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In December 1968 Ernest May asked how the US government could gain access to ‘long-headed’ staffers to provide greater strategic depth to foreign policy. The challenge of long-term strategy persists: how should government be organized to support it, how can the right people be found to staff it and how can political leaders make time for longer-term policy-making given the challenge of the immediate? The policy planning staff in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have traditionally had the task of supporting longer-range, broader foreign policy. A small group of diplomats—later leavened by externals from the media, non-profit and private sectors—was meant to generate an improved approach to British interests and policy. As Robert Wade-Gery recalls of its role in the 1960s, there was a push to forge fresh links with outside thinking. Did it work? Former policy planners can be circumspect about its achievements. One former British planner said he felt like ‘a spare part rattling around in a tin’, while former American planners have written about the challenge of injecting fresh thinking when detached from decision-making. Other planners were dragged into operational work or speechwriting. Many planners nonetheless enjoyed the opportunity to think more broadly. Policy planning can be intellectually rich without being the source of actionable strategic thinking about the long-term national interest. This article suggests that a greater focus on people rather than systems might help to foster more strategic, anticipatory and innovative thinking about the national interest.