Courtesy Reuters

Crisis Management: Berlin, Cyprus, Laos

Washington bureaucrats will long remember John F. Kennedy as a President who stood them on their heads. Quick and impatient, he could not understand how Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon could take so long to answer his questions. Furthermore, he condoned unorthodox procedures on the grounds that order implied an absence of creativity. As Professor Neustadt has in effect pointed out, however, government officials prefer to go by the book. The result of this conflict was an encounter from which Washington has yet to recover.

President Kennedy almost immediately tossed into the ashcan most of the national security machinery created by his predecessors. Improvisation became the order of the day (and night), as officials struggled to meet deadlines with short fuses.

By the time the brief Kennedy era had ended, many officials had begun to grasp what he was struggling to do. It was to force them to adapt the decision-making process to a world in which the President might have only minutes to make up his mind whether to blow up half the Northern Hemisphere. In such a world, an hour for discussion is a long time. A day, providing time to consult both friends and opponents, is an eternity. A week, as we saw during the Cuban missile crisis, is long enough to play out a scenario which might at one time have consumed months.

In order to see how Washington met the challenge of events and dealt with the Kennedy Administration, we shall first review the organizational arrangements used to handle critical national security problems, particularly Berlin, Laos and Cyprus.


Despite all efforts to simplify it, our national security machinery is a complex apparatus. While the President can always occupy the driver's seat, the intensity of the White House's interest varies with the circumstances. Although at any other time the Chinese invasion of India would have been a shattering event, it played second fiddle to the Cuban missile crisis. Though foreign policy is supposedly "made" in Foggy

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