President Nixon’s Transformation of the National Security Council
Nixon Legacy Forum
William G. McGowan Theater, National Archives Building
May 12, 2014

Key members of President Nixon’s staff talked about the revitalization of the National Security Council, and how the 37th President put a premium on strategic planning in foreign affairs.

Legacy Forum Transcript
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Panelists

Richard V. Allen: Foreign Policy Coordinator (1968), 5th United States National Security Advisor to President Nixon (1969), National Security Council Advisor to President Reagan (1981-1982)

Robert C. McFarlane: Military Assistant to Henry Kissinger (1971), 12th United States Deputy National Security Advisor to President Reagan (1982-1983)

John F. Lehman, Jr.: National Security Council Staff to Henry Kissinger (1973), 65th United States Secretary of the Navy to President Reagan (1981-1987)

Winston Lord: Special Assistant to the National Security Advisor (1970–1973), Director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff (1973–1977), President of the Council on Foreign Relations (1977–1985), Ambassador to China (1985–1989), and Assistant Secretary of State (1993–1997)

KT McFarland: Moderator, Fox News National Security Analyst

Background

Upon winning the presidential election of 1968 President-elect Richard Nixon began the process of preparing to assume the presidency in January of 1969. Given his experience in government and his vision for a more modern presidency Richard Nixon knew the work that had been assigned to his pre-presidential task force was not a small one. To make the most efficient use of the time as possible President-elect Nixon set up seventeen task forces to study the Executive Branch. These task forces were to determine how to modernize and make the presidency more effective. Arthur F. Burns (Counselor to the President) was to oversee these task forces and submit their reports prior to President Nixon’s inauguration. 

The National Security Council was established in 1947 by the National Security Act, in response to the experiences of World War II and the looming beginning of a Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Richard Nixon’s experience as Vice President for eight years under President Dwight D. Eisenhower provided him valuable insights into the National Security Council’s interactions with the president. As president, Nixon wanted to adjust how the N.S.C. operated to give the president a far greater role in foreign policy decision-making processes — beyond giving a “yes” or a “no” to decisions that were made by N.S.C. staff.  

Nixon intended to consolidate foreign policy making within the White House. He envisioned a model of White House foreign policy making assisted and informed via Memorandum by various officials of the N.S.C. Historically, major foreign policy decisions were generated from the State Department, rather than the White House. By the end of the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency, the N.S.C. had all but been eliminated.

National Security Memorandum 1 set Nixon’s changes into motion: National Security Study Memoranda (NSSM) were used by N.S.C. members to gather information about particular policy proposals, while National Security Decision Memoranda (NSDM) were issued to the president.  

The National Security Adviser would chair the six key committees of the Council, presenting the president with real policy options, especially those strategic and far-sighted as opposed to reactionary. This would, in President Nixon’s view, allow decisions made related to foreign policy by the N.S.C. to reflect his foreign policy grand strategy.  Since the chairman could set the agendas and dictate the flow of information, a significant amount of policy making was consolidated in the hands of the National Security Adviser.

The memorandum also created the National Security Council Review Group, replacing the chaotic review system of President Johnson’s Council. This team of qualified experts with well thought out ideas were expected to fully support the ideas once decisions were made and implemented. 

The innovations and changes brought to the decision-making process of the N.S.C. contributed in no small way to the foreign policy success of the Nixon Administration in ending the war on the ground in Vietnam, opening China, initiating détente with the Soviet Union and signing the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty, as well as a peaceful conclusion to the superpower confrontation amid the Yom Kippur War. 

Essential Documents 

11 November 1968 A Program to Ensure Control of Key Personnel by the new president

(Folder: Bryce Harlow; Box: 1; Henry A. Kissinger (HAK) Office Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

5 December 1968 Personnel Management at the U.S. Department of State

(Folder: Bryce Harlow; Box: 1; Henry A. Kissinger (HAK) Office Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

Kissinger Transition Memo on New NSC System to President-Elect Nixon

(Folder 5; Box 5; Henry A. Kissinger (HAK) Office Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA) 

20 January 1969 Establishment of the NSC Decision and Study Memoranda Documents Series (NSDM 1)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yobra Linda, CA)

20 January Reorganization of the National Security Council System (NSDM 2)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yobra Linda, CA)

Memo Goodpastor to HAK concerning possible revisions to NSDM2
NARA Catalog Identifier 290085244

(Folder: GEN. GOODPASTER [1 of 2]; Box 1; Henry A. Kissinger (HAK) Office Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

20 January 1969 Direction, Coordination, and Supervision of Interdepartmental Activities Overseas (NSDM 3)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yobra Linda, Ca.)

 

Background Documents that Led to the Proposed Changes

13 December 1968 Goodpastor Memo to Kissinger on Organization and Procedures for the Conduct of National Security Affairs

(Folder: GEN. GOODPASTER [1 of 2]; Box 1; Henry A. Kissinger (HAK) Office Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

13 December 1968 Goodpastor Memo to Kissinger Priority List of Security Projects

(Folder: GEN. GOODPASTER [1 of 2]; Box 1; Henry A. Kissinger (HAK) Office Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

15 December 1968 Goodpastor Memo to Kissinger on Defense Organization and Management Procedures

(Folder: GEN. GOODPASTER [1 of 2]; Box 1; Henry A. Kissinger (HAK) Office Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

15 December 1968 Goodpastor Memo to Kissinger Security Affairs under Eisenhower

(Folder: GEN. GOODPASTER [1 of 2]; Box 1; Henry A. Kissinger (HAK) Office Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

8 January 1969 Memo to Wheeler sent to Haig on NSC Organization

(Folder: National Security Council (General); Box 1005; National Security Council Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

9 January 1969 Laird Memo to Kissinger concerning new NSC proposal
Memo Halperin to Kissinger NSC Procedures for Improving Discussions

(Folder: National Security Council (General); Box 1005; National Security Council Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

5 August 1969 Memo Halperin to Kissinger on NSC and New Initiatives 

(Folder: National Security Council (General); Box 1005; National Security Council Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

Supporting Documents for Further Study

21 January 1969 U.S. Military Posture and Balance of Power (NSSM 3)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

21 January 1969 U.S. Foreign Aid Policy (NSSM 4)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

21 January 1969 Review of NATO Policy Alternatives (NSSM 6)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

23 January 1969 Review of the International Situation (NSSM 9)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

30 January 1969 Contingency Planning (NSSM 12)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

3 February 1969 Technical Issues Concerning U.S. Strategic Forces (NSSM 8)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

3 February 1969 Review of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America (NSSM 15)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

5 February 1969 Position of Key Countries on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NSSM 13)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

5 February 1969 U.S. China Policy (NSSM 14)(

Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

7 February 1969 The Direction, Coordination and Supervision of Interdepartmental Activities Overseas — the Interdepartmental Groups (NSDM 7)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

12 February 1969 Resumption of the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (NSSM 20)

(Folder: NSSM 1 thru NSSM 50 (Originals); Box H-207; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

21 March 1969 Crisis Anticipation and Management (NSDM 8)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H- Files); Richard Nixon Presidential LIbrary and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

16 May 1969 Memo on Special Action Groups (NSDM 19)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

24 June 1969 Criteria for Strategic Sufficiency (NSDM 16)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

26 June 1969 Relaxation of Economic Controls Against China (NSDM 17)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

10 July 1969 U.S. Foreign Internal Defense Policy (NSDM 20)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

4 Sept 1969 Program Analysis Studies (NSDM 4)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

17 September 1969 Disposition of Outdated NSC Policy Papers (NSDM 25)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

11 October 1969 U.S. Military Posture (NSDM 27)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

20 October 1969 National Security Decision Memorandum 28 preparing for speech on Latin America (NSDM 28)

(Folder: NSDM 1 – NSDM 50 [Originals]; Box H-208; National Security Council Institutional Files (H-Files); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

January 19, 1971 Memorandum Establishing the Council on International Economic Policy 

(Folder: [EX] FG 6-20 Council on International Economic Policy 1/1/71 – 4/30/71 [1/4/71 – 4/30/71] [1 of 4]; Box 1; White House Central Files: Subject Files: FG 6-20 (Council on International Economic Policy); Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

February 1970 Members of the NSC Staff February 1970(

Folder: National Security Council (General); Box 1005; National Security Council Files; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

July 21, 1970. President Nixon attends a National Security Council (NSC) meeting with Kissinger and Secretary Rogers.

(Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum – WHPO, 3962-15) 
(Frame: WHPO-3962-15; “President Nixon attends a National Security Council (NSC) meeting with Kissinger and Secretary Rogers,” July 21, 1970, Washington, D.C., White House, Cabinet Room; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

 

Supporting Clips from the Nixon Tapes

25 March 1971 About Length of NSC Meeting 473-001 (rmn_e473a)

(OVAL, 473-001; March 25, 1971; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

25 March 1971 NSC and signing ceremony for reorganization 473-002 (rmn_e473a)

(OVAL, 473-002; March 25, 1971; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

26 May 1971 Relations with China 3-127 (003-127)

(TELEPHONE, 473-002; May 26, 1971; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

18 June 1971 NSC and Importance of Content over Consensus 526-002 (rmn_e526a)

(OVAL, 562-002; June 18, 1971; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

28 June 1971 Special Project on Security Clearances 259-001 (rmn_e259)

(PRESIDENT’S OFFICE, 259-001; June 18, 1971; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

24 July 1971 NSC and Defense Budget 545-001 (rmn_e545a)

(OVAL, 545-001; July 24, 1971; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

12 October 1971 Quality of State Department Briefing Book 11-075 (011-075)

(TELEPHONE, 011-075; October 12, 1971; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

14 August 1972 Need for reform 768-24 (rmn_e768_24b)

(OVAL, 768-024; August 14, 1972; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

3 March 1973 Working with NSC and Speed of Enacting Policy 872-011

(OVAL, 872-011; March 3, 1973; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

8 March 1973 NSC Meeting length versus Cabinet Meeting Length 872-003\

(OVAL, 872-003; March 8, 1973; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

8 March 1973 NSC Meeting and the big picture 872-006 Part 1

(OVAL, 872-006; March 8, 1973; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)

8 March 1973 NSC Meeting and the big picture 872-006 Part 2

(OVAL, 872-006; March 8, 1973; White House Tapes; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA)