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GOVT299: Directed Study on National Security Crisis Simulation
In this course, Political Science faculty Brian Cook and Kristen Williams provide students with a hands-on way to understand the process of national security decision making.

Review of Relevant Literature

compiled by Pete Stein '07

Agency Decision-making Literature Review

The decision-making processes of the primary agencies and agents that deal with national security issues have varied from president to president largely on the basis of personality and personal preferences of the president.

LeLoup and Shull (2003) highlight the fluctuations of the roles of senior cabinet officials in influencing foreign policy decisions: on the one hand, a powerful national security advisor in Henry Kissinger, yet more prominent secretaries of state during the Eisenhower, H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations. The authors generalize that presidents often turn to "ad hoc decisionmaking groups" during times of crisis, but turn to the State Department during non-crisis periods. However, presidents are often put off by the State Department for its "rigid hierarchy, caution, inefficiency, and traditionalism," while the DOD may be more "pragmatic and adaptable" (LeLoup and Shull, 110).

The National Security Advisor and the NSC

With the administration of George W. Bush, increased focus has been placed on the role of the National Security Council and on the role of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice during Bush's first term.

Johnson and Inderfurth's (2004) study on the position of National Security Advisor finds a shift from being a "neutral coordinator" to being an essential component in the center of processes for deliberating foreign and defense policy. National security advisors have, however, been inconsistent in terms of advocating policy, leading more recently to a "moderate counselor" trend of advisors, they argue.

Indeed, Burke (2005) finds inconsistency from the position of national security advisor by just looking at the performance of Condoleezza Rice, noting a decline over time in Rice's role as an "honest broker" advisor. Burke describes Rice's initial role as being reserved about giving opinions during meetings, serving only as a private counselor for Bush. Rice would, though, exert influence when she felt meetings were being unproductive or when groups or agencies were being inefficient or inactive, Burke continues. Rice's policy influence is portrayed as being concentrated on steering policy and navigating bureaucratic obstacles rather than charging into meetings with an agenda from the outset; in meetings, Rice would "raise caution flags" or advise additional deliberation for a given topic.

In general, Burke describes Rice's function as being a facilitator between the President and his advisors and amongst the advising groups as well; he notes one case where Rice urged Bush to discuss a decision with Colin Powell, illustrating the need for such brokerage given the extent to which Powell was evidently "out of the loop."

However, Burke raises the question of ways in which Rice may have possibly failed in some of her duties as a broker, pointing to allegations that Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley, mismanaged direct interventions by the CIA to prevent what the CIA considered bad intelligence from being presented to the public. Burke also presents a point brought up by a White House official that Rice had "abdicated" her responsibility in overseeing interagency processes, possibly allowing for the Department of Defense to have a separate dialogue with Vice President Cheney. Burke's questions point to Rice as the "apex" of the process of inter-agency communication when dealing with national security issues, and he basically suggests that Rice has failed to properly "discipline" the grand-scale processes between officials and agencies.

Another pertinent study of the national security advisors (Burke and Greenstein 1989) looks at institutional factors influencing the decision-making process of the Eisenhower and Johnson administrations with regards to Vietnam. The authors discuss the role of National Security Advisor Robert Cutler as being a "custodian manager," i.e., urging caution and deliberation when considering policy changes, rather than a "policy advocate" as the authors argue future advisors in Cutler's position performed (1989, 9).

Burke and Greenstein also mention Eisenhower's approach toward his advisors and the NSC in particular, telling a lower-ranking advisor that when he was part of the NSC, he was answering to the President, not to his superiors in the State Department (1989, 11). In contrast, the portrayal of Johnson's "institutional presidency" points to minimized deliberation, and the replacement of the NSC as a chief policy forum with informal "Tuesday lunches" to which only close advisors advocating policies of escalation were invited (1989, 84-86).

If any general pattern emerges in the literature with respect to national security policy, or crisis response policy, it is the role of the NSC in balancing or defining the relationship (or lack thereof) between two of the primary agencies usually involved in such decision-making: the State Department and the Defense Department-and their principle actors, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.

The Secretary of State

Hook (2003) portrays the State Department as historically underutilized, underappreciated, and at times completely disregarded. In analyzing the tenure of Colin Powell, Hook concludes that Powell was left out of the loop to such an extent that officials like CIA director George Tenet and Bush advisor Karl Rove were more instrumental in conducting diplomacy than Powell himself.

While Powell's perceived reservations about the foreign policy's momentum threatened his standing within Bush's inner circle, other secretaries of state were perhaps more cautious. Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under Kennedy and Johnson, is described in another study as being committed to the personal principle of "going along with the others"-particularly, not coming into conflict with the Secretary of Defense-and that his chief duty was to aid in implementing whatever policy the president decides upon, regardless of his own feelings (Burke and Greenstein 1989).

Hook points to a number of factors to explain State Department difficulties in terms of involvement in foreign policy participation, suggesting that the emphasis of the State Department on field interactions may come into conflict with simpler expectations in the White House about the nature of international relations. In general, Hook asserts that the National Security Council has taken the lead in coordinating policy, and the national security advisor the lead in "strategic guidance and crisis management" (2003).

Just as the State Department has been granted varying levels of involvement by presidents from before Vietnam and on to the present, national security advisors and the National Security Council have likewise served varying roles from one president to another.

The Department of Defense

As Burke and Greenstein (Burke 2005; Burke and Greenstein 1989) suggest, the Secretary of Defense has tended to enjoy a more prominent role in the inner circle of the president compared to the Secretary of State, but still must seek a stance with regard to the president, and to some extent the National Security Advisor, to improve the chances of influencing security policy.

One study from the 70's (Steiner 1977) points to the difference in the policy efficacy of the State Department and the Department of Defense as the result of differing strategies with respect to voicing policy opinions. Steiner argues that the State Department generally sought only to influence national security policy with respect to state "political" relations, whereas the Department of Defense sought influence over such political policy (particularly, with "the Pentagon's 'little State Department,' its International Security Affairs division") as well as a wide spectrum of national security policy areas. Steiner uses this to explain "the growing prominence of the Pentagon in post-war American national security policy-making" (1977, 363). One may gather from the study that a Secretary of Defense may achieve more control of policy formation by aggressively seeking influence over broad policy concerns, and that a Secretary of State who wishes to counter such a dominant Defense Department may need to likewise counter with an outreach to wide security policy areas.

While the Secretary of Defense and the civilian officials of the Defense Department comprise the top-level chain-of-command advisory to the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff serve as an advisory body that likely has more direct military leadership experience, and without the burden of the chain-of-command (as of 1986); this gives the JCS and the chairmain in particular unique leverage to offer authoritative military advice to the president-if, however, that advice is truly desired.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff

Kessel notes that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly the chair, were at a power disadvantage until 1986 when the Goldwater-Nichols Act gave principle advisory power within the JCS. Until then, he argues, the chair could only present unanimous, yet "lowest-common-denominator" statements to the President. With Goldwater-Nichols, the chairman became the individual principle military advisor to the President, and was made to hold the responsibilities of military budget review and unified theater command (Kessel 2001). Lehman offers an opposing view, however, arguing against the unified "superchairman" of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claiming that President Roosevelt rightly supported having the leaders of the branches of the armed forces argue with each other in trying to come up with the best military strategy. Lehman asserts that with the elevated position of the chair, the President will only get to hear one viewpoint (Lehman 1991). These arguments suggest that the JCS faces a significant challenge in striking a balance of avoiding diluted advice and preventing a chairman from wielding too much advisory power.

Once the JCS and the chairman have decided amongst themselves what advice to present to the president, though, is the best advice always the best politics? Should the military leadership support decisions of civilian leadership unquestioningly, or take a stand when military experience suggests otherwise? Haney notes the ease in which individuals with opinions contrary to the prevailing feelings of the group may be quickly trivialized so as to be isolated from decision-making processes; in one example, a study cites the "early retirement" of the Army chief of staff in 2003 when he testified that he believed force levels in Iraq were too low-contrary to the position of the Pentagon (Haney 2005). This suggests that the JCS representatives may bear extra burden if they find themselves the only opposing voices in a national security policy debate with their civilian superiors.

The British Connection

Literature on the historical role of the US ambassador to Great Britain is somewhat lacking, but some resources may provide some hints about the role of the ambassador and the diplomatic staff, as well as the diplomatic challenges they face.

An article in The Economist describes the ambassador to the Court of St. James at the time of the September 11th attacks, William Farish, as an official in office for reasons of patronage rather than diplomatic qualifications. Farish is portrayed as having a non-existent role in responding to the attacks, making only a brief statement on TV in response. The article notes that in the case of most American ambassadors to Britain, the real diplomatic responsibilities fall on the deputy chief of the mission. Accordingly, Farish's deputy, David Johnson, is an "expert on Afghanistan" and was known to entertain guests in Farish's residence, rather than his own.

David Seitz, who previously occupied Johnson's role in the 80's, excelled at his job to such an extent that he was appointed as the ambassador the following decade. However, whether it is an ambassador like Seitz making the most of his office, or a deputy official picking up the slack for his boss, The Economist contends that individuals in neither office tend to appear in public forums, instead generally shying away from TV, radio, and other public exposure. The article further suggests that, in times of political controversy such as recent years with military involvement in Iraq, inactivity on the part of the ambassador and the embassy may be due to implicit and explicit pressure from the White House and the National Security Council ("Hid from our eyes; The American ambassador" 2004).


This review of studies pertaining to national security decision-making processes does not seek to form any concrete conclusions about patterns or rules that may govern agency activities with respect to national security policy formation.

However, in trying to conceptualize a framework for explaining why a secretary of state might be the president's key strategy advisor in one administration and an outcast in the next, some guiding factors do emerge from a casual look at relevant literature: personal presidential style, bureaucratic infrastructure, the willingness of a president to entertain new strategies that might deviate from preconceived plans, and the general context of the specific threat that is being dealt with.

Finally, available literature does not offer much analysis on the role of the ambassador to Britain in policy formation with regard to international politics or the American-British security relationship. Non-analytical sources seem to suggest a historically weak or even apathetic ambassador, but that the ambassador could wield some influence, particularly in easing British public opinion, if that influence were actively sought by the ambassador and/or the White House.

Works Cited

Burke, John P. 2005. "The Contemporary Presidency: Condoleezza Rice as NSC advisor: a case study of the honest broker role." Presidential Studies Quarterly 35 (3):22.

Burke, John P., and Fred I. Greenstein. 1989. "Presidential Personality and National Security Leadership: A Comparative Analysis of Vietnam Decision-making." International Political Science Review 10 (1):20.

Haney, Patrick J. 2005. "Foreign-policy advising: models and mysteries from the Bush administration." Presidential Studies Quarterly 35 (2):14.

"Hid from our eyes; The American ambassador." 2004. The Economist, June 19, 2004, 54.

Hook, Steven W. 2003. "Domestic Obstacles to International Affairs: The State Department under Fire at Home." Political Science and Politics 36 (1):7.

Johnson, Loch K., and Karl F. Inderfurth. 2004. "The Evolving Role of the National Security Advisor: From Executive Secretary to Activist Counselor." White House Studies 4 (3):265-79.

Kessel, John H. 2001. Presidents, the Presidency, and the Political Environment. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Lehman, John. 1991. "U.S. Defense Policy Options: The 1990s and Beyond." The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 517 (1):10.

LeLoup, Lance T., and Steven A. Shull. 2003. The President and Congress. New York: Longman.

Steiner, Barry H. 1977. "Policy Organization in American Security Affairs: An Assessment." Public Administration Review 37 (4):11.

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