National Security Council

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National Security Council

The National Security Council (NSC) is the U.S. president's principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters; the council consists of senior national security advisors and cabinet officials. Since its inception under President harry truman, the function of the NSC has been to advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policies. The council also serves as the president's principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies.

The NSC was established by the National Security Act of 1947, as amended (50 U.S.C.A. § 402), and was placed in the Executive Office of the President by Reorganization Plan No. 4 of 1949 (5 U.S.C.A. app.). The NSC was designed to provide the president with a foreign-policy instrument independent of the State Department. The NSC is chaired by the president. Its statutory members, in addition to the president, include the vice president and the secretaries of state and defense. The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the statutory military advisor to the council, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency is the statutory intelligence advisor. The secretary of the treasury, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, the assistant to the president for national security affairs, the assistant to the president for economic policy, and the chief of staff to the president are invited to all meetings. The attorney general and the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy attend meetings pertaining to their jurisdiction. Other officials are invited, as appropriate.

The NSC began as a small office supporting the president, but its staff has grown over the years. It is headed by the assistant to the president for national security affairs, who is also referred to as the national security advisor. The NSC staff performs a variety of activities for the president and the national security advisor. The staff participates in presidential briefings, assists the president in responding to congressional inquiries, and prepares public remarks. The NSC staff serves as an initial point of contact for departments and agencies that want to bring a national security issue to the president's attention. The staff also participates in interagency working groups organized to assess policy issues in coordinated fashion.

The issues concerning national security are wide ranging. Foreign and military relations with other countries have generally taken center stage, but international Terrorism, narcotics control, and world economic issues have been brought before the NSC. In most administrations, the national security advisor has played a key role in formulating foreign policy. For example, as national security advisor during the Nixon administration, henry kissinger was the de facto Secretary of State, developing policy on the Vietnam War, the opening of relations with communist China, and negotiating with Israel and the Arab nations for a peaceful solution to problems in the Middle East.

The image of the NSC was tarnished in the 1980s during the Reagan administration. Two successive national security advisors, Robert C. McFarlane and Rear Admiral John M. Poindexter, and NSC staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North participated in the Iran-Contra Affair. They violated a congressional ban on U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan anticommunist Contra rebels by providing the rebels with funds obtained by the secret sale of military weapons to Iran.

Under the administration of President george h.w. bush in the early 1990s, the NSC was reorganized to include a Principals Committee, Deputies Committee, and eight Policy Coordinating Committees. Under President bill clinton, NSC membership was expanded to include the secretary of the Treasury, the U.S representative to the United Nations, and the assistant to the president for Economic Policy as well as the president's chief of staff and his national security advisor. In 2001 President george w. bush appointed Dr. Condoleezza Rice to be his national security advisor. She was the first woman appointed to that position. The NSC has been involved in American foreign policy decisions that have ranged from sending troops to Panama in 1989 and to Iraq in 1991 and 2003, as well as dealing with such issues as international trafficking in illegal drugs, U.N. peacekeeping missions, strategic arms control policy, and global environmental affairs.

Further readings

National Security Council at the White House. Available online at <> (accessed July 30, 2003).

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).


Executive Branch; Presidential Powers; State Department.

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