Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

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

10
KISSINGER'S APPARAT
John P. Leacacos

The selection below evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the NSC under the direc-
tion of Dr. Henry A. Kissinger. During this era, the NSC adviser and staff achieved unpar-
alleled influence over the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Appended to this study is a list
of 138 "National Security Study Memoranda" commissioned by the NSC between
1969–1971, providing a sense of the principal topics addressed by the Council.

Atop Washington's complex foreign affairs bureaucracy sits the National Security Council, a 24-year-old body given new status in 1969, when President Nixon moved to make it a kind of command and control center for his foreign policy. The new Nixon NSC system, run from the White House by Henry A. Kissinger, has now existed for nearly three years, producing 138 numbered study memoranda, reaching 127 formal decisions, and employing a permanent staff of about 120 personnel (more than double the pre-Nixon figure). Though the substance of its operations is necessarily secret, interviews with officials permit tentative evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the Kissinger NSC. There is broad agreement on the following seven points:
The NSC has served President Nixon more or less as he desired, that is, in the ordered style of formal answers to detailed questionnaires. The volume of this paperwork has at times been staggering, but it has sharpened focus on the search for policy choices.
The answers and alternatives for action "coming up through the NSC" have produced few panaceas, but have contributed greater coherence of outlook in foreign affairs management. NSC recommendations are more pragmatic than academic, reflecting Kissinger's view: "We don't make foreign policy by logical syllogism."
Explicit insistence on the "limited" nature of U.S. power and the need for greater restraint and cautious deliberation about its exercise have been reinforced at the highest level by Nixon's habit of withdrawing to make final decisions in solitude and of frequently deciding on no action rather than accepting advice to initiate new action.
By being close to the President and keeping his fingers on all aspects of the NSC process personally, Kissinger without question is the prime mover in the NSC system. The question arises whether the NSC would function as effectively without Kissinger, and whether it can bequeath a heritage of accomplishment to be absorbed by the permanent machinery of government.
Secretary of State William P. Rogers operates within the NSC system and also utilizes it as a forum to establish whatever policy position is preferred by his State Department; but he side-steps the NSC on occasion to carry his demurrer, dissent or alternate position to the President privately.
Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird is less personally involved in the NSC process, having apparent indifference to what he believes is unnecessary NSC paperwork, which he leaves to his deputy, David Packard. Laird's main day-to-day operational preoccupation is with the exit of U.S. forces from Vietnam. His International Security Affairs Bureau in the

Reprinted with permission from John P. Leacacos, "Kissinger's Apparat," Foreign Policy. (Winter 1971–72), pp. 3–27. Copyright 1971
by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

John P. Leacacos served as the Washington bureau chief for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

-85-

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