Past Events

As a medium power, the ROK needs to have a more proactive approach to preventive planning in crisis management, argues Dr. Paul B. Stares, the General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on December 10, 2015.

In his roundtable presentation at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies on “Strategic Foresight and Preventive Planning: Future Uses by the ROK,” Dr. Stares begins by identifying the core issue driving his work: “Policy making is too often short-sighted, reactive to events, and improvised in implementation” but needs to be made “more forward looking, more proactive to risks and opportunities, as well as more professionally executed.”  In everyday life, people are too often “driven by the tyranny of the inbox,” rendering them unprepared for events that happen and unable to respond to crises appropriately. To be more sensitive to opportunities with the ability to approach them with established thinking and procedures rather than mere improvisation requires better “strategic foresight” and “preventive planning.”


Strategic Foresight

Dr. Stares defines “Strategic Foresight” as the “structured and rigorous thinking about the future with the essential understanding that events cannot be predicted but neither are they predetermined” with the purpose “to inform and help guide deliberate policies to shape the future so as to mitigate potential ‘harms’ and exploit potential opportunities.” The two types of strategic foresight can be categorized according to time horizon (long vs. mid-term) or focus (wide/systematic vs. narrow/specific). The key, however, is that strategic foresight should be aligned with the political timeline of decision makers to make the biggest difference. Dr. Stares argues that the 12 to 18 month timeframe is ideal – it is not so far in the future for politicians to discount its plausibility, but also not so immediate that nothing can be done about it. Various strategic foresight techniques include trend projections and plausible divergences, scenario analysis, risk factor and resiliency assessments, branch analysis, crowdsourcing, and “backcasting” (to look back at the policy making trajectory and determine causal linkages between outcomes).


Preventive Planning

The concept of “Preventive Planning” is defined as “deliberate policy planning to lower the likelihood of a specific risk or to exploit an envisaged opportunity.” Dr. Stares emphasizes that preventive planning differs from contingency planning (i.e., policy planning responding to a specific contingency/threat to mitigate its impact and secure a positive outcome from it). Preventive planning is “very much anticipatory, [it is] not just preparing for an event, but [about] what we can do to shape decision makings today so that the likelihood of an undesirable outcome is reduced.”  Given that there is an almost infinite number of possibilities policy makers could prepare for, the focus of preventive planning would be to prioritize the most important risks. A “Risk Matrix” is helpful in visualizing the process of prioritizing policy objectives. Other requirements of preventive planning include the need to align with political time horizons, adaptable policy tactics around commonly occurring problems (e.g.: “Playbooks” and “Checklists”), realistic exercises, institutionalized learning, and professional training and development.


Uses for the ROK

Dr. Stares observes that policymakers are “often very constrained in the policy instruments they think are available to them. [They have] tunnel vision on planning based on personal experience, [and are] ignorant of the full spectrum of policy instruments.”  To the extent that South Korea has aspirations to play a larger role in the region and globally, Dr. Stares comments that “a larger aperture is necessary… [for] horizon scanning and foresight.” At present, “the ROK’s aperture is always only looking North, [but there is a] need to look at other issues” more thoroughly, such as China-Vietnam relations or the conflict in East/South China Seas. The main idea should be to prevent – rather than simply respond – to contingencies (i.e., how to prevent North Korea from engaging in provocative acts rather than planning a response to it after the fact). In short, South Korea’s policy planning has been dominated by “The Contingency” of North Korea (including invasion, provocation, instability, and reunification), but a broader range of both regional and global preventive planning is vital moving forward.


Date/Time: Thursday, December 10, 2015 / 10:00 am – 11:30 am

Place: Conference Room (2F), The Asan Institute for Policy Studies

Written by: Rachel Leng

Dr. Paul B. Stares is the General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Besides overseeing the center’s series of Contingency Planning Memoranda and Council Special Reports on potential sources of instability and conflict, he is currently writing a book on how the United States can make preventive action the centerpiece of a new security strategy for the 21st century.