120. Statement Prepared by the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) for President Johnson 1

I issued in March 1966 NSAM 341, after a thoroughgoing review of governmental organization in the field of foreign affairs conducted by General Taylor.

My decision was to assign responsibility for the direction, coordination and supervision of overseas interdepartmental activities to the Secretary of State. A key part of that decision was to activate the Senior Interdepartmental Group, which was to be chaired by the Under Secretary of State and to include those at the Under Secretary level from the various departments and from the White House.

The simple fact is that for 15 months now NSAM 341 has not been implemented.

I have felt the lack on many issues; for example, the Middle East, Viet Nam, counterinsurgency problems in Latin America.

I have come to the conclusion that either the Department of State must now energetically and effectively implement NSAM 341—and, especially, make the Senior Interdepartmental Group perform its functions—or I shall have to organize this kind of leadership and coordination out of the White House.


Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson

Mr. President:

Herewith Gen. Taylor raises a real and serious problem.

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We thought we had it solved with the Schelling appointment—after great delay. But he’s bailed out.

Gene tells me he has recommended Franklin Lindsay for the Schelling job; but action apparently awaits Nick’s return.

I believe it essential that Sec. Rusk understand your personal concern that NSAM 341 has not been effectively implemented.



Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson


  • Implementation of NSAM-341, dated March 2, 1966

Shortly after my return from Saigon in 1965, you directed me to review all governmental activities in the field of counterinsurgency and to make appropriate recommendations to assure our readiness to cope with other situations similar to that in South Viet-Nam. The principal outcome of this review was the promulgation of NSAM-341 in March, 1966.

The effect of this decision on your part was to assign responsibility for the direction, coordination and supervision of overseas interdepartmental activities to the Secretary of State as your agent who was to be assisted by the Senior Interdepartmental Group (SIG) chaired by the Under Secretary of State and including as members the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Administrator, AID, Chairman, JCS, Director, USIA, and the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. The SIG was to absorb the responsibility in the field of counterinsurgency which, since 1962, had been concentrated in the Special Group (CI) and, in addition, was to serve as a focal point for decisions on all important interdepartmental matters arising overseas.

During the past year, I have naturally watched the implementation of this decision with great interest, hoping that the procedures directed by NSAM-341 would bring method and flexibility into the conduct of our overseas business and remove our dependence on the initiative of individual officials or on ad hoc committees which, in the past, have often been improvised to deal with critical overseas issues.

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I regret to say that it is my opinion as a bystander that the SIG and the supporting interdepartmental committees at the level of the Assistant Secretaries of State have not fulfilled the hopes which we had for them more than a year ago. Far from being a forum regularly used by senior officials to discharge expeditiously their interrelated overseas problems, the SIG has met with decreasing frequency during the last year. In the last six months of 1966, the SIG met three times and has met only twice in 1967. It is significant that it has taken no part in the conduct of our most serious and complicated overseas operation-Viet-Nam. I find little indication on the agenda of its infrequent meetings of any serious attention to counterinsurgency and matters related to “Wars of Liberation,” a task which required almost weekly meetings on the part of the old Special Group (CI). My overall impression is that the intent of NSAM-341 has been only partially fulfilled and that whatever vitality the new system had at the outset is apparently on the decline.

Rather than allow the NSAM concept to die from atrophy as it seems to be doing, I would suggest at least one final look to see whether we should formally abandon it, try again to set it in motion, or seek a better alternative. There are several courses you might consider. (1) One would be to ask the heads of all departments and agencies represented on the SIG to comment to you on the effectiveness of the NSAM-341 concept, the desirability of its retention, and the possibility for improved implementation. (2) Another would be to ask only the Secretary of State to make such a report. (3) A third would be to ask some outsider with government experience to review the situation for you. Personally, I would be inclined to recommend the first course with Walt Rostow charged with getting the views of the SIG members.

I prepared a memorandum for you of this nature in March of this year4 but withheld it because of information which I had received that Dr. Tom Schelling of Harvard was being sought by State to become an Assistant Secretary with the primary mission of assisting in the implementation of NSAM-341. As I am now informed that Dr. Schelling has declined the position, I would feel remiss in not calling this situation to your attention.

Maxwell D. Taylor


No action now

See me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSAMs, NSAM 341. Confidential. Attached to a June 27 memorandum from Rostow to the President, that states: “Herewith the statement you wanted me to formulate.” The memorandum indicates that the President saw it. No information was found to indicate how the President used the statement.
  2. Confidential.
  3. Confidential.
  4. Taylor forwarded this memorandum, dated March 27, to Rostow, who drafted a covering memorandum for the President on March 30, but did not forward either memorandum. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Box 260, Gen Taylor)
  5. None of these options was checked.