The Power Brokers

The birth of the National Security Council did not exactly make the headlines. When the National Security Act established the NSC in 1947, The New York Times gave top billing to the creation of a new post of secretary of defense. Only on page 2 did the story get around to mentioning that "the legislation also provides for a National Security Council," composed of the most senior national security officials, whose "meetings will be presided over by the President."

In the half century since, the NSC has become a central institution -- in important ways, the central institution -- of U.S. foreign policymaking. And over this period, its basic character has changed: from a council of senior cabinet members deliberating with the president to a group of White House staff members headed by the assistant to the president for national security affairs, known as the national security adviser. Over the years, the NSC has increased the power of the NSA and the president but weakened those cabinet members without strong ties to the man in the Oval Office. All told, the advent of the NSC represents one of the most important organizational innovations of the U.S. government since 1945.

In its early years, the NSC was the subject of dozens of scholarly and journalistic analyses. More recently, however, it has received little serious treatment, even as it has become entrenched as the presumptive center of presidential foreign policymaking. A comprehensive book on the NSC's origins and evolution is thus very much needed.

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