Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume VIII, National Security Policy

  • David W. Mabon
General Editor:
  • David S. Patterson


The primary focus of the documents in this volume is on the foreign policymaking process of the U.S. Government, including documentation illuminating policy formulation and major aspects and repercussions of its execution. Emphasis is placed on official memoranda that reveal policy positions, show differences within the U.S. Government over policy formulation, summarize developments and positions regarding an issue, contain intelligence or military assessments, and describe decisions or actions taken in the National Security Council.

The editor sought principally to cover four interrelated developments in U.S. national security policy:

1. Upon taking office, the Kennedy administration dismantled much of the existing policymaking machinery of the National Security Council (NSC) and substituted a more unstructured policymaking style. The President met less frequently with the full NSC than had been the case in the preceding Eisenhower administration. In the 1958–1960 triennium, the Council met 125 times, while under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson during 1961–1963, it met formally only 46 times. The change was progressive; while the Council convened 21 times under Kennedy in 1961, it met only 13 times in 1963. At the same time, the role of the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs was enhanced and the administration continuously created issue-oriented, ad hoc bodies to deal with specific countries and crises. From time to time McGeorge Bundy attempted to reintroduce more regularized policymaking procedures. The NSC Standing Group was one result of these efforts. Documentation providing some additional details on the transformed administrative role of the National Security Council is scheduled for volume XXV.

2. Leading Kennedy administration policymakers in the White House, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense, but not the President himself, worked to frame a basic national security policy (BNSP), which would replace NSC 5906/1 of July 1959, the last such statement of policy in the preceding administration. While he had little interest in an umbrella BNSP paper, President Kennedy did from time to time set forth a multi-subject overview of U.S. policy, either in the full NSC meetings or with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

3. President Kennedy took a special interest in strengthening U.S. counterinsurgency capabilities. Aided by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, he constantly prodded policymakers to do more in this area.

4. Under the leadership of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, the United States gradually formulated a comprehensive set of doctrines on strategic military posture, particularly with regard to the role of nuclear weapons and of conventional land-based forces. These policies evolved throughout the triennium and were most definitively expressed in a series of Draft Presidential Memoranda, or DPMs, from McNamara to the President.