On December 8-9, 2000, the Project on the Information Revolution and World Politics sponsored a meeting on "Rethinking Foreign Policy Structures" at the Airlie House Conference Center in Warrenton, VA. The objectives of this brainstorming session were to explore the impact of the information revolution, globalization, and the end of the Cold War on the U.S. foreign policy making process; and to consider alternative models that might make the process more responsive to these core features of the contemporary global scene.

In a background note and their introductory remarks at the meeting, visiting scholar Jamie Metzl and project director William Drake argued that while many businesses and civil societal organizations have successfully adapted to the new global environment, our foreign policy institutions have had a more difficult time of it. To be sure, there is much about the policy machinery that works just fine and does not need changing, and there are a great many talented and dedicated people involved in the policy process. Nevertheless, with respect to the unique challenges and opportunities raised by the information revolution, globalization, and the end of the Cold War, three interrelated sets of problems were cited as impeding organizational adaptation and effective policy making:

  1. Organizational Infrastructure. The institutions responsible for formulating and implementing U.S. policy are, to varying degrees, inhibited by outdated information and communications technologies, rigid organizational cultures, poor management of human resources, inadequate inter-agency coordination of expertise, difficulties in addressing horizontal or cross-cutting issues, tensions between different branches and levels of government, weak relationships with key non-state actors, and budgetary problems.
  2. Analytical Capabilities and Decision Making. The foreign policy community?s ability to gather information and formulate optimal responses is inhibited by excessive secrecy, limits on the ability access and employ external information resources, outdated analytical categories and approaches, and the prevalence of post-hoc responses instead of long-term strategic planning.
  3. Diplomacy and Implementation. Problems in promoting American goals and values in the new environment arise at four interrelated levels: State-to-state diplomacy, state-to-foreign publics diplomacy, state-to-domestic public relations, and cross-national people-to-people relationships.

In the hope of generating innovative thinking on these problems, the organizers proposed that the meeting not take as given the fundamental parameters of existing foreign policy structures and propose incremental reforms. Instead they suggested a "zero-based" exercise in which participants would build from scratch a new model that is optimized to the specific properties of the new global environment. The resulting dialogue produced many interesting suggestions that collectively pointed toward the importance of networked knowledge and relationship management. In the months ahead, Metzl and Drake will write papers that draw on these insights and other sources to suggest new approaches to foreign policy making in the information age.


Harriet C. Babbitt
Deputy Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development

Taylor Boas
Project Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Kathy Bushkin
Chief Communications Officer and Senior Vice President, America Online

Stephen S. Cohen
Professor of Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley

Jeffrey R. Cooper
Director, Center for Information Strategy and Policy, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)

William J. Drake
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Michael Fairbanks
Co-founder and Chief Executive, ontheFRONTIER

Ellen L. Frost
Visiting Fellow, Institute for International Economics

David M. Hoffman
Co-founder and President, Internews

Shanthi Kalathil
Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Andrew Maguire
Chief Executive Officer, EnterpriseWorks Worldwide

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger
Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Jamie F. Metzl
Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Michael R. Nelson
Director of Internet Technology and Strategy, IBM

Richard P. O?Neill
President, The Highlands Group

John W. Rendon, Jr.
Co-founder and President, The Rendon Group

Ernest J. Wilson III
Director, Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland

Paul Dundes Wolfowitz
Dean, Nitze School of Advanced Internat