122. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to Secretary of Defense Laird1


  • The National Security Council System

Thank you for your thoughtful memorandum of August 4 on the NSC system.2 I am glad you think the system is working well generally, and welcome your suggestions for improvement.

Many of your observations closely parallel my own thoughts. In particular, I agree on the desirability of establishing priorities among issues to be discussed, the necessity for clarity and precision in the preparation of the NSSM’s, and the monitoring of studies by NSC staff members to ensure that divergent views are reflected in the papers. National Intelligence Estimates and other USIB studies have provided the basic intelligence background for most studies within the NSC system and we will continue to reflect them in the studies.

Continuing emphasis is placed on the setting of priorities for consideration of issues within the system. Your suggestions were helpful and in large part coincided with our planning. The series of discussions in the DPRC and NSC on Defense budget issues, the on-going series of meetings on European issues, and the series of Special Review Group and NSC meetings on the Middle East are examples. Other issues which you have suggested will be considered at an early date.

I recognize the difficulties created by the unavoidable schedule changes and hope you will agree we have been doing better in this regard recently. A monthly report on the status of all papers within he NSC system is being circulated to NSC members as you have suggested. The inconvenience of some of the tight deadlines arises, as I know you are aware, from the degree of importance and urgency which the President attaches to certain issues as well as the time sensitivity of the issues themselves.

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I believe that the establishment of the Senior Review Group at the Under Secretary level, which the President has just directed, will serve to meet two of your recommendations—expanding Review Group responsibilities, and minimizing the proliferation of high-level ad hoc groups.3

The WSAG has functioned effectively within the framework of the NSC system. It has coordinated the preparation of a variety of political-military contingency plans which stand ready for consideration by the NSC and the President should the occasion require. Moreover, it has provided, within the NSC framework, a senior body able to promptly and effectively consider policies and plans incident to crisis situations and to effect essential interagency coordination in the process of their development.

I will review carefully all of your suggestions and will continue to take all possible steps to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the NSC system in line with the President’s wishes.

Henry A. Kissinger
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–300, NSC System, Institutional File General 1969 through 1974. Confidential. Drafted by Kennedy and Davis and forwarded to Kissinger under cover of an August 25 memorandum in which they stated that many of Laird’s suggestions were “good ones and in line with things we are now trying to do to make the system more effective. Others are not-too-well disguised attempts to remove major issues from the NSC and the interdepartmental arena and get them back into the hands of the ‘agency of primary responsibility.’” (Ibid.)
  2. Document 116.
  3. Kissinger’s response to Laird’s August 25 memorandum was delayed pending a final decision on the establishment of the Senior Review Group, about which Kissinger had second thoughts (see footnote 3, Document 118).