The Formulation and Administration of United States Foreign Policy

By H. Field Haviland; Robert E. Asher et al. | Go to book overview

APPENDIXES

APPENDIXES A
THE PROSPECTIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR POLICYMAKING AND ADMINISTRATION1

In this paper an attempt is made to forecast the scientific-technological-demographic-economic condition of the world during the next few decades. At the outset it should be stressed that any such attempt must in essence be an assessment of relative probabilities. And we must make this assessment recognizing fully that there are a great many things we do not know concerning human society and Its environment. The best we can do is to bring together the available information concerning the status of the world today, and by applying our knowledge of the patterns of change in the past and of the limitations which are placed upon the system by physical and biological laws, forecast the probabilities of various developments in the future.

The future course of events naturally depends upon the actions and inactions of individual persons and because of this the "most probable" future can often change quite suddenly. A relatively small number of persons can determine, for example, whether or not there will be peace or war. Situations which are brought about by whim or by the desires, and views of a few powerful individuals obviously cannot be forecast.

Let us examine some of the pitfalls which confront the forecaster.

Human populations have increased rapidly during the last century. A forecaster would be tempted to say that in all likelihood the population of human beings will continue to increase rapidly during the next century. Yet, all of us can imagine factors which might result in an actual decrease of population rather than an increase. One of these factors might be nuclear war. Another factor might be a suddenly acquired desire on the part of men and women to have few or no children. Another might be an agricultural disaster such as that which took place in Ireland a little more than a century ago.

One is tempted to forecast, for example, that it is unlikely that food production in an underdeveloped country can be increased at a rate which is greater, oil the average, than about 4 percent per year. This would certainly be a valid forecast were it based solely upon past accomplishment. Yet it appears today that Red China has approximately doubled its food production during the last few years -- in part through the use of techniques which would not be considered tolerable by most Western-oriented persons.

The element of human unpredictability can result in poor forecasts in many areas simultaneously. We live in a world of cause and effect -- a world in which feedback operates. For example, the state of military technology 20 years from now will depend in part upon the vigor with which the cold war is pursued. The condition of our domestic economy would be dramatically affected on the one hand by disarmament agreements and on the other by vigorous efforts to improve the standards of living in the underdeveloped areas of the world. The rate of industrialization of India will be determined in part by the condition of the U.S. economy. Expenditures of public funds for research and development and education will be determined in part by our concern over the international situation. The level of public spending in these areas will in turn have impact both on the condition of the U.S. economy and the relationships between nations. In other words, all of the factors with which we are dealing are related. All interact upon each other.

The techniques involved in this study have been primitive. Past trends have been examined. These trends have been projected into the future. The pro-

____________________
1
By Harrison Brown, California Institute of Technology.

-139-

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