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A National Security Act of 2009?

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A National Security Act of 2009?

A Short Recommendation for a Possible Revision of the National Security Act of 1947

by Colonel David S. Maxwell

Download the full article: A National Security Act of 2009?

"The Interagency is broken" is a refrain heard daily inside the beltway and in conflict areas around the world. It is also quite popular to make the call for a Goldwater-Nichols type legislation to do for the Interagency what that legislation did for the US Military and Joint operations, assignments, and professional military education. Assuming that the Interagency needs to be repaired, the issue is how to reform the organizations, processes, and education and training in the Interagency so that the United States can achieve a "whole of government" approach to National Security challenges of the future and prevent situations such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Download the full article: A National Security Act of 2009?

Colonel David S. Maxwell, U.S. Army, is a Special Forces officer with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and is a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University. The opinions he expresses in this paper are his own and represent no U.S. Government or Department of Defense positions.

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Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 10/18/2009 - 9:00pm


Not to worry. Congress will insure <i>nothing</i> in the federal Government and very little in the US is sheltered from partisan politics.

Having the Office and Staff drop protection of the President as a primary mission would be an advantage. An independent Director of Strategic Planning would only partly shelter the office from the influence of elections but a little shelter is better than none.


Sun, 10/18/2009 - 8:27pm

I think the case for having an independent Fed is much stronger than for having an independent Nat'l Security Advisor. The role of the Fed - while it entails a fair amount of art - is far more of a science than national security. Because it is more of a science, there is a good reason to shelter the fed from political nonsense. But there is little to no science to national security. It is politics, plain and simple. In theory, I would love to see national security separated from partisan politics. In practice, I don't know how you do that. Making an independent NSA does not shelter the office from partisan politics. It only shelters it from the influence of elections. Those are two very different things.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 10/18/2009 - 7:14pm

Excellent thought piece by Colonel Maxwell with some solid suggestions for obtaining some continuity of effort.

That continuity is far more important than is unity of effort -- that latter will after all be more impacted by military personalities, troop rotations, intra departmental turf battles and coalition operational concerns than by any US distractions.

All employees of the US Government, military and civilian take an Oath; This one for Congress is typical, it's been around since 1884:<blockquote>"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."</blockquote>That for Federal Judges differs a bit and dates to 1789, that for the Armed forces and civilian employees have different origin dates and slightly different wording (precedent says Officers 'are required' to disobey orders that violate the Constitution, Enlisted persons <i>must</i> obey all lawful orders). The point is that the Constitution is the focus of the oath, not the President, not Congress, not even the people of the US -- thus to require all Federal Agencies to adopt national security as a core mission is an excellent idea.

The remaining recommendations are solid, achievable and the only problematic issue is really how much actual power can be granted the Director of Strategic Planning who heads the National Strategic Planning Agency replacing the National Security Council.

That name suggestion can also preclude anyone thinking that the individual is, as Zenpundit says, a co-emperor. That is a very real concern and as the job entails more than national seucurity and will bring coherence to strategic direction, perhaps a less conflict oriented title may be beneficial.

A possibly beneficial side effect, over time, will be to remove that organ, whatever its name, from interfering in day to day operations which is problematic -- in that role, they operate more to protect the President than the national security of the US.

Professor Fishel asks: <i>"Do we really want these roles to be filled by (a) and individual who must face Senate confirmation and (b) will be appointed by one president but serve at least two?"</i> My answer would be yes and I suspect Congress would be receptive. The authors of the Constitution clearly intend for the Executive to have the lead in foreign relations and national security affairs yet our political process dictates change at two and four year intervals and given the voters preference to alternate between two parties it would seem to me the best way to achieve some continuity in these matters would be to have such an essentially apolitical 'referee.'

The issue of a "Co-emperor" is valid but not terribly bothersome -- we have existed for many years with virtually independent FBI Directors and the ability of Presidents to summarily replace people who are theoretically independent with others to do the Presidential bidding is not good. Several Directors of Central Intelligence come to mind. The key to the Constitutionality of the position is the statute that creates it -- if he is essentially an Advisor with decision authority remaining vested in the President, there should be no constitutional problem. The plus aspect is someone who can tell the single Emperor he is naked without fear of a trip to a Gulag while that President will still be the decider....

Professor Fishel also suggests that the President should be able to designate either the Ambassador or the military commander to be in command of all US Agencies involved in a conflict in one nation. I believe that would often result in personality rather than performance being the selection criteria and that is not a good thing. A little tension is not conducive to unity of command but it also is not terribly harmful. Indeed, coalition activities are more likely to affect unity of command than any US peculiar issues. Each of those positions has a disparate field of endeavor and they should devote their attention to that. We effectively placed an Ambassador in overall command in Laos for an extended period in the early 1960s. My recollection is that did not work out well -- nor did shorter tenure of extremely powerful Ambassadors in Viet Nam.

Colonel Maxwell is trying to depoliticize National Security and Mike F is correct, I believe, in assuming that is a good thing. As Congress is the source of much of that politicization, it is unlikely that the recommend solution will effect that desirable change but it should assist in obtaining some continuity. A further assist in that direction would be to incorporate alignment of State Department areas and DoD Combatant Commands as Hank Foresman suggests. That one effort and an acknowledgment by DoD that State has primacy in foreign relations would be a significant improvement. So would, as long as we're into wishful thinking, all Ambassadors being career Foreign Service people, period. That could improve Country Teams -- particularly if State gets decent funding and turns serious about the nitty gritty part of their difficult jobs.

Oh -- and boost USAid's power and purse...

anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 10/17/2009 - 10:53am


I think you are making more out of this statement than perhaps the author meant:

"There are two places where the Interagency process functions well - at the Country Team and on the ground in conflict areas. The men and women working overseas are getting it done despite a perceived unresponsive and inefficient National Security system. They have learned and adapted yet at the National and Strategic level there has been a lot of energy spent coming up with new ways to try to do old things and it has not helped the men and women on the ground."

The fact is that compared to inside the beltway, the Country Team does perform relatively well (of course like anything else, personality dependent). Second, the PRTs on the ground in conflict areas are getting it done despite being under resourced and in ad hoc organizations that receive little preparatory training. I do not think the author was throwing out a red herring and I think all the reasons you mention why the Country Teams do work well are important and is one of the reasons why the Country Teams need an effective national security structure over them


Sat, 10/17/2009 - 3:01am

Having served in CENTCOM J5, OSD, and four country teams, I think COL Maxwell fails to address a few points unique to the C/T level that enables them to work better, and since it is unique, holding it out as an example for a better interagency process is something of a red herring. For example:
- By the time the issue/policy/action/etc. gets to the C/T, who needs or is going to need to do what has split down enough to clarify responsibilities.
- The people sitting on the C/T know they are going to be the ones personally executing what gets resolved which adds both a sense of responsibility for the final product and a motivation to get those roles and responsibilities clearly delineated.
- Unless the individual issue is extremely critical, everyone knows the COM makes the final decision and appealing to Washington would be a waste of time (in six years sitting on C/Ts, I only did so three times). Press leaks to shape debate and end runs to friendly congresspeople to stall/reopen decisions are not usable techniques.
- You can't play games to avoid responsibility or delay the decision. There is no "the person who went to the DC isn't authorized to approve the decision" (a favorite under Rumsfeld when he wasn't sure he would get his way).
- The people on the C/T see each other every day for years, and everyone knows they have to get along. There is no "one or two meetings a week at the EEOB and the rest of the time it is email tag".
- The people on the C/T all have multiple responsibilities so there is no "cut-throat defense of my only rice bowl".
- The people sitting on the C/T are also the actual in-country experts in their areas, so the necessary knowledge to discuss an issue in depth is already present.
And there are others.
And as far as the IA process working well when there are large deployed forces with commanders in theater, I have to say, sitting here in Kabul, I don't think so. Never in Iraq so I have no idea about how things went there.
I have other comments on his excellent effort but that is enough for now. Regards.

Hank Foresman (not verified)

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 3:15pm

Good article, the comments also very good. One aspect which Colonel Maxwell did not address and which needs to be addressed, is to have a true interagency process every Executive Department must look at the world through the same lens. The division of countries within the Combatant Commands by the Department of Defense is not the same as the Department of State Division of countries by Region. Until every Executive Department looks at the world through the same lens, we will continue to have a dysfunctional interagency process.

It does not matter whether the Lens developed is the current State Department, Department of Defense, or another division, it just needs to be the same.

John T. Fishel

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 1:39pm

Mike and Zenpundit--
Following the thrust of the discussion so far on the APNSA, let me clarify my position. I do not believe that a long term tenured position is a good idea. However, I do think that the position should be one that is confirmed by the Senate. The disadvantage of that is that the NSA could be more easily compelled to testify before Congress which robs the President of a degree of confidentiality he now enjoys. the plus is that the NSA becomes accountable in a way that he was only when Kissinger was simultaneously NSA and SECSTATE. On balance, I think the pluses of such a change outweigh the minuses.
On the issue of the country team - it is not nearly as successful (or institutionalized) a structure as it is made out to be here. Each CT is different and the concept is used by each ambassador as he sees fit. What I was arguing was that in a normal embassy, all USG personnel and entities work for the ambassador to include the military - hence unity of command. But we need to remember that unity of command merely enables the commander to be effective; it doesn't make him an effective commander.


Good points. Relooking it, I think you and John are probably right on NSA Director equaling FED Chairman.

I was assuming that National Defense should not be political.


Great artice! Very thought provoking.

Point 3: The Grand strategy process that Col. Maxwell proposes is a superb reform! It's so commonsense that it is amazing that the USG does not do this now ( maybe they do it in the Office of Net Assessment. If so, they're keeping it quiet).

OTOH, the transformation of the APNSA post to one akin to the Fed Chairman is potentially very troubling and possibly unconstitutional. If we thought Kissinger vs. Rogers and Brzezinski vs. Vance was disruptive, imagine a Bush appointee using all their statutory independence to thwart the Obama administration's foreign and defense policies? Or a Carter appointee resisting Reagan? This is like creating a co-Emperor.

We have been down this road once before during Reconstruction, when Radical Republicans tried to take away President Johnson's powers as Commander-in-Chief with the Tenure of Office Act, to put Stanton and Grant beyond Johnson's control. Eventually the law was killed by SCOTUS and that was all to the good. Let's not try to ressurect it.

Bill A (not verified)

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 12:51pm

Maxwell's most interesting (and ofeten mentioned) observation comes at the end of this document. Country teams succeed. Why do country teams succeed at coordination when Washington fails? I argue that their plans are successful because they understand (and generally accept) the constraints they are under and the resources they have to operate with. In Washington boutique functional entities seem to plan in separate vacuums as if their efforts are resource unconstrained, and do so without appropriate regional guidance to integrate efforts. Then in hastily formed crisis like meetings senior policymakers are forced to choose elements from these disparate functional plans and hopefully they peculate up into a coherent strategy. AFPAK seems to be the first attempt in a long time at an ends, ways, means approach. It seems as though AFPAK has all consumed the NSC and chaos reigns for the remainder of our foreign policy.

COL Maxwell,

Sir, great start. From everything that I've read on the issues post-9/11, it seems like you've offered legitimate alternatives, and I do believe that it would take a new NSA to make them work.

IMO, your best recommendation is point 3, the creation of a long-standing, apolitical, national security advisor similar to the FED Chairman. National Security is a non-partisan role, and that expert (civilian or military) would have greater latitude with your recommendation.

I agree with John's advice- we must have unity of command in each contigency. I was simply amazed and confused by the lack of command structure in Iraq back in 2005. Some units worked for MNF-I, some worked for SecDef, and some worked for SecState. IMO, this lack of command and control is the main cause of many of the problems in the early years. The president needs one dude (or dudette) in charge of his war responsible for success or failure.

I'll add two suggestions. First, should we seperate strategic communications from the State Dept (like it used to be prior to 1995? It seems like there is an inherent conflict between the agencies like Voice of America and State. One is talking directly to the locals while the other is talking to the host nation.

Second, I think we should we consider either establishing SOF as a seperate branch within the military equal to Army, Navy, and AirForce OR establishing a department seperate from DoD and create an Irregular Warfare Department combining SOF and the CIA.

Other than that, good stuff.



John T. Fishel

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 9:40am

As usual, Dave Maxwell has given wise and thought provoking advice. That said, I would raise a question or two and advance a suggestion of my own.
1. The actual job title of the NSA is Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs/National Security Advisor. The proposed ungrade institutionalizes the first role and leaves the second unfulfilled especially if it is a term office. Do we really want these roles to be filled by (a) and individual who must face Senate confirmation and (b) will be appointed by one president but serve at least two?
2. In his last paragraph, Dave raises the issue of the gap between the national level and the field. Clearly, the system works well in an Embassy and where we have a major military operation with a limited state department role. But how do we achieve unity of effort in an Iraq or Afghanistan type operation when the military commander and the Ambassador are clashing personalities? Success in Iraq depended on the "mind meld" that took place between Gen Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
3. There is also the gap between the G-N command structure and what needs to exist in contingencies like these (and like Vietnam). The 4 star commander should be the supported commander (by the GCCs) and not their subordinate.
4. Finally, I would be strongly in favor of the President directing one person - either his military commander or his ambassador - to be in command of all USG agencies in contingencies like these. Here, unity of effort would be achieved by unity of command.
Kudos, Dave!