116. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • National Security Council System (U)
The Department of Defense has been exploring ways to make the operation of the National Security Council (NSC) system more productive, more efficient, and less costly in time and effort.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff agree with me that, in general, the NSC system is working well. The following observations support this view:
Current procedures insure that the views of all interested agencies are available for consideration during planning and deliberations at all levels within the NSC structure.
The NSC system provides for exchanges of views between the departments and agencies directly concerned.
Dissent and appeal procedures permit the inclusion of the views of all agencies concerned.
The President is presented with realistic alternatives as a basis for decision.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and I are also in agreement that the system could be improved by incorporating the following recommendations:

More Care in the Selection of, and the Assignment of Priorities to, Study Topics. Review of the subjects now being studied under NSC auspices indicates that, generally, they are appropriate and should be completed. However, more care in selecting study topics would be beneficial, particularly with respect to their relationship to ongoing studies, so as to avoid duplication. Additionally, there is a requirement for continual review of ongoing studies to insure that appropriate emphasis is placed on the most critical topics throughout the year. Therefore, I propose to submit quarterly recommendations to the NSC suggesting priorities for ongoing studies and new subjects for consideration.

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The following ongoing studies should be addressed on a priority basis:

  • —The various studies bearing on US nuclear policy.
  • —The various studies bearing on NATO.
  • —Studies affecting fiscal guidance which should be completed prior to the time that the Five-Year Defense Plan and fiscal issues are considered by the NSC.
  • —US policy on current Sino-Soviet differences.

The following subjects should be considered for future study on a priority basis:

  • —Problems inherent in changes to overseas force deployments to include an assessment of the relationship of base structure to strategy.
  • —Economic impact of reductions in defense manpower and procurement and the requirement to provide standby facilities to reinitiate or expand defense production.
  • —Future US policy toward the Middle East.
  • —Policy on the use of Reserve component forces.
  • —An annual study of resource allocation to and among Federal programs for the forthcoming five years.

More Care in Initiating Studies to Insure that the Nature of the Requirements is Clear. The problem of imparting top-level guidance early enough in the NSC processes to be effective appears to be a function of the clarity with which the National Security Study Memoranda (NSSMs) and subsequent terms of reference are drawn and the appropriateness of the deadlines prescribed. Study requirements established by NSSMs are not in all cases, clear and complete, and the deadlines established are not always realistic. Also, more consideration should be given to determining the agency of primary responsibility for NSSMs. Some studies of primary concern to the Department of Defense are being developed under the aegis of interdepartmental groups or the NSC staff rather than the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For example, the response to NSSM 59 (US Policy on Chemical and Biological Warfare and Agents)2 should have been prepared by the Department of Defense. A means for improvement would be the coordination of the NSSM with the cognizant agencies prior to its being issued. In addition, the organization tasked with the responsibility for the preparation of a report in response to a NSSM should be required to prepare a study directive and to coordinate that directive with the interested departments and agencies. This directive should state explicitly the terms of reference (i.e., the problem, objectives, limits, scope, assumptions, and essential elements of analysis), [Page 256] should establish the study schedule, and should provide for in-process review. The NSC Review Group would appear to be the appropriate element to approve such a directive. While such a requirement might be more time consuming in the initial stages, it should sharpen and speed the study by allowing the principals the opportunity to guide the direction of the effort by focusing on agreed requirements.
More Consistent use of the US Intelligence Board to Support the NSC System Requirements. The US Intelligence Board (USIB) has not always been used to the best advantage within the NSC structure. Special committees or working groups addressing NSSMs should function from a common intelligence base resulting from proper coordination of intelligence content with the USIB during preparation of the NSSM. Agreed national intelligence should provide the basis for all NSSMs. Whenever there are intelligence judgments in a study which are in major disagreement with the intelligence assessments of the USIB, these disagreements should be stated clearly in the study, and the reasons for the disagreements should be indicated.
Reserving National Security Decision Memorandums for Promulgation of Presidential Decisions on National Security Policy Matters. The National Security Decision Memorandums (NSDMs) were designed initially to be reserved for Presidential decisions on national security matters. However, some of the NSDMs have been used to announce administrative and study requirements rather than policy decisions. It would be useful to have requirements of an administrative nature announced through a separate series of memorandums with a wider distribution and have study requirements announced through NSSMs.
Strengthening the NSC Administrative System. Administrative shortcomings, such as unannounced schedule changes, papers arriving too late for adequate review, and the lack of feedback from meetings at various levels, indicate a requirement for improved administrative procedures. It is recommended that the NSC staff:
  • —Insure that all study requirements, including those for the Defense Program Review Committee, are promulgated in NSSMs.
  • —Record and distribute minutes of meetings.
  • —Maintain and promulgate the status of all papers within the NSC system.
  • —Maintain and promulgate schedules for meetings of the NSC groups.
  • —Maintain a quarterly publication, updated monthly, providing a priority listing of pending subjects for NSC consideration. This publication should be coordinated with the Review Group prior to issuance.
  • —Have the NSC staff member on interagency groups monitor the progress of the study being conducted to insure that divergent views are included in papers and that agencies have sufficient time to review all papers adequately.
Expanding Review Group Responsibilities. It would be useful to modify Review Group meeting procedures to include addressal of:
  • —Proposals for studies.
  • —The terms of reference of NSSMs.
  • —Proposed priorities and schedules.
Minimizing the Proliferation of High-Level Ad Hoc Groups. I believe that the present structure of the NSC system should be used and that proliferation of high-level ad hoc groups should be discouraged.
I believe that more attention should be paid to the functioning of the WSAG. The primary purpose of the WSAG is to provide a group prepared to assume the important task of advising the NSC and the President on the handling of time-urgent crises. Because of its small size and tightly controlled representation it is well suited for dealing with planning for contingencies of this type and should continue to do so. However, either because of the sensitivity of some of the plans or because of the proliferation of groups within the NSC system charged with such planning, the WSAG planning effort has not always been properly coordinated with other planning done within the NSC system. Such coordination is mandatory and should be accomplished by submission of WSAG plans to the Under Secretaries Committee or the NSC, as appropriate. Also of great importance and concern is the occasional extension of WSAG interest and action into matters of an ongoing operational nature. These matters should be presented to the President through well-established operational channels rather than through the WSAG.
Mel Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–299, NSC System, New NSC System. Confidential. Kissinger wrote at the top of the first page: “When will I get analysis.” On June 10 Haig forwarded to Kissinger an “under-the-table” draft of the memorandum, prepared by the JCS in response to a request made by Laird at a March 9 meeting. (JCSM–259–70, May 28; ibid.) In his covering memorandum Haig commented that “a number of the criticisms are valid and most of the recommendations worthy of consideration. I believe it is time for a major streamlining and tightening of procedures. This process may help give a needed shot-in-the-arm to the system.” (Ibid.)
  2. A copy of NSSM 59, May 28, 1969, and the response are ibid., Box H–153, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 59.