Making better decisions

PM's support system should present complete picture, identify irrelevant assumptions

Omri Dagan, ynet, 7/13/07

The Winograd Commission pointed to the difficulty faced by a prime minister when it comes to choosing between the alternatives presented to him by professionals. The Lipkin-Shahak team for implementing the commission's recommendations proposed that the National Security Agency serve as the main mediator between the prime minister and the professional security ranks. Its main recommendation is to boost the NSA and turn it into a central body that handles political-security decisions.

In order to succeed in its mission, two structural flaws in the decision-making system must be considered. These prevent Israeli prime ministers from shaping an effective national security policy.

First, the decision-making from the "top down" enhances the chance of strategic surprises. The Winograd Commission determined that the prime minister was led into the military move instead of leading and managing it himself. This perception was expressed in his words during the Second Lebanon War, when he said that "no proposal suggested by the army was rejected."

This conduct may be dangerous when fundamental changes take place in the external reality. Most intelligence, assessment and planning bodies that serve the prime minister focus on gathering, processing and distributing information and assessments regarding subjects which they "know need to be known."

These issues constitute the gist of the national agenda. However, strategic surprises emerge in areas where "we don't know we need to know." In these areas, no information is gathered or processed at all. These blind spots are created as a result of basic or work assumptions, action plans, and patterns shaped at some point in the past and taken for granted, even though they became irrelevant.

Secondly, the security component in formulating and planning national security policy is dominant and is not weighed from the captain's point of view. The prime minister is supposed to weigh all the national considerations in order to create one national security policy that includes basic elements in the realm of security, international standing, economics and foreign trade, law, society, etc.

However, the State of Israel has not defined its "national security system," the issues being addressed in this framework, and the bodies that comprise this group. Therefore, often it is top security officials who present alternatives that do not give expression to all the national considerations that are supposed to guide a prime minister.

This is part of the explanation of why Israel repeatedly fails when it comes to securing a significant achievement in confrontations where the military component is not necessarily the major one - for example, in the confrontations against the Palestinians or in Lebanon.

At the same time, the defense establishment enjoys a plethora of capabilities and resources for shaping and planning policy. This creates an organizational, budgetary, and institutional gap between it and the other bodies that are meant to be partners to the national security system, headed by the Foreign Ministry and National Security Agency.

Strategic monitoring

Seemingly, the Lipkin-Shahak team identified the above flaws when it recommended the concentration of several powers under the umbrella of the National Security Agency, such as the content of discussions in the national security cabinet, professional preparation work in the diplomatic and security realms, and turning the NSA into a national assessment team on intelligence issues and implementation of the insights that emerge from the assessments.

However, this response is incomplete without the ability to present to professional ranks questions that stem from the prime minister's broad point of view. The interface between the prime minister and top professional ranks should feature a discussion that turns the result that the prime minister is attempting to secure, the strengths and weaknesses of Israel and its rivals, and the insights regarding the diplomatic, security, legal, economic, and civilian "playing field" into a decision to act.

This discussion would be more effective if alongside the prime minister, whether in the framework of the NSA or another framework, we see the establishment of a strategic monitoring team. This monitoring work would not focus on gathering and processing intelligence information in an independent manner or in planning policy and implementing it, but rather, it would be dedicated to revealing hidden working assumptions among professional ranks, raising them for discussion, and examining their validity on the basis of the information presented to the prime minister and other information.

The means for revealing such assumptions is found in preparing the questions the prime minister will be asking the professionals before and after alternatives are presented, and in assisting the prime minister in making note of the considerations that are not naturally raised by his professional subordinates. That way, a system-wide, integrated and relevant snapshot would be received from the point of view of national security.

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