Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

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

PART II
EARLY YEARS

…. each President may use the Council as he finds most suitable at
a given time.

—Robert Cutler, 1956


EDITORS' INTRODUCTION

The first meeting of the National Security Council took place on Friday, September 26, 1947— two months to the day after President Truman signed the National Security Act into law. The session convened in the Cabinet Room, establishing a precedent for the location of formal NSC meetings that every administration would follow. President Truman presided and was joined by other statutory members of the Council. Also in attendance was the NSC's first executive secretary, Sidney W. Souers. At that point, in addition to Souers, the NSC staff numbered just three employees.

That first meeting was devoted to organizing the work of the Council, and it was decided that there would be no regular meetings; sessions would be called as needed. Further, attendance would be restricted to those officials specifically mentioned in the National Security Act; others could, however, be invited to attend by the presiding officer, depending on the subjects under consideration. The president made it clear that when he was not in the presiding officer's chair, his secretary of state would be—a reflection of his determination to see the State Department, not the newly created Department of Defense, take the lead institutional role in Council deliberations.

With that inaugural session, the work of the NSC was set into motion. But President Truman made another early decision about the NSC that did not come up at the first meeting, namely, that he would rarely attend future sessions. Still concerned about protecting his prerogatives as chief executive and eager to demonstrate from the outset the advisory—not policy-making— role of the Council, Truman kept the NSC at arms length for the next two-and-a-half years, until the outbreak of the Korean War. Between September 1947 and June 1950, he attended only twelve of the NSC's fifty-seven sessions.

Still, during this initial phase of the NSC—and before President Truman turned to this committee in 1950 as a means of coping with the overwhelming problem of coordination during the Korean conflict—the Council was functioning and growing as an institution. That start-up period for the NSC was the subject of an article written by Sidney Souers while he was serving as executive secretary (1949; see For Further Reading).

Souers's credentials for that job were impressive: a rear admiral in the navy, a successful insurance executive from the president's home state of Missouri, the deputy chief of Naval Intel-

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