- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

They are still years away from calling the shots in foreign policy, but the Generation X members of a new, virtual think tank with a growing worldwide network already are pondering the international order of the next few decades, with the ambition of shaping it for their future days as policy-makers.
About 150 young professionals from various walks of life — but with a common interest in international affairs — have founded the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs (CENSA). It has no office and lacks the formal structure of a typical think tank. Its members communicate with each other and work on joint projects mostly in cyberspace.
Having realized that daily challenges and immediate crises leave current policy-makers little time to think about long-term issues, the youngsters have taken on that task, experiencing some frustration that the foreign policy establishment doesn't often solicit their opinions. The Generation Xers also insist that ideology and domestic politics have no place in CENSA.

Not pushing an agenda
"We are not trying to press forward a particular policy agenda," said Marcel Lettre, vice chairman of CENSA and an associate with Booz, Allen and Hamilton, a New York consulting firm. "We are thinking about strategy under uncertainty — 15 to 20 years down the road — in an environment where people don't have a clear understanding about where we want to be going and what our goals are, other than some broader principles for the international system."
Globalization changes not only diplomacy and the way nations communicate, but also the structures governments have to deal with new problems as they arise, Mr. Lettre said. "Not everything can be solved through cooperation," he added, comparing international relations with transnational business behavior. "There are a host of players in competition with each other, and they try to be the best in their market — that is all legitimately enshrined in the goals of their business. But at the same time, in that set of activities, there are always ways to work out solutions that are mutually beneficial."
Drawing another parallel between business and public policy, Mr. Lettre said the nonprofit world has not caught up with innovations in the private sector, where "startups have reflected the new way of doing things." The traditional think tanks "grew up in a different era, and very few have been created in the last five years," he said, noting that international security in the modern age has to be discussed in the context of international economics.

Activities in five cities
Most of CENSA's members are based in Washington, but the organization also has substantial presence and activities in New York, London, Budapest and Singapore. "Sometimes we need a fresh perspective from outside the Beltway," said Tim Liston, a CENSA founding member and policy analyst at the Rand Corp. He explained that CENSA members seek the opinions of their peers in different countries and try to understand the way they think.
"Our advisers and bosses grew up in a completely different world — we are not so heavily influenced by a world that doesn't exist anymore, and that gives us a special niche," he said. "We want to establish a network and bring in all this talent from the private sector to get our message out and be influential in the community."
It all started two years ago when a group of graduate students at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government began discussing the effect of globalization on foreign policy.
"We wanted to provide a forum for discussion and collaboration on those issues," said Mr. Lettre, who graduated last year. "How the economic balances of different countries are likely to change, how to make sure they are integrated in a global framework that benefits them … We realized there are a lot of opportunities now that can affect outcomes 20 years from now."

Diversity a main asset
As CENSA began to grow and people with full-time jobs in different fields joined, it became clear that diversity would be one of the organization's main assets. Its members believe that foreign policy can benefit from people with various professional backgrounds and experiences applying them in dealing with international issues.
"All you have to do is go around the table," Lisa Campeau, a World Bank consultant, said recently at a breakfast with half a dozen Washington-based CENSA members. "You have an international development expert, two lawyers, a national security specialist, a policy analyst and an information technology expert."
It's not easy "to take a pause and look at issues in the future" when you are at the busiest point of your career, but "there is a desire to serve in one sector or another," said Josh Lippard, a Defense Department lawyer. "A lot of these emerging issues don't respect national boundaries or individual governments, so it's hard to come up with policies."

Emerging issues identified
CENSA members have identified population and migration, water and energy supply, the environment and technology as some of those issues.
"There is no question that in the developed countries, fewer people are having kids," said Scott J. Fitzgerald, a lawyer with Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, a Washington law firm. "Populations are moving to a rate where they will become below replacement. This issue will be huge 20 years from now, and powerful countries may not be able to deal with it."
Information technology has helped CENSA members enormously with their communication, as well as with the reports and other projects on which they work together, Mr. Lippard said. To include more people from different cities in those undertakings, the group exchanges ideas and drafts by e-mail, and the final products are posted on its Web site (www.censa.net ).
Soon after last year's presidential election, CENSA prepared a volume of 27 short memos to the president on several foreign policy and national security issues. "The approach in the report was incubation of ideas," Mr. Lettre said. "We essentially let many flowers bloom, knowing that some of them will fall off over the years — indeed, some of the ideas are now contradictory — but realizing that, over time, if you let these incubate, some of them will become clear front-runners as solutions of longer-term problems."
The next major report, the Project of Innovation and National Security, will be published later this year. CENSA also holds a monthly dinner series on various international issues, as well as monthly leadership meetings.

Tutorials at Georgetown
Since last winter, CENSA members have been conducting research tutorials for graduate students at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. The school's dean, Robert Gallucci, was the keynote speaker at CENSA's second annual conference in May at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The organization has received encouragement and support from foreign policy professionals, including some of the CENSA members' own educators.
"I think the idea is terrific," said John White, a Kennedy School lecturer and former deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. "I first talked with those guys when they were students here, and found them very bright and engaged."
He said the way to get ready for the future is not to make predictions — "because they are usually wrong" — but to "prepare smart people responsive to new challenges."

'A dramatic aspiration'
But Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, is more chary in his praise.
"It's good for people to unify and get some strength in numbers and to give a focal point that people like you and I will remember and look to. The down side, of course, is that CENSA is not the only group of people trying to do that, whether it's a real or a virtual think tank."
Mr. O'Hanlon said CENSA "may have a niche that it can fit into that other groups are not fully profiting from," but its "concept that for the first time puts young policy-makers in touch with each other around the world before they come to power and then makes global governments possible" is a "pretty dramatic aspiration," he said.

Personal satisfaction felt
"But it's nonetheless true that international dialogue is useful, and these are people who are relatively young compared with many of the others who do these dialogues," Mr. O'Hanlon added.
Most CENSA members have found professional and personal satisfaction in the group's activities and in communicating with peers in different cities and countries.
"Other professional organizations have happy hours and social events, but this is the only place where we can talk about Bosnia, East Timor or other foreign policy issues with people of the same age," said Richard R. Verma, a lawyer with Steptoe & Johnson, a Washington law firm.
"When I think of what my parents lived through in South Asia in the 1940s and 1950s, and what so many people went through in Vietnam, I find that we haven't had that kind of transforming experience in our lifetime," he said. "So it's naturally harder for us to come together and talk about issues."

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