The National Security Council is Crucial for Secular Democracy and Rule of Law
Dr. Jamaluddin Ahmed
The origins of committee coordination: The Committee of Imperial Defence
To put the NSC in its proper context, it is necessary to start with the origins of the Cabinet Secretariat in 1916 and to consider an even earlier body, the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) Strachan, H., (2013). Many of the today’s challenges to successful central coordination of national security issues were foreshadowed in the early 1900s, whether inter-departmental rivalries, potential capacity gaps between central secretariats and departments, or the level of prime ministerial backing for the coordination process. Prior to 1916, the British Cabinet had functioned without dedicated secretariat support: ‘no minutes were circulated, no agendas were set, no decisions were recorded (Naylor, JF (1971). Cabinet meetings could be long, rambling affairs; ministers departed with little idea of what had been decided. Their private secretaries would then write to each other discreetly, trying to clarify the details. For example, an appeal to one of Gladstone’s private secretaries stated that ‘there must have been some decision...My Chief has told me to ask you what the devil was decided, for he be damned if he knows. Will you ask Mr. G. in more conventional and less pungent terms (Naylor, JF (1971). The areas of foreign and defence policy – or ‘imperial defence’ as they were then conceived – were the first to benefit from improved secretariat support. A Colonial Defence Committee (CDC) had attempted to coordinate metropolitan, dominion and colonial defence arrangements from (1885 (Gordon, D.C. 1962) But it was Prime Minister Arthur Balfour who in 1904 converted the existing ‘weak and informal’ Defence Committee (set up in 1902) into the CID by establishing a small permanent secretariat to support its work (Johnson, F.A. (1961).
At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Head of the CID secretariat, Maurice Hankey, placed it at the disposal of Prime Minister Asquith’s attempts to coordinate wartime decision making.
None of Asquith’s efforts to coordinate between the civil and military sides of the war effort succeeded in establishing a strong grip. From December 1916 Asquith’s successor, Lloyd George, ‘established a war cabinet of five, so as to avoid any repetition of divided governmental authority [Naylor, J.F. 2004 . It was this change that ultimately led to the development of today’s Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretary role. The CID continued to develop until the outbreak of war in 1939. It subsumed the Colonial Defence Committee (CDC) within its network of subcommittees (Gordon, D.C;1962) and developed a series of other subcommittees, including the Chiefs of Staff Committee (Stanbridge, B.G.T.,1973). After a short-lived Foreign Office attempt to create its own centre for political intelligence assessment to complement the military services’ assessment of military intelligence, (Goldstein, E., 1988) the Joint Intelligence Committee was also established as a CID subcommittee in 1936. To begin with, therefore, the JIC was a purely military organisation (‘a mere adjunct to the Chiefs of Staff organisation’) (Cradock, P., 2002) but the civilian intelligence agencies were formally added as members in 1940 and in 1957 the JIC was moved into the Cabinet Office, reflecting growing civilian involvement and the increasing importance of political intelligence (Goodman, M., 2007) Key to the CID’s coordinating and delivery function was the assembly of leading figures from each department and service around the CID meeting table. In 1947, it became the Defence Committee, but its membership was little changed from that of the CID in previous decades, comprising (Johnson, F.A., 1961): Prime Minister; Minister of Defence; Lord President of the Council; Foreign Secretary; Chancellor of the Exchequer; The Service ministers; Minister of Labour; Minister of Supply; The Chiefs of Staff.
As with the NSC today, other ministers attended CID meetings at the prime minister’s behest, as appropriate to the subjects under discussion. The CID’s first head, Sir George Clarke, was able to bring to the CID many of the bureaucratic routines – regular minute-taking and marshalling of a network of subcommittees – he had long honed as the head of the CDC secretariat. Clarke recognised the challenges to any prime ministerial adviser facing competing departmental centres of power and influence, lamenting that he had to operate by ‘the gentle pulling of strings’ rather than ‘being able to speak with power’, given his inferior standing and resources as CID Secretary vis-à-vis minister and service chiefs (Gooch, J., 1975).
The CID’s secretary from 1912, Maurice Hankey, used the CID model to form the basis for the cabinet committee structure and secretariat that is still used today (Johnson, F.A.,1961). The structure for defence and security issues was, and still is, closely bound up with the relationship between prime ministerial, ministerial and collective cabinet responsibility: who took the lead was about which bodies dominated.
In the face of inter-departmental and inter-service tensions, prime ministerial support was crucial for the CID’s effectiveness. This was not always forthcoming. During its first decade, the CID suffered from a general lack of prime ministerial commitment to ensuring its decisions were implemented. Under Balfour, the CID met on average more than once per fortnight, but under Campbell-Bannerman it met just 15 times in over two years. Moreover, Balfour did not ‘turn to the departments and insist that the conclusions of the Committee should be the basis on which they worked. He did not urge his ministers to follow the new ideas through’. Campbell-Bannerman was allegedly ‘not interested in defence’ and, although he permitted the CID to continue meeting, he ‘did not set it to work on any major issues.’ Things were little better under Asquith, with the CID meeting ‘rather less than once every two months between April 1908 and the outbreak of war in August 1914 (MacKintosh, J.P , 1962).
Despite this chequered record, the CID was significant in establishing several breaks with previous practice at the centre of government Johnson, F.A.,1961). Its secretariat provided much-needed support to the prime minister and facilitated strategic planning and decision making. Politicians and career service leaders served as equal and active participant members. At a time of inter-departmental rivalry, it was a coordinating committee, bringing together representatives from the military services and civil departments, with a flexible membership determined by the Prime Minister on an ad hoc basis.
The pre-war CID and Lloyd George’s War Cabinet foreshadowed many of the key operational challenges and structural features of the NSC. As CID secretary, Hankey needed to cultivate a reputation for ‘honest brokerage’ between the Prime Minister, departmental ministers and service chiefs. Indeed, Hankey probably over-involved himself in the post-war years as a prominent member of Lloyd George’s travelling entourage, although the choice was not so much his as the Prime.
Membership of the National Security Council-Current Ministerial members of the NSC: Prime Minister; Deputy Prime Minister; Chancellor of the Exchequer; First Secretary of State/Leader of the House of Commons; Foreign Secretary; Home Secretary; Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change; Secretary of State for International Development; Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Minister for Government Policy, Cabinet Office; and the Defence Secretary.
Senior officials attending when required: National Security Adviser (NSA); Cabinet Secretary; Chief of Defence Staff (CDS); Permanent Under-Secretary, FCO; Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS); Director of Government Communications; Headquarters (GCHQ); Director General of the Security Service (SyS); and Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).
The pre-war CID and Lloyd George’s War Cabinet foreshadowed many of the key operational challenges and structural features of the NSC. As CID secretary, Hankey needed to cultivate a reputation for ‘honest brokerage’ between the Prime Minister, departmental ministers and service chiefs. Indeed, Hankey probably over-involved himself in the post-war years as a prominent member of Lloyd George’s travelling entourage, although the choice was not so much his as the Prime Minister’s. Resentment was particularly keen in the Foreign Office, perhaps unsurprisingly given that (Warburg, R.,1972). The CID and Cabinet Secretariat were part of the permanent machinery of government, but, as relatively recent creations, they were strongly marked by the personal stamp of Lloyd George. This mirrors the position which the NSC and National Security Secretariat will face at the May 2015 General Election. That led to doubt whether the CID and Cabinet Secretariat would survive Lloyd George’s downfall in 1922, but Hankey was flexible enough to adjust to ‘the different temperaments of the five premiers he served (Naylor, J.F., 2004). The secretariat needed to strike a careful balance to maintain the co-operation of relevant departments: ‘If the secretary and his staff became a separate department having independent interests and policy-making powers, the CID would fail. The cabinet leaders would almost certainly combine against such a threat to the sacred principle of cabinet responsibility for executive action.’
Furthermore, like the NSC on occasion, the CID also became ‘a bi-partisan forum, as several times the Leader of the Opposition joined subcommittee discussions (Johnson, F.A.,1961) .’ Moreover, the CID secretariat was ‘designed, not to take action, but rather to see that action was taken by constituted departments after decisions had been made.’29 Departments owned delivery, but the CID coordinated and drove the overall process. The CID demonstrates the enduring challenges to coordination of foreign and defence policy at the centre of British government. Active prime ministerial backing is crucial for the success of any committee set up for these purposes. The mere existence of a central coordinating committee does not, in itself, guarantee harmonious inter-departmental cooperation. Effective coordination requires a skilled and diplomatic figure at the centre, enjoying the confidence of key participants. Hankey performed this function for over 20 years, at the same time as discharging the responsibilities of Secretary to the Cabinet, setting a precedent for his successors, few of whom had his long experience of defence, intelligence and foreign policy issues.
Organising national security, 1979-2010: While it is possible to see clear similarities between the CID and the NSC, it is also instructive to look at how the NSC differs from its more immediate predecessors. The NSC seeks to bring together foreign, defence, security, resilience and intelligence policy under the auspices of one committee and secretariat structure in a way that was not a feature of earlier arrangements. This is partly because the concept of national security has shifted. Over the last century, Cabinet committees and other structures have handled individual aspects of this portfolio. Previously, different connections were seen between defence (particularly during times of war), foreign policy, security (terrorism), the nuclear threat (pre-eminent during the Cold War) and intelligence, let alone resilience and civil contingencies. Reflecting the salience of the terrorist threat, ‘national security’ has a significant focus on coordinating intelligence and anti-terrorism efforts. The Foreign Secretary’s exclusion was not absolute; he attended many meetings of the War Cabinet at the Prime Minister’s invitation, but not as a full member.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, Sir David Omand was appointed to a new role as Security and Intelligence Coordinator to oversee both the intelligence agencies as a whole and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. Another of Omand’s responsibilities was to chair the Permanent Secretaries’ Intelligence and Security Committee, PSIS. In 2005, the coordinator was again rebadged, as ‘Permanent Under Secretary: Intelligence, Security and Resilience’. In this role, Sir Richard Mottram combined the existing Coordinator’s duties with responsibility for the Joint Intelligence Committee. On Mottram’s retirement, these roles were again separated (Alex Allan, 2007).
The cabinet Secretary took over responsibility for oversight of the Single Intelligence Account until this transferred to the newly-created National Security Adviser post in 2010 (Hansard, 2011) and the JIC chairmanship was retained as a separate post, held successively by Alex Allan and Jon Day. Following the Iraq war, the Butler Inquiry report had recommend ed that the JIC chairmanship should be filled by officials with sufficient experience and stature to be able to defend the independence of intelligence assessment from policy – meaning that these would be likely to be officials who were close to retirement (Butler, R., 2014 ). This stipulation about keeping intelligence assessment separate from policy advice is, perhaps, one reason why the JIC Chairman and Assessment Staff were not formally incorporated within the National Security Secretariat serving the NSA, even though the NSC increasingly shapes the JIC’s workflow.
Alongside intelligence, there have been significant changes in coordination of the government’s responses to terrorism and its approach to wider issues of security and resilience. Since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and the 7 July 2005 London bombings, the Islamist terrorist threat has become the defining national security issue and triggered substantially increased investment in intelligence and security. The need for a coordinated response led in 2003 to the development of a counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) and the establishment of a Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) and, in 2007, to the creation of a new Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) based in the Home Office – both of which aim to increase the cross-departmental coherence and capacity of the effort against terrorism [UK Home office Policy Paper 2014].
Until 2007, Cabinet discussion and decision making concerning international terrorism took place through an OD subcommittee on International Terrorism (OD(IT)), chaired by the Prime Minister. Detailed work was driven by its Home Secretary-chaired subcommittee on Protection, Security and Resilience (OD(IT)(PSR)). Shortly before his 2007 resignation, Blair reorganised this system, replacing the OD(IT) subcommittee with a new Ministerial Committee on Security and Terrorism, which also encompassed the counter radicalisation aspects of the Cabinet’s Domestic Affairs committee [Hennessy, P., (1945-2010, Penguin pp 378-381)].
What this shows is a high degree of flux in efforts to coordinate different aspects of the security and intelligence brief, particularly since 2001. The massive pressures to address international and domestic terrorism – and the priority role for intelligence in this effort – saw new organisational solutions pursued with great frequency. Perhaps it also reflected the style of the Labour government at that time, adapting the machinery of government at frequent intervals and experimenting with changes in organisation at the centre and cross-cutting Whitehall. Though these changes were in some ways about intelligence coordination and the management of the assessment process, they also reflected changes in the wider security sphere, of which intelligence is but one part. The move towards a more over-arching national security machine can be seen as an attempt to provide greater stability, seniority and more coherence to areas of overlap that the centre had struggled to coordinate effectively. The formal creation of an integrated national security secretariat and committee process in May 2010, overseen by a national security adviser, could be seen as a further step along this path of central coordination.
Advising the prime minister: On top of the machinery for coordination sit senior advisers to the prime minister. Although there are a number of cabinet ministers with relevant portfolios, the prime minister has a particular responsibility for ensuring a coherent approach to national security, for the conduct of policy and for overseeing the response to crises. There have been different constellations of senior officials acting as adviser to the prime minister on these roles. The NSA post was created to provide a single focal point for the coordination of many of these issues, but other voices remain influential. These include the most senior officials and military officers, the heads of various secretariats, services and agencies, the Cabinet Secretary, the prime minister’s chief of staff and other political advisers.
The traditional model of prime ministerial support had been for there to be a single foreign affairs private secretary in No.10, whose role was to draw on the key departments of state – principally the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) – for advice. But in the 1980s that began to change. Margaret Thatcher, ‘in light of her disenchantment with the Foreign Office as a result of the Falklands experience... wanted a senior figure on her personal staff who would alert her to coming problems and if need be offer independent advice (Cradock, P., (1997).Initially retaining the part-time services of the recently-retired UK Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Sir Anthony Parsons, Thatcher ultimately employed another experienced senior diplomat, Sir Percy Cradock, as her long-serving Foreign Policy Adviser. Cradock, who survived the transition to John Major and retired in 1992, supplemented the advice of the foreign affairs private secretary but had little other support of his own, with the services of ‘a secretary to type his minutes and little else...If there was to be a contest with the hundreds of high-powered operators across the road in the Foreign Office, it was going to be a very unequal one.
As noted in the previous section, when Sir Percy retired he was replaced by another career diplomat, Sir Rodric Braithwaite, who like Sir Percy combined this role with the JIC chairmanship. As we noted in Centre Forward, the private office for this period relied primarily on a single foreign affairs private secretary, not gaining an additional private secretary until later in John Major’s prime ministership. Sirstephen Wall has written that, as Jphn Major’s foreign affairs private secretary the early 1990s, his responsibilities were wide-ranging, from foreign policy to Northern Ireland and defence issues. Even though he was part of the private office, Wall felt that he did not have the capacity to substitute his efforts for the deeper contribution of the relevant departments of state. However, both Cradock and Wall noted that Wall’s predecessor as foreign affairs private secretary, Charles (now Lord) Powell, had, in spite of the same dearth of support, encountered resentment in the Foreign Office due to his close relationship with Margaret Thatcher and the perceived influence this gave him over her foreign policy (Wall, S., 2008).
Tony Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, himself an ex-diplomat, took a lead both on Northern Ireland51 and on other foreign and security issues. Things started to change significantly in Blair’s second term as he looked to boost his ability to drive his priorities from No.10. In June 2001, the Cabinet Secretary conceded that the foreign affairs capacity available to the Prime Minister could be increased by ‘double-hatting’ both the Head of the Cabinet Office European Secretariat and the Head of the OD Secretariat as respective prime ministerial advisers on Europe and Foreign Policy. This brought the capacity of the secretariats behind the advisers. Lord Wilson has testified to the Iraq Inquiry that he saw this move as ‘the lesser evil’ at a time when a merger of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Office had been mooted (Wilson, T.J., 2011). The arrangement survived under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, with Sir David Manning, Sir Nigel Sheinwald and Simon McDonald occupying the double-hatted role. Sir Stephen Wall, who performed the parallel role of Prime Minister’s Europe Adviser for Blair from its inception until his retirement in 2004, has reflected that it was ‘no more than common sense...for the Prime Minister to have a small team dealing with foreign policy rather than a one-man band.’ Wall argued that Blair’s 2001 reorganisation created ‘greater capacity for independent origination of ideas, for negotiation, on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and for implementation of policy than existed before. The risk in this lay not in the structures themselves but in how they were used within the overall framework of cabinet government (Wall, S., A. 2008).
United States of America: The Creation of the National Security Council
The NSC was not created independently, but rather as one part of a complete restructuring of the entire national security apparatus, civilian and military, including intelligence efforts, as accomplished in the National Security Act of 1947. Thus, it is difficult to isolate the creation of the NSC from the larger reorganization, especially as the NSC was much less controversial than the unification of the military and so attracted less attention.
Proposals: As early as 1943, General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, had proposed that the prospect of a unified military establishment be assessed. Congress first began to consider this idea in 1944, with the Army showing interest while the Navy was opposed. At the request of the Navy these investigations were put off until 1945, although by then it was clear to Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal that President Truman, who had come to the White House upon the death of President Roosevelt in April 1945, favored some sort of reorganization. Forrestal believed that outright opposition would not be a satisfactory Navy stance. He also realized that the State Department had to be included in any new national security apparatus. Therefore, he had Ferdinand Eberstadt, a leading New York attorney and banker who had served in several high-level executive branch positions, investigate the problem (Demetrios Caraley, 1951).
With respect to the formation of the NSC, the most significant of the three questions posed by Forrestal to Eberstadt, was: What form of post-war organization should be established and maintained to enable the military services and other governmental departments and agencies most effectively to provide for and protect our national security. Eberstadt’s response to this question covered the military establishment, where he favoured three separate departments and the continuation of the JCS, as well as the civilian sphere, where he suggested the formation of two new major bodies “to coordinate all these [civilian and military] elements.” These two bodies he called the National Security Council (NSC), composed of the President, the Secretaries of State and of the three military departments, the JCS “in attendance,” and the chairman of the other new body, the National Security Resources Board (NSRB). Eberstadt also favored the creation of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the NSC (Caraley, 1991).
Eberstadt’s recommendations clearly presaged the eventual national security apparatus, with the exception of a unified Department of Defense. Furthermore, it was a central point in Forrestal’s plans for holding the proposed reorganization to Navy desires, bringing in the State Department, as he desired, and hopefully obviating the need for some coalescence of the military services. The NSC was also a useful negotiating point for Forrestal with the Army, as Eberstadt had described one of its functions as being the “building up [of] public support for clear-cut, consistent, and effective foreign and military policies.” This would appeal to all the service factions as they thought back on the lean and insecure prewar years (Caraley, 1991).
War-Navy negotiations over the shape of the reorganization continued throughout 1946 and into 1947. However, some form of central coordination, for a while called the Council of Common Defense, was not one of the contentious issues. By the end of May 1946, agreement had been reached on this and several other points, and by the end of the year the two sides had agreed on the composition of the new coordinative body.
Congressional Consideration: The creation of the NSC was one of the least controversial sections of the National Security Act and so drew little attention in comparison with the basic concept of a single military department, around which most of the congressional debate centered. The concept of a regular and permanent organization for the coordination of national security policy was as widely accepted in Congress as in the executive. When the NSC was considered in debate, the major issues were the mechanics of the new organization, its membership, assurances that it would be a civilian organization and would not be dominated by the new Secretary of the National Military Establishment, and whether future positions on the NSC would be subject to approval by the Senate (Caraley, 1947.
The NSC as Created in 1947: The NSC was created by the National Security Act, which was signed by the President on July 26, 1947. The NSC appears in Section 101 of Title I, Coordination for National Security, and its purpose is stated as follows: (a) ... The function of the Council shall be to advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable the military services and the other departments and agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving the national security. (b) In addition to performing such other functions as the President may direct, for the purpose of more effectively coordinating the policies and functions of the departments and agencies of the Government relating to the national security, it shall, subject to the direction of the President, be the duty of the Council (1) to assess and appraise the objectives, commitments, and risks of the United States in relation to our actual and potential military power, in the interest of national security, for the purpose of making recommendations to the President in connection there with; and (2) to consider policies on matters of common interest to the departments and agencies of the Government concerned with the national security, and to make recommendations to the President in connection therewith.... (d) The Council shall, from time to time, make such recommendations, and such other reports to the President as it deems appropriate or as the President may require.
The following officers were designated as members of the NSC: the President; the Secretaries of State, Defense, Army, Navy, and Air Force; and the Chairman of the National Security Resources Board. The President could also designate the following officers as members “from time to time:” secretaries of other executive departments and the Chairmen of the Munitions Board and the Research and Development Board. Any further expansion required Senate approval. The NSC was provided with a staff headed by a civilian executive secretary, appointed by the President. The National Security Act also established the Central Intelligence Agency under the NSC, but the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was not designated as an NSC member. The act also created a National Military Establishment, with three executive departments (Army, Navy, and Air Force) under a Secretary of Defense.
The US National Security Council, 1947-2009
The Truman NSC, 1947-1953: Early Use. The NSC first met on September 26, 1947. President Truman attended the first session, but did not attend regularly thereafter, thus emphasizing the NSC’s advisory role. In his place, the President designated the Secretary of State as chairman, which also was in accord with the President’s view of the major role that the State Department should play. Truman viewed the NSC as a forum for studying and appraising problems and making recommendations, but not one for setting policy or serving as a centralized office to coordinate implementation. The NSC met irregularly for the first 10 months. In May 1948, meetings twice a month were scheduled, although some were cancelled, and special sessions were convened as needed.
The Hoover Commission. The first review of NSC operations came in January 1949 with the report of the Hoover Commission (the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government), which found that the NSC was not fully meeting coordination needs, especially in the area of comprehensive statements of current and long-range policies (US Govt printing office, 1949). The Hoover Commission recommended that better working-level liaison between the NSC and JCS be developed, that the Secretary of Defense become an NSC member, replacing the service secretaries, and that various other steps be taken to clarify and tighten roles and liaison.
1949 Amendments. In January 1949, President Truman directed the Secretary of the Treasury to attend all NSC meetings. In August 1949, amendments to the National Security Act were passed (P.L. 81-216), changing the membership of the NSC to consist of the following officers: the President, Vice President, Secretaries of State and Defense, and Chairman of the National Security Resources Board.
Subsequent Usage and Evaluation. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 brought greater reliance on the NSC system. The President ordered weekly meetings and specified that all major national security recommendations be coordinated through the NSC and its staff. Truman began presiding regularly, chairing 62 of the 71 meetings between June 1950 and January 1953. The NSC became to a much larger extent the focus of national security decision making. Still, the NSC’s role remained limited. Truman continued to use alternate sources of information and advice (Walter Miles (1958).
The Eisenhower NSC, 1953-1961
President Dwight Eisenhower, whose experience with a well-ordered staff was extensive, gave new life to the NSC. Under his Administration, the NSC staff was institutionalized and expanded, with clear lines of responsibility and authority, and it came to closely resemble Eberstadt’s original conception as the President’s principal arm for formulating and coordinating military, international, and internal security affairs. Meetings were held weekly and, in addition to Eisenhower himself and the other statutory members, participants often included the Secretary of the Treasury, the Budget Director, the Chairman of the JCS, and the Director of Central Intelligence.
Organizational Changes. In his role as chairman of the NSC, Eisenhower created the position of Special Assistant for National Security Affairs,16 who became the supervisory officer of the NSC. Eisenhower established two important subordinate bodies: the NSC Planning Board, which prepared studies, policy recommendations, and basic drafts for NSC coordination, and the Operations Coordinating Board, which was the coordinating and integrating arm of the NSC for all aspects of the implementation of national security policy. In 1956, President Eisenhower, partly in response to recommendations of the second Hoover Commission on the Organization of the Executive Branch of Government, also established the Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities in the Executive Office. This board was established by Executive Order 10656 and was tasked to provide the President with independent evaluations of the U.S. foreign intelligence effort. The Board of Consultants lapsed at the end of the Eisenhower Administration, but a similar body, the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), was created by President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs failure. PFIAB was itself abolished in 1977, but was resurrected during the Reagan Administration in 1981. Members are selected by the President and serve at his discretion.
Evaluation. The formal structure of the NSC under Eisenhower allowed it to handle an increasing volume of matters. Its work included comprehensive assessments of the country’s basic national security strategy, which were designed to serve as the basis for military planning and foreign policymaking. The complexity of NSC procedures under Eisenhower and its lengthy papers led to charges that quantity was achieved at the expense of quality and that the NSC was too large and inflexible in its operations. Critics alleged that it was unable to focus sufficiently on major issue areas.
The Kennedy NSC, 1961-1963
President John Kennedy, who did not share Eisenhower’s preference for formal staff procedures, accepted many of the recommendations of the Jackson Committee and proceeded to dismantle much of the NSC structure, reducing it to its statutory base. Staff work was carried out mainly by the various departments and agencies, and personal contacts and ad hoc task forces became the main vehicles for policy discussion and formulation. The NSC was now one among many sources of advice. Kennedy’s National Security Adviser, McGeorge Bundy, played an important policy role directly under the President. The nature of this position was no longer that of a “neutral keeper of the machinery”; for the first time, the Adviser emerged in an active policymaking role, in part because of the absence of any definite NSC process that might preoccupy him (Anna Kasten Nelson, 1984).
Kennedy met regularly with the statutory NSC members and the DCI, but not in formal NSC sessions. Studies and coordination were assigned to specific Cabinet officers or subordinates in a system that placed great emphasis on individual responsibility, initiative and action. The Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was initially seen as the second most important national security official in the President’s plans, and Kennedy indicated that he did not want any other organizations interposed between him and Rusk. However, Kennedy came to be disappointed by the State Department’s inability or unwillingness to fill this role as the leading agency in national security policy (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., 1965).
Organizational Changes. Kennedy added the Director of the Office of Emergency Planning to the NSC, replacing the Director of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization. It was planned that the new appointee would fill the role originally envisioned for the National Security Resources Board in coordinating emergency management of resources. The Planning Board and the Operations Control Board were both abolished (by Executive Order 10920) in order to avoid the Eisenhower Administration’s distinction between planning and operations. The NSC staff was reduced, and outside policy experts were brought in. Bundy noted that they were all staff officers.
Evaluation: Some critics attacked the informality of the system under Kennedy, arguing that it lacked form and direction, as well as coordination and control, and that it emphasized current development at the expense of planning. As noted, Kennedy himself was disappointed by the State Department, on which he had hoped to rely. In retrospect, Kennedy’s system was designed to serve his approach to the presidency and depended upon the President’s active interest and continuous involvement. Some critics, both at the time and subsequently, have suggested that the informal methods that the Kennedy Administration adopted contributed to the Bay of Pigs debacle and the confusion that surrounded U.S. policy in the coup against President Diem of South Vietnam in 1963.
Jamaluddin Ahmed PhD FCA is the General Secretary of Bangladesh Economic Association, Former member of Board of Directors of Bangladesh Bank, Former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Janata Bank Limited and Former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh.