Can Foreign Policy Ever Be Rational?



Mircea Malitsa has been a pioneer in the quest for greater rationality in foreign policy-making. This piece pays a tribute to three things about Malitsa. First and foremost, our friendship over more than three decades. Second, his invariable originality of mind. And third, his extraordinary skill, which I witnessed many times, in approaching highly sensitive political matters with the tools of both a professional mathematician and a masterful diplomat.

In the spirit of Malitsa's attempts to combine the analytical and political universes, what follows offers my views as to why it is so difficult to apply to foreign policy some of the analytical  techniques that are standard today in business and the military. And on a more personal note, it also seeks to explain why in my own work I became slightly obsessed with that imperfect connection.

Two things account for my fixation. First, the strife-torn world in which I came of age and donned a uniform was anything but rational. By not confronting Nazi aggression until catastrophically late, the US and other western democracies had failed to act on the logic of their own vital interests. Second, during eleven years of service in the post-World War II State Department and since then,  I watched the US lurch from crisis to crisis with a sense that there had to be a better way of anticipating events. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. I have spent quite a few years trying to find out.