9. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rostow)1

To prevent the National Policy Paper series from degenerating into just another bureaucratic paper mill (like all previous such efforts, most recently the “guideline” papers), we must avoid depreciation of the currency. To me, this means (a) rigidly limiting the number and type of NPPs to those which can and should engage the high policy level; (b) doing them only when we regard this device as the most effective way to push up a major policy issue (which is hardly the case with respect to France, for example); and (c) giving them your own personal loving care, which will be crucial both to getting the right kind of NPP and then getting it through. This adds up to shooting for 6–8 topnotch NPPs a year, not 16–20 of lower quality.2

I’m perhaps unduly influenced by past experience in how the bureaucracy tends to inflate and pervert an exercise like this. First, there is the presumed need for regional symmetry (let’s have a comparable number of papers from each area, so that none will be slighted). Second is the matter of keeping all the S/P types at their typewriters. Third is the inevitable agency or bureau desire to use these papers to resolve their own special problems. Fourth is the concomitant tendency for NPPs, like their predecessors, to cover the waterfront and deal with every aspect of a country policy, large or small.

All of these tendencies are naturally at work in the NPP exercise. Yet if we permit them to dominate it, we will have another paper mill. Instead I envisage an NPP as a timely analysis of the type of problem area which would benefit from a searching look at major alternatives, presented in a form which would maximize the likelihood of top level attention. If so, we can use the NPP to move policy forward. Otherwise, it becomes rather pro forma regurgitation of the conventional wisdom or an exercise in futility.

For example, a paper on China policy could provide an essential vehicle for review of critical options, but I doubt that the time is now. [Page 15] Better to start this paper in October for completion in January 1965, when the question might be ripe. Readjusting our policy toward Pakistan also seems to me the type of question on which a thoughtful analysis would pay dividends. What we should avoid, by contrast, is doing papers on issues which are not yet ripe for top level discussion (although even abortive efforts may on occasion have real educational value). Nor do I think that the “planners” can profitably tackle questions which are either largely operational or so sensitive politically that the planner’s input gets lost in the melee.

The reason I’m harassing you this way is my fear that the NPP exercise may run off the tracks if we’re not careful. It still has to justify itself to all the skeptics. It will only do so if it avoids the errors of past such attempts. To avoid these will require a good deal of your own personal attention and, I’d argue, that of the Planning Group too. This simply can’t be done if we overload the circuit.

R.W. Komer 3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, Department of State, Vol. II. Secret.
  2. In a March 25 memorandum to Planning Group Members, Rostow indicated that he wanted to discuss the NPP program at a meeting on March 31 and appended a list of 11 NPPs to be completed in FY 1964 and 20 possible NPPs for FY 1965, out of which he anticipated doing 16. (Ibid., NSAMs, NSAM 281) In a memorandum to McGeorge Bundy, March 30, Gordon Chase reviewed NSC staff reaction to Rostow’s proposed list for FY 1965, noting that both Klein and Forrestal were non-believers in NPPs. (Ibid.)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.