9. Memorandum From Colonel Robert E. Pursley to Secretary of Defense Designate Laird1


  • Proposal for a New National Security Council System

I delivered a set of the papers on the New National Security Council System2 to General Wheeler this morning, Monday, January 20. I indicated discussions on the papers could be held as early as Tuesday morning, January 21. If I may, I should like to offer a few observations. My notes are keyed to the outline of Mr. Kissinger’s memorandum.3

Current Practice. The procedures which have been followed during the past three years (as long as I have been with the Secretary of Defense) are accurately described. I would emphasize, though, the drawbacks inherent in not being able to prepare adequately for the top-level discussions. Sometimes the Secretary of Defense was provided 3–4 hours before the Tuesday Luncheon meeting with a list of topics proposed for discussion. While that interval allowed some time for staff work and consultations inside the Department, it almost invariably allowed too little time for thorough staff work and frequently allowed no time for the Secretary to review papers or to consult his staff prior to leaving for the meeting. The impact of such procedures on the quality of discussions is obvious.

The lack of systematic follow-up to the Tuesday Luncheon meetings is also accurately described in Mr. Kissinger’s paper. The hazards in this regard went beyond just keeping the various Departments and staffs informed on any single action or issue. All too frequently, actions [Page 27] on one issue carried potential impacts on other issues. The absence of formal decision documents made it easy (or convenient) to forget earlier actions approval. Conflicting guidance or policies could—and, in my judgment, did—result.

Eisenhower Procedures. The Kissinger memorandum appropriately suggests the present task is to institute procedures which will provide the President and his top advisers with:

  • all the realistic alternatives (emphasis supplied).
  • —the costs and benefits of each.
  • —the views and recommendations of all interested agencies (emphasis supplied).

These goals are sound. However, as you suggest in your memorandum,4 the procedures Mr. Kissinger outlines, allowing his planning staff to prepare and synthesize NSC papers, seem to contradict—or potentially conflict with—the stated goals. A more “open” system allowing for inputs and review by the Cabinet staffs concerned with national security issues is desirable.

National Security Structure. The proposed agenda for the NSC meetings should be subject to the review of the Secretary of Defense, as well as the Secretary of State. The Secretary of Defense could, and should, incorporate the inputs from the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The latter point may seem obvious and trivial, but it is important. It has been customary in the past for the Joint Staff and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to have direct lines of communication on some important matters. It is preferable, in my judgment, to establish at the outset that Mr. Kissinger’s channels—and his staff’s channels to any and all DOD components—will be through the Secretary of Defense.

It is not clear to me why it would be necessary to have both (1) the National Security Council Review Group and (2) the NSC Ad Hoc Under Secretary’s Committee. To preclude a “closed loop,” as you call it, under the direction of the Assistant to the President—a system which could find the White House staff directing, or working at cross-purposes with the Cabinet level staffs (State and Defense)—it might be advisable to combine the National Security Council Review Group and the Ad Hoc Under Secretary’s Committee into one Committee (the membership appears to be about the same, anyway). This one committee could operate under the chairmanship of the Under Secretary of State, much as the “Non Group” has operated in the Johnson Administration.

[Page 28]

Membership on this committee could usefully include the top member of the White House, State Department, and Defense Department Public Affairs staffs. In the more formal system proposed for dealing with national security affairs, more papers will be prepared, more people will be informed (and rightly so)—but the chances of “leaks” will increase exponentially. It will be important, I believe, to have a position prepared for public presentation to forestall the potentially adverse impact of such leaks. Even aside from the “leaks” problem, there is much to be gained from having a well-developed, coordinated, and forthright public affairs posture. The alternative is the possible reinstitution of credibility gap charges. Including the key public affairs officials at the working level below the NSC could make a positive contribution in effecting policy decisions, as well as serving as insurance against the deleterious effects of wrong or slanted information.

National Security Procedure. The proposed institution of (1) National Security Decision Memoranda (NSDMs) and (2) National Security Study Memoranda (NSSMs) is sound. I would suggest the addition of a variation in each case, however. To insure continuity in the decision process and to avoid conflicting policy decisions, I believe a periodic Summary of NSDMs would be useful. The summaries, or inventory, could be done by functional areas. Also, I believe a periodic Status Memorandum of NSSMs, something akin to a “tickler file,” would be useful. The latter would call attention to areas in which action was lagging or in which the opportunity for new direction might be advisable.

National Security Council Staff. The organizational planning for the NSC staff infers uncertainty about (1) whether the main idea will be to use the existing State and Defense staffs to prepare studies and follow the day-to-day actions required to implement policies or (2) whether the White House staff will attempt to duplicate the Cabinet level staff work. There appears to be a tendency to the latter. I would see substantial room for confusion, suspicion, and disorder with a system of coordinate staffs along such lines. I believe the preferred system is one of a small White House staff which leaves the State and Defense staffs the detailed and substantive work.

Major Policy Issues. In addition to the Major Policy issues listed for early attention by the NSC, the following might deserve consideration:

  • Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union—or even talks ranging beyond the strategic arms area.
  • Non-Proliferation Treaty—whether we press for immediate U.S. ratification and what pressures, if any, we use on reluctant allies and friends to sign the treaty.
  • Latin America—what our arms policy and role vis-à-vis insurgencies should be.
  • Selective Service Reform—what changes should be made in the draft system now and/or after the Southeast Asia conflict is resolved.
  • Termination Day (T-Day) Planning—what military, political, and economic plans should we be making for phasing down the Southeast Asia conflict.

A Final—and Minor—Point. In numbering NSDMs, it would seem more logical to me to have the NSDM, which establishes the NSC Decision and Study Memoranda Series, numbered 1. It presently carries the number 3.

Robert E. Pursley5
Colonel, USAF
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, FRC 330 75 104, Secretary Laird’s “Organization Papers.” Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Document 1.
  4. Document 6.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.