138. Memorandum From John Negroponte of the National Security Council Planning Group to the Director of the Planning Group (Kennedy)1


  • The Under Secretaries Committee


In its 2 year existence, the NSC Under Secretaries Committee has put out some 91 U/SMs (analogous to our NSSMs). Topics covered have varied greatly. About 60 percent of them have been in what one might call the political/military category. Scientific and technical issues represent about 20 percent and economic ones the remaining 20 percent.

Following the terms of its original charter in NSDM 2,2 the Committee’s work has flowed mostly from matters referred to it by the NSC Review Group (now supplanted by the Senior Review Group) and matters referred to it jointly by the Under Secretary of State and Dr. Kissinger. The Secretary of State also has the authority to refer matters pertaining to interdepartmental activities overseas to the Committee, although he uses it sparingly.

Almost by definition, the Committee does not handle matters of major policy which require NSC or Presidential consideration. Thus while Dr. Kissinger is a standing member, he rarely attends its meetings. He is normally represented by a member of his staff.

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NSC Staffing of the Under Secretaries Committee

Once a topic has been assigned, the Under Secretaries Committee staffs it by drawing on the resources of interdepartmental or ad hoc groups. NSC staff participation in the process is determined by functional specialization. Thus Behr will be responsible when science and technology is involved, Bergsten for economic matters, etcetera. The usual practice seems to be that staff members will follow the progress of a project using their own judgment as to when—if at all—Dr. Kissinger should be informed of how issues are developing.

Where guidance is required, it is usually requested in a memorandum analysing the problem and suggesting what is considered to be the appropriate guidance. When a meeting of the Under Secretaries Committee itself is in question there is sometimes a recommendation as to whether Dr. Kissinger himself should attend the meeting. My impression is that the recommendation cannot help but be influenced by the knowledge that Dr. Kissinger normally prefers not to attend.

Problem Areas

There appear to be no dramatic difficulties with respect to the Under Secretaries Committee. Some problem areas are worth signalling:

Substance of the Committee’s Work

There are occasional complaints that the kind of work assigned to the Committee is not important enough and that it is simply a sort of catch-all for problems other elements of the NSC system do not want to deal with.

Despite these occasional grumblings, my impression from talking to Art Hartman was that this is not a serious bone of contention at this time. The Committee accepts its role and the kind of work it is doing. And if it has any concrete proposals for altering the substance of its work in any way, Hartman did not mention or infer them to me.

As far as the NSC is concerned, I can see no compelling reason for any change in the kind of work delegated to the Committee.

Duplication of Effort

In a way there is a built-in check against duplication of effort since much of the staff work done by the Under Secretaries Committee is accomplished by the same people who staff other constituent parts of the NSC. There are, however, occasional instances where a new NSSM will appear to duplicate efforts planned or underway in the Committee. NSSM 1123 on the use of riot control agents and herbicides in future [Page 295] wars is one such example. This NSSM was issued at just the same time as the Under Secretaries Committee was about to recommend a similar study. (There is a background to this and the issuance of the NSSM may have been inevitable.)

What the NSSM 112 experience does suggest is that before a NSSM is issued we be doubly sure that it does not cross wires with projects planned or under way and which might adequately be handled elsewhere. Any decision to cross wires like this should at least be made consciously and not inadvertently.

One way to handle this would be to require that in submitting draft NSSMs, staff officers attach a listing of similar high-level studies being conducted elsewhere in the government and, where it seems appropriate, an explanation why these studies would not serve the purposes of the contemplated NSSM.


Systematic Staffing

The present NSC staffing of the Under Secretaries Committee appears to have no major shortcomings. Principal problems would appear to relate to the demands on Dr. Kissinger’s own time. Since he cannot attend as many meetings as some would like, it is important that he at least have time to focus on the relevant papers and be properly represented at the meetings.

It is perhaps not wise to set out too elaborate or rigid a mechanism for staffing the Committee. The present informal system appears to be working fairly well and any excessively formalized procedures might end up being honored in the breech.

However, it might be worth considering establishment of a few ground rules which, if approved, could be circulated to the staff in the form of a memorandum. Among the points we would want to make would be the following.

Dr. Kissinger is interested in being kept informed of important developments in the work of the Under Secretaries Committee.
Staff officers should continue their practice of summarizing issues to be discussed at Committee meetings and, where appropriate, recommend what position we should take on them. There should also be a recommendation as to whether or not he should attend the meeting. Briefing papers of this kind should reach Dr. Kissinger’s office a week before the scheduled meeting.
In the event Dr. Kissinger does not attend a scheduled Under Secretaries Committee meeting, representation from the NSC should be at the Senior Staff level.

The Council on International Economic Policy

Though not directly germane to this discussion, Art Hartman mentioned that the creation of this new council would involve a period of adjustment as we sort out which issues are handled where. This is something that will have to be worked out as time goes by, and will probably affect the work of the Under Secretaries Committee only slightly.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–209, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 2. Confidential.
  2. Document 11.
  3. NSSM 112, “U.S. Post-Vietnam Policy on Use of Riot Control Agents and Herbicides in War,” January 15, 1971. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–179, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 112.)