118. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Senior Review Group

It has become increasingly clear that the NSC Review Group should be a senior group comprising agency representatives at the Under Secretary level. When you issued NSDM–22 establishing the NSC structure, the level of agency representation for the Review Group was [Page 259] not specified. Subsequently the group was formed comprising representatives at the Assistant Secretary level.

The Review Group’s function of examining NSC papers prior to their consideration by the NSC is a vital one. It is to assure that the issues are sharply defined and that Agency views are presented clearly and argued effectively. In the case of both the Departments of State and Defense, intra-agency differences often are strong—e.g., the viewpoint of State’s economic bureau and that of a regional bureau on a given issue may differ widely. The Under Secretary level can resolve these intra-agency disputes but it is far less certain that a representative at the Assistant Secretary level can. The tendency of the agency representatives to the present Review Group therefore has been to address papers editorially and procedurally rather than to focus substantively on the issues.

We are moving to strengthen the system at the same time that we are bringing into it for consideration issues of increasingly broad and long-range significance—e.g., Southeast Asia strategy, long-range European policy. We have increasingly relied upon the senior level ad hoc or Special Groups to perform the Review Group function in respect to issues central to our security policy in order to assure full exposition of fundamental policy questions and viewpoints.

I believe the system will be strengthened and the probing analysis of the issues on which we must insist will be better assured if we regularize consideration of these papers at the Under Secretary level. A Review Group at this level also would conform to the pattern which has been established for dealing with operational questions through the NSC Under Secretaries’ Committee and contingency planning through the Senior Washington Special Actions Group.

A proposed NSDM which would establish a Senior Review Group at the Under Secretary level is at Tab A.

Recommendation: That you sign the NSDM at Tab A which establishes the Senior Review Group in the NSC structure.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–219, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 85. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. Document 11.
  3. Nixon initialed his approval on September 4 and signed the attached NSDM, which was designated NSDM 83 and dated September 4 but then withheld for further consideration at Kissinger’s order. Kissinger penned a note to Haig, on a September 4 memorandum from Lord, stating, “Let me speak to you about the Senior Review Gp. On 2nd thought I don’t like the idea.” Documentation on the decision to withhold the NSDM is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–300, NSC System, Institutional File General 1969 through 1974. On September 14 after Kissinger had read Kennedy’s September 8 memorandum (Document 120), the NSDM was issued without any changes as NSDM 85 (Document 121).