July 01, 2015

Reforming the National Security Council: What the Next President Needs to Know

By Shawn Brimley, Julianne Smith and Jacob Stokes

Last week, the Washington Post reported that the White House has just finished an extensive internal review and developed a plan to reshape the National Security Council (NSC). The review was applauded by many in Washington, given the growing consensus that America’s national security apparatus is in need of an upgrade. However, recognizing that this administration is well into its “fourth quarter,” the heavy lifting on reform will largely fall to the next administration.

As we discuss in our new report for the Center for a New American Security, improving the NSC starts with accurately diagnosing its problems. Four big issues are holding back the NSC today. First, today’s interagency decision-making process pushes too many decisions up to the Principals Committee (an NSC meeting chaired by the national security advisor rather than the president) and the formal National Security Council. It is common to witness cabinet secretaries, the vice president, and even the president debating what are arguably tactical issues, which steals time and focus from tackling the more fundamental strategic questions and detracts from their broader missions at their home agencies. It also means the number of meetings has skyrocketed out of control. This atmosphere leads to a common lament among cabinet officials and their deputies that they do not get to start their jobs until a full regular workday’s worth of meetings concludes.

Read the full article from War on the Rocks.