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

I think you may want to begin the meeting2 with some description of the way you want NSC to run: here are some possible points:

The Council is advisory: it does not decide. (This is self-evident, but it has been overlooked in a lot of NSC papers which report that “the Council approved,” or “the Council agreed.”) You will decide-sometimes at the meeting, and sometimes in private after hearing the discussion.

Members should feel free to comment on problems outside their “agency” interest. It’s not good to have only State speak to “politics” and only Defense speak to “military matters.” You want free and general advice from these men (or you don’t want them there).

Formal meetings of the Council are only part of its business; you will be meeting with all its members in other ways, and not all decisions or actions will go through this one agency. And the NSC staff (your staff, really) will have other jobs than preparing for the meetings—but this problem can wait for Agenda Item 4, on NSC organization.

Comment on the agenda (attached, annex A):3 If you want, I can introduce each item with a line of comment-or, even better, you can do it yourself.

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The briefing, for fifteen minutes, will be handled by Allen Dulles, who will have one assistant (Amory) present only for this part of the meeting. This will be a general briefing and will go on longer only if you encourage questions or ask them yourself.
Military Budgets and National Security Policy will be discussed by Bell and McNamara. Bell will go first, on the problem as it now is, and McNamara will continue on what he and Bell mean to do about it. The essential elements here are that they intend to pull the budget process and the military plan into one process of judgment, directly under the Secretary of Defense. This will be new. It is not the same as the basic question of national policy that will come up in 3, below; it is the practical question of carrying policy out effectively and at the right cost, and it is enormously important. It should be regularly discussed at the highest level, and this is a way of starting.
National Security Policies requiring Urgent Attention. I have discussed this in a separate memo which you have read. (Annex B) The basic policy paper (5906/1)4 is the one that needs to be replaced most urgently, and we need to say why, to the whole group, quite briefly. The essence of it is that this paper, with others which grow out of it, sets the basic policy on which military planning builds. This should be re-examined by any new administration, and there are particularly urgent reasons for doing it now.
Organization and Procedures of the National Security Council. This is really your private business, but there is a lot of curiosity around the government, and in a formal way the problem ought to come before NSC before we act. The essence of it is that the organization should reflect your style and methods, not President Eisenhower’s. The jobs it can do for you are two: one is to help in presenting issues of policy, and the other is to keep in close touch with operations that you personally want to keep on top of. Both of these things were done, in theory, by a large, formal, paper-producing staff for President Eisenhower. I’m sure you don’t want that, and what you do want is what I need to ask you before the meeting. I have ideas, but I think it will be easier to talk about them than write.
A new item—on Effective Action in Crisis Areas. This you put on the agenda yourself (Annex C), and I have alerted all concerned that you will want names of task force leaders at the meeting.
McG. B.5
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Bundy Memoranda to the President, 1/61–2/61. No classification marking.
  2. Reference is to the initial Kennedy administration meeting of the National Security Council, scheduled for February 1. The Record of Actions taken at this 475th NSC meeting is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. VIII, Document 8.
  3. None of the annexes is printed.
  4. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. III, pp. 292316. Documentation on the paper’s revision is ibid., 1961–1963, volume VIII.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.