The primacy of the State Department in foreign policy- making is a much-advertised promise of the forthcoming Reagan administration. If this will be easy to achieve in form, especially with a strong leader like Alexander Haig at the helm, it will be less so in substance -- for an elegantly simple reason. Primacy flows uneasily from edicts if the institution in question does not take account of all the Washington competition in the devising of policy.
State, by this argument, is the home of the diplomats and thus the bastion of diplomacy, but diplomacy of itself will not be enough. If the State Department merely tries to win bureaucratically and through presidential edict over the soldiers, spies, communicators, and developers of the Pentagon, CIA, International Communications Agency (ICA) and Agency for International Development (AID), then State is bound to lose in the 1980s. For in a world of growing conflict, national security policy may increasingly need to be implemented by the Pentagon; in our financially straitened circumstances a resurrected ICA will property hold vastly increased power, as we try to project our power through the world of ideas in the struggle for the minds of men. State will simply be the repository of what will be, alas, one of the less important tools of statecraft of the '80s. It can't compete.
Foreign policy is a product, after all, of all the weapons in the national arsenal: It is a continuum of soldiers and sailors, Peace Corps men and women, agricultural experts of AID, and, yes, experts at "special political action," as the Russians call covert operations. The balance in the composition of their use depends on the circumstance and the degree of the national interest involved.
We would all hope that foreign policy couldm permanently gravitate toward the diplomatic end of the foreign policy continuum, but that hope hardly jibes with a realistic reading of the world around us. Yet in recent years the notion has gained currency that all these foreign policy tools are discrete, some to be disparaged irrespective of circumstance, irrespective of the threat or the use to which these tools are put by America's adversaries.
Senior State Department officials have eschewed even the contemplation of the use of force. They have waged brush- fire wars against the CIA in their attempts to keep the mere consideration of covert action out of the official mind. Diplomacy has been considered at odds with these other elements, rather than the other side of the same coin. In such circumstances State is of course simply the rear-guard defender of moralism, the home of rhetoric. State should be the fashioner of foreigner policy, where strategic calculations are made and policy tools proposed from which the president may choose.
This is as State once was. After the war it began coordinating policy studies with the War and Navy Departments, whence emerged the process by which basic policy papers on broad national strategy were constructed and continually updated. The authors of these papers did not see themselves as bureaucratic defenders of diplomacy, per se -- but as architects of strategy, examining the ways by which the nation could survive and build a grand coalition for the containment of the Soviet Union. State Department senior officials and those of the Pentagon and CIA did not see themselves as adversaries but as partners in a dramatic process. This process continued until 1961, and the partnership of the senior strategists lasted well into the '60s.
Strategic thinking does not come naturally to Americans, however; least of all, it would seem, to recent foreign policy leaders who by their training as pragmatic lawyers were unable to see the interrelationship between the threats to our interests in different regions or at differing levels of action. So State has battled the rest of the national security bureaucracy for primacy and inevitably has lost. Hard interests increasingly won out, even in the Carter administration, over pieties and lofty prescriptions. It was exciting to sit in Foggy Bottom and savage our ally Argentina for its human rights violations; but when we wanted it to get in line on the grain boycott to the Soviet Union (for vastly greater human rights violations in Afghanistan) it refused. We learned anew that diplomacy is a two-way street, and we finally changed our policy.
State must again become the center for national strategy. Its leaders must be able to see foreign policy not as a morality play of good and bad forces embattled withinm our government but as one where all our forces are needed to defend the embattled Western system outsidem as the Soviet Union grows stronger and more threatening. Foreign policy will then be implemented by diplomacy wherever possible, but by trade carrots, military sticks, or intelligence coups where not.
We need not only to conceptualize policies. As noted in the most important of the early postwar national strategy papers, "there is a difference between merely laying out a policy and laying out a program adequate to implement that policy." State must bring the leaders of the foreign policy community -- from admirals to analysts -- to work out programs through which American goals can be achieved: the preeminent of which is our survival, something to be broken down into such important parts as the protection of our far- flung economic interests and those of our allies (especially the oil lanes) and the sustenance of democratic values wherever the climate is hospitable. Only if the State Department envisages such goals and lays out programs for their implementation will its primacy be achieved in fact as well as in prescription.