There are many different ways of conducting a government. In the United States the executive authority is both more formally centralized in the President and more sharply separated from the legislature than in most democracies. This is particularly true of the conduct of foreign affairs, where the authority of the President has been seriously challenged only in those rare instances, such as the Versailles Treaty or the Vietnam war, when he seems to be grossly ignoring or overriding the opinions both of the Congress and of the public.
In general, he has been free to conduct foreign affairs more or less as he chooses, to use traditional instruments, to set up new ones or to carry on diplomacy from his own hip pocket. There is little use arguing whether or not he has the constitutional right to do so. As our government is organized, he has both the responsibility and the power. Critics in or out of the Congress can make things difficult for him, but they can neither conduct foreign affairs themselves nor prevent him from doing so. Of course, a wise President will consult the Congress closely, in fact as well as in form, on matters of major import, which recent Presidents have often foolishly failed to do.
Our concern here, however, is with the instruments which Presidents use for the conduct of foreign affairs. Up until the 1930s the instrument was almost always the traditional one, the Secretary and Department of State, except in those not infrequent cases where a strong President, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, chose to carry on a particular exercise in diplomacy himself, sometimes with the help of a personal adviser or emissary. Nevertheless, as late as 1931, President Hoover, though not himself inexperienced in foreign affairs, relied on Secretary Stimson to deal, in so far as the United States was prepared to deal, with the Manchurian crises.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, just at the moment when the rise to power of ambitious dictators in both Europe and Asia made inevitable much deeper American involvement in foreign affairs, named as Secretary of State, almost entirely for domestic political reasons, an eminent Senator, Cordell Hull, who had unhappily neither the taste nor the talent for the conduct of foreign affairs. Nevertheless, again for domestic political reasons, he remained in office for nearly 12 years, longer than any previous Secretary of State. This did not seriously disturb FDR, who was contemptuous of the diplomatic establishment and overestimated his own capacity to direct domestic and foreign, and later military, affairs personally and simultaneously.
Even Roosevelt, however, while bypassing Hull as much as he could, at first placed his own men, on whom he did to some extent rely, inside the State Department itself-Welles and later Stettinius as Under Secretary, Moley and Berle as Assistant Secretaries, and Bullitt and Kennedy as Ambassadors. On the other hand, when war came, the authority and responsibilities of the Department, as well as of its chief, were progressively and seriously undermined in two respects. In the first place, unlike Churchill, Roosevelt to a substantial degree excluded the Department and the Foreign Service from wartime decision-making under the peculiar delusion that most political decisions should and could be adjourned till after victory, and that those that could not he could resolve alone or with purely military advice. Due to this delusion very serious mistakes were made. In the second place, after one or two abortive experiments in permitting the State Department to handle some of the significant new duties arising from the war, Roosevelt chose for the most part to create for this purpose new agencies wholly outside State's control, and indeed to multiply, reorganize or wipe out these agencies with confusing rapidity.
Thus, for largely personal and accidental reasons, a precedent was set during the critical period of U.S. emergence as a superpower for bypassing the Secretary of State and the Foreign Service and for diffusing the conduct of foreign affairs at home and abroad among a wide and constantly changing complex of agencies. An even more unfortunate precedent set at the same time was the persistent and intimate involvement of the military in foreign policy decision-making, natural enough in wartime but creating in peacetime an imbalance of judgment toward military instruments and solutions which gravely distorted U.S. foreign policy over 25 years. These developments arose not from any need to confirm or strengthen the authority of the President in the conduct of foreign affairs, which was never challenged, but simply from the sudden pressures of an abnormal situation, the personal style of a particular President, and the limitations of a particular Secretary of State.
After the war an earnest and partially successful effort was made by Secretaries Marshall, Acheson and Dulles, each in his own way, to restore the authority and preëminence of the Department of State in the conduct of foreign affairs. This effort was undertaken and carried on not for any self- serving or bureaucratic reasons but simply on grounds of clear national interest and sound administration. If the United States was to carry out effectively its new responsibilities as a world power, it had to be able to take decisions sensibly and promptly in Washington, to speak with one voice to other governments, and to coördinate and discipline its sprawling operations overseas.
This was obviously a task beyond the capacities of any President, no matter how genial, or of personal advisers like Colonel House or Harry Hopkins. Responsibility and control, if not in all cases administration, had to be vested in a single agency and the logical agency was the Department established for the conduct of foreign affairs. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower recognized this fact without question, as did the three above- mentioned Secretaries of State. They all also recognized that the State Department and the Foreign Service had to be drastically reformed and strengthened for this purpose and they made a significant beginning in doing so.
Stettinius, even while Roosevelt was still alive, organized and institutionalized such policy-making as the President had left to the Department. The Foreign Service Act of 1946 reformed and invigorated the Foreign Service so sensibly that all the numerous subsequent reorganizations of the Service have not in most respects improved upon it. Marshall and Kennan created, and Acheson and Nitze maintained and developed, the Policy Planning Staff, which in those best of times provided much of the inspiration for foreign policy-making in the U.S. government.
Dulles was a strong Secretary of State enjoying the fullest confidence of the President; he never let other agencies infringe on his own authority nor, with a few calculated exceptions, their representatives abroad infringe on the authority of his ambassadors; he filled most of the principal positions at home and abroad with career officers. On the other hand, his term of office was marred by three shortcomings from the operational point of view. First, for domestic political reasons, he tolerated and to some extent even abetted McCarthy's attacks on the Foreign Service, with consequences for its stature and morale not yet wholly overcome. Second, his preferred style was to work almost totally with three or four close advisers, so that he did not fully use or foresightedly develop the resources of the Department as a whole. Third, because of his almost total disinterest in administration, he permitted some reorganizations which, with the best of intentions, substantially weakened the Department and the Service. At the end of Eisenhower's second term, therefore, while the prestige and power of the Secretary of State was very high, the Department and the Service were significantly less strong and healthy than they had been ten years before.
The next three Presidents, without particularly solid grounds in my view, all considered themselves experts in foreign affairs and each desired to be his own Secretary of State. All of them, moreover, for different personal reasons, had little respect for the career Foreign Service. These predilections and antipathies had several unfortunate consequences from the point of view of the conduct of foreign affairs and, in my opinion, of the protection of the national interest.
In the first place, the two Secretaries of State of the period were allowed very little initiative and latitude and, when they were, only in areas of lesser interest to the President. Second, the three Presidents actively built up separate directorates of foreign affairs in the White House, headed by men of outstanding ability but without the depth and breadth of experience in the foreign field which might have saved them from some of the blunders into which they stumbled. Indochina of course was the most significant. Third, these three Presidents and their two Secretaries of State, while they did not actually augment the already overinflated role of the military in foreign policy formulation, were less able to put military advice in perspective than Eisenhower and less willing to insist on the prerogatives of State than Acheson and Dulles. Finally, there was under these three Presidents a creeping tendency, while maintaining the overall proportion of career to noncareer chiefs of mission overseas at about two to one, more and more to place political appointees, for the most part without significant prior experience, in the most important diplomatic posts. For example, at the present time all of our ambassadors in Western Europe with two exceptions are political appointees, as well as our ambassadors in Canada, Australia, India and Pakistan.
The focus of the conduct of foreign affairs has therefore shifted even more sharply away from the State Department during the past decade than during the previous one. The fact that this shift was consciously undertaken by three Presidents does not make it a wise one, unless it can be shown that the new system is better than the traditional one which was so successfully revived and refreshed by Secretary Marshall.
Frankly I do not find the record of these three Presidents in the conduct of foreign affairs a brilliant one. I believe some of the main causes of their failures were their own oversimplified conception of world politics (similar, incidentally, to that of the communists) as a universal struggle between darkness and light, their excessive reliance on the advice of military and academic strategists committed to the same misconception, and their reluctance to heed advice from either experienced diplomats or more down-to-earth politicians, no doubt less brilliant and articulate, but a little more knowledgeable and realistic about what could and could not be achieved among peoples unfamiliar with the doctrines of Calvin and Mahan.
In so far as there is a system for the conduct of foreign affairs at the present time, which one would hesitate to assert categorically, it is centered not in the State Department but in the National Security Council. A few words about the origin and purpose of the Council will be relevant.
The National Security Council was established in 1947 by an act of Congress which was primarily designed to bring about unification of the armed services. President Truman reports in his memoirs, however, that in proposing establishment of the Council, "I wanted one top-level permanent setup in the government to concern itself with advising the President on high policy decisions concerning the security of the nation." The Council was intended, he said, to give him "a perpetual inventory of where we stood and where we were going on all strategic questions affecting the national security."
Truman also noted in his memoirs that the NSC "built a small but highly competent permanent staff which was selected for its objectivity and lack of political ties. It was our plan that the staff should serve as a continuing organization regardless of what administration was in power." While this conception of the NSC staff continued for the most part to prevail until the end of the 1950s, it has been radically altered since that time. First, the staff is no longer "small": it comprised about ten persons in 1948, about 25 in 1953, about 50 in 1961, and about 120 today. Second, its "executive secretary," as he was at the outset, an inconspicuous civil servant without "political ties," has been transformed into the President's National Security Adviser, one of the most conspicuous and prestigious policy-makers in Washington, not normally "permanent" or necessarily nonpartisan.
Decision-making in the whole field of foreign affairs has in recent years become more and more entangled and distorted in the machinery of the Council. This radical shift of locus has of course occurred because the last three Presidents, as we have suggested, distrusted the State Department and thought they could themselves better control both foreign and military affairs through an instrument inside the White House. Whether or not they calculated correctly in this respect, excessive reliance on the Council to the detriment of the State Department has had several side- effects which have been distinctly unfortunate.
The most significant arises from the prominent place of the military in the Council. Their place there was proper as long as the Council was restricted to the original role it was assigned by Truman: providing the President with "a perpetual inventory of where we stood and where we are going on all strategic questions affecting the national security." In the past decade, however, partly at the behest of the Presidents and partly under the inspiration of powerful and energetic National Security Advisers, almost every foreign policy question of any significance is "processed" through the NSC machinery. One consequence, in view of the composition and unconscious bias of the Council, has been all too often to accord undue weight to military factors in assessing foreign policy problems. The seemingly neutral meshing of foreign policy decision-making into the NSC machinery over the past decade has therefore in fact further warped that decision-making in a military direction and is to a substantial degree responsible for some of the most serious misjudgments of that period.
A second damaging side-effect of foreign policy by the NSC and its even more abundant staff has been further to complicate and prolong an already tedious and constipated decision-making process. Parkinson's Law is given still another golden opportunity to perform. Matters which have already been subjected to the most exhaustive review in the State Department, and by State with other agencies, are dissected, dismantled and put together all over again by the NSC staff. The result often is that months pass before a crucial decision is finally taken, by which time events have frequently moved so far that the decision is obsolete or irrelevant.
Still a third effect is to undermine the prestige and effectiveness of the Secretary of State and the Foreign Service in the conduct of day-to-day relations with other governments. An adviser spending 12 hours a day in the White House and with easy access to the President can, if the President will let him, play more of a part in shaping the structure, and even the superstructure, of foreign policy than a Secretary of State who, confined by his duties in the Department and at meetings overseas, sees the President much less frequently. Foreign ambassadors in Washington and American ambassadors abroad are even at times encouraged to believe they can obtain satisfaction of their requirements more easily from the National Security Adviser than from the Secretary of State. This is both petty and scandalous. One is reminded of the anecdote Blanche Dugdale recounted of an exchange at the Paris Peace Conference between Lord Balfour, then Foreign Secretary, and Philip Kerr (later Lord Lothian), Lloyd George's private secretary, who had a habit of usurping the Foreign Office role. On this occasion when Balfour asked Kerr whether Lloyd George had read a certain memo, Kerr replied: "I don't think so, but I have." Balfour answered: "Not quite the same thing, is it, Philip-yet."
A final damaging consequence of the transfer of foreign policy decision- making from State to NSC has been, since the NSC staff is not normally permitted to testify before Congressional committees, further to remove this process from Congressional scrutiny, to stimulate Congressional mistrust of the President's behavior and intentions in this field, and to foster quite unnecessarily the politico-constitutional crisis over the conduct of foreign affairs which we are now witnessing.
On all of these counts the diversion of foreign policy responsibilities from the State Department to an office inside the White House has been a disservice to the national interest and indeed, as events are now beginning to demonstrate, a disservice to the political interests of the President as well. What is the alternative?
The logical alternative is the traditional one, a single agency charged by the President with full responsibility under his direction for the formulation of foreign policy and the administration of foreign affairs. The Secretary of State must be a man of eminence and experience in whom the President has fullest confidence, to whom he is willing to grant considerable latitude but with whom he confers nearly every day when the Secretary is in Washington. When the Secretary is absent on official duties he should report to the President daily and the President should see the Acting Secretary almost daily.
The President may wish to have on his White House staff three or four officers who follow closely the flow of State Department and related agency communications, as well as Congressional, public and press opinion on foreign affairs, to keep him informed daily of significant developments, but he should expect from these officers information, not analysis, policy formulation or recommendation. These should come from the State Department in consultation with other interested agencies. The National Security Council should be returned to the role for which it was originally intended, to examine Strategic questions of interest to the national security," that is, issues having both military and foreign policy components of major significance. The Council's staff should again become "small," "selected for its objectivity and lack of political ties," serving "as a continuing organization regardless of what administration is in power." Its main function should be so to identify and present the major questions at issue that the President, advised by the Secretaries of State and Defense and others concerned, may make the necessary decisions clearly, promptly and finally.
The Secretary of State, moreover, must be master in his own house at home and all of his representatives abroad must be masters of their own houses. The Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Information Agency, the Commerce, Agriculture and Labor Departments, the successive foreign aid and development agencies, all have important functions to perform in relation to foreign affairs, but all must be subject to the direction of the Secretary of State when their functions impinge on his, and he, not they, must be the judge when their functions do so impinge. In case of irreconcilable jurisdictional or policy differences the President would of course have to decide.
All of these prescriptions have been set down in innumerable executive orders and presidential directives over the past 20 years, but most of them are still more honored in the breach than in the observance. The chief fault in Washington is in the White House, which is too prone to play one agency off against another, in the NSC for reasons already cited, in the Pentagon by sheer weight of numbers and dollars, and in Congressional committees which jealously protect their own competing prerogatives by sustaining their competing clients. Overseas the task of coördination and control by the ambassador is vastly magnified by the grossly excessive staffs many of the other agencies, particularly Defense and CIA, insist on maintaining. But if an ambassador is firm but tactful and is left alone by Washington, he usually manages to control his establishment reasonably well.