288. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Carlucci) to President Reagan1


  • NSC Activities

I assume my responsibilities as your Assistant for National Security on January 2, 1987.2 This memo provides you with my preliminary thoughts on how to maintain the momentum of your successful foreign and national security policies during the next two years, and briefs you on the new philosophy, organization, and personnel of the NSC staff.

Leaving an Enduring Legacy

Above all, we must strive to institutionalize the main accomplishments of your Administration. You can thus leave the country with a strong and enduring legacy in the twin areas of foreign and national security policy. Our success—over the past six years and the next two—can influence future Presidents and vindicate the principles on which your policies have been based.

In a nutshell, history will judge your main contributions to have included:

rebuilding America’s strength;
restoring America’s confidence in itself and the confidence of our friends and Allies in us;
introducing SDI; and
launching the “Reagan Doctrine” of providing aid to those fighting Marxist regimes around the world whether in Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Angola or elsewhere.

Planning for Accomplishments in the Next Two Years

We should not, however, rest on our laurels. True, major new initiatives will be difficult so far into an Administration, but you can continue to control the foreign policy agenda by the forward-looking nature of your policies and the skill with which you manage our relations with the USSR and our Allies. Most important will be your ability to dominate the crises which are certain to arise. This will require solid contingency planning.

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In my initial weeks on the job, I will seek in our daily meetings to learn your priorities. This will enable me to allocate NSC staff time to the areas of greatest concern to you. These priorities may include:

Congressional support for defense spending in general and for SDI in particular;
relations with the Soviet Union, including (but not limited to) arms control;
Central America, especially assuring continued aid to the Contras;
anti-terrorism and related activities; and
steps for peace in the Middle East.

Besides going on the offensive in areas such as these, we will surely be challenged to fend off potential problems in such areas as:

Congressional moves to narrow Presidential authority in foreign and security affairs, especially in arms control and in the aftermath of the Iranian controversy;
turmoil in countries particularly important to us such as the Philippines, Mexico, Egypt, Pakistan, South Korea, or South Africa; and
the ominous threat of protectionism and an ensuing trade war.

Action: To help prepare for decisions you will face in such areas, I propose to issue several National Security Study Directives on these issues early in January. These NSSDs will help reassert your policies, clarify your options, and analyze how we can best foresee policy opportunities and anticipate crises before they become unmanageable. As Parkinson once quipped, the success of a policy is best measured by the catastrophes which do not ensue.

The NSC Staff Role

The NSC, quite simply, must be organized to serve you by providing sound and consistent advice and translating your objectives into operating policies. Our overarching task is to assure quality control in:

staffing out Presidential options, so that your decisions are made in a timely manner with the best possible options formulated by all relevant Agencies;
monitoring implementation of your policies to ensure compliance and cohesion by all Agencies; and
preparing for crisis management.

We plan to have a more tightly focused NSC staff structure, one which concentrates on what is essential for it to do—namely, the three points above—rather than what other Agencies are best equipped to do—namely, covert operations and routine diplomatic activities. The [Page 1250] NSC staff is uniquely placed to take full account of your personal views, overall policy lines, and political situation at any given time.

Action: In January, I plan to discuss with the NSC staff their vital role and to issue a directive on the types of activities which are appropriate. (The directive is contained in Tab A.) A strengthened NSC General Counsel’s office will help assure full compliance with all relevant laws, regulations, and directives. My initial discussions with the Tower Commission suggest they may ask you to issue an Executive Order along similar lines and send a copy to Congressional leaders for their information.3 If we do not do this, the Congress will almost certainly do something even more restrictive.

NSC Coordination of Other Government Agencies

We plan a more structured and organized process of decision-making, including:

as now, frequent NSC (or NSPG) meetings, chaired by you, with the relevant Cabinet officers and Agency heads, to discuss and resolve issues formulated by the Cabinet group and the Policy Review Group;
regular meetings and less formal lunches of Secretaries Shultz and Weinberger, CIA Director Casey and myself, to prepare issues and options for your later decision;
regular meetings in a newly-formed Policy Review Group (PRG), including the Deputy NSC Advisor, the Deputies or Undersecretaries of State, Defense, the CIA and others, as appropriate (“principals plus one”) to formulate options and resolve issues, to assure that all decision papers are adequately prepared (especially for NSC meetings), and to plan for crises; and
the on-going interagency groups at other levels, e.g., the Assistant Secretary and working group levels.

Action: I am sending to the involved Agencies a draft NSDD (contained in Tab B) which establishes such a decision-making framework and reaffirms or sets forth responsibilities of the main officials participating in this process. The major change will be the establishment of the PRG, to act as the primary staff group to hammer out well-researched, well-coordinated policy choices for NSC principals.

The arms control decision-making structure will follow suit, but differs slightly because of the the greater than usual number of participants. This approach is spelled out in Tab C.

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NSC Personnel and Structure

As you know so well, the NSC staff is an outstanding group of experts dedicated to the success of your foreign and national security policies. I have attempted to trim the professional staff by 10 to 15 percent, and have fewer offices reporting directly to me. For example, the office of Political-Military Affairs is being abolished. Discipline should and will be tightened throughout the organization.

Some offices, consequently, have been strengthened, such as the General Counsel’s office. A new position of “Counselor” is being established. The arms control and defense planning functions are split, given the heavy workload on each, though the staffs will continue to overlap.

I am exceedingly pleased by the caliber of individuals willing to join the NSC staff, beginning with my Deputy, General Colin Powell. Regional offices will be led by the strongest of experts, including Fritz Ermarth for Soviet/European Affairs; Jim Kelly for Asia; Ambassador Bob Oakley for the Middle East; Ambassador Jose Sorzano for Latin America; Ambassador Herman Cohen for Africa; and Barry Kelly for Intelligence & Multilateral Affairs. Arms control and defense planning are not going to change at first, with Colonel Bob Linhard and Admiral Bill Cockell heading those sections. Peter Rodman has expanded responsibilities as Counselor, and Colonel Grant Green is going to make sure all of us perform our functions in an organized fashion as Executive Secretary for the entire enterprise. I look forward to the opportunities you will have to work closely with them over the next two years, as I plan to bring them into the Oval Office to brief you as the issues arise.

While we still have key selections to make, the NSC structure is fairly well set. It is shown in Tab D, which also contains bullets on the functions of each office.

NSC Dealings with Outside Groups

The staff fully realizes that its primary responsibility is to you, and its primary relationship with those outside the NSC is to motivate the other governmental departments and agencies. Hence, the staff will not routinely conduct business with the diplomatic, journalistic or Congressional communities. Where such interaction is appropriate, it will be centrally coordinated, and the interested Departments informed. (My directive to the staff is contained in Tab E.)

I currently plan to give only selective “backgrounders” and to keep initial direct involvement with foreign diplomats to a minimum.

I will, though, be more heavily involved in Congressional relations, since so many of your goals in foreign policy and national security will require responsible behavior by those in the Congress.

I look forward to serving you to the best of my ability.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Frank Carlucci Files, Chronology—Official (12/09/1986–12/30/1986). Confidential. None of the tabs is attached.
  2. After Poindexter resigned in late November 1986 (see footnote 3, Document 283), Keel served as acting President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs. On December 2, Carlucci assumed responsibility as the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 286.