Tag: NSC

NSPD-1


Its winter wonderland blogging from DC! It looks like we’ve got about 6 inches of snow on the ground so far, and its still falling. The University is on a delayed opening, so my morning class is canceled, leaving some time for NSC blogging.

Late last week, the Obama NSC released NSPD-1, the traditional presidential order structuring the National Security Council membership, committees, and operating procedures. As was promised, Obama has significantly expanded the NSC membership, inviting the Attorney General, secretaries of Energy and Homeland Security, and Ambassador to the UN as standing members. The directive also reformulates the inter-agency committees / working groups that serve to formulate and coordinate policy at the working level, leaving the NSC in charge of these. The net effect is further centralization of the policy process through the White House, continuing a longstanding trend in the management of US foreign policy. Presidents since Kennedy have used the NSC to try to tame the bureaucracy, with varying results. The NSC, however, has always ended up accruing power at the expense of the agencies.

You can read the full NSPD-1 as a PDF here.

The big winners? Jim Jones is now in the catbird seat, poised to become one of the most consequential National Security Advisers in a generation. The White House policy coordinating apparatus is strengthened. The WH Counselor can attend any meeting. The US Ambassador to the UN gets a significantly increased profile—from sub-cabinet to full cabinet—and the Energy Department has a new-found seat at the table. The NEC, as if he didn’t have enough to deal with already, also gets a prominent seat at the table.

The losers? State, which had been the default chair department for working-level groups loses that privilege to the NSC. The Homeland Security apparatus also loses, as many of its responsibilities are folded into the NSC.

Again, as I argued earlier, this matters significantly in that all our decision-making theories of foreign policy clearly show that the decision-making process a president uses significantly shapes policy. As SecDef Gates said over the weekend, Obama already has a markedly different style from Bush, he’s much more “analytical,” and calls on people to make sure all views are heard in a meeting. Obama’s emerging style might prevent the breakdown of the inter-agency process under Bush, where one agency could end-run another, and dissenting views vanished into the ether. Obviously its unwise to make concrete predictions based on one document (as events have a way of overtaking the best-laid plans), but this key document does give a powerful glimpse into the inner-workings of the Obama Administration.

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Obama’s NSC


I want to call attention to a WaPo article from Sunday on the emerging structure of Obama’s national security council–it was front page, but largely lost among the coverage of the Stimulus package. Indeed, only Rozen really seems to have picked up on it. While largely an interview with new National Security Adviser James Jones about organizational charts and workflows, it nevertheless offers a substantial insight into the new Administration’s ability to deal with foreign policy–both crises and long-term issues.

Students of foreign policy analysis focus on the decision-making process that Administrations use to make foreign policy. At the heart of that process is the NSC. Since the Kennedy Administration (remember Ex-Comm?), the NSC has largely taken over from the cabinet agencies as the President’s main source for foreign policy management, planning, and coordination. Any introductory foreign policy course covers the evolution of the NSC (as Daalder and Destler do in the most recent Foreign Affairs), noting how the organization and function of the NSC reflect the President’s decision-making style. JFK had a collegial group, Nixon a rigid hierarchy, Bush I an well organized coordinating system, and so on.

Jones tells the Post that:

President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues.

The result will be a “dramatically different” NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. “The world that we live in has changed so dramatically in this decade that organizations that were created to meet a certain set of criteria no longer are terribly useful,” he said.

A couple changes are worth pointing out.

1. Obama plans to radically alter membership. By law, the only standing members of the NSC are the President, VP, SecState, and SecDef. The CJCS is the military adviser and DNI intelligence advisor. By design, its a flexible structure, allowing the President to add members as he sees fit. Traditionally other agencies have attended as required–Justice, Treasury, etc. Jones plans to draw in members from across the executive branch, involving any agency relevant to an issue. In part, this reflects the increasing role that other agencies, from law enforcement to energy to agriculture play in foreign policy. The potential pay-off is greater coordination and a greater ability to focus the government’s actions on a topic. The downside, of course, is that more people in the room always makes for a more difficult meeting.

2. Jones will assert greater control over access to the President and Presidential involvement in decision-making. Largely, this is a reaction to the Bush II NSC, where back-channels and unilateral action, especially among State, Defense, and the Vice President’s office, undermined effective coordination. (Do note the comparison between Bush Administrations–largely composed of the same cast of characters. Bush I is widely regarded as having had a model NSC, while Bush II is widely regarded as having had a highly dysfunctional NSC).

3. He plans to re-draw agency maps. Yes, maps. Each department divides the world into region–State has its regional bureaus, DoD has its Unified Command Plan, and the NSC has its Senior Directors. These regional division, however, reflect Agency-specific needs and do not correspond in any way to each other. State’s South Asia bureau includes Afghanistan and India, while in DoD, CENTCOM runs the show in Afghanistan while PACOM has jurisdiction over India. His goal is to have parallelism within agencies, creating peers who oversee policy with the same group of countries. It would certainly make it easier to know who to pick up the phone and call.

The point here is that, from a foreign policy analysis perspective, this stuff really matters. A significant chunk of foreign policy theory asserts that the decision-making process has a substantial influence in the quality of decision made, and thus effectiveness of US foreign policy.

The NSC is how Presidents do this. A functional NSC can provide the President with options, information, and advice to make the best possible decision when faced with a foreign policy choice. A functional NSC can make sure that government agencies work in concert to carry out the President’s chosen course of action. A dysfunctional NSC process can rapidly reproduce its dysfunction across the government and embed itself within US foreign policy.

So, take note of Jone’s comments, as his success in creating the working NSC structure he describes will be a sizable indicator of the Administration’s ability to handle the myriad of critical foreign policy issues it faces.

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