Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume II, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969–1972
86. Memorandum From W. Anthony Lake of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
- Relations with the State Department
As you requested, I am putting down on paper some of my thoughts about the present state of our relations with the State Department. I have done this in the form of separate papers on: the problem and its consequences; the reasons which I believe lie behind the problem; and some possible remedial measures.2
In discussing only the problem, there is the danger that the picture can be painted in overly bleak tones. I do not mention the many areas of close and friendly collaboration with State—e.g., with Ted Eliot.
The memorandum incorporates the comments of the senior staff operators. I discovered that Bill Watts was independently writing a similar memo. Many of the comments in my memo are taken from Bill’s (with his blessings).3
The Problem and Its Consequences
Almost without exception, the staff members agreed with my view that working relations between the NSC staff and the State Department are at their lowest ebb in years. This is most obvious in the extraordinary failures of the State Department to coordinate its activities with this staff in a number of important ways. (Some of the specific incidents of which you are aware come as a particular shock to me when I recall the meticulous way in which my former bosses at State checked [Page 184] almost everything of importance with the White House, and were sincerely embarrassed when there was some slip-up.)
Most of the operators also said that the State Department sees the NSC now in an adversary role in a way that it has not before. There seems to be less effort than before to resolve problems by compromise. This is an atypical attitude for the State Department, which has not been noted in the past for the overt ferocity of its bureaucratic methods.
I will not recount the many cases of State failure to clear statements and instructions, or to carry out Presidential directives, etc. There are a number of categories of operational problems, however, which can usefully be listed.
- —Almost daily, policy statements and positions are taken through speeches or cable directives which were not sent to the White House for prior clearance.
- —Implicit and explicit directives have been sent from the 7th floor to certain bureaus telling them not to deal with their NSC counterparts.
- —As the information flow has thus diminished or stopped, NSC staff members have been unaware of issues on which a White House view could usefully be given.
- —Papers are sent over from State (sometimes probably deliberately) late before meetings, so as to make meaningful comment almost impossible by the NSC staff.
- —The 7th floor is signing off on a greater number of cables than in the past. The Bureaus are increasingly preparing messages without White House clearance and obtaining 7th floor approval before they come to us for clearance. This pattern allows the Bureaus to avoid confrontation with our staff and has the particularly pernicious effect of involving the 7th floor and you in disagreements which should have been resolved at lower levels.
- —Papers are frequently produced which simply do not produce realistic alternatives for the President to consider, but rather put the entire weight on the favored State position.
- —Specific Presidential orders and policy guidelines have been ignored. This has, of course, happened in past Administrations—but never in recent history to such a degree, particularly with regard to press statements.
- —In addition to disregard of Presidential policy directives, bureaucratic directives from the President have been suppressed and ignored. For example, the Colorado Springs directive4 was never given any distribution within the State Department.
These problems vary greatly, of course, among the Regional Bureaus.
The major consequences of these problems have been obvious to you: the serious inconsistencies we have displayed to foreigners with regard to critically important substantive issues and the impression of indiscipline and lack of coherence we have displayed to the press. The gravity of these consequences, particularly the former, cannot be overstated.
Another consequence has been less important substantively, but also concerns me. It is the amount of time and physical and psychic energy which goes into our bureaucratic struggles. This has, I believe, seriously affected the efficiency and performance of our operation—and of the Government as a whole.
Most of the problem revolves around the Secretary’s relationship with the President and you, as noted in Bill’s memo. Substantive disagreements with the White House also play a strong part. In addition, there are a number of bureaucratic reasons for the problem. They are basically atmospheric:
- —Relations vary from geographic area to geographic area, depending largely on the personalities involved. Psychological interactions involved here include a feeling by some Assistant Secretaries that they have been bulldozed by more competent NSC staff officers and resultant fears that continued close contact will damage their own positions in the bureaucracy, as well as occasional resentment at the bureaucratic as well as personal power of the NSC staff.
- —The whole 7th floor has (I believe properly) encouraged the Bureaus to show more initiative in developing new policies, etc., to show that the State Department can play a more positive role in our foreign affairs establishment. This has been interpreted by some Bureaus to mean that they should circumvent the NSC staff.
- —Many in the State Department lack confidence in the present NSC system. There is reportedly a widespread belief that it was designed from its inception to constrain the State Department. Many State officers therefore do not believe that they will gain anything by submitting differences with the NSC staff to the NSC structure.
- —There is also reportedly an unfortunate belief in some Bureaus that you are anti-State Department in outlook. I gather, without knowing specifics, that some comments attributed to you denigrating the State Department have been given fairly wide circulation in some Bureaus.
- —Some Bureaus reportedly believe that some of the President’s directives, as put out in NSSM’s, NSDM’s, and other memoranda over your signature, reflected your desires more than the President’s, and even on occasion that they were put out without the President’s knowledge. These rumors have debased the effectiveness of these directives.
- —As you saw in the Green memorandum, some State officers have the impression that the White House does a great deal of back channel manipulation of the field.
All of these factors have contributed to a vicious circle of reactions and counter-reactions between the staff and the State Department, which has contributed to an increasing loss of confidence in each other.
Memorandum From William Watts, Staff Secretary, National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)
- On Dealing with State
In the last analysis, the whole question of relationships between the National Security Council and the Department of State turns on your relations with Secretary Rogers. With the mistrust and suspicion that now exist, it is inevitable that he will seek to circumvent and undermine your efforts. The result is that the working relationships between the Department of State and your staff will have not only the [Page 187] chronic abrasions of an unwielding bureaucracy, but may suffer an outright break-down. Simply put, this jeopardizes the very basis of the national policy process.
Institutional corrections are probably possible and worth trying, but ultimately it all will hang on the Kissinger/Rogers axis.
This basic fact is complicated by an additional reality which must be as galling to Secretary Rogers as it is obvious to the President. To wit, the whole NSC operation, from you on down, stands head and shoulders above the Department of State in terms of quality of product and degree of initiative. The President obviously meant it when he said at the staff meeting in the Cabinet Room that State hadn’t turned out a new idea in 20 years. He clearly looks to you for his most sophisticated advice and counsel, and this is now sufficiently obvious to everyone that it is bound to exacerbate the entire State/NSC relationship.
II. The Problem
All of this gets translated into reality in increasingly obvious and crude forms:
- —policy statements and positions are taken through speeches or cable directives, which are not sent to the White House for clearance.
- —specific Presidential orders are frequently ignored, or not enforced.
- —papers are produced which simply do not present realistic alternatives for the President to consider, but rather put the entire weight on the favorite State program.
- —papers are sent over from State deliberately late before meeting dates or other deadlines, so as to make meaningful comment here almost impossible.
- —implicit and explicit directives have been circulated within the State Department telling staff men not to deal with their NSC counterparts.
- —And so forth.
It would not be fair, however, to suggest the problem is all one way. Many at State are deeply concerned that the White House is undertaking clandestine policy initiatives without even clueing State in. In addition, there is concern that communications from the Secretary to the President, or at other levels, either do not get through to the President or are presented in a way which does not give full force to the State position.
III. What to do?
In point of fact, the cards are stacked heavily in your favor. You have an overwhelming dual advantage: your own very special relationship with the President, and the superior quality of NSC staff work.[Page 188]
This is a situation which the 7th floor at State certainly recognizes. But in its insecurity and rancor, State is just not going to put out its hand first.
Under these circumstances, only an initiative on your part can bring a genuine improvement in White House/State relations.
You hold the high ground. You can clearly afford to offer State a greater role, in the full confidence that, if State is unable or unwilling to respond, it can only blame itself.
The need for such an initiative grows day by day. It is simply a monumental waste of your time to have to spend so much energy on smoking out and preventing end runs. It is debilitating to the staff to be constantly in the same position, when in fact what they should be doing is working in close harmony with their State counterparts and thereby serving you in a far more creative capacity. What is going on now approximates a slow war of attrition, in which State regularly tries to limit your capacity for action, and looks upon the NSC as its main adversary on the Washington landscape.
As I said at the outset, this all revolves around your relations with the Secretary of State. If there is to be genuine relief of tension and improvement of working relations, the process must start with you and Secretary Rogers.
Such an initiative could be followed up by a range of additional actions, the purpose of which would be to try and make better use of the resources available at State (they are not inconsiderable), and to engender the kind of active inter-relationship which is so badly needed.
A number of specific steps follow:
- A private meeting between yourself and the Secretary, in which you would stress your own desire to see nothing but the closest relations between the members of your staff and their counterparts at State. This kind of forthcoming opening on your part could at least lay the groundwork for a bit of relaxation from the Secretary’s side, and prepare the way for a subsequent session with the important working-level people at State—primarily the Assistant Secretaries.
- A meeting of you with Elliot Richardson and the IG Chairman (with the Secretary invited, although he might not want to be there), as a follow-up to your overture to the Secretary. You would lay out in some detail just what kind of product the IG papers really should be, and what the President needs. Some of my discussions lead me to believe that there is genuine confusion on this score. Some straight talk from you, stressing the importance of these papers and showing just how basic they could be if done properly might result in a vastly improved product. Your message would be that the NSC staff wants to work with—and not against—the IG process.
- You should continue to encourage NSC staff members to consult more actively with their State Department counterparts throughout policy deliberations over at State. This is a subject that would be well worth discussing with Secretary Rogers; he could (hopefully) be made to see that it is in his interest that such close consultations do go forward. As it is now, conflict all too often emerges in the very last stages, and this is just one more factor which escalates issues for decision to a show-down of sorts between you and the Secretary.
- The role of the Under Secretaries Committee should be strengthened, putting an increased responsibility on State’s shoulders. State must be challenged to do a better job and the way to do that best is to give them responsibility, not take it away. A number of NSSMs already in process could be directed straight to the Under Secretaries Committee in the first instance, and this line of approach should be more actively followed in the future. This can be handled in part by the very way the NSSMs are drafted.
- Every effort must be made to move papers through the White House system as quickly as possible. Admittedly, State is notoriously delinquent in the way it sends papers over late for clearance, with horrendous last minute deadlines. This is something for which we constantly jump on them for and we will continue to do so. But to the extent that our own hands are clean, and decision papers do not languish here, the onus for delay is on State.
- There will always be very private White House initiatives. This is required both by Presidential style and the concern over possible leaks. Nonetheless, this is also a formula which needs to be used with utmost discrimination, only where absolutely necessary.
In sum, there is a major problem. No one else in this government—who is in a position to deal with it—will. You can. To lift the current malaise, to everyone’s advantage, you should. I believe—and I say this in the full knowledge that I am drawing heavily on my credit balance with you—you must.
It is in your interest, in the President’s interest, and—ultimately—in the national interest.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 148, State/WH Relationship, Vol. 2. Secret; Eyes Only; Nodis.↩
- All three papers are attached but only the first two, attachments A and B, are printed.↩
- Attachment D; printed below.↩
- See Document 70.↩
- Roger Morris, who was a member of Kissinger’s NSC staff from January 1969 to April 1970, later wrote in his book, Haig: The General Progress, p. 129, that “when Watts, the staff secretary, sent Kissinger an unusual memo early in 1970. ‘On Dealing with State,’ urging an end to the venom and harsher habits of rivalry, Haig openly ridiculed Watts with Kissinger and other officers.”↩