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SALVAGING NATIONAL INTERESTS: THE NATIONAL STRATEGY ADVISORY GROUP Arthur S. Collins, Jr. Behind the efforts of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, andJohnson in Vietnam was a consciousness that there has been historically no stable consensus in our country on the nature of our vital interests in the world. We have oscillated between isolationism, indifference, wishful thinking, and complacency on the one hand, and, on the other, the panic-stricken retrieval ofsituations already advanced in dangerous deterioration. —W. W. Rostow1 . resident Reagan's recent creation of a national bipartisan commission on Central America, and the previous appointments of commissions on social security and MX missile development, are instructive examples of the administration's last-ditch efforts to salvage vital national interests "already advanced in dangerous deterioration." Preceding presidents have resorted to similar commissions with similar intentions: to develop acceptable policies for Congress and the U.S. public—policies that would also receive general support from our allies and international friends. The routine appointment of bipartisan commissions is symptomatic of a void or flaw in our governmental structure, which if not addressed will lead to more serious national security problems for the United States. National security involves those measures taken by a country to safeguard its interests and objectives against any kind of hostile influence , foreign or domestic. In the United States, several government entities are responsible for one or more aspects of national security. Most prominent among these are the National Security Council (nsc), Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (jcs)> Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency (cia), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation , not to mention Congress, which can challenge presidential initiatives with more than a hundred legislative actions. No one agency has the specific responsibility to coordinate and oversee the different functional 1. "Vietnam and South East Asia: The Neglected Issue," Parameters (March 1983): 10. Lieutenant General Arthur S. Collins, Jr. (U.S. Army, ret.), writes frequently on issues concerning U.S. strategic policies. A graduate ofthe United States Military Academy, Lieutenant General Collins has a master's degree in international affairs from The George Washington University. 131 132 SAIS REVIEW strategies. The result, of course, is a U.S. strategy characterized by discontinuity and inconsistency. Although each of these agencies attempts to develop strategies that provide the answer to national security problems, they invariably consider only a few of the factors that constitute national power. This results in parochial strategies that fall far short of the United States' national security needs. Decision-makers in the U.S. government would be better served if they were presented with a number of options that could be considered in the light of an overall strategy. This overall strategy is what most refer to as "national strategy." It comprises not just issues of national security but the numerous other factors that contribute to our national strength. This arsenal includes economic, social, political, scientific, and psychological matters in addition to the more often considered military elements ofa national strategy. One essential characteristic of a national strategy is its establishment of long-range national goals so as to facilitate near-term decisions by the president and other policymakers. I will examine the roles of several of the agencies involved in planning national security and strategy. This appraisal should give us some idea of the inadequacy of the current system. Many knowledgeable observers have suggested that the nsc can and should develop national strategy, or at least should coordinate the conflicting strategies. However, John Collins observes in his recent book, Í7.5. Defense Planning: A Critique, that despite the nsc's legal obligation to advise the president "with respect to integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies," it has not focused on coordinating national security matters for at least half of its thirty-six years.2 Instead, the nsc concentrates on defense and foreign policy matters on a short-term basis. The recurring conflicts among the departments ofState and Defense and the nsc staff, together with the nsc's crisis-management responsibilities, preclude objective strategic planning by this agency. The nsc's functions and its methods of operation vary with each president and national security advisor, who normally controls nsc operations. Members of the nsc...


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