4. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy1


  • The Use of the National Security Council

Everyone who has written or talked about the NSC agrees that it should be what the President wants it to be; this is right. So the following [Page 13] comments are entirely to stir your reactions. All we need for now is your decisions on opening steps-the Council can readily be shaped and reshaped to your taste as we learn from experience.

The Council has four elements: (1) its formal meetings under your chairmanship, (2) a Planning Board (of Assistant Secretaries), (3) an Operations Coordinating Board (of Under Secretaries), and (4) staff for the above. Numbers (2), (3), and (4) are, in my view, ripe for re-organization. They are too big, too formal, and too paperbound to do the immediate or the planning work you want. This reorganization will take a little while and its exact shape will depend, among other things, on what you do with (1) the Council itself.

My suggestion is that the Council can provide a regular and relatively formal place for free and frank discussion of whatever major issues of national security are ready for such treatment. I believe such discussion can do two things for you and one for your associates. For you it can (1) open a subject up so that you can see what its elements are and decide how you want it pursued; and (2) present the final arguments of those principally concerned when a policy proposal is ready for your decision. Both of these tasks can be performed in other ways; in emergency situations they must be. But the Council ought to be a good place for much of this work.

The special service the Council can render to your associates is a little subtler: it can give them confidence that they know what is cooking and what you want. The NSC, under Eisenhower, got too big; and we can and should cut back its attendance. But there remains a number of men whose self-confidence, as well as their ability to help you, can be strongly reinforced by participation in the work of the Council. Examples, quite different in their shape, are Vice President Johnson and Jerry Wiesner. So I think you will gain, at the start, by having reasonably regular meetings of NSC. The Eisenhower Administration used weekly meetings, but I suggest we begin with a fortnightly calendar, using special meetings of selected individuals as you may want them. Ken O’Donnell thinks Wednesday morning at 10:00 will be a good time.


The membership, by statute, includes:

Vice President
Secretary of State
Secretary of Defense
Director, OCDM

Two additional regular members, by standing invitation, going back to Truman, made a lot of trouble in the last Administration-in this one they will, I think, be valuable: [Page 14]

Secretary of the Treasury
Director of the Budget

The statutory “advisers”, who have regularly attended in the past, are:

Director, CIA
Chairman, JCS (representing the Joint Chiefs as a group)

From the Presidential staff, customarily, there have been

The Science Adviser (nearly everything military is of major interest to him, and his separate counsel is important to you)
The Special Assistant for National Security Affairs
Goodpaster (tending the door and handling urgent messages silently—a wise and good man)
13., 14.?
And in this Administration, you may want to add Sorensen? or Dungan? or Rostow?

From the NSC staff


The Executive Secretary (Lay), The Deputy Executive Secretary (Boggs)

(I’d drop the Deputy at once, and the Executive Secretary-ship should presently be merged with me.)

A number of additional people like the Chairman of AEC, the Under Secretary of State, the Director of ICA, the Director of USIA, and various White House staff men, were usually included by the last Administration. I’m against this (unless you want it) except where the agenda calls for it. But there will be squawks-I’ve already had pressure from USIA’s Wilson, for example, and he has a relatively good case. What about him? Stevenson? Bowles?


Traditionally, the meetings have begun with a briefing by the Director of CIA. This can be as short or as long as you want. I have the impression that occasionally in the past these briefings have been quite long, and my suggestion is that at the beginning you may want to give clear instructions that they be limited to fifteen minutes, except where you have a particular topic that you would like discussed at greater length.

Beyond that, the agenda is quite free. My own suggestions for the first meeting are two—they are not the most urgent, but in some ways they are the ones most fitted for the present Council discussion.

The first is that we should discuss ways and means of bringing defense policy and its budgetary meaning closer together. Both McNamara and Bell have made it clear to me that in their judgment this problem is at the heart of effective control of our military posture; both of them think it is ripe for attack. They would both gain strength from a brief [Page 15] discussion in your presence which might lead to a clear direction that they should attack this problem and bring explicit proposals for its long-range handling to the Council promptly.

The second agenda item is quite different: it is the billion dollar defense of freedom fund which Dean Rusk mentioned yesterday. I would include the wider problem of the dollar and foreign trade and foreign aid if it were not already being quite urgently and immediately discussed in preparation for your coming messages. As it is, I think this one has certain special value, partly because it is a separable and urgent item, and partly—to be frank—because I think it would be a dandy one for assignment to Rostow and me for preparation. Any such fund should be plainly and clearly in the President’s hands for a whole lot of reasons, and the staff work should be done by your people. We can get a preliminary paper for discussion at the first NSC meeting if you want.

Urgent Reviews of Existing Policy

There are a number of existing policy papers which raise questions that should be promptly reviewed. I am scouting these papers myself (mainly through Walt) and I suggest we ask Rusk and McNamara also to state the ones that they find most in need of attention. A whole lot of these papers are fairly useless exercises, I think; these can be ignored for now. But some are important because they really do guide the executive branch and especially the Pentagon; these we must review and get right where they are wrong.

Organization of NSC and its Various Boards

While this is your business, and mine for you, the opinion of NSC members may be useful, and accordingly, we might put this on the agenda for the first meeting-but only if you should be ready. I’ll make a preliminary sketch of what I think you ought to want when we talk Tuesday. In general, I agree with Dick Neustadt’s remarkable analysis.

A Separate Subject: Briefing

There are a large number of activities and intelligence estimates you need to get caught up on, and this work will take longer than a short preamble to NSC meetings. But there is a problem deriving from the different habits of your predecessor. He used the military briefing process—charts and speeches—and I think the habit of quite long expositions is widespread. Moreover, everyone will want to keep you as long as you can stand it and maybe longer. On the other hand, you ought to listen to a lot of these men to get an estimate of them as men. Would you like me to coordinate a set of briefing meetings—military, CIA, AEC, and State? And if so, how much time do you want to spend?

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Bundy Memoranda to the President, 1/61–2/61. No classification marking.