On Diagnostic Net Assessment


The Andrew W. Marshall Foundation

Andrew Marshall’s initial notion of a diagnostic net assessment came about while he worked at the RAND Corporation, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s.   

It was during his time at RAND that Marshall, along with Joe Loftus, Jim Digby, Herb Goldhammer, Albert Wohlstetter, and others, began to understand that trying to describe the nature of  the long-term competition between the United States and the Soviet Union required methods of analysis that were by definition broad and multi-disciplinary in nature.   

For Marshall, to understand a competition between two nations meant studying the people, the organizations, and the decisionmaking structures of each country, including its comparative strengths and weaknesses.  To the RAND analysts, understanding the nature of a competition was not a study of raw numbers; it was about conducting a structured systematic analysis that looked to the past for trends and then constructing alternative futures based in part on that trend analysis.   

Because of the uncertainty about the future, the assessments would depend on the question; include factors such as ideology, demographics, political economics, financial institutions, cultures, religion, education, science, technology, research and development, manufacturing, budgetary constraints, organizational constructs, the possible emergence of disruptive technologies, and military organizations, tactics, doctrine, and force structure.   

By nature, net assessment is subject to considerable uncertainty. The principal outcome of Marshall’s analysis was to identify two or three areas of emerging problems or opportunities about which a decisionmakers still had time to make strategic choices and decisions.