3. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs-Designate (Kissinger) to President-Elect Nixon 1


  • NSC Procedures

The State Department has now begun to object to the NSC procedures which you approved in Florida. ( Bill Rogers had agreed to the general outline in Key Biscayne, but now—in light of the objections of his Foreign Service subordinates—wants to reserve judgment. Mel Laird agrees with the memo I showed you—with one minor caveat.)

General Goodpaster and I will be discussing State’s objections with you, but I thought you might want a brief summary of the arguments for a State-centered system (Tab A) and the counter-arguments which led Andy and me to recommend the system which you approved (Tab B).

A delay in establishing the new NSC structure will mean a concomitant delay in getting down to business on the many serious foreign policy issues you will have to face in the opening months of your [Page 12] administration. It would not be helpful to begin the Administration with a bureaucratic disagreement—particularly since it would be over an issue you had already decided at Key Biscayne.

Tab A

The Case for a State-Centered System

The Foreign Service arguments are as follows:

  • —The existing SIG/IRG mechanism makes the State Department the executive agent of the President for the conduct of foreign policy. This would be destroyed by instituting an NSC system such as you approved.
  • —The interdepartmental machinery should be staffed by the State Department. The leadership in defining the issues, formulating them, and bringing them to the attention of the President should be taken by the State Department. The committees do not vote; the State Department decides, with other departments having the right to take disagreements to the NSC.
  • —There is an organization in being (the Department of State) staffed with experienced personnel, with geographical and functional structures established to cover the various areas and issues which arise in the conduct of foreign relations.
  • —If the Secretary is to pull together foreign policy positions, he must have authority not only over the State Department, but over other Departments as well. He, through the Under Secretary, and the other Departments through their Under Secretaries, must review papers on their way to the NSC to see that all options are adequately examined. The NSC should act primarily as an appeal board when Departments disagree.
  • —To the extent that there are limits to State’s ability to provide a Presidential perspective, NSC staff members can participate in SIG/IRG mechanisms without prejudice to the State Department’s power of decision.
  • —Our Ambassadors are expected to coordinate policy and operations abroad. (Indeed, there is no realistic way to create another system overseas.) Since the Ambassadors usually report directly to the State Department, it is essential that the Department be similarly organized.
  • —The Foreign Service does not serve the State Department, but the United States and is, in a real sense, the President’s staff—avoiding the parochialism often seen elsewhere. To the degree that State is parochial, this can be overcome as Department officers are forced to work with other Departments in the SIG and IRGs.

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Tab B


The State Department is unable to take the lead in managing interagency affairs because:
  • —The staff is inadequate to the task of planning or of management.
  • —The Foreign Service, by training and background, is not capable of the planning you want. Their forte is in compromising differences, and avoiding a confrontation of conflicting points of view.
  • —Evidence of this is the Department’s consistent failure to utilize its own Policy Planning Council adequately. Studies have been unrelated to real problems, have had no effect on policy, and have obfuscated rather than clarified alternatives.
  • —An attempt by State to dominate the other agencies would, over time, make it the direct focus of Congressional attack, thus weakening its position on the Hill.
  • —Senior officers within the Department must, to some degree, become the advocates of their subordinates. As they do so, they represent parochial interests.
  • —The parochial interests of State and the Foreign Service are not removed by simply describing themselves as the President’s men. —When the State Department has attempted to manage operations— as in Vietnam—it has not worked and has had to be changed.
Protecting the President’s interests.
  • —The only way the President can ensure that all options are examined, and all the arguments fairly presented, is to have his own people—responsive to him, accustomed to his style, and with a Presidential rather than departmental perspective—oversee the preparation of papers.
  • —If the President wants to control policy, he must control the policy making machinery.
The present system permits an adequate role for the State Department.
  • —Issues may be raised in the interdepartmental groups, under the chairmanship of the relevant Assistant Secretary.
  • —State is represented on the NSC Review Group.
  • —Issues may be sent from the Review Group to the Under Secretary’s committee (chaired by the Under Secretary of State) when they do not involve Presidential decision or Cabinet-level discussion.
  • —The proposed system gives State a larger role than it had under John Foster Dulles. It can make of the system what it wants.
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NSAM 341

Following are highlights of NSAM 341:3

  • —Reaffirms the Secretary of State’s “authority and responsibility to the full extent permitted by law for the overall direction, coordination and supervision of interdepartmental activities of the United States Government overseas.” (Military forces operating in the field are specifically excluded from such activities.)
  • —Creates the Senior Interdepartmental Group (SIG), chaired by the Under Secretary of State, “to assist the Secretary of State in discharging his authority and responsibility for interdepartmental matters which cannot be dealt with adequately at lower levels…”4
  • —Creates Interdepartmental Regional Groups (IRG) for each geographical region of the Department of State, under the chairmanship of the relevant Assistant Secretary of State.5
  • —The SIG and the IRGs are given “full powers of decision on all matters within their purview, unless a member who does not concur requests the referral of a matter to the decision of the next higher authority.”

From the point of view of the Department of State, the most important aspect of NSAM 341 is its reaffirmation of the Secretary of State’s position as primus inter pares on matters relating to the conduct of foreign affairs. The SIG/IRG system is looked upon as an important tool in carrying out this responsibility, but the delegation of responsibility itself is the essential ingredient of NSAM 341.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–209, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 1. Secret.
  2. No classification marking.
  3. For text of NSAM No. 341, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXXIII, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy; United Nations, Document 56.
  4. Membership: Under Secretary of State, Executive Chairman; Deputy Secretary of Defense; Administrator of the Agency for International Development; Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Director of the US Information Agency; and the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. (Other agencies may be invited by the Chairman.) [Footnote and ellipses in the source text.]
  5. Membership: the regional Assistant Secretary of State, Executive Chairman; and a designated representative from Defense, AID, CIA, JCS, USIA and the White House or NSC staff. (Other agencies may be invited by the Chairman.) [Footnote in the source text.]