
The causes of the trouble are wholly understandable, if not wholly excusable. The conduct of foreign affairs exposes its practitioners to more crises than in any other walk of life except perhaps the university president. The United States maintains missions in some 119 countries, and at any time of the day or night a signal of more or less distress is coming in to the State Department message center from at least one of them. In the wee hours, the cables marked NIACT, or "night action," are rushed to a duty officer who has to decide whether to call and wake the appropriate assistant secretary, remembering that the assistant secretary may already have been wakened once before. Early in the morning, last night's take of cables is culled over, digested and circulated in innumerable copies, and several times during the day overflowing in-baskets are topped off with a new sheaf of paper.
Like Pavlov's dog, people learn to react to cables, and too often their reflexes are conditioned so that they react to little else. In obscure acronyms, the cables announce that GOI (the Government of India, or Ireland, or Italy, depending on the date line somewhere in the hieroglyphics at the top of the page) has just taken the following action, or that GOT (the Government of Tanzania, or Turkey, or Transylvania) is about to take the following action, unless USG (backwards for the Government of the United States) does something about it. Sooner or later, the faithful cable reader gets the idea that the governments he reads about in the cables are entities that have an existence of their own, quite apart from the flesh and blood human beings whose continuing quarrels and occasional agreements are dimly reflected in the statements (and the rumors) emanating like so much ectoplasm from the anonymous mouths of their foreign office spokesmen....
At the end of a particularly long corridor in the extraordinarily desolate building in Washington where the Department of State has its headquarters, there is a little door with a plaque bearing the legend: "Deliver diplomatic notes here." One can imagine young foreign service officers trooping down the corridor to observe the portals through which pass the most elegant messages in the world. All of their training and experience tends to impress them with the overwhelming importance of these communications, and the somehow lesser importance of what the local ward bosses in Hamburg or Hiroshima are saying to their constituents.
None of this is to suggest that what old foreign service hands like to call "old-fashioned diplomacy" is unimportant. Quite the contrary. It may make the difference between a minor crisis heating up into a major one or cooling off until next time. But I do mean emphatically to suggest that constant communication among foreign affairs professionals about what they believe to be their common concerns may sometimes put them quite out of touch with reality. They may become so absorbed with diplomatic move and counter-move that they lose sight of what motivates the individual players. They may even come to believe that foreign policy controls domestic policies, rather than vice versa....
A subtle example of the detachment of foreign policy from consideration of the limitations and the potentials of foreign politics is to be found in the reactions of some American foreign policy makers to the relaxation of the Cold War in Europe, as noted most recently by the President of the United States in his State of the Union Message.
This group accepts and welcomes the lessening of cold war tensions; it concedes that the likelihood of a massive Soviet military attack across the Western front is less than it ever was. But it looks to a shift of Soviet-efforts to gain advantage on the politival and economic front, and it calls for renewed United States efforts on those fronts, jockeying for position vis-a-vis the Russians with our European friends and allies.
This is indeed the stuff of which cables are made. But it may be well to ask ourselvse whether the United States or the West has any short-range advantage or any long-range interest in this course of conduct. If, as seems likely, Europe's politicians are riding a secular wave of anti-Americanism and general je m'en foutisme, why not leave them alone for a while? So long as the nations of Europe are protected against military conquest by the American nuclear guarantee, made more real by the presence of several divisions of American troops as hostages to our intentions, these nations have the economic and political strength to resist Soviet threats or dangerous blandishments. They are strong enough to engage in their own bridge-building between East and West, and they are quite capable of deciding when and how they want to join in our own bridge-building. Perhaps the best thing we can do for them at this stage in their internal recovery and their adjustment to new power relations in the world is to leave them politically alone while reassuring them of our military backing.
This is perhaps an unnatural role for our foreign policy professionals, who are understandably anxious to carry on their activities with their opposite numbers. But it may be the better part of valor. And the special contribution of the scholar may be to ask the busy professional, as I was asked that day in my office: "What difference does all your activity really make?"
But if the scholar's role in foreign policy were only to ask the embarrassing questions, that would make it too easy. There is work to be done as well. And it is precisely the area of advising the busy foreign policy professional on the nature and content of foreign politics that the scholar can make his greatest substantive contribution. The professional diplomat is the man who knows where, in Paris or in Phnom Penh, in Bonn or in Bujumbura, to find the door to which diplomatic notes should be delivered. He has a pretty good idea of what will happen to the note after it is slipped through the mail slot in the door. But he cannot be expected to have a really deep understanding of the internal political and economic and social lines of force that converge on the men on the other side of the door. For that understanding he must turn to the scholar who has specialized in the politics and economics and social patterns of the area.
Passing the question of area vs. pure disciplinary specalization, what the scholar has to offer here is what the foreign policy professional needs. But even this happy situation does not guarantee a happy relationship between scholars and polciy makers. If this is indeed to be a marriage of true minds, both partners have to learn to respect each other's roles, and to accommodate themselves somewhat to the limiting conditions within which the other fellow works. The policy maker has to realize that he cannot demand and obtain instant scholarship; that objectivity and reflectiveness and depth of perception can only be had at the price of some loss in immediate relevance to the policy maker's current concerns; and that a good batting average for a successful scholar is probably a lot lower than it is for a major league ball-player.
A classic problem that policy makers have with their own bureaucracies is that bureaucrats are so problem oriented and so anxious to keep the machinery of government moving by solving problems, that they will not infrequently come up with a solution to a different problem than the one posed to them by the policy maker; since they can't find a solution to the problem that is put to them, they have to change the problem in order to get to a solution. This is commonly referred to in Washington as the street light syndrome, in honor of the drunk who told the policeman, puzzled by his posture on hands and knees under a street light, that he was looking for his door key. The policeman asked where he had dropped it, and the drunk replied, in his doorway. The policeman asked why he was looking under the street light, and the drunk pointed out that the light was better there....
Scholars, on the other hand, are by and large a good deal less problem-oriented than the policy makers who seek their advice....
But I am more concerned today, if only because we are in Cambridge rather than in Washington, with the accommodations that scholars need to make in order to perform a more useful role in the process of policy making....
There is nothing dishonorable or even inappropriate in the examination by scholars of policy problems, foreign or domestic. They can provide at least as much intrinsic interest as problems of theory or methodology. But if the scholar is to make a contribuiton to policy problems, he must be willing to address himself to the problems of the policy maker. He must be willing to help answer the policy maker's question. "What do you want me to do about it?" He may, and indeed he should try to stretch the limitations within which the policy maker works, but he cannot ignore them.
If foreign policy is really foreign politics, and if politics is the art of the possible, a major role for the scholar may be to advise the policy maker on what is indeed possible within the limitations of domestic politics in other continents and in other cultures. This is perhaps a reversal of the usual