Albert Wohlstetter


Peter M. Haas’ (1992) International Organization, described what he termed an ‘epistemic community,’ and the IEDSS can be said to conform to this theoretical definition as part of a transnational network of ‘knowledge-based’ experts and pundits whose definitions of problems were aimed at decision-makers in an effort to frame what the problems they face were, what form discourse should take, the methods of approach and the likely outcomes. According to Hass in (1997) Knowledge, Power, and International Policy Coordination (p. 387), which developed his theoretical work on epistemic communities, there is evidence that the European-American Workshop, a “community of experts” chaired by Albert Wohlstetter, “induced NATO to deploy Pershing II missiles at the end of the 1970s as a counter to the threat of the Soviet SS-20s.” Before we explore a biographical history of the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies’ Wohlstetter we will examine the meaning of the ‘epistemic community,’ for the purposes of identifying the IEDSS and its associated organisations as engaging in activities which would conform to the theory. We also look at as Wohlstetter’s role in attracting the nascent neoconservativeswhile at at Chicago; his work with Pan Heuristics Services, Inc.; his influence of defence strategy and his engagement with other members of the IEDSS

Mikael Sundström’s (2000) A Brief Introduction: What is an Epistemic Community? (p.4) makes this observation of the process:

National decision-makers find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the steadily swelling river of information pertaining to different issue-areas. Eventually, they will need someone to abbreviate the information into manageable portions. This translation-process opens up new avenues of influence, as the experts who will perform the interpretation, unlike traditional advisers, can slant the information on which the decision-makers will base their deliberations, as well as present their views on how this already coloured information, should be interpreted. With growing internationalisation, the experts in various issue-areas will meet their extra-national peers, to discuss problems and possible solutions. If this information-exchange is frequent enough, the national expert will be coloured by his colleagues’ views, or, rather, by the aggregate views of the international community of experts to which he belongs —the epistemic community.

Sundström breaks down Haas’ definition of epistemic communities, again drawing on Haas’ (1992) International Organization, and states that an epistemic community is a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue-area. The professionals may be from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds but must have:

1) a shared set of normative and principled beliefs, which provide a value-based rationale for the social action of community members.

2) shared causal beliefs, which are derived from their analysis of practices leading or contributing to a central set of problems in their domain and which then serve as the basis for elucidating the multiple linkages between possible policy action and desired outcomes

3) shared notions of validity-that is, intersubjective, internally defined criteria for weighing and validating knowledge in the domain of their expertise

4) a common policy enterprise- that is, a set of common practices associated with a set of problems to which their professional competence is directed, presumably out of the conviction that human welfare will be enhanced as a consequence.

Understanding of the IEDSS and its networks via this theoretical standpoint is complicated by the covert, propagandistic and ideological nature of the IEDSS: its para-political nature whereby it engages in dis-information; and the use of the IEDSS by governments and other agencies or elements within them is somewhat opaque, but on the other hand much information has emerged since the end of the Cold War, which can be used to gain an insight into this. However Haas’ elaboration on the motives why decision-makers will seek the advice from the epistemic community include uncertainty and inadequate information about the situation at hand, inadequacy of available general knowledge needed for assessing the expected outcomes of different courses of action), the decision-maker:

“…lacks many of the conditions facilitating a focus on power…[it is difficult] to identify their political allies and to be sure of what strategies are most likely to help them retain power…[and] poorly understood conditions may create enough turbulence that established operating procedures may break down, making institutions unworkable”.

These uncertainties and dependence are exacerbated in matters which fall under the rubric of security and defence and the attendant secrecy and evasion, unfamilarity and information-complexity which foster an increase the deference paid to ‘technical expertise’. With its make-up of key government advisers, the IEDSS also conforms to another key component of the definition of the epistemic community, as Sundström (again drawing on Hass) outlines:

If the epistemic community is to exert any influence over policies, they must have links to the actual decision-makers. Without such power-links, epistemic communities would have questionable significance as Haas points out when he states that “…it is unclear how effective consensus knowledge is, as an independent variable, at explaining or predicting state behaviour”. He also offers us more practical pointers: “…epistemic communities can insinuate their views and influence national governments and international organisations by occupying niches in advisory and regulatory bodies.”

In his 1992 special volume of International Organization, Haas discussed the value of the concept of epistemic community in understanding the way in which specialist technical advice can re-orient state behaviour and explain convergences in international policy stating: “The view presented in this volume is that epistemic communities are channels through which new ideas circulate from societies to governments as well as from country to country.”

While acknowledging that contextual factors shape epistemic influence (the Cold War in the case of the IEDSS), an understanding of the extent and intent of certain networks, why epistemic communities are successful in influencing the direction of policy change, and how they operate is important to expanding the concept’s utility.

Haas argued that understanding the research agenda, involves identifying:

  • the community membership
  • determining the community members’ principled and causal beliefs
  • tracing their activities
  • demonstrating their influence on decision makers at various points in time

He argued that comparative studies of organizations are necessary, in identifying where the community is present in a certain policy area and where it has been active and identifying those in which it has not been active or wholly absent.

The IEDSS is a closed epistemic community and as such has an ambiguous status: few employees, not quite a policy institute or a think tank but functioning as a ‘front group’ that, through statements, conferences, publications and reports attempted to bolster support for US foreign policy, increased military spending and the siting of nuclear weapons and a more aggressive global war against the then Soviet Union, which was extended to cast dissent as part of a communist conspiracy. The IEDSS is also a component of the social psychology of how people are conditioned by authority figures and institutions in regard to the state committing terrible acts against their fellow human beings.

Its status as a closed community mirrors the communities it seeks to influence. Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite’s (2000) Global Business Regulation, observes that epistemic communities in nuclear regulation have been much more closed than in drug regulation and it is extremely rare for NGO representatives to be at the table, although there are incidences where material previously kept secret were shared with other specialists. The IEDSS was involved in distancing NGOs further from the proximity of the decision-making process. Volker Rittberger and Peter Mayer’s (1993) Regime Theory and International Relations, puts forward a theoretical basis for understanding international regimes as systems of norms and rules agreed upon by states to govern their behavior in specific political contexts or ‘issue areas’. Regimes are defined as the rules of the game agreed upon by actors in the international arena.

Nascent neoconservatives

According to his biography at RAND, Prof. Albert Wohlstetter was a mathematical logician and senior staff member at RAND in the 1950s and 1960s and:

…became one of the world’s leading nuclear and national security strategists. His studies led to the “second-strike” and “Fail-Safe” concepts for deterring nuclear war. These and other methods reduced the probability of accidental war. Wohlstetter was affiliated with institutions such as the European-American Institute, the Hoover Institution, and PAN Heuristics Services. He received the Medal of Freedom for his contributions toward national security. He earned degrees from Columbia University and later taught at UCLA and UC Berkeley and then for many years at the University of Chicago.

Many of his major works are available in their entirety on this website. While at Chicago, he was also known for attracting the nascent neoconservatives including Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Wolfowitz, a key figure in the British American Project for a Successor Generation, in reference to his education in ‘Conflict Architecture’ in a (2004) speech to the Aspen Institute, stated that:

Paul Nitze has had a huge mark on my career over many, many years, starting with 1969, when I was still a very much wet-behind-the-ears graduate student who came to Washington to work with three great men: Paul Nitze, Dean Acheson, and Albert Wohlstetter.

According to his obituary in the New York Times, as a member of RAND’s research council and chairman of its research program on conflict in allied, neutral and satellite countries, the studies Wohlstetter carried out in the 1950’s were all done for the US Defense Department, and were for the most part highly secret.

Drawing on the Hoover Institution’s archives: in 1958 Wohlstetter became an Adviser to the US delegation, Geneva Conference on Surprise Attack; from 1961-1967 he was a consultant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense, and thereafter consultant to the Department of Defense throughout his career; in 1962 he was an adviser to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis; in 1964-1972 he served as consultant to various corporations and institutions, including Research & Analysis Corp., Stanford Research Institute, General Electric, and the Northrop Corporation; in 1965 he was the author (with Roberta Wohlstetter) of ‘Controlling the Risks in Cuba’; from 1969-1971 he was a consultant to the US National Security Council; in 1970-1971 he became a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford; in 1970-1992 he was a member of the Executive Committee and Director, Strategy Group, California Seminar on Arms Control and Foreign Policy; from 1971-1997 he was a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel; from 1974-1997 he was a founding partner and Senior Consultant, PanHeuristics; in 1975 he was President, European American Institute for Security Research (EAI); from 1975-1988 he was Chairman of the New Alternatives Workshop; in 1979 again (with Roberta Wohlstetter) he wrote ‘Swords from Plowshares: The Military Potential of Civilian Nuclear Energy’; from 1979-1992 he was Vice President, Security Conference on Asia and Pacific (SECAP) and President, American Institute for Strategic Cooperation (AISC); from 1980-1997 he was a Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; in 1985 he wrote ‘Between an Unfree World and None: Increasing Our Choices’; in 1985 he was jointly awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Reagan; from 1985-1992 he was a Member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB); from 1986-1992 he was a Member of the Defense Policy Board; in 1986 he was appointed Co-Chairman of the Presidential Commission of Integrated Long-Term Strategy; from 1990-1997 he was active in the affairs of the Balkan Institute. The Hoover Institute makes no mention of his involvement in the IEDSS.

Wohlstetter was 77 when he joined the advisory council of the IEDSS and his writings of the period have been gathered at a dedicated website, these included contributions to Commentary, Foreign Affairs and The National Interest, the site also adds that in the mid to late 1980s he:

…co-chaired the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy (CILTS), the mandate of which was to reassess America’s approach to foreign policy and propose “adjustments to US military strategy in view of a changing security environment in the decades ahead.”The membership of Commission drew from a wide range of bipartisan expertise:

* Anne L. Armstrong, former US ambassador to Britain;

* Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Advisor;

* William P. Clark, Reagan’s deputy defense secretary and later National Security Advisor;

* W. Graham Claytor, Jr., Carter’s Navy secretary and later Deputy Secretary of Defense;

* GEN Andrew J. Goodpaster (ret.), Eisenhower’s staff secretary and later Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) under Nixon;

* ADM James L. Holloway, III (ret.), former Chief of Naval Operations;

* Samuel P. Huntington, Harvard political scientist;

* Henry A. Kissinger, Nixon and Ford’s Secretary of State;

* Joshua Lederberg, Nobel prize-winning biologist;

* GEN Bernard A. Schriever (ret.), US Air Force proponent of space and ballistic missile research; and

* GEN John W. Vessey (ret.), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In the early 1990s, he served on the US Defense Policy Board and provided outside advice to the Pentagon after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The site also tells us that together with Margaret Thatcher, he authored “What the West Must Do in Bosnia,” an open letter to President Clinton, published in the Wall Street Journal in 1993, and signed by Paul Nitze, Richard Perle, Karl Popper, Eugene Rostow, George Shultz, George Soros, Susan Sontag, and Paul Wolfowitz. The site also informs us that in the mid-1970s, Wohlstetter and a team of researchers at Pan Heuristics conducted a series of studies to “clarify the empirical record of the strategic competition between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.” The study “Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back?” was published in the now-defunct periodical, Survey, (also the name of the IEDSS journal).

The point was to test whether the competition looked like a “spiraling” or “exponentially increasing” arms race, or rather like something else.

However the date given for this is Survey, 1976, so this is most likely to be the Survey edited by Walter Laquer and Leopold Labedz above. Wohlstetter’s “Racing Forward? Or Ambling Back?,” appeared in Robert Conquest’s (1977) Defending America (published by Basic Books).

Wohlstetter ran Pan Heuristics Services, Inc., a California-based consulting firm dealing in security policy whose clients included the US departments of State and Defense as well as private corporations. This also included Zalmay Khalilzad (the ambassador to Iraq, nominated to succeed John Bolton as the US representative to the United Nations). In the mid-1980s he was also president of the European American Institute for Security Research.

According to Peter Hass in (1997) Knowledge, Power, and International Policy Coordination (p. 387), which developed his theoretical work on epistemic communities, there is evidence that the European-American Workshop, a “community of experts” chaired by Wohlstetter, “induced NATO to deploy Pershing II missiles at the end of the 1970s as a counter to the threat of the Soviet SS-20s.” Much of the IEDSS’ work can be identified as having a similar drive (including its covert work in relation to DS 19 against CND and other left groups) and the neglect and absence of analysis of the IEDSS role here are surprising given the continuities.

James Digby’s (1980) Modern Weapons for Non-NATO Contingencies, prepared for RAND, notes that in 1975, the problems of bringing US and Western military force to bear on the NATO flanks and outside NATO had begun to get consistent attention in several related series of workshops, including the European-American Workshops. Wohlstetter, who headed the organization which ran the Workshops, “would address these sessions with ideas like those he later wrote for one of a series of articles for the Op-Ed page of the New York Times.” This also notes that Wohlstetter took part in a Workshop on “The Alliance and the Persian Gulf,” held at Elvetham Hall (near London), 27-29 June 1980.

W. Scott Thompson’s (1978) Power Projection: A Net Assessment of the U. S. and Soviet Capabilities (published by Transaction Publishers) observes (p.84) that Digby presented papers at the European-American Workshops, which were sponsored by RAND and the Defense Nuclear Agency. Thompson was an associate professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University and the publication is a product of the National Strategy Information Center— which included the IEDSS’ Frank Shakespeare, Eugene V. Rostow, Sven F. Kraemer and Roy Godson.

In connection with this type of activity, Wohlstetter’s consultancy Pan Heuristics Quarterly (previously classified) Report on ‘Integrated Long-Term Defense Strategy’ in 1985 notes:

Wohlstetter was in communication by phone with a number of Americans and Europeans concerned with SDI in preparation for a meeting on SDI at Ditchley Park in England.

According to RAND, these included “Fault Lines in the Soviet Empire: Implications for Western Security,” held in Ditchley Park, May 18-20, 1984. Wohlstetter was President of The European American Institute for Security Research, which was funded by the Carthage Foundation around this time, itself part of the Scaife Foundation; and in 1979 by the Ford Foundation.

*Back to the The Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies


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