178. Memorandum From Donald Stukel of the National Security Council Staff to the Director of the National Security Council Planning Group (Kennedy)1


  • The NSC System

At Tab A is a summary of meetings held by the various groups of the NSC system during the past four years.2 This summary indicates some trends which need to be thought about, especially if we are to have a chapter in the Annual Review on the NSC system. The way we have described the operation of the system in the past and the way it actually operates seem to diverge more each year. Over and above what goes in the Annual Review, we need to reexamine the system to see if changes would make it more effective.

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The purpose of this memo is to raise questions with the hope of stimulating our thinking on what we should say about the system and what we can do to make it more effective.

National Security Council

The number of NSC meetings per year has shown a steady decline (37, 23, 13, 3). This year there have been three NSC meetings—two on Vietnam and one on SALT. The last NSC meeting was on May 8, 1972.


  • —What accounts for the decline in the number of NSC meetings?
  • —Is the decline in the number of NSC meetings typical for an Administration?
  • —Is the NSC going to play a significant role in the next four years?
  • —In our writings do we want to start downplaying the role of the NSC in the NSC system?

Senior Review Group

The SRG was established on September 13, 1970. It assumed the functions of the Review Group. The role of the SRG is to assure that the issues have been sharply defined, all relevant factors considered, realistic alternatives with their costs and consequences clearly set out, and the views of all interested departments and agencies fairly and adequately presented. The number of SRG meetings dropped from about 50 each of the last two years to 16 this year. Ten of the 16 meetings were on Vietnam, South Asia, and CSCE/MBFR.


  • —What accounts for the decrease in the use of the SRG?
  • —Is there a more efficient and acceptable means of handling NSSM studies than by a meeting of the SRG?

Defense Program Review Committee

The DPRC was established on October 11, 1969. The DPRC was to analyze the choices inherent in defense budget decisions, relating alternative levels of defense expenditure to other national priorities, both domestic and foreign. It has a very broad charter but has been a real disappointment because of its inability to come to grips with significant issues.


  • —Does the DPRC serve a useful purpose?
  • —Does OMB perform the functions given to the DPRC?
  • —Does OMB give sufficient emphasis to NSC interests?
  • —Can the DPRC be restructured to be more effective by reducing its membership?
  • —What is the proper forum for examining long-term implications and strategic aspects of different defense postures?

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Washington Special Actions Group

According to the directive (May 16, 1969)3 which established the WSAG, it was to confine itself to consideration of the policies and plans affecting crises. The WSAG was later (June 20, 1969)4 given the task of reviewing existing military plans for potential crisis areas. During the last three years the WSAG has met almost exclusively on South East Asia, South Asia, or Middle East matters. 52 of the 55 WSAG meetings this year were on South East Asia matters.


  • —Do we need a group that is responsible for anticipating future crises?
  • —Do we need a group which concentrates on matters related to contingency planning?
  • —As used today, does the WSAG duplicate the SRG?
  • —Since the membership of the WSAG is essentially the same as the SRG, is there a need for two separate groups?

Verification Panel

The Verification Panel is charged with the technical analysis of arms control issues. This year the VP met 10 times on SALT. In the past, the VP met 6 times on MBFR, but this year MBFR was handled by the SRG (4 meetings).


—Could the arms control issues be handled as well by the SRG?

Intelligence Committee

The IC is charged with advising the President on the quality, scope, and timeliness of the intelligence input to Presidential decision and on the steps to improve it. The IC has met once since it was established in November 1971.


  • —Is is necessary to have a separate group (made up of essentially the same people as the other groups) to perform this function?
  • —Is the IC going to be used in the future?


There is an almost total overlap in the membership of the various groups in the NSC system below the NSC. The Big 5 (Kissinger, Irwin, Rush, Moorer, and Helms) are the principal players on the SRG, DPRC, [Page 360] WSAG, IC, and VP. The charters of some of these groups have become blurred to the point that they are insignificant. All groups or committees (except the WSAG) have met less this year. In part this is due to the pressures of Vietnam and maybe the election. It would be a mistake to attribute the total decline to Vietnam and the peace talks.


  • —Is it necessary to have all the various committees and groups?
  • —Do the charters of these groups need to be redefined or refined?
  • —Do we want to change our presentation of the working of the NSC system?

Tab A

1969 1970 1971 1972 Total
NSC Meetings 37 23 13 3 76
SRG Meetings 41 53 50 16 160
DPRC Meetings 4 11 11 4 30
WSAG Meetings 12 39 42 55 148
VP Meetings 1 10 17 10 38
IC Meetings 1 0 1
Total 95 136 134 88
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–300, Institutional File General 1969 through 1974. Secret. Sent for information. Major Stukel was a White House Fellow on temporary assignment to the NSC.
  2. The figures in the text of this memorandum and in the attached summary should be considered approximate rather than exact. They vary, for example, from the figures for meetings of the same groups during the same period that NSC Staff Secretary Jeanne Davis reported to Kissinger on January 18, 1974. Davis listed 71 (versus Stukel’s 76) NSC meetings (but agreed on 3 for 1972), 140 (versus 160) Review Group and Senior Review Group meetings, 153 (versus 148) WSAG meetings, 23 (versus 30) DPRC meetings, 45 (versus 38) Verification Panel meetings, and 1 Intelligence Committee meeting. (Records of NSC and Related Meetings, January 20, 1969–December 31, 1972; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 311, Listings of NSC and Related Committees’ Meetings, 1969–75)
  3. Document 45.
  4. See footnote 2, ibid.