5. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs-Designate (Brzezinski) to President-Elect Carter1


  • The National Security Council System

I have reviewed the structure, activities and staff of the current NSC system. The recommendations which follow are designed to improve, streamline and rationalize the existing NSC system. They are intended to place more authority and responsibility in the departments and agencies and to insure that the NSC continues to integrate and facilitate foreign policy decisions.

I. NSC Committee Structure

The NSC committees are the heart of the NSC. This is where policy proposals are developed, policy reviews undertaken, and implementation of your decisions coordinated. A description of the current NSC committee system and of each current committee is found at Tab 1. A working diagram of that system is at Tab 2.2


1. Department officials should chair the majority of NSC committees. When Kissinger was the Assistant for National Security Affairs, he chaired all of them. The system is more de-centralized now. This has had the effect of putting more authority back into the departments. [Page 28] However, the allocation of chairmanships reflects Kissinger’s power rather than logic or Presidential responsibilities.

I believe we should have a more rational structure. Department officials should chair policy-oriented committees. The Assistant for National Security Affairs should chair those NSC committees responsible for review, coordination and crisis management.

2. The present NSC committee structure should be reorganized and streamlined. There should be two NSC committees instead of seven.

The first would be a Policy Review Committee to develop national security policy for your decision and based on your guidance on subjects that go beyond the sole responsibility of the individual agencies. This Committee would deal with such matters as:

—foreign policy issues that contain significant military or other interagency aspects;

—defense policy issues having international implications (such as NATO, force posture and Naval strategy) and the task of keeping the annual Defense Budget in line with foreign policy objectives;

—the preparation of a consolidated national intelligence budget (and other foreign intelligence responsibilities)3

—economic security issues in which U.S.-Foreign policy and security issues predominate.

Depending on the nature of the proposed agenda and subject matter being considered at a particular meeting, the President would designate the appropriate Chairman. In addition to the NSC Assistant and the statutory members of the National Security Council, or their representatives, participants in the Committee would include, as appropriate, Treasury, the Chairman of JCS, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, OMB, the Attorney General, ACDA, other Assistants to the President, etc.4

A special committee, the Special Coordination Committee,5 would be created to deal with specific cross cutting issues requiring coordination in the development of options and the implementation of presidential decisions. It would deal with such matters as:

[Page 29]

—arms control, for which no one agency (State, Defense, ACDA) has pre-eminent jurisdiction;

—the oversight of sensitive intelligence activities, such as covert operations which are undertaken on presidential authority;

—crisis management which as a practical matter is conducted by you from the White House with the support of your National Security Assistant.

The Special Coordination Committee would be attended by the statutory members of the NSC or their representatives, as well as other senior officials as deemed appropriate by the President. It would be chaired by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.




II. The National Security Council

In keeping with the recommendation above for an International Economic Security Committee, and without prejudice to the overall organization of economic issues, I recommend that those international economic and other interdependence issues which are pertinent to national security be considered in the NSC. This arrangement would not deal with such issues as monetary affairs, or trade and others which do not directly bear on national security.


3. International economic security issues, such as the political ramifications of the UK financial crisis, OPEC and North-South negotiations, should be considered also within the National Security Council framework. For this purpose, the Secretary of the Treasury should attend appropriate NSC meetings. Consideration of economic issues within the NSC framework would not prejudice their consideration within other policy boards or committees you may wish to establish.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______

4. The Director of OMB and the Chairman of the CEA should attend appropriate meetings of the NSC to assist you in integrating foreign and domestic policy.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______7

[Page 30]

III. The NSC Staff

The present NSC staff is composed of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, his Deputy, 48 professionals and 77 administrative and clerical personnel. A brief description of the current NSC staff is contained at Tab 4. A “wiring diagram” is found at Tab 5.8


5. I propose to reorganize and reduce the size of the NSC staff. The professional staff can be reduced to 30 professionals, a cut of 33 percent. The non-professional staff cannot be reduced by a similar percentage because virtually all of them perform support functions, such as Freedom of Information Act analysts, Situation Room assistants, and secretaries. Despite this, the non-professional staff can be reduced, and I propose to eliminate ten slots initially and make further cuts later. Overall, I propose to reduce the size of the NSC staff from the current level of 125 to no more than 100, a reduction of 20 percent.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______9

The major features of my proposed reorganization of the NSC staff are as follows:

6. There should be two Deputies to the Assistant for National Security Affairs rather than one. The first Deputy would be responsible for political/security issues including policy analysis. The proposed new Deputy would be charged with the responsibility for international economics, North-South relations, and global issues.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______10

7. The current Press and Congressional Liaison Offices should be consolidated into a single External Liaison Office staffed by one professional.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______

8. The offices of Planning and Science and Technology should be abolished and their functions, together with those now performed by the Program Analysis Staff, should be consolidated into a new Policy Analysis Office.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______

[Page 31]

9. The current Latin American, African and South Asian functions should be consolidated into a North-South Relations Office. In addition, international organizations, now a responsibility of the African desk, should be taken over by a newly created Global Issues Office which would be staffed by one professional and would also be responsible for human rights and environmental matters.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______11

An organization chart showing the proposed reorganization of the NSC is found at Tab 6.12 A breakdown of present and proposed manning levels is attached at Tab 7.13

IV. NSC Procedures

A procedure for identifying policy options and informing the departments and agencies of Presidential decisions is required. National Security Study Memoranda (NSSM’s) were issued by the NSC under Presidents Nixon and Ford to generate policy options and to provide a formal system for reviewing them. The process allowed the departments and agencies to air their views and recommendations prior to a Presidential decision.

Almost all Presidents have relied on some form of directive to announce national security policy decisions. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, for example, issued National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM’s). Presidents Nixon and Ford used National Security Decision Memoranda (NSDM’s).


10. A new system of NSC studies and NSC directives should be established. The former should be named Presidential Review Memoranda/NSC; the latter should be named Presidential Directives/NSC.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______14

11. A Presidential Directive/NSC on the organization of your National Security Council system should be prepared prior to your Inauguration and [Page 32] issued January 20. This directive would set out in detail the specifics of recommendation 2 (above), if approved.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______15

12. A Presidential Directive/NSC should be issued immediately after your Inauguration stating the disposition of all active NSSM’s and NSDM’s from the previous Administration. I have begun a review of active NSSM’s and NSDM’s and will submit a disposition list to you shortly.

APPROVE _______ DISAPPROVE _______ COMMENT _______16

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 66, Transition Messages: Governor To #1–30, 11/76–1/11/77. Confidential. Brzezinski did not initial the memorandum. Secretary Vance described the reorganization of the NSC in his memoir: “Carter did not accept Brzezinski’s proposal. He found it overly elaborate and too similar to the preceding structure. He ordered that a simpler system be devised in keeping with his desire to streamline government and to emphasize the authority of the department heads.” (Vance, Hard Choices, p. 36) Brzezinski outlined his redesigned NSC in his memoir: “I suggested that the work of the NSC, in deference to the President’s desire for simplicity, be organized into only two committees. One was to be the Policy Review Committee, to deal with the first three of the above categories [foreign policy issues, defense policy issues, and international economic issues] and to be chaired by the appropriate Secretary,” and “the second NSC committee was to be called the Special Coordination Committee, and I recommended to the President that its very title required a chairman who was not a departmental head. It was to be charged with decisions regarding sensitive intelligence and covert activity, with the development of U.S. policy on arms control (and especially SALT), as well as with crisis management.” (Brzezinski, Power and Principle, p. 59)
  2. Tabs 1 and 2 are attached but not printed.
  3. The sentence originally read: “the preparation of a consolidated national intelligence budget (and other responsibilities of the Committee on Foreign Intelligence).” Carter changed the sentence to read as it is printed.
  4. This list of agencies originally included ERDA, but Carter crossed it out and substituted “other Assistants to the President.”
  5. Carter underlined “the Special Coordination Committee.”
  6. On the “APPROVED” line, Carter wrote, “OK. J.C. Prepare appropriate directive—obtain comments & then send to me for approval.” See Document 7.
  7. For recommendations 3 and 4, Carter checked the “APPROVE” lines.
  8. Tabs 4 and 5 were not found attached.
  9. For recommendation 5, Carter did not select any of the options. He wrote in the margin, “cut maybe more now w/ only 2 committees.”
  10. For recommendation 6, Carter did not select any of the options. He wrote in the margin, “Not sure. Don’t duplicate CEA work. Include them when needed. J.”
  11. For recommendations 7, 8, and 9, Carter checked the “APPROVE” lines. Adjacent to recommendation 8, Carter wrote in the margin, “if now within NSC.”
  12. Tab 6 is attached but not printed.
  13. Tab 7 was not found attached.
  14. For recommendation 10, Carter checked the “APPROVE” line. He signed Presidential Directive/NSC–1, “Establishment of Presidential Review and Directive Series/NSC,” on January 20. (Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, 1977–1981, Box 165, NSC Organization I)
  15. For recommendation 11, Carter checked the “APPROVE” line. See Document 7.
  16. For recommendation 12, Carter checked the “APPROVE” line. Reference to PD/NSC–3; see footnote 11, Document 4.