198. Memorandum From Richard T. Kennedy of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


You asked for thoughts on how the system could work in the possible new situation.2 The attached attempts to describe real and potential problems and to deal with them by some restructuring.

There is no easy or wholly satisfactory solution but it can work. The optimum structure described is precisely that—it does not resolve all problems but rather attempts to retain as much of the essential elements of the existing system as possible with the least number of disadvantages.

The two absolutely key issues are the amount of time you yourself will be able to devote to the system and the role of the NSC staff in it. The pressures on your time will be far greater than they now are (however, impossible it may seem) and the pressures from your own people in State and others in the bureaucracy to short circuit the NSC staff will grow inevitably.


Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff3


I. Assumption:

An organization for National Security Affairs in which the same individual would occupy the positions of Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

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II. Dimensions of the Problem:

Conceptual Problem. There is no wholly satisfactory restructuring or concept of operation of the NSC system in this circumstance:

—The strength and effectiveness of the system as it has evolved since January 1969 have rested on two basic factors:

  • Objectivity—the fact (clearly perceived as such by all of the participating agencies) that each agency has an opportunity at a senior level to present and argue its views without being constrained or overridden by any other (e.g. State). [This is precisely the argument for the present system, and against the previous administration’s SIG concept embodying State executive chairmanship, which was presented in the pre-inaugural consideration of alternatives.]4
  • Personal participation and chairmanship by the Assistant to the President—which has provided the essential intellectual stimulus and conceptual guidance; has given directions and approaches consistent with and supporting broader and longer range conceptions and goals; and has assured the drive needed to break log jams, make decisions, and force action.

Institutional Problems. Whatever solution is conceived, the sense of objectivity and some measure of the essential “devil’s advocacy” which have characterized the system inevitably will be lost or at least significantly diminished.

—For, whatever role the Secretary/Assistant to the President personally plays in respect to the major sub-groups of the system, and even in the NSC itself, all agencies will see his participation as that of an advocate of State’s view. And their participation will be conditioned by this “fact.”

—However strongly and genuinely the incumbent pursues an objective role in the system as Assistant to the President, as differentiated from his role as Secretary of State, no other agency will wholly accept that objectivity on its face—not even the representative of the Department of State (the Secretary after all does head the Department). To make the appearance of total objectivity and detachment from State credible would almost surely require a relationship in interagency forums between the Secretary/Assistant to the President and his own senior State Department assistants which would be unacceptable and very likely institutionally damaging.

The institutional problem will exist to an extent in all of the senior sub-groups of the existing structure. Its proportions will be most serious in the DPRC and the Verification Panel where Defense interest is predominant and where Defense and State have the most serious differences of view. The Secretary of Defense can be expected to fight [Page 670] (probably overtly but at least by sabotage) any concept which would give the incumbent (who, whatever his stated role in the committee, is still the Secretary of State) chairmanship of a committee (DPRC) whose purpose is the examination of the Secretary of Defense’s programs—his own department would press him to prevent it. Both DOD and, more particularly the JCS, also would fight “State predominance” over SALT and MBFR in the Verification Panel.

Aside from the interdepartmental “conflict of interest” issues (as they will be portrayed by others), there is the real problem of the availability of time for participation by the incumbent in the necessarily intensive schedule of meetings (averaging three each week when the system is actively engaged and most effective). It is a major burden for one man occupying one position—the burden will be even greater under the assumed situation. But only when the senior sub-groups meet regularly does the system achieve the high level of success of which it is demonstrably capable.

The role of the NSC staff in relationship to the sub-groups in the system also becomes, at least to a degree, anomolous. Who do they represent? If they represent the Assistant to the President, who does the State member represent? This problem is not insurmountable, but it must be faced. It is an extension of the question: Who and what institution does the Secretary/Assistant to the President represent at the various levels of the system and its functioning?

Lastly, there is the potential for mischief by OMB. They have long wanted a bigger role in National Security Affairs. If afforded an opportunity they will move to fill any vacuum in the White House arena which may even seem to develop. They will portray themselves as working to serve the President in ways in which a diminished NSC staff (either in size or stature) cannot be expected to do.

III. Alternative Approaches:

With the foregoing considerations in mind, and assuming that the basic concepts and structure of the system should be preserved to the extent possible, there are several possible structural arrangements:

1. Continue the present structure and membership unchanged (a variant would be with fewer meetings of the senior subgroups, leaving more issues for consideration by (1) the NSC itself, and (2) by memoranda reflection of departmental views for Presidential decision.)

2. Upgrade the membership of the principal sub-groups of the system to the Agency-head level with Chairmanship remaining with the incumbent in his role as Assistant to the President. (This would in effect be an NSC without the direct participation of the President or the Vice President.)

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3. Continue the present structure but with Chairmanship of each group to be determined by its principal function (e.g., the SRG–State; DPRC–Defense; NSCICDCI; etc.).

4. Continue the present structure with membership at a lower organizational level and chaired by a Deputy Assistant to the President. (The Chairman would act essentially as a moderator and “devil’s advocate” seeking full expression of views and alternatives, and determining the degree of consensus and difference, but not giving action direction.)

5. Reconstitute the SIG concept under State direction and chairmanship. (The Under Secretaries Committee would simply be chartered as a policy formulating and decision-making body referring unresolved differences to the President; its present responsibility for supervision of execution would be retained.)

These alternative structural arrangements are discussed in some detail and as to their relationship to the existing senior sub-groups of the system in the attachment. None would provide a wholly satisfactory solution applicable across the board. But each offers some reasonable prospects for at least minimally effective operation of one or more of the senior sub-groups of the system. It should be recognized, however, that in every case some measure of the important appearance of total objectivity is sacrificed—the greater the level of direct participation by the Secretary/Assistant to the President, the more this is so. Yet his participation is what “makes it go.”

An Optimum Structure. If each senior sub-group is cast against the general models, the structure which best preserves the integrity and values of the present system would look as follows:

Senior Review Group

—Operation should follow two tracks as decided by the Assistant to the President based on the nature of the issue.

  • Major issues—continue as at present with Assistant to President in chair (Defense should be given option as to whether the Secretary should attend).
  • Lesser issues—present membership (at Deputy Secretary level) except the chair occupied either by Deputy or Under Secretary of State or by Deputy Assistant to President with a paper prepared, written views of Department heads sought and then submitted to the President (via Assistant to President).


—Continue as at present with Assistant to the President in the chair and Defense represented by Secretary if desired.

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  • • An alternative would be to keep present membership but give the chair to the Secretary of Defense (meetings would have to be held at the White House)—this would have the advantage of engaging and providing incentive for Defense but would still leave ultimate control in the hands of the Assistant to the President who would forward the papers to the President for decision.

Verification Panel

—Continue as at present with the Assistant to the President in the chair.


—Chaired by DCI with NSC membership by Deputy Assistant to President. (Paper describing consensus and differing views would be submitted to Assistant to President.) (This would relieve Assistant to President of potentially time-consuming activity, assure more frequent meetings needed for movement by the group, and retain control by Assistant to the President.)


—A two-track approach:

  • • Contingency planning and normal crisis management activity—continue as at present but with Deputy Assistant to President in chair. (Contingency planning is done in Working Group and referred to Principals.)
  • • Major issues/crisis management—continue present membership with Assistant to President in chair.

40 Committee

—Continue as at present (handle most matters by memo prepared by NSC staff for Assistant to President. State view to be resolved between Deputy or Under Secretary and Secretary.).

Under Secretaries Committee

—No change (do not broaden charter).

Interdepartmental Groups (IGs)

—No change—NSC staff member participates as at present.

IV. Operational Imperatives:

In the foregoing structure (or indeed in any other possible configuration) the following will be essential:

—Fewer meetings of the senior sub-groups (inevitably there will be some loss of direction).

—More frequent meetings of the NSC.

—More issues presented for Presidential decision by memoranda.

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Meetings of the senior sub-groups of the system must continue to be held in the White House Situation Room. This will impose a time burden on the Assistant to the President. But if the meetings are held at State (or, if the DPRC were chaired by the Secretary of Defense at Defense) the last vestige of objectivity will be lost—no one will believe that the Assistant to the President is holding a meeting in the Secretary of State’s office. When the element of objectivity is so compromised there will be no longer any real hope of more than a pro-forma system—dissidence will result in paralysis.

If the NSC staff is to function effectively in support of the Assistant to the President, the Council, and the President, its role must be clearly defined:

—It should continue to prepare the analytical summaries and talking points for the Assistant to the President for his participation in meetings of the senior sub-groups and the NSC. This will be increasingly difficult because:

• The NSC staff will be physically separated from the Assistant to the President.

• The NSC staff must know whether the State-prepared paper and/or statement of views on the paper represent the views of the institution or the Secretary/Assistant to the President, or both.

—The NSC staff members must be present at the meetings of the senior sub-groups to perform their function of interdepartmental follow up and guidance. But there inevitably will be pressure from the Department of State to increase its own attendance at the expense of the NSC staff.

—The Deputy Assistant to the President will have to be empowered to forward papers to the President, and the range of matters on which he will be so empowered should be defined at the outset. But the question on such matters will be: To whom and how will the NSC staff member concerned present his views prior to the formulation of a recommendation for Presidential decision?

The conduct of NSC meetings necessarily will be slightly altered. The Secretary of State/Assistant to the President should continue to present the issues and options as the prelude to discussion. But he will have to follow this presentation with a summation of the basic outlines of the positions taken by other interested department heads and conclude with a statement of his own views as Secretary of State. This should pose no real problem since it would follow essentially the pattern which has been used in presenting issues for decision by memoranda to the President.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, KissingerScowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1969–77, Box 40, Administrative Files, National Security Council Organization (7), 3/15/73–8/31/76. Eyes Only. Printed from a copy that Kennedy did not initial.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 197.
  3. Eyes Only. No drafting information appears on the paper. A shorter, 4-page analysis of five potential structural models for the operation of the NSC system is also attached but not printed.
  4. Brackets are in the original.