Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

By Karl F. Inderfurth; Loch K. Johnson | Go to book overview

PART I
ORIGINS

One of the most compelling lessons of the recent war is that there are
imperfections and gaps in the relationships between the military and
foreign policies of this country.

—Senator Wayne Morse (D–Oregon)
July 9, 1947


EDITORS' INTRODUCTION

By 1947, the National Security Council (NSC), the first high-level committee to coordinate U.S. military and foreign policies, was an idea whose time had come. It had arrived at glacial speed. Calls for the creation of an NSC came, in part, as a result of complaints about President Franklin D. Roosevelt's sometimes chaotic, ad hoc management style for guiding the war effort. Ironically, Roosevelt, as acting secretary of the navy twenty-six years earlier, had written a letter to then Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes proposing a "Joint Plan Making Body" to better coordinate political and military affairs. That proposal never reached the secretary's desk; it was misdirected to another office within the State Department and filed away, unanswered.

In the first article included in this reader, Ernest R. May traces the long and somewhat tortured path of "The Development of Political-Military Consultation in the United States," a path that eventually led to the creation of the NSC. At the turn of the century, according to May, the United States had no effective coordination of the nation's foreign and military policies and certainly no high-level body to advise the president on these matters. That job was up to the president. As May relates:

As a rule, in fact, diplomatic and military recommendations reached the White House separately,
and the relationships between political aims and military capabilities had to be gauged, if at all,
by the President. Although this rule-of-thumb system would work for a strategy-minded President
like Theodore Roosevelt, it displayed its failings even in his time.

At the beginning of the First World War, the first tentative steps were taken to address this deficiency, and an advisory interdepartmental committee—the Joint State-Navy Neutrality Board—was established in 1919. High officials displayed minimal interest, however, in the creation of a formal coordinating entity and, according to May, "long years of isolated safety "for the United States" smothered the idea of political-military collaboration."

The concept of improved coordination was revived, though, as a second world war began to threaten. Secretary of State Cordell Hull took the lead in proposing a coordinating committee made up of representatives from the state, war, and navy departments, and President Roosevelt approved. "Thus was formed," writes May, "the first American agency for regular political

-1-

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