Long term thinking

From the Jerusalem Post:

About 100 of the country’s top academics, businessmen and former IDF officers are currently involved in an ambitious new project to develop something Israel has never had before: a grand strategy.

While Israel has excelled over the years in finding short-term solutions to problems, long-term strategic thinking has been sparse.

Sparse? Only if “sparse” means “absent”.

According to explanatory material about the new forum – called Israel’s Grand Strategy Forum – not since David Ben-Gurion drew up 18 points in October 1953 has a grand strategy laying out where Israel wants to go, and how to get there, been devised.

While the country does have security concepts – addressing issues such as deterrence policy, early warning, deployment, and defense – it has never had a grand strategy that incorporates not only security but also political and diplomatic objectives, as well as economics, science and educational policies.

I rest my case. Meantime, some details:

The current project is chaired by Uzi Arad, the former head of the National Security Council, and is supported by the Technion’s Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research, headed by Zehev Tadmor.

The group met last week for a day of deliberations at a Herzliya hotel.

One of the goals of the forum is to produce a document that will be presented to the highest echelons of government defining Israel’s goals and strategies.

The forum was created in May and will break up into three groups, each tasked with defining the major challenges facing Israel in its particular sphere. For instance, one task force will deal with issues of statecraft and national security and questions such as how Israeli should position itself in a dramatically changing international landscape, a landscape in which US power may be receding.

A second task force will look at domestic issues and how they impact on national security, issues such as social cohesion, the educational system, demographic trends and energy policy.

A third group will focus on science and technological issues and how Israel can maintain its qualitative edge.

My concerns include: secrecy, interconnections, and political policy. How do you keep the important stuff secret? It doesn’t make sense to have your strategic plans known.

And what happens when needs cross over categories? For example, national security and energy policy?

Finally. it’s all very well having a strategic plan, but where’s the political buy in? It may be impossible, but at least let’s face the truth that no matter what these clever guys and girls come up with, it matters not a jot if those in power ignore it.

That doesn’t mean I’m against the development, but I strongly suspect there are aspects that have not been fully thought through. And there is a danger this becomes a talking shop and source of income, rather than a source of meaningful ideas and action.

So, who is involved?

The group includes about 15 percent former generals and admirals, 10% former university and college professors, about 50% scholars and scientists, and another 25% who are jurists, corporate heads and former directors-general of government ministries and corporations.

According to the organizers, these are highly accomplished and experienced people who have “successfully managed big products, done things, overcome obstacles and successfully initiated new projects.”

Among those involved are former defense minister Moshe Arens, former foreign minister director-general Eitan Bentzur, the poet Haim Guri, former deputy chief of staff Uzi Dayan, former prime minister’s office director- general Eitan Haber, Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath and former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval.

You be the judge if that is impressive or otherwise.

The forum will be working in cooperation with academics from top universities around the world, and a number of them – including Gary Samore and Stephen Rosen from Harvard, Jack Mintz from the University of Calgary and Lanxin Xiang from the Graduate Institute in Geneva – took part in last week’s deliberations.

That reinforces my concern about it turning into a talking shop. But maybe my cynicism is misplaced. And whether it works will be something the next generation can decide instead of me!