Memorandum No. 29 Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (JCSS)
This paper is based on a lecture presented at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies on August 17, 1989. At that time the author was a Visiting Fellow at the Center, as well as the Bradley Senior Research Associate at Harvard’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies.
“What follows represents only one line of thinking about net assessment, which we may define as “the craft and discipline of analyzing military balances.” From the first part of this definition an important characteristic of this approach becomes clear: net assessment, in this view, is not a science or anything close to it. Although net assessment may draw on various forms of quantitative analysis, it makes no pretense to the certainty (such as it is) of operations research, much less the hard sciences. Many do not share this view, and think that not only is scientific rigor, of the kind associated, let us say, with molecular biology, possible in this field, but that scientific progress characterizes it as well. My view is more pessimistic: a storehouse of wisdom about doing net assessments has been built up in the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and many statesmen and generals have, in the past, made superb net assessments. But there is no guarantee that accumulated good sense will survive in any bureaucracy, and individual genius appears and flourishes as it wills. What is worse, many of the approaches to net assessment that dominate contemporary academe, and to a lesser extent the public and contract research worlds are, in fact, profoundly destructive of sound net assessment.”Back to Library