36. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

You asked me yesterday to think about ways of “sub-contracting” some of my functions to others on the Staff because (1) my area of responsibilities was becoming increasingly active, (2) you were concerned [Page 89] that I was “killing myself” as a result, and (3) that you wanted to be sure I could give my best efforts to those issues that would remain for me to handle. You were kind enough to speak well of my work and to stress that what you were suggesting was not intended to be critical.

You did not mention it, but I take it that your statements were related to Colonel Haig’s recent request to me that I give thought to how certain under-employed and consequently frustrated members of the Staff could be more fully utilized.

I will address myself principally to your comments to me since the problem mentioned by Colonel Haig is not one that I feel qualified to deal with specifically. The recommendation I shall make at the end of this memorandum is, however, germane to that problem and may be of help to you in coping with it.

I must necessarily deal with the issue you raised in a somewhat personal vein.

I begin by reminding you that I came here at your invitation to take on these responsibilities fully conscious of their variety, extent, and, in some instances, complexity. If anything is “killing me,” to use your phrase, it is not the weight of the substantive problems with which I deal but the impediments placed in the way of doing so effectively. Confining myself only to matters pertinent to your comments, these stem from the overlapping, fragmentation and inadequate definition of responsibilities on this Staff in the area of my assignment. This situation undoubtedly diverts my energy and time from substantive work more than is to be expected in any bureaucratic situation.

Large and significant segments of the issues relating to my area are formally assigned to others on the staff: thus, the whole matter of economic policy toward Europe, with its vital political implications, is the concern of another officer; similarly, the important issue of East-West trade, which encompasses the bulk of our formal relationship with the Communist countries other than the USSR, is the responsibility of another officer; again, the fundamental problems of military policy, with their crucial role in the US-Soviet relationship and in NATO affairs fall outside the scope of my assignment; large portions of the [Page 90] disarmament area, a major aspect of our relations with the USSR, are assigned elsewhere; our dealings with the USSR on such issues as the Middle East, on Vietnam and Korea are principally within the purview of other members of the Staff.

I have been encouraged that improved lateral communication within the Staff has in some measure made the discharge of my own responsibilities more effective in recent weeks and the working relationships among those of us who have these overlapping and interrelated assignments have become a good deal smoother over time. In this connection, I should make special note of the highly satisfactory way in which I have been able to share with Larry Lynn the work on the preparations for the SALT talks. Yet much of the work on these subjects remains fragmented, with wholly inadequate lateral contact, insufficient exchange of information and knowledge, lack of coordination, frequent duplication and, worst of all, inadequate coherence of approach. I do not, for example, have the impression that our dealings with the Soviets on the major issues that make up the essence of our present relations with them (e.g., Middle East, Vietnam, Korea, Central Europe, arms control, trade) flow from some consistency of conception; certainly, given the situation as I outlined it above, I have no way of providing it.

I say this not, as you at one time implied, because I seek an accumulation of responsibilities now assigned to others on the staff, but because I do not feel that I can fulfill the responsibility I have (or I thought I had) and because the attempt to do so meets with almost insuperable obstacles under the conditions in which we now function.

The frustrations of overlapping but badly coordinated functions are compounded, at least for me but I think for others too (for whom I do not in any sense purport to speak), by the ill-defined and roaming assignments of certain staff members. These have resulted in separate and uncoordinated contacts with other Executive agencies, foreign embassies and the press on matters of European and Soviet policy and have on several occasions greatly complicated my ability to do my job. Moreover, the still fuzzy line between my responsibilities as the NSC representative on the European IG and Mort Halperin’s responsibilities in the NSC process has led to time-consuming and debilitating jurisdictional maneuvering, to confused signals to the agencies and to unnecessary duplication of effort. It seems clear also that those among us supposedly concerned with longer-range analysis and planning find themselves, presumably for lack of a market, irresistably drawn to short-term and operational matters, complicating relations with the agencies and generating irritation.

In a nutshell, a vast amount of organized and spontaneous “subcontracting” is already occurring in the area of my assignment which, [Page 91] I strongly believe, adversely affects my ability to do an effective and professional job in serving you, and, through you, the President. I cannot in all honesty see how further fragmentation or proliferation of assignments in my area will improve this situation; more likely it will compound it.

What I do believe you should consider is a conscious effort to give substance to your earlier hope of making this staff a focus of longer-range planning in the Government. Indeed, our failure to do so so far has led to an atrophying of the Government’s activities in this respect.

In brief, my recommendation is that you do the following:

Revise the present NSSM system by establishing two types of NSC papers, one dealing with nearer term policy problems and the other with real long term issues, including those that overlap geographic and functional areas. The first type could be called National Security Policy Study (NSPS), the second could remain “NSSM.”
NSPSs would continue to come up through the IGRG (or ad hoc group-RG) route and would be handled by the NSC members presently on IGs or other established groups; they would result in Presidential policy decisions, NSDMs and other specific measures.
NSSMs would not come through IGs, which turn out by and large to be poorly suited for longer-range and more reflective studies or for papers that overlap established bureaus. Instead, NSSMs would be developed in specially constituted groups, chaired from whatever agency is principally relevant to the problem being considered. In some cases an NSC planner could be the chairman or the first drafter. Papers might or might not go to the NSC through the RG (they normally would) and would not necessarily require decisions by the President. They might give rise to a follow-up NSPS. Their basic purpose would be to identify trends, objectives, longer term strategies, and basic conceptions of interests and policy.

The virtue of this proposal is

to create a government community, guided by members of the NSC staff, concerned full-time with thinking about the future;
get the IGs out of a line of work in which they are not at their best (though, obviously, they will retain an interest) and put them full-time into a line of work for which they are best suited;
give specified NSC staff members clear responsibility in the area of longer term planning as distinct from other members responsible for operational and short-to-medium term policy, but, obviously, with communication between them.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger–Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1969–77, Box 40, Administrative File, National Security Council Organization (4), 5/3/69–6/12/69. No classification marking; Personal for Mr. Kissinger. In an attached May 3 memorandum to Kissinger, Haig summarized the main points of Sonnenfeldt’s memorandum. Then, in a long comment, Haig added among other things: “Obviously, Hal assumes that U.S.-Soviet relationships are his exclusive responsibility and since most world-wide issues impinge on this reality, ipso facto, he is responsible for most of the globe.” He also endorsed Sonnenfeldt’s “excellent point” on planning and his concern about the overextended bureaucracy involved in the NSSM process. Haig indicated that “reports I have received from throughout the bureaucracy indicate that those who do the work are increasingly hard pressed, beginning to lose enthusiasm and becoming resentful of additional requirements, especially those which are demanded on an urgent basis.” He concluded that he was also concerned about staff coordination and supervision, though not so much Sonnenfeldt. In Sonnenfeldt’s case, Haig wrote that “no system would be totally satisfactory.”