1. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs-Designate (Kissinger) to President-Elect Nixon1


  • Memorandum on a New NSC System

The attached memo (Tab A) outlines my ideas for organizing the NSC and my own staff. It is based on extensive conversations with a number of people —particularly General Goodpaster, who agrees with my recommendations.2

I apologize for its length, but the decisions you make on the issues raised here will have an important effect on how we function in the field of foreign affairs in the years ahead. I thought, therefore, that [Page 2] it would be best for you to have as full a description as possible of what General Goodpaster and I have in mind.

We would like a chance to discuss the memo with you after you have gone over it.

At Tab B are outline summaries, plus action recommendations, covering each of the subsections of the basic paper.3

Tab A

Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs-Designate (Kissinger) to President-Elect Nixon


  • Proposal for a New National Security Council System

This memorandum:

  • —examines current procedures for making national security decisions, and contrasts them with those of the Eisenhower Administration;
  • —recommends new NSC procedures to insure orderly decision making;
  • —makes proposals regarding my own staff;
  • —lists the major issues which will require early consideration by the National Security Council, and suggests the focus and timing for papers on these.

Current Practice

The Johnson Administration’s key decision-making body is the so-called “Tuesday Lunch” of the President and his principal advisers.4 The lunch group meets without a formal agenda and without any formal followup. Decisions are conveyed orally to the Departments, with frequent uncertainty about precisely what was decided.

A National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) is sometimes issued by the President or his Special Assistant informing the bureaucracy of a Presidential decision, but the NSAM almost never provides [Page 3] any rationale for the decision. While the National Security Council meets from time to time, its principal function is an educational one, i.e., general review of a major issue. In recent years the NSC has not been used as a decision-making instrument.

The major strength of the existing system is its flexibility and the speed with which decisions can be made. The absence of formal staffing for the Tuesday lunch, for example, permits a free and frank discussion unencumbered by a large group of second-level staff, but the discussants are frequently inadequately briefed and often unfamiliar with the nuances of the issue before them. Because the principals meet without the benefit of staff or previous staff study, there is no guarantee that all the relevant alternatives are considered, or that all the interested parties within the government have a chance to state their views. Since there is no systematic follow-up, it is often unclear exactly what has been decided or why. Nor is there any formal method for assuring that decisions are adequately implemented.5

Eisenhower Procedures

The NSC met frequently during the Eisenhower Administration. Participants had the benefit of fully staffed papers, and a systematic effort was made to give all interested parties a hearing.

A Planning Board (chaired by the Special Assistant to the President, and with representatives from the agencies represented on the NSC) met frequently to review all papers going to the NSC. The Special Assistant for NSC Affairs prepared the agenda for the NSC meeting, summed up the positions taken by the participants, and presented a decision document to the President for approval after the meeting. Implementation of NSC based decisions was the responsibility of the Operations Coordinating Board.

If there is any criticism to make of this system it is that its very formality tended to demand too much of the principals’ time, while giving insufficient priority to issues of primary Presidential concern.

The present task is to combine the best features of the two systems; to develop a structure, using the NSC, which will provide the President and his top advisers with:

  • —all the realistic alternatives;
  • —the costs and benefits of each;
  • —the views and recommendations of all interested agencies.

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The procedures outlined below will, I believe, permit us to reach these goals, while avoiding the dangers of compromise and indecision which can result from an excessively formal system.



The National Security Council. The National Security Council should be the principal forum for issues requiring interagency coordination, especially where Presidential decisions of a middle and long-range nature are involved. It should meet regularly, and discussion should be limited to agenda subjects. The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs—at the direction of the President and in consultation with the Secretary of State—should be responsible for determining the agenda and ensuring that the necessary papers are prepared—normally by the responsible departments. The NSC staff should assist by synthesizing and sharply defining the options, and occasionally by providing an independent staff study. To keep the meetings small, only principals should attend (with the possible exception of the Under Secretary of State).

The NSC should consider middle and long-range policy issues as well as current crises and immediate operational problems. By providing a forum for high-level discussion of planning papers, the NSC can insure that senior officials consider the long-range implications of policy choices.

NSC agenda papers should present a wide range of alternative policy options that are politically and administratively feasible, and should avoid the all-too-frequent practice of setting up extreme alternatives as straw men to the one course of action being urged.

The NSC should not be considered the sole forum for Presidential discussion in the National Security field. The President will reserve the option of constituting subcommittees for the expeditious handling of operational matters (with membership especially adapted to the particular issue).


National Security Council Review Group. An NSC Review Group would examine papers prior to their consideration by the NSC, unless the Secretary of State and the Assistant to the President deem it unnecessary. Its role would be to frame the issues to be decided by the NSC, not to achieve a compromise or consensus which hides alternatives. The Group will also assign action to Regional or Ad Hoc groups, as appropriate.

Membership in the Group would vary depending on the issue, but would include:

  • —the Assistant to the President (Chairman);
  • —the senior State Department and Defense Department official below the Secretary actively concerned with NSC matters;
  • —the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or his representative;
  • —the Director of the CIA or his representative;
  • —the Directors (or their representatives) of other agencies such as AID, USIA or ACDA when appropriate.

The Review Group would examine papers prepared for the NSC to be sure that: (1) they are worthy of NSC attention; (2) all the relevant alternatives are included; (3) the facts are accurately presented.

Issues that do not require Cabinet level discussion or Presidential decision will be referred by the NSC Review Committee to the NSC Under Secretary’s Committee.

NSC Ad Hoc Under Secretary’s Committee. This Committee would be composed of the Under Secretary of State (Chairman), the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the Director of Central Intelligence (and other agencies where appropriate). It would deal with matters referred to it by the NSC Review Group, including matters on which the IRG’s have not been able to agree but which do not involve issues requiring Presidential decision or Cabinet-level discussion.

Inter-Agency Regional Groups. The currently existing inter-agency regional groups (IRG’s), chaired by the relevant Assistant Secretary of State, should be reconstituted as sub-organs of the NSC. Membership should generally include the agencies represented on the Review Group, depending on the subject being considered. The IRG’s should perform three functions: (1) discussion and decision on issues which can be settled at the Assistant Secretary level, including issues arising out of the implementation of NSC decisions; (2) preparation of policy papers for consideration by the NSC, stating alternatives, their costs, and consequences; (3) preparation of potential crises contingency papers for review by the NSC. These papers should discuss what steps can be taken to avoid the crisis, as well as actions planned during the crisis.

Note: The elaborated NSC machinery makes the continued functioning of the existing Senior Inter-Departmental Group unnecessary.

Ad Hoc Working Groups. Where the problem is not geographic— or is too important to be dealt with from a regional perspective—ad hoc working groups should be used to develop policy alternatives for consideration by the NSC. The make-up of the working group would depend on the subject being studied. In cases where implementation of policy is complicated or controversial, and inter-agency cooperation is required, ad hoc groups might be charged with coordinating operations in support of policy.
Outside Consultants. The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs should establish a roster of consultants who are experts on major issues. When appropriate, these consultants should participate in groups preparing papers for NSC consideration.
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NSC Memoranda. Two memoranda series should be established to inform the departments and agencies of Presidential actions. In order to avoid confusion, the current series of National Security Action Memoranda (NSAMs) should be abolished and replaced by:

  • National Security Decision Memoranda (NSDMs). NSDMs would be used to report Presidential decisions (whether or not the result of NSC meetings) when the President wants the agencies concerned clearly to understand what he desires, and the reasons for his decisions.
  • National Security Study Memoranda (NSSMs). This series would be used to direct that studies be undertaken of particular problems (normally for NSC consideration).

Existing NSAMs should be examined prior to January 20 and divided into three categories: (1) those which are out of date and should be rescinded; (2) those which should continue in force; (3) those which should be re-examined to determine whether they should be continued. NSAMs in the second category would be primarily annual decision documents which the President would review as a matter of course during his first year. Those in the third category should continue in effect pending completion of the review. A NSDM should be issued on January 21 indicating the status of all existing NSAMs.

Annual Review of the International Situation. The National Security Council Staff, together with the relevant agencies, should prepare for the President an annual review of the international situation similar to the annual economic message. This report, which would be submitted to the Congress, would permit a more extended discussion of the President’s view of the international situation than is possible in the State of the Union Message. The Review would:
  • —provide a regular framework for defining U.S. security interests and programs to meet those interests;
  • —give the agencies an opportunity to assure high-level attention to fundamental issues within an overall framework.

The Review would focus on world events over the past year and set forth the President’s view of these events and our future goals. The statement would include some of the material which over the past eight years the Secretary of Defense has presented in his Annual Posture Statement to the Congress, but it would not give the details of Defense or other foreign policy budgets. The statement should normally be issued in January.


The NSC Staff of the Assistant to the President would be divided into three categories: (1) Assistants for Programs; (2) Operations Staff; [Page 7] (3) Planning Staff. The role of the Staff would be to provide a Presidential perspective in programs, planning and operations. The Staff’s job would be to see that the agencies do the initial work, using existing inter-agency mechanisms. Only in exceptional circumstances would the NSC Staff prepare its own papers. The functions of each part of the NSC Staff are described below.


Assistants for Programs would be responsible for the preparation of studies on the long-range implications of major policy issues (e.g., Vietnam, Middle East settlements, and alternative NATO strategies). They would work with the appropriate Departments to provide the President and the NSC with the relevant information and policy options. After it has been decided that a problem will require one or a series of Presidential decisions, responsibility would be assigned to one of the Assistants for Programs. They would develop a strategy for getting the necessary staff work done, and for bringing the issue to the National Security Council in a timely and orderly fashion.

The Assistants for Programs would be charged with developing a five-year perspective by helping the agencies to: (1) define middle-range goals; (2) propose specific measures to achieve these goals. The responsible Assistant would work with the group considering the issue to insure that all relevant options were kept open. They would also need to work closely with the NSC Operations Staff and Planning Staff if the link between planning and operations is to be maintained.

The Operations Staff would consist of approximately five Senior Members and a small number of Staff Assistants. Each Senior Staff Member would be responsible for certain geographic regions and/or functional activities. They would follow the day-to-day business of the Departments, and would be responsible for bringing to the attention of the Assistant to the President those matters which are of Presidential concern.

The Planning Staff would prepare the NSC agenda papers, synthesizing agency papers and necessary back-up and follow-up papers. It would undertake specific studies only when inter-agency studies were unsatisfactory or undesirable. Consultants would be drawn upon to work with the Planning Staff in developing options beyond those developed in the Departments. The Planning Staff would also provide back-up expertise for the Assistants for Programs.

Members of the Planning Staff would also be available to serve as members of inter-agency study groups. Some of the members of the Staff should be experts with particular skills; others should be generalists.

The existence of this Staff and its access to consultants would enable the Assistant to the President and the President to receive preliminary studies on complicated and controversial subjects without [Page 8] arousing concern within the Departments before the President had decided what options he wanted to explore seriously.

The Military Assistant would help the Assistant to the President in the development of Staff papers on the full range of military issues, and would be available to provide him with judgments on military questions. He would also assist in monitoring and assembling intelligence materials.


This section lists issues which will require early attention by the NSC, and suggests procedures to be used in developing alternatives.

A. High Priority Major Policy Issues. (These are the subjects which will require early, high-level attention and for which alternative policy papers should be available for prompt consideration by the NSC.)

Vietnam. The NSC Staff should prepare a paper (prior to January 20) listing alternative strategies, both in Vietnam and at Paris. The alternatives should include diplomatic moves and military actions which are mutually supporting. The paper should be sent to the relevant Departments for their examination within two weeks after January 20 to insure that all the relevant alternatives are listed and that the factual assertions are correct.
Middle East. An ad hoc working group should be asked to develop a paper examining alternative approaches to the Arab-Israeli problem. It should complete its report within one month.

Europe. European policy will require early consideration for several reasons:

  • —A number of West European heads of government are almost certain to request early meetings with the President (basic policy should not be made by preparing talking papers for such meetings);
  • —Negotiations with the Germans on an arrangement to offset the balance of payments costs of our troops in Germany are currently underway. A decision will have to be made at an early date on whether the talks should be continued, and, if so, on what position we should take (these decisions should be taken in the context of an overall policy toward NATO);
  • —The French have been dropping hints of an interest in improving relations (our reaction to these probes should also be in the context of an overall European policy).

A paper examining these and other problems of European policy should be prepared by the NSC Staff, or by an Ad Hoc Working Group.

International Monetary Policy. An Ad Hoc Working Group, chaired by the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Monetary Policy, and including the Under Secretary or Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, a representative of the Council of Economic Advisors, and the responsible Assistant for Programs, should be asked to [Page 9] report to the NSC within two months on the basic issues and alternatives of international monetary reform. The Group should also be charged with overseeing on-going operational matters relating to international monetary affairs.
Strategic Forces. As discussed with Secretary-designate Laird, the NSC Staff will prepare—prior to January 20—a paper outlining issues and alternative policies regarding strategic forces. The paper should be sent to the relevant agencies for comment prior to review by the NSC.
Ad Hoc Working Group on U.S. Security Policy. A high-level interagency group should examine the entire range of U.S. security policy. (Since this issue relates intimately to our worldwide posture, it is too crucial to be handled entirely as a Defense Department matter.) The examination should consider U.S. interests, threats to those interests, and alternative security policies. The Working Group should be staffed by the NSC staff, augmented by personnel from relevant agencies. The Group should report to the NSC within six months following the inauguration.
Contingency Planning. An Ad Hoc Working Group should be established after January 20 to review existing inter-agency plans and procedures for contingency planning on possible major trouble spots (Berlin and the Middle East are especially crucial). The Group should pay particular attention to the political impact of proposed military moves, and the orchestration of political and military measures.
Japan. A number of issues in U.S.-Japanese relations will arise during the next twelve months, and the Japanese Prime Minister is likely to request a meeting in the fall. Therefore, an Ad Hoc Working Group should be set up to examine the full range of U.S.-Japanese relations (including the issue of the reversion of Okinawa, the future of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, U.S. bases in Japan, and U.S.-Japanese economic relations).
AID Review. What is needed at this time is not a major research effort,6 but rather a concise, hard-headed consideration of issues (particularly the relationship between economic and political development) and options. The task could be assigned to a small nongovernmental group, or to an interagency Ad Hoc Working Group.


Today, decisions on U.S. economic assistance, military assistance, and U.S. troop levels in a given country are made separately—often in [Page 10] ignorance of what other agencies are doing in the country, and without regard to their impact on our political and diplomatic posture. This makes it impossible to relate budget choices to policy issues.

A series of program budgeting studies should be prepared on major countries where important policy differences exist and we have programs involving large resource transfers. These studies will permit the NSC to examine at one time our overall policy objectives and our budget choices as they relate to key countries or regions.

A small, permanent inter-agency staff, manned by personnel seconded from the relevant agencies but under the NSC, should be created to do these studies. The staff should have overall responsibility for their preparation and should provide technical advice on each. The studies should be performed by Ad Hoc Groups made up of program budgeting experts from the permanent staff and country specialists from the relevant agencies. The results of the studies should provide a basis for policy judgments, as well as for possible reallocation of funds within the proposed FY-70 Budget and/or requests for supplemental funds.

(A country program budget study on Korea is currently being produced by an inter-agency committee. The NSC should consider this study at an early date as a pilot project. Program budgeting studies might be requested, in addition, for Taiwan, Thailand, Greece, Brazil and Ethiopia. This will get at least one study underway in each geographic region. Other countries can be added to the list at a later date.)

Henry A. Kissinger
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Executive FG 6–6. No classification marking. A handwritten annotation on page one of the memorandum reads: “12–27–68 (Taken by HAK to Florida for 12/30 meeting with RMN), approved by RMN 12/30/68.” In White House Years, pp. 41–47, Kissinger recounted the formulation of this memorandum, the subsequent debate over its merits, and Nixon’s hesitation at implementing it. Kissinger stated that Nixon approved the memorandum on December 27, before meeting with Rogers, Laird, and Kissinger to discuss it on December 28 at Key Biscayne. (Ibid., p. 44) Roger Morris, an NSC staff member from 1967 to 1970, discussed how the memorandum took shape in Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 77–90. Morris credited Morton Halperin with drafting the plan proposed in the memorandum. The Department of State drafted revisions in the memorandum which, in addition to Document 4, are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–209, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 1; and in the National Archives, RG 59, Pedersen Files: Lot 75 D 229, NSC.
  2. Four memoranda on national security organization prepared by Goodpaster and forwarded to Kissinger on December 15 are ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 1, Gen Goodpaster.
  3. Attached but not printed. Nixon indicated his approval of each of the action recommendations, but he crossed out the listing of the DCI as member of the NSC Review Group and wrote “no” next to it. In White House Years, p. 44, Kissinger stated that Nixon’s only change was to remove the DCI from the National Security Council. The original action recommendations with Nixon’s markings and initials in blue ink are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–209, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 1.
  4. Attendance has varied, but recently the membership has included the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Special Assistant for National Security Affairs. [Footnote in the source text.]
  5. In a conversation with three journalists on July 29, 1971, Kissinger commented that the Johnson administration “had a different style from ours. They were a raucous group: fighting, lively, quite a contrast to the order in our Administration. Their Tuesday lunches were chaos.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1025, President/HAK Memcons, Memcon—Henry Kissinger, Henry Grunwald, Hugh Sidney, and Jerry Schecter, Jul. 29, 1971)
  6. A Presidential Commission, chaired by James Perkins, has just completed a report based on a year’s study. [Footnote in source text. Regarding this report, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume IX, International Development and Economic Defense Policy; Commodities, Documents 79 and 145.]