US Intelligence and the Soviet Strategic Threat

  • Lawrence Freedman


The academic trends of the 1970s have encouraged a cynical attitude towards the role of experts in policy-making. The ‘bureaucratic politics’ approach, which stresses the importance of bargaining between vested interests, leaves little room for the advice of independent specialists as a source of policy. The sort of approach which emphasises the ideological predispositions of policy-makers, finding in these the most satisfactory explanation for the character of the US intervention in the Vietnam War, creates the impression that all policy-makers operate with cognitive mechanisms which habitually exclude awkward and unpalatable information and put up barriers against the intrusion of alternative world-views. If policy-making consists of little more than pulling and hauling between competing bureaucracies or a series of high-level decisions based on the congenial advice of yes-men, then it is hard to see how intelligence estimates can act as an independent input into the policy-making process. The hypothesis could be forwarded that intelligence estimates are valued by policy-makers only as marketing devices, as political instruments rather than as a means of enlightenment. Examples could be cited in support of such a cynical hypothesis. But these examples would all be taken from a particular type of policy-making context—one that is highly politicised. The more politicised an issue, that is, the greater the organisational and electoral stakes in its resolution and the greater the divisions between the contending parties, the more likely it is that those involved will act as political animals, marking out and defending positions with guile and determination. Any attempt to provide objective or independent advice will be doomed to failure. Those making such an attempt will be sucked into the struggle. If their advice is promoted by one side as being unusually perceptive it will be denigrated by the other as being biased and inadequate.


Weapon System Intelligence Community Defence Budget Military Intelligence Intelligence Analyst 
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  1. 1.
    Vice Admiral Vincent P. de Poix, ‘Security and Intelligence’, National Defense Magazine, July-Aug 1974.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Daniel Graham, ‘The Soviet Military Budget Controversy’, Air Force Magazine, May 1976; Washington Star, 15 Feb 1976.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lawrence David Freedman 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence Freedman
    • 1
  1. 1.Royal Institute of International AffairsUK

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