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 Bottom, many other buildings in Washington house competing foreign offices. The Pentagon, outwardly a monolith, provides shelter for countless Byzantine struggles. To complicate matters further, there are hundreds of diplomatic missions and military headquarters abroad. The standard State Department telegram on Berlin, for example, went to over a dozen addresses.

This apparatus is simple, however, compared to the one with which officials actually work. Above all, it does not take into account the complex international machinery with which they must also contend. To illustrate, most developments related to Berlin were dealt with on a quadripartite basis (U.S., U.K., France and Germany) and some by the 15 members of NATO. This is, however, a longer tale, and we shall restrict ourselves to an analysis of organization for crises within the American Government.

For analytical purposes, we shall consider the State Department at two levels, policy and operating. By the policy level, we mean those officials on the seventh floor with whom Secretary Rusk divided his work during most of the Kennedy-Johnson Administration. He identified them to the Jackson Committee as Under Secretary George Ball and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Harriman, and he indicated that he considered their responsibility coterminous with his. One of the three took primary responsibility for each of the critical problems we are considering: Secretary Rusk, Berlin; Under Secretary Ball, Cyprus; and Governor Harriman, Laos. We should note that Deputy Under Secretary U. Alexis Johnson also played an important role, particularly in the early stages of the 1961 Berlin crisis and with regard to Laos in 1963.

Except when a problem was really explosive-such as during the Cuban missile crisis-Secretary Rusk and his colleagues were unable to devote anything like full time to it for a protracted period. It fell, therefore, to someone else's lot to assume day-to-day command. During the 1961-62 phase of the Berlin crisis, for example, Assistant Secretary Foy Kohler devoted full time to his duties as Director of the Berlin Task Force. Far Eastern Assistant Secretary Roger Hilsman took personal charge of a Laos working group for several months in 1963.

However, it was not always possible for even Assistant Secretaries to devote full time to these problems. In 1962, when Kohler went to Moscow as Ambassador, Assistant Secretary William Tyler felt that Berlin had subsided sufficiently to delegate day-to-day operations to Kohler's deputy, Martin Hillenbrand. John Jernegan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, played a prominent role in the Cyprus crisis during 1963 and 1964. Thus, while it is not difficult to get the chefs to stir the stew when it is on the front burner, it is left to the cooks-or even the cooks' helpers- when it is moved to the rear.

Although one of the regional bureaus normally carries the ball in any crisis, there is occasionally a lively contest within the State Department as to which it will be. This was the case in the summer of 1961, before the European bureau emerged from the scrimmage with Berlin tucked under its arm. Laos, on the other hand, was pretty much the concern of the Far Eastern bureau. The Near Eastern bureau was in control of Cyprus almost throughout, although the European bureau played a large role for a while when it looked as though NATO might take the problem on. When the United Nations came into the picture, so did the International Organizations bureau. While these interbureau man?uvrings were conducted in a gentlemanly manner, they were not without their importance for the manner in which the game was played.

One official described Washington during a flap as a three-ring circus. He had in mind the White House, State and the Pentagon. Actually, this is an oversimplification, and the analogy soon breaks down.

President Kennedy was more than a ringmaster, announcing the events. As Theodore Sorensen pointed out in "Decision-making in the White House," he liked to select key issues in which to interest himself. No respecter of channels, he would telephone unsuspecting officials with questions or admonitions. Lower-ranking bureaucrats who had never been inside the White House found themselves in his presence. McGeorge Bundy and his staff became the President's eyes and ears and wielded not inconsiderable power in the President's name.

One of Bundy's main tasks was to try to ensure that the State Department and the Pentagon pulled in harness. In the case of Berlin, this was complicated by the fact that three prime movers were involved-State, Defense and the Joint Chiefs. While they were all pulling in the same direction-the defense of Berlin-occasionally one or two wanted to gallop when the other or others wanted to canter or trot. Even differences on tactics, however, can precipitate a lively struggle, unless or until the White House takes the reins firmly in hand.

The Berlin Task Force constituted the largest effort to solve the problem of coördination. Anyone with a proper interest was welcomed to plenary task- force meetings. At times, attendance went as high as 60, with nine different departments or agencies represented. Since a group of this size obviously could not actually do the work, smaller working groups were used.

This is the way it normally went during the 1961-62 phase, with the whole process frequently compressed into a single day. The State task-force staff began work during crisis periods about 8:00 a.m., assuming they had not been in the Department's Operations Center all night. If a problem called for a prompt decision, the responsible officer would call a meeting of Defense and Joint Staff officers for 9:00 or 9:30 a.m. He would also invite a White House representative. They would consider a draft, generally prepared by the State representative. This would go to the task-force meeting, with any disagreements noted, at 10:30 a.m. After discussion, the final text of the draft would be worked out by Assistant Secretary Kohler and Assistant Secretary of Defense Nitze, with military advice from the Joint Chiefs' representative, Major General David Gray. If necessary, the draft would then go to Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara and the Joint Chiefs for approval. If Presidential approval were required, McGeorge Bundy would either obtain it or arrange a meeting with the President.

Later, the style changed somewhat. During the 1963 Autobahn convoy incidents, for example, command centers were maintained in both the State Department Operations Center and the J.C.S. National Military Command Center. The key policy decisions were, however, made in meetings with the President or else in Secretary Rusk's office, with the Secretary talking directly by telephone with Secretary McNamara and the White House.

Although Laos did not have a standing interdepartmental working group like that on Berlin, one was established in 1962 and again in 1963 to deal with crises precipitated by fighting. The work of the 1962 group was overtaken by the Geneva Accords, but the 1963 group provided President Kennedy with the basis for some decisions regarding Laos. Between crises, Laos was handled through normal interdepartmental channels. This meant in practice frequent telephone calls, the clearance of outgoing instructions, and occasional meetings. All the officials concerned-with the possible exception of some on the Joint Staff-apparently found this met their needs. It also accorded with their inclination to look to Ambassador Unger in Vientiane to take the lead.

With regard to Cyprus, no interdepartmental working group was ever established. The situation there has continually been treated by the Government as primarily a political and not a political-military crisis. For a period, daily meetings were held with the Near Eastern Bureau and other State Department personnel in Mr. Ball's office. When other agencies such as Defense were involved, especially during the evacuation of dependents from Cyprus, they were represented in the operational meetings. After the introduction of United Nations peacekeeping forces into Cyprus, these meetings were held less frequently and actions were handled through normal channels.


No matter how well policy is coördinated in Washington, the time usually comes when instructions have to be sent to the field. Officialdom then runs up against an important qualification in President Kennedy's well-known letter of May 29, 1961, to all our Ambassadors, in which he made it clear that he expected them to hold the reins abroad. The letter said, "As you know, the U.S. Diplomatic Mission [does not] include U.S. military forces operating in the field where such forces are under the command of a U.S. area military commander. The line of authority to these forces runs from me, to the Secretary of Defense, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington and the area commander in the field." To be specific, this meant that the American Ambassador in Bonn had no authority over U.S. military forces in West Berlin, let alone West Germany. The U.S. Commandant in Berlin reported to the Ambassador in his political capacity, but in his military capacity he reported to a four-star general in Heidelberg and through him to General Norstad (later General Lemnitzer) in Paris. In the case of Cyprus, the arrangements and planning for the few military forces involved in the evacuation of American dependents were arranged by the State Department with the Cyprus desk officer in Defense. The Joint Chiefs then designated the U.S. Commander in Europe as the responsible agent to execute this requirement.

The potential for confusion in these situations was obvious, and it was obviated only by careful coördination all along the line. In the case of Berlin, identical instructions were frequently sent through both State and J.C.S. channels. After that, it was up to the Bonn Embassy and the military headquarters in Paris, Heidelberg (Army) and Wiesbaden (Air Force) to stay in step, which they generally did. The channels converged again in Berlin, with compatible instructions hopefully arriving at about the same time.

In Laos, the situation was complicated-or simplified, depending on your point of view-by the provision in the Geneva Accords that all American military personnel be withdrawn in 1962. This meant that with the exception of attachés, none of our military personnel were stationed in the country. Thus, Washington turned to the Ambassador for assessments of the military situation and for recommendations on how the United States could assist the Laotian Government.

In the case of Cyprus, assessments and recommendations regarding the problem were handled entirely through State Department channels.

Subject to the qualifications regarding his relations with military commanders, the Ambassador is the putative boss in his assigned country. Most Ambassadors make use of what has come to be called the "country team." The country team normally consists of the Ambassador, his deputy, the head of any military assistance mission, the head of any aid mission, the head of the information program and the chiefs of key sections of the Embassy. Most Ambassadors testifying before the Jackson Committee gave high marks to the country team but emphasized that it was by no means the only device used to maintain coördination. We can get some idea of the varied approaches by looking at our case studies.

In the case of Berlin, the Ambassador in Bonn could by no means call all the shots. As noted above, the Commandant in Berlin worked both for the Ambassador and his own military superiors in Heidelberg and Paris. The head of the State Department Mission in Berlin had obligations to the Commandant in Berlin as well as the Ambassador in Bonn. The head of the U.S. Military Liaison Mission in Potsdam, an important channel to the Soviets, worked not for the Commandant or the Ambassador, but for the Army headquarters in Heidelberg. To further complicate the Ambassador's life, Washington had a way of attempting to take over whenever the going got rough. This happened particularly after the rioting at the wall in August 1962 and after the first convoy incident in October 1963. At other times, Washington passed the reins to General Norstad in Paris, particularly during the air corridor incidents in February-March 1962. The Ambassador also found himself in an ambiguous position when President Kennedy sent General Clay to Berlin as his special representative in 1961. Thus, while the Ambassador played a significant role regarding Berlin, he had plenty of help.

Ambassador Unger in Vientiane came much closer to playing the part described in President Kennedy's 1961 letter. He made full use of the country-team concept to control American activities in Laos. While each team member had his own responsibilities, these were carefully coördinated in daily meetings chaired either by the Ambassador or the Deputy Chief of Mission. One high State Department official has commented that, if there was a better country-team operation than that in Laos, he did not know where it was.

With regard to Cyprus, there were three American Embassies immediately involved-those in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. In Nicosia, since most elements of the Embassy had a role to play, the Ambassador frequently consulted the full country team before making critical decisions. In Athens and Ankara, the Ambassadors dealt directly with the Greek and Turkish Governments at a high level, utilizing only those sections of the Embassy directly concerned, including the political sections and the military attachés.

This description of the management of U.S. policy regarding Berlin, Cyprus and Laos makes their handling appear more uniform than was actually the case.

In addition to differences inherent in the problems, the most important reason for variations was personalities. Secretary Rusk was inclined to leave many aspects of Berlin management to the Director of the Berlin Task Force. Under Secretary Ball, on the other hand, tended to keep most of the strings regarding Cyprus in his own hands. Ambassador Unger's presence in Laos affected significantly the style of the management of the Laotian problem.

In addition, particular incidents required adjustments in the pattern. For example, a Soviet challenge to air access to Berlin brought into play members of the team who were not involved in the detention of Allied convoys. A coup d'état in Vientiane presented quite different management problems from a Pathet Lao attack in the Plain of Jars.

In the face of such variables, the teams managing policy had little choice but to remain flexible. This made it important that all the players know each other as well as possible, through visits back and forth and regular correspondence. It was also essential that each team have fast, reliable and flexible communications-both telegraph and telephone-in order to permit prompt decisions.

Many officials cavil from time to time at modern communications. Nuclear weapons have, however, made the desire for centralized control of critical problems a fact of life. Our communications systems are a result of that fact, not the cause of it.

Saying this, however, does not resolve one of the basic issues of crisis management: To what extent should Washington attempt to control the field? We use the word "attempt" advisedly, because when events are rolling they are not always susceptible to control. During some episodes, such as the incidents in the Berlin air corridor in February-March 1962, many tactical decisions had to be left to the field. For example, Washington simply could not control aircraft flying to and from Berlin. On the other hand, control of the convoy incidents in the fall of 1963 soon moved back to Washington, because the first stoppage coincided with a visit by Gromyko to the Capital.

While the field usually has a sharper point of view, Washington normally has a broader perspective. Balancing the two to arrive promptly at the best possible decision lies at the very heart of crisis management.


In such a complex organism, strung together by telegraph cables, something is needed to furnish exercise between crises. The diplomat has traditionally depended on dispatches and personal letters to furnish a conceptual environment within which individual problems are tackled. The military have utilized planning to prepare for the future. Since World War II, the Government has increasingly sought to make planning its servant.

Franklin A. Lindsay said in an article in Foreign Affairs for January 1961 that planning had not been fully accepted in the State Department because of "(1) skepticism about the value of planning-owing at least partly to the misconception of its role-on the part of many career Foreign Service officers; and (2) the inevitable operational orientation of most of the top foreign policy officials." While we cannot say that we have found the opposite true, this statement would have to be qualified somewhat today. There has been a growing inclination to accept Dean Acheson's dictum that "manhours spent in thinking and planning on future actions are by far the most profitable."

All key national security agencies are busy looking into their crystal balls, attempting to predict the future. The armed forces are the most ambitious, with the longest-range plan projecting 20 years. Their requirements, including complex weapons systems, dictate that they make assumptions at least a decade in advance. However, State, Defense and A.I.D. usually try to look ahead only five years.

Long-range planning takes various forms. The most common is the analytical paper, which talks about the future in an organized way. A case in point is a paper on Japan which Ambassador Reischauer described to the Jackson Committee. This paper was educational for those who participated in its preparation and was useful in briefing people regarding American policy on Japan. As Ambassador Reischauer noted, however, it was not used a great deal in coping with day-to-day problems. Such papers are most useful if the planners turn up some critical problems which might otherwise be side- stepped and which then can be pursued further. This makes planning the dynamic process which it should be if it is to be of significant value.

Another technique used is scenario writing. With this, the planner starts at a given point in time and describes how he thinks events may unfold. He goes into as much detail and as far into the future as necessary. Scenario writing was particularly used by planners on the Berlin Task Force. They found that scenarios had a major advantage over analytical papers. They made it more difficult to skip over the possible consequences of given courses of action.

A more complex variant of the scenario is the war-peace game, which has been played on a wide variety of problems, including Berlin. The director divides a group of official players into three teams, red, blue and control. He gives blue (U.S.) and red (the opponent) an opening scenario, ending in a situation which, hopefully, forces both teams to make some hard decisions. Blue and red prepare papers on how they would meet this situation. The control team then sets forth a new scenario, which it believes will result from the red and blue actions. This process goes on for three or four cycles.

While these games are useful devices, they also have their dangers. Bernard Brodie, in his monograph, "The Scientific Strategists," notes that games "force players to consider problems beyond their opening moves." He points out, however, that the game may "induce in the player the illusion that he has really tested his hypothesis or assumptions in a conclusive manner." Most participants find them useful, if exhausting, experiences.

Another planning device, used both for Berlin and Laos, is the phased scenario. This involves dividing a brief scenario into a number of phases, with critical events marking the transition from one phase to another. The planners then list the actions which might be useful in each phase. The main drawback to this type of planning is that it may become a straightjacket rather than a frame of reference. In 1962, when the Soviets began interfering with Allied flights to Berlin, there was a brief discussion among the planners as to whether this threw the Berlin problem into a new phase. It soon became clear, however, that it was necessary to keep the planes flying and to get the Soviets to cease their interference, no matter what phase they were in.

Whatever type of crystal ball is used by the Cassandras, the operators still have to come up with specific programs. Program planning is bread and butter for the dispensers of information and economic and military aid. It is highly systematized; A.I.D., for example, has published a manual codifying its planning which is three inches thick! Of the three crises under review, however, program planning played a large role only in Laos. The Cyprus crisis effectively ended the economic-aid program on that island. Considerable planning was done regarding the "viability" of Berlin, but this was primarily promotion designed to get private groups to do more in Berlin and did not entail the type of detailed planning required for economic or military aid.

Although program planning covers much of our national security activities abroad, the Government is not always able to devote its energies to building roads or equipping an air force. History has a way of unfolding in unanticipated directions. This gap is filled to some extent by contingency plans-particularly for Berlin, which was if anything over-planned.

Contingency plans examine possible alternative responses to hypothetical events or situations. They often do not seek to establish definitely which response will be used, although they usually express preferences. They may also lead to delegation of authority, particularly to take preparatory actions. Where speed is essential, the delegation of authority may even extend to the use of force, particularly in self-defense.

The charge most frequently leveled against contingency planning is that the event planned for never takes place. President Kennedy once telephoned an officer in the Berlin Task Force and asked, "Why, with all those plans, do you never have one for what happens?" A year later a contingency arose which was precisely the one for which he had approved a plan about the time of this telephone call. It is true, however, that contingency plans are seldom implemented precisely as written, if at all.

Contingency plans provide in turn the basis for our fourth category, operational plans. These are essential to military operations, such as the deployment of military forces to Thailand and the quarantine of Cuba in 1962. They would also be necessary if force ever had to be used to preserve our rights of access to Berlin.

Military operational plans are normally fairly complex documents, with many annexes (logistics, communications, etc.). For security reasons, distribution is severely limited to defense personnel, although outside civilian officials with a "need to know" can obtain briefings on them. The State Department has, however, been contributing increasingly to military planning, both in Washington and in the field, through its political advisers. There has also been some effort to parallel military plans with political scenarios. This was done in the case of the Cuban missile crisis. Political scenarios were also prepared for some Berlin military plans. Much remains to be done, however, to achieve adequate coördination between political and military planning.


Planning has a number of uses, plus some limitations.

First of all, planning provides the basis for decisions regarding the allocation and development of resources. If planning is not carried through this stage, it is likely to be incomplete. How could the United States have been prepared to back its hand on Berlin if it had not deployed additional forces to Europe in 1961? How could it have deployed military forces so rapidly to Thailand in 1962, without earlier preparation? From planning flows capabilities which otherwise might be made available too late to be effective.

Planning also educates the planners and their superiors. The planners not only get better acquainted with the problem but also with each other. By the time the Berlin crisis was over, practically everyone working on it- British, French, German and American-knew each other by his first name. Even more important than educating the planners and operators, planning can be used to prepare the policy-makers. As Secretary Rusk said to the Jackson Committee: "When a crisis occurs, it is then almost too late to educate those who have to make the decisions. The great problem we have is to prepare the minds of those who are going to make the decisions. . . ."

Planning is, however, not a panacea. Above all, it is not a substitute for common sense. Dealing with national security problems will always involve a great deal of improvisation. However, even a clever coach will find it hard to win a game that begins before he has an offensive-defensive strategy and plays, before his players have practiced together and before some of his players are even on the field.

An essential difficulty is the lack of understanding between the political and military arms of the Government on what constitutes planning. The State Department is very fond of analytical "planning" but all too frequently stops short of an action program. The military are full of action but often lack a feel for the political realities of national security problems. Contingency planning based on a phased scenario particularly lends itself to bridging this gap. By forcing officials to face up to the possible consequences, it helps eliminate the wild proposals which are all too frequently tossed into the pot from all levels. Planning thus tends to direct attention to the relatively small number of options available in any given situation.

We should like to emphasize, however, that planning is a tool, not a substitute for understanding, courage and common sense.

From all this, what conclusions can be drawn with regard to management of U.S. policy on critical national security problems? We suggest that the following are applicable in most situations:

1. The keystone in the arch is supplied by the President. This is reinforced when a senior official in the State Department takes direct responsibility for making or obtaining policy decisions.

2. The State Department should take the initiative in forming an inter- agency working group to deal with the problem on a regular and continuing basis. This group should be chaired by an Assistant Secretary from a regional bureau or another senior officer, who should have direct access to the policy-level official responsible. The chairman should have a deputy (usually the desk officer) to supervise the work of the group's staff. This should include appropriate representatives from the Defense Department, the Joint Staff, A.I.D. and C.I.A.

3. In addition to dealing with day-to-day problems, this group should plan. All planning should be as simple as possible. Contingency plans should be prepared only for the most likely and critical contingencies. Planning should not become an end in itself but should be directed toward the acquisition of critical resources. The planner's motto should be, "I am planning in order to deter mine what resources I need to meet contingencies I hope will not arise."

4. The working group should early establish an orderly way of doing business with the field, which insures that all interested headquarters are heard and kept informed. This can normally be accomplished by a combination of working-group visits to the field and the use of joint inter-agency messages.

5. While the country team can be a useful tool in insuring teamwork abroad, it is not a substitute for a strong Ambassador who knows what he is doing and who has good relations with military commanders in his area.

In conclusion, we should like to emphasize that these points are made with full awareness of the limits of management. We agree with Theodore Sorensen when he notes in "Decision-making in the White House" that "to be preoccupied with form and structure-to ascribe to their reform and reorganization a capacity to end bad decisions-is too often to overlook the more dynamic and fluid forces on which Presidential decisions are based." We note that he adds, however: "Procedures do affect decisions. They especially affect which issues reach the top and which options are presented, and this may, in the last analysis, matter more than the final act of decision itself."

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