Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

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

This selection examines the structure and operation of the National Security Council sys-
tem during the first term of President Clinton, and its effectiveness in coping with the myr-
iad international challenges facing the United States in the post–Cold War era.

The Clinton administration came to office in January 1993 proclaiming "the challenge of shaping an entirely new foreign policy for a world that has fundamentally changed" and the need to "adapt our foreign policy goals and institutions" to meet those changes (Christopher 1993, 45–46). The end of the cold war demanded a reformulation of American priorities, with economic issues singled out as having paramount importance. Bill Clinton declared during the 1992 campaign that "the currency of national strength in this new era will be denominated not only in ships, tanks and planes, but also in diplomas, patents and pay-checks" (quoted in Wessel 1992). He promised to create an "economic security council," modeled after the National Security Council, to ensure sufficient attention to U.S. economic interests in his administration's foreign policy.

Clinton's choice of the template for his new economic council was understandable but ironic, since the National Security Council (NSC) is the quintessential cold war institution in the U.S. foreign policy structure. By 1992, however, some experts were questioning the adequacy of the NSC system (comprised of the council and its interagency committee process, the assistant to the president for national security affairs— also called the national security adviser, or NSA—and the NSC staff of foreign policy analysts, which reports to the NSA) for formulating a post-cold war U.S. foreign policy. Those questions were prompted by two related developments: The dominant threat to U.S. security, which justified the centralization of foreign policy making in a council that emphasized the military component of national security concerns, no longer existed. The second development was the increasing salience of "new issues" on the foreign policy agenda, especially economic and ecological interdependence, which the NSC as traditionally constituted was poorly suited to manage (Shoemaker 1991, 82–83).1

It was somewhat surprising, therefore, when Presidential Decision Directive 2 (PDD 2) was issued on January 20, 1993, outlining an NSC structure and process extremely similar to that the Bush administration had used since January 1989 (see Clinton 1993b). While several factors influenced this choice, the most important were the incoming administration's own evaluation of the Bush NSC system and the expectation that foreign policy would not be among the president's highest priorities. Clinton and several of his top advisers were impressed with the efficient operation of their predecessor's NSC system; they hoped to achieve the same results by simply plugging their own personnel into the existing structure and process. Several administration officials also mentioned in interviews that the president and his political advisers saw such continuity

From Randall B. Ripley and James M. Lindsay, eds., U.S. Foreign Policy After the Cold War (Pittsburgh: University of Pitts-
burgh Press, 1997), 42–73. Some notes and text have been excised.

Vincent A. Auger is a political scientist at Hamilton College.


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