95. Report to the Congress on U.S. Foreign Policy by President Nixon1


If we were to establish a new foreign policy for the era to come, we had to begin with a basic restructuring of the process by which policy is made.

Our fresh purposes demanded new methods of planning and a more rigorous and systematic process of policymaking. We required a [Page 209] system which would summon and gather the best ideas, the best analyses and the best information available to the government and the nation.

Efficient procedure does not insure wisdom in the substance of policy. But given the complexity of contemporary choices, adequate procedures are an indispensable component of the act of judgment. I have long believed that the most pressing issues are not necessarily the most fundamental ones; we know that an effective American policy requires clarity of purpose for the future as well as a procedure for dealing with the present. We do not want to exhaust ourselves managing crises; our basic goal is to shape the future.

At the outset, therefore, I directed that the National Security Council be reestablished as the principal forum for Presidential consideration of foreign policy issues. The revitalized Council—composed by statute of the President, the Vice President, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness— and its new system of supporting groups are designed to respond to the requirements of leadership in the 1970’s:

  • —Our policy must be creative: foreign policy must mean more than reacting to emergencies; we must fashion a new and positive vision of a peaceful world, and design new policies to achieve it.
  • —Our policymaking must be systematic: our actions must be the products of thorough analysis, forward planning, and deliberate decision. We must master problems before they master us.
  • —We must know the facts: intelligent discussions in the National Security Council and wise decisions require the most reliable information available. Disputes in the government have been caused too often by an incomplete awareness or understanding of the facts.
  • —We must know the alternatives: we must know what our real options are and not simply what compromise has found bureaucratic acceptance. Every view and every alternative must have a fair hearing. Presidential leadership is not the same as ratifying bureaucratic consensus.
  • —We must be prepared if crises occur: we must anticipate crises where possible. If they cannot be prevented, we must plan for dealing with them. All the elements of emergency action, political as well as military, must be related to each other.
  • —Finally, we must have effective implementation: it does little good to plan intelligently and imaginatively if our decisions are not well carried out.

Creativity: Above all, a foreign policy for the 1970’s demands imaginative thought. In a world of onrushing change, we can no longer rest content with familiar ideas or assume that the future will be a projection of the present. If we are to meet both the peril and the opportunity of change, we require a clear and positive vision of the world we seek—and of America’s contribution to bringing it about.

As modern bureaucracy has grown, the understanding of change and the formulation of new purposes have become more difficult. Like men, governments find old ways hard to change and new paths difficult to discover.

The mandate I have given to the National Security Council system, and the overriding objective of every policy review undertaken, is to clarify our view of where we want to be in the next three to five years. Only then can we ask, and answer, the question of how to proceed.

In central areas of policy, we have arranged our procedure of policymaking so as to address the broader questions of long-term objectives first; we define our purposes, and then address the specific operational issues. In this manner, for example, the NSC first addressed the basic questions of the rationale and doctrine of our strategic posture, and then considered—in the light of new criteria of strategic sufficiency—our specific weapons programs and our specific policy for the negotiations on strategic arms limitation. We determined that our relationship with Japan for the 1970’s and beyond had to be founded on our mutual and increasingly collaborative concern for peace and security in the Far East; we then addressed the issue of Okinawa’s status in the light of this fundamental objective.

Systematic Planning: American foreign policy must not be merely the result of a series of piecemeal tactical decisions forced by the pressures of events. If our policy is to embody a coherent vision of the world and a rational conception of America’s interests, our specific actions must be the products of rational and deliberate choice. We need a system which forces consideration of problems before they become emergencies, which enables us to make our basic determinations of purpose before being pressed by events, and to mesh policies.

The National Security Council itself met 37 times in 1969, and considered over a score of different major problems of national security. Each Council meeting was the culmination of an interagency process of systematic and comprehensive review.

This is how the process works: I assign an issue to an Interdepartmental Group—chaired by an Assistant Secretary of State—for intensive [Page 211] study, asking it to formulate the policy choices and to analyze the pros and cons of the different courses of action. This group’s report is examined by an interagency Review Group of senior officials— chaired by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs— to insure that the issues, options, and views are presented fully and fairly. The paper is then presented to me and the full National Security Council.

Some topics requiring specialized knowledge are handled through different channels before reaching the National Security Council. But the purpose is the same—systematic review and analysis, bringing together all the agencies concerned:

  • —The major issues of defense policy are treated in systematic and integrated fashion by the NSC Defense Program Review Committee. This group reviews at the Under Secretary level the major defense policy and program issues which have strategic, political, diplomatic, and economic implications in relation to overall national priorities.
  • —Through other NSC interagency groups, the United States Government has undertaken its first substantial effort to review all its resource programs within certain countries on a systematic and integrated basis, instead of haphazardly and piecemeal.

Determination of the Facts: Intelligent discussions and decisions at the highest level demand the fullest possible information. Too often in the past, the process of policymaking has been impaired or distorted by incomplete information and by disputes in the government which resulted from the lack of a common appreciation of the facts. It is an essential function of the NSC system, therefore, to bring together all the agencies of the government concerned with foreign affairs to elicit, assess, and present to me and the Council all the pertinent knowledge available.

Normally, NSC Interdepartmental Groups are assigned this task. But other interagency groups perform this function for certain special topics. For example:

  • —The Verification Panel was formed to gather the essential facts relating to a number of important issues of strategic arms limitation, such as Soviet strategic capabilities, and our potential means of verifying compliance with various possible agreements. This Panel was designed not to induce agreement on policy views, but to establish as firmly as possible the data on which to base policy discussions. It helped to resolve many major policy differences which might otherwise have been intractable. As the section on Arms Control in this report explains in detail, the Panel played a central part in making our preparation for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union the most thorough in which the U.S. Government has ever engaged.
  • —The Vietnam Special Studies Group (VSSG) gathers and presents to the highest levels of the United States Government the fullest [Page 212] and most up-to-date information on trends and conditions in the countryside in Vietnam. This group is of key assistance in our major and sustained effort to understand the factors which will determine the course of Vietnamization.

Full Range of Options: I do not believe that Presidential leadership consists merely in ratifying a consensus reached among departments and agencies. The President bears the Constitutional responsibility of making the judgments and decisions that form our policy.

The new NSC system is designed to make certain that clear policy choices reach the top, so that the various positions can be fully debated in the meeting of the Council. Differences of view are identified and defended, rather than muted or buried. I refuse to be confronted with a bureaucratic consensus that leaves me no options but acceptance or rejection, and that gives me no way of knowing what alternatives exist.

The NSC system also insures that all agencies and departments receive a fair hearing before I make my decisions. All departments concerned with a problem participate on the groups that draft and review the policy papers. They know that their positions and arguments will reach the Council without dilution, along with the other alternatives. Council meetings are not rubber-stamp sessions. And as my decisions are reached they are circulated in writing, so that all departments concerned are fully informed of our policy, and so that implementation can be monitored.

Crisis Planning: Some events in the world over which we have little control may produce crises that we cannot prevent, even though our systematized study forewarns us of their possibility. But we can be the masters of events when crises occur, to the extent that we are able to prepare ourselves in advance.

For this purpose, we created within the NSC system a special senior panel known as the Washington Special Actions Group (WSAG). This group drafts contingency plans for possible crises, integrating the political and military requirements of crisis action. The action responsibilities of the departments of the Government are planned in detail, and specific responsibilities assigned in an agreed time sequence in advance. While no one can anticipate exactly the timing and course of a possible crisis, the WSAG’s planning helps insure that we have asked the right questions in advance, and thought through the implications of various responses.

Policy Implementation: The variety and complexity of foreign policy issues in today’s world places an enormous premium on the effective implementation of policy. Just as our policies are shaped and our programs formed through a constant process of interagency discussion and debate within the NSC framework, so the implementation of our major policies needs review and coordination on a continuing basis. [Page 213] This is done by an interdepartmental committee at the Under Secretary level chaired by the Under Secretary of State.


There is no textbook prescription for organizing the machinery of policymaking, and no procedural formula for making wise decisions. The policies of this Administration will be judged on their results, not on how methodically they were made.

The NSC system is meant to help us address the fundamental issues, clarify our basic purposes, examine all alternatives, and plan intelligent actions. It is meant to promote the thoroughness and deliberation which are essential for an effective American foreign policy. It gives us the means to bring to bear the best foresight and insight of which the nation is capable.

  1. Source: Richard Nixon, U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970’s: A New Strategy for Peace; A Report to the Congress (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970), pp. 17–23. Also printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 122–126. Nixon’s 2nd and 3rd reports to the Congress, dated February 25, 1971, and February 9, 1972, respectively, also included sections on the NSC system: U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970’s: Building the Peace (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), pp. 226–232; and U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970’s: The Emerging Structure of Peace (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972), pp. 208–212. Also printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 341–344; and Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 341–345.