Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council


The National Security Council (NSC) is the most important formal institution in the U. S. government for the creation and implementation of foreign and defense policy. The Council's four principal members--the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense—are responsible for incredibly far-reaching decisions regarding war and peace, diplomacy, international trade, and covert operations. Despite its obvious importance, the NSC has been subject to relatively little scholarly scrutiny, and therefore remains misunderstood by most international relations students. Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council provides students with valuable insights into the origins, workings, strengths, and weaknesses of the NSC. Covering the period from 1947 to 2003, Fateful Decisions features seminal articles, essays, and documents drawn from a variety of sources. The book presents and illuminates several obscure documents regarding the beginning of the NSC and its early years. It then examines the transformation of the NSC from a newly established, and initially ignored, advisory committee to the nation's premier forum for national security deliberations. The selections--written by prominent scholars, journalists, and practitioners--offer revealing coverage of major topics, such as key challenges to the NSC and the role of the NSC in a post-Cold War environment. The articles also discuss the rise of the National Security Adviser to a position of prominence and provide profiles of those who have held the position, including McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, SamuelBerger, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice. Chronicling the performance of the NSC over the years, Fateful Decisions dissects both its successes and its failures--from the Cuban Missile Crisis through the Iran-contra affair, to the current war against global terrorism--and offers reform proposals toimprove the Council's performance. It is ideal for courses on the NSC, national security decision-making, and U. S. foreign policy.


In this book, we present a selection of insightful articles, commentaries, and documents drawn from a variety of sources that shed light on the creation, evolution, and current practice of the National Security Council (NSC). Established in 1947, the NSC is the most important formal institution in the U.S. government for the making of foreign and security policy. It is to the NSC that presidents have turned in times of crisis that involve America's national security, from President Harry S. Truman during the Korean War to President George W. Bush immediately after terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.

Since the Kennedy Administration, the Council has been led by a series of national security advisers, many of whom have been prominent—and sometimes dominant—in the making of U.S. security policy. These advisers have included such well-known public figures as McGeorge Bundy under President John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger under President Richard M. Nixon, Brent Scowcroft under presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush, Zbigniew Brzezinski under President Jimmy Carter, Colin L. Powell under President Ronald Reagan, Samuel R. ("Sandy") Berger under President William J. Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice under President George W. Bush.

The centrality of the NSC to the U.S. national security decision-making process was captured in a statement made by Sandy Berger on the occasion of the Council's 50th anniversary. "As you turn to the pages of the last fifty years of American foreign policy," he observed, "from the Korean War to the Cuban missile crisis, from the opening to China to Camp David, the Helsinki Final Act to the Madrid NATO enlargement summit, Desert Storm to the Dayton Accords, the NSC has been at the heart of debate, decision and action" (White House Press Release, October 31, 1997). Moreover, with the end of the Cold War in 1991, the responsibilities of the NSC have broadened into less traditional national security realms, reflecting the more complicated, and in some ways more dangerous, world in which we live. Not only has there been far greater attention given to the global economy, but to new kinds of national security issues as well, among them the risks of international pandemics like HIV/AIDS; worldwide environmental threats; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the technologies that allow their production; transnational criminal activities; and—most poignantly since the tragic attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—international terrorism.

It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. On that score, the National Security Council as an institution should feel very flattered indeed. When President Clinton took office in 1993, he was determined (in his words) "to elevate economics in foreign policy." This was to be the international equivalent of his presidential campaign mantra, "It's the economy, stupid." During the first week of his administration, Clinton signed an executive order creating a National Economic Council. The NSC was the model. In his initial organizational response to the Sep-

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