The Little State Department: McGeorge Bundy and the National Security Council Staff, 1961-65

By Preston, Andrew | Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2001 | Go to article overview

The Little State Department: McGeorge Bundy and the National Security Council Staff, 1961-65


Preston, Andrew, Presidential Studies Quarterly


In 1961, President John F. Kennedy and his special assistant for national security affairs, McGeorge Bundy, began a fundamental transformation of the National Security Council (NSC) system and the role of the special assistant. A decade later, amid the turmoil of the Nixon-Kissinger White House operation, former secretary of state Dean Acheson (1971, 603) reflected on the change:

   The new organization, with staffs of size and competence, has now survived
   a decade of political life and constant criticism. At its head Messrs.
   McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Henry Kissinger, all men of outstanding
   ability, have served successively to the announced satisfaction of their
   presidential chiefs. What emotions they stirred in the breasts of their
   colleagues at the State Department we must wait on future to learn.
   Meanwhile, we can imagine that there has been strain. (1)

Under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, the position had been largely administrative, and special assistants rarely, if ever, participated in shaping the foreign policy of the administration. Under Kennedy, who wanted to act as his own secretary of state and concentrate foreign policy formulation in the White House, McGeorge Bundy fundamentally transformed the post by augmenting to a tremendous extent its power and prerogatives. (2) Although this crucial development has not gone unnoticed by scholars of the period, the change, and its impact on American foreign policy, have yet to be explored in any great detail. (3) Whereas Kennedy's predecessors saw their special assistants as facilitators of national security policy, Kennedy wanted a contributor; whereas Truman and Eisenhower wanted their assistants to be subordinate to the Cabinet, Kennedy wanted his to be equal. Indeed, with his own staff of experts who became policy makers in their own right, and with inclusion in the administration's highest decision-making councils, Bundy performed more like a Cabinet official than a presidential aide, in effect becoming the first "national security adviser" and the progenitor of a straight and narrow line that would come to include Walt W. Rostow, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane.

The changes that had occurred at the advent of the Kennedy presidency were accentuated during the next, that of Lyndon B.Johnson. LBJ relied on Bundy to formulate and coordinate foreign policy to an even greater extent than Kennedy had. This was due in large part to the informality and personalization of decision making under Johnson. Paradoxically, as Bundy's authority increased, the scope of his staff's power decreased. Fewer people actually conducted American foreign policy after November 1963, and those who did were concentrated at the highest levels. By 1965, when major foreign policy decisions were made-especially on the perennial crisis in Vietnam-there were very few internal obstacles that blocked the path Bundy advised the President to take.

The Evolution of the NSC System, 1947-60

The special assistant for national security affairs had its origins under President Harry S. Truman. In July 1947, at the dawn of the cold war and at the behest of the Truman administration, Congress passed the National Security Act. The act established the NSC as a Cabinetlevel advisory body for the president; the position of executive secretary was created to serve as its administrative head; and Cabinet members constituted the membership of the NSC. The broad scope of the provisions of the act also included the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). (4) The purpose of the legislation was "to provide for the establishment of integrated policies and procedures for the departments, agencies, and functions of the Government relating to the national security," (5) and, as a top-level body that integrated various federal departments and agencies, it was the NSC's duty, when convened, to advise the president on matters of national security.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Little State Department: McGeorge Bundy and the National Security Council Staff, 1961-65
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.