317. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Letter from Turner Shelton

Attached is a memorandum I have received from Turner Shelton with whom you are acquainted. Shelton makes the following comments about State Department and Foreign Service personnel:

  • —It is impossible to convert or to re-educate members of the Foreign Service who retain strong emotional ties to former Presidents or former Administrations.
  • —There is a professional elitism in the Foreign Service which tends to delude its members into believing that they have a charter to dominate the conduct of foreign affairs. This is further complicated when they also harbor allegiance to previous Presidents.
  • —There is a general lack of responsiveness in the Department of State in implementing directives and instructions from the White House and a deficiency in personal loyalty to you.
  • —The State Department system rewards conformity and discourages those who have the courage to break new ground, thus resulting in a general void of originality and forcefulness.
  • —The Foreign Service is inbred, opposes the infusion of new blood and tends to dominate key posts to permeate its power.

Shelton recommends a measured review of key State Department posts with the objective of replacing those personnel who do not support your policies. This would offer the additional benefit of encouraging less influential Foreign Service officers who already share your views.2

[Page 707]


Memorandum From Turner Shelton to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)3

In response to your request, I am submitting a few thoughts and comments regarding certain personnel of the Department of State. These comments include both Departmental and Foreign Service personnel.

From my discussions with ranking officials of the Department of State, I gather the impression that the philosophical approach toward a change of personnel is to believe that Departmental and Foreign Service Officers can be “converted” to the Nixon philosophy of Foreign Affairs and that employees should, therefore, be “brought along,” hopefully to a new way of thinking rather than being removed or shifted.

While this may well be true in the case of those who have no particular emotional or political loyalty to former administrations, I seriously doubt that it is a valid concept in connection with a considerable number of employees who have strong emotional ties to former Presidents and former Administrations. There is evidence of disloyalty to President Nixon by some who resent both his policies as a President and as an individual. I do not believe that these particular people can be either “converted” or “brought along.”

In addition to their active dislike of the President, certain individuals strongly believe that both the formulation and implementation of foreign policy should be carried out solely by a “professional elite” and since they are the “professional elite,” they tend to seriously resent the role of the President and his principal personal advisors in the formulation of foreign policy. While this is obviously an attitude which can, at least to a degree, be expected among a group of professional practitioners, it becomes particularly difficult to manage when their personal loyalties lie in the direction of other administrations. What I [Page 708] am attempting to say is that the professional Foreign Service tends to be directed too much toward the carrying out of its own concept of “valid” foreign policy objectives and protecting its own vested interests rather than devoting its energies to implementing in a professional manner foreign policy objectives formulated by the President.

There is, in my opinion, a lack of responsiveness to the wishes of the President and a continuing effort on the part of some to delay and indeed to alter, however subtly, the directives and instructions of the White House. This negative attitude toward the President and his policy becomes more fully understandable if one considers actual examples of those who are in positions of authority. A number of the Assistant Secretaries of the Department of State have no particular political ties of any kind, however, the fact that they have reached their positions of prestige and status in the Foreign Service hierarchy under former Administrations tends to make them have a sense of nostalgic regard for these former Presidents and other officials which undoubtedly affects their general attitude. They feel that they have reached their present positions as Assistant Secretaries not as a result of the personal recognition of their abilities by President Nixon but merely as a deserved move up the ladder of the “system.” Since they constitute the “system” they obviously do not feel a degree of personal loyalty to the President, which in my opinion, would be highly desirable.

There is a tendency on the part of many members of the department to tend to personalize their loyalties and obligations to former Presidents, Secretaries of State and ranking officials of the Foreign Service who have been identified over the past years with their successful rise within the “system” which they represent rather than be responsive to the present President.

One of the principal criticisms of the Department of State including the Foreign Service, is that it suffers from a lack of originality and tends to be timid. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that the “system” rewards conformity and hesitates to accept those who have the courage to break new ground. While it is obvious that decision making must be approached with caution, the result of the “institutionalized” pressures of the “system” goes beyond caution and results in a Department which is too often lacking in courage and forcefulness.

Like all elite groups, the Foreign Service is in-bred and possesses a built-in opposition to those who do not belong to “the group.” It should be noted that lateral entrants to the Foreign Service are viewed with a considerable degree of nonacceptance whereas the infusion of individuals with new ideas, approaches and attitudes would undoubtedly contribute greatly to an increased flexibility and improved vitality of the entire Foreign Service.

More important perhaps than even the Assistant Secretaries themselves are their Deputies and Country Directors who carry out the day-to-day [Page 709] functions of the Department and who are privy to the highly sensitive information which flows into the Department of State. Some examples of these Deputy Assistant Secretaries might be useful to illustrate some of the problems of the Department. One Deputy Assistant Secretary was personally sponsored by a former well known official whose approaches to foreign policy are extremely inconsistent with those of President Nixon. Another Deputy Assistant Secretary was for years, in effect, the “hatchet man” for a high ranking departmental official who is an avowed adversary of the President. In the ambassadorial category, a present Chief of Mission to a sensitive East European post is a former departmental official, said to be an avowed liberal Democrat and very closely associated with one of the Department’s former officials who openly and publicly opposed President Nixon. Another Ambassador, recently appointed to a key Near Eastern country was a well known protege and confidante of members of a former President’s immediate staff. Another Ambassador, who has remained on in the Far East, was also closely allied with the same Administration and rose rapidly from a Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Information Agency to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State to Deputy Chief of Mission and then to Ambassador.

These illustrations are given for the sole purpose of showing how key positions are retained by those who may find it difficult to transfer their allegiance to a President whose approach to foreign policies is very considerably different from a President or Secretary of State to whom they had a very strong emotional attachment. It is important to remember that this type of individual has undoubtedly developed a set of attitudes toward both domestic and foreign policies which are basically incompatible with those of President Nixon.

This letter is not intended to be a blanket condemnation of the Foreign Service or of Departmental officers. The Department, both in its domestic and Foreign Service possesses some very knowledgable and indeed brilliant individuals—men and women who deeply interested in foreign affairs and dedicated to the welfare of the United States. This type of individual can be depended upon to faithfully execute the foreign policy of the President of the United States and is completely loyal to the person and office of the President.

These men and women are a significant national asset. Unfortunately, however, there are a number of persons who are emotionally involved with other political personalities and who basically and fundamentally disagree with the President in both foreign and domestic matters. It would seem advisable to reappraise the positions presently occupied by these individuals and to possibly utilize their talents elsewhere.

The necessary changes in personnel to achieve a department responsive to the President would not have to include actions which would embarrass the President with charges of “dismantling the State [Page 710] Department” nor would these changes have to be carried out in a way calculated to alienate the foreign affairs structure. They can be achieved with finesse but the changes must be approached in a practical manner which demonstrates firmness and a willingness to act in the interests of the President rather than engaging in philosophical hand-wringing which recognizes the problem but which hesitates to confront the problem and deal with it expeditiously. Effective action would encourage those who support the President and his policies, tend to revitalize the foreign affairs community and will, at least to a degree, create an atmosphere which would be uncongenial to those who thrive on the “system” for the “system’s sake,” instead of devoting their time and energy to implementing the foreign policy objectives of the United States.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 339, HAK/Richardson Meetings, April–May 1970. Confidential; Eyes Only. Sent for information. Turner Shelton worked in USIA and the Department of State during the 1950s and 1960s. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations he served in the Bureau of European Affairs and the Bureau of Public Affairs and as Counselor of the legation in Budapest and Counsul General in Nassau. By 1968 he had left the Department. In October 1970 Nixon appointed him Ambassador to Nicaragua, a post he held until August 1975.
  2. The President wrote the following comments below: “He’s right, of course. K—, 1) See if we can get Shelton assigned to a personnel post in State—Make some discreet inquiries on this point—He might know what post matters—2) Also—discuss this matter (without revealing the source) with Richardson—See if he has any ideas as to how we could shake up the place—3) Get from Shelton and others the names of F.S.O. men who do share my views & then have Flanigan push them hard.” Briefing memoranda prepared by Kennedy and Haig for Kissinger’s weekly meetings with Richardson on May 21, May 28, and June 12 included the following item: “Ask Under Secretary Richardson what actions he would recommend be taken to place more persons in key State Department positions who share the Nixon outlook on foreign policy. Also ask him if he has any suggestions as to how we can reward those Foreign Service Officers who have the imagination and forcefulness to break new ground.” Shelton’s letter and the President’s comments were attached. There is no indication on the memoranda as to whether Kissinger raised the issue.
  3. No classification marking. Printed from an unsigned copy.