Bureaucracy Does Its Thing

Institutional Constraints on U.S.-GVN Performance in Vietnam

by Robert W. Komer

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An analysis of the impact of institutional factors on the U.S./GVN response in Vietnam. Essentially both governments attempted to handle an atypical conflict situation by means of institutions designed for other purposes. Such constraints as institutional inertia — the inherent reluctance of organizations to change operational methods except slowly and incrementally — influenced not only the decisions made but what was actually done in the field. These constraints helped lead to

  1. an overly militarized response;
  2. diffusion of authority and fragmentation of command;
  3. hesitation to change the traditional relationship of civilian to military leadership; and
  4. agency reluctance to violate the conventional lines dividing responsibilities.

The conclusion is that atypical problems demand special solutions. Policymakers must be sure the institutions carrying out the policy can execute it as intended. Adequate follow-through machinery must exist at all levels, to force adaptation if necessary. Where the United States is supporting an enfeebled ally, effective means of stimulating optimum indigenous performance are essential.

The research described in this report was conducted for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

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