8. Highlights of Secretary of State Rusk’s Meeting With the Policy Planning Council1


  • Anticipation of Foreign Crises

[Omitted here is a distribution list.]

This meeting was called for the purpose of launching a new round in the Department’s continuing efforts to improve its performance in the anticipation of foreign crises.

The Secretary said that this is one of the most important matters before us. This has been brought about by the increasing pace of events during the last twenty years.

We have involved here two different kinds of exercises. The first is of the short-term, watch committee type, i.e., an alertness to the Bloc, troop movements, and “time bombs already fused”. This area is under reasonable control.

The second area involves looking ahead to determine what kinds of crises will be confronting us, and endeavoring to limit their adverse effects. Check lists of actions we might take in order to influence the situation in the direction of US interests, before some of these things happen, would be useful.

We need to examine the anatomy of these problems and to determine the subsidiary questions which each involves. Detailed plans should not be drawn for specific events not yet known, but rather should focus on issues likely to arise.

The pace of events has a very important bearing on the way we operate. Education before the event is essential, especially where quick decisions will have to be made.

The Secretary lives continually under “the shadow of the missing factor.” That factor may be the decisive one so that there is a need to consider every important aspect of a problem. This may, however, result in a paralysis of decision. To help to avoid this, we need to select out the [Page 13] controlling factor, the most critical, important element, and proceed with it. The controlling factor, for example, may be the simple fact that “we cannot afford to let ‘X’ country do a certain thing.”

Overly rigid contingency planning is to be avoided. What we want is a kind of check list of the factors to be taken into account should the crisis come. Intelligence priorities may be affected. We may wish to select for intelligence coverage, things which may not now look particularly urgent.

This is not an exercise which S/P should exclusively undertake; it is primarily the work of the geographical bureaus. This work should be heightened and systematized. Much work has already gone forward, but there continues a real need for an S/P monitoring role.

The criteria for the selection of problems for anticipatory planning are most important. These include a balancing of the importance of the problem, the probability of the crisis and when it is expected, and the resources available to study the problem.

It was suggested that not enough use is made of our chiefs of mission in this work.

Our orientation has been too much in terms of specific countries, and there has not been enough attention to regional problems.

There is need for a more “institutional” approach to problems. We should attempt to build institutions to solve our problems. AID, it was urged, has a role in this process which is often overlooked. Many political officers regard aid as primarily useful as a bribe rather than as an institution building device.

Another observation was that we do not adequately consider general trends and those problems which are cross-regional as, for example, the conferences of the non-aligned and Afro-Asian nations. Our thought processes seem less effective in this area.

More effort also should be spent on what is happening and on what our tactics should be, particularly in Latin America.

Our contingency planning was also said to be too apocalyptic, as for example, our tendency to focus on such events as the demise of some key figure. In addition, our approach is too negative. We should likewise focus on situations whose effects are good for our side.

Since a great deal of our foreign policy emanates from speeches of the Secretary, there should be more pre-discussion of these speeches.

The Secretary said he found the brief “intelligence notes” of INR to be very useful and suggested that these be distributed to the bureaus.

The Secretary felt in the future his morning staff meetings might be used more frequently for policy discussions instead of concentration on bits and pieces of day to day information.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 70 D 265, (General) National Policy Papers. Secret. Drafted in the Policy Planning Council. The time of the meeting is taken from Secretary Rusk’s Appointment Book. (Johnson Library) No list of the participants at the meeting has been found. Before the meeting, a Policy Planning Council paper, “Foreign Affairs Contingency Planning,” December 5, 1961, which had been discussed with the Secretary in late 1961, was distributed with the suggestion that a “brief review” of the paper would “be helpful” in preparing for the meeting. (Memorandum from Stephen M. Block (S/S-O) to Carol Moor (S/S-S), March 21; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 70 D 265, (General) National Policy Papers)