The U.S. national security decision-making system is a product of the Cold War. Formed in 1947 with the National Security Council, it developed around the demands of competing with and containing the USSR. But the world after the collapse of communism and, particularly, the tragedy of September 11, is vastly different. A threatening but familiar enemy has given way to a complex environment of more diverse and less predictable threats. As the creation of the Homeland Security Council and Office of Homeland Security indicate, the United States must now reevaluate standard national security processes for this more uncertain world.In this timely book, William W. Newmann examines the way presidents manage their advisory process for national security decision making and the way that process evolves over the course of an administration’s term. Three detailed case studies show how the president and his senior advisors managed arms control and nuclear strategy during the first terms of the Carter, Reagan, and G. H. W. Bush presidencies. These studies, enhanced by interviews with key members of the national security teams, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, reveal significant patterns of structure and adaptation. They provide a window to how decision making in the modern White House really works, at a moment when national security decisions are again at the top of the agenda.Specifically, Newmann investigates this pattern. Each president begins his administration with a standard National Security Councilubased interagency process, which he then streamlines toward a reliance on senior officials working in small groups, and a confidence structure of a few key advisors. Newmann examines the institutional pressures that push administrations in this direction, as he also weighs the impact of the leadership styles of the presidents themselves. In so doing, he reaches the conclusion that decision making can be an audition process through which presidents discover which advisors they trust. And the most successful process is one that balances formal, informal, and confidence sources to maintain full discussion of diverse opinions, while settling those debates informally at the senior-most levels.Unlike previous studies, Managing National Security Policy views decision making as dynamic, rather than as a static system inaugurated at the beginning of a president’s term. The key to understanding the decision-making process rests upon the study of the evolving relationships between the president and his senior advisors. Awareness of this evolution paints a complex portrait of policy making, which may help future presidents design national security decision structures that fit the realities of the office in today’s world.
A very sophisticated study of policymaking that captures key factors in a coherent, comprehensive, and dynamic form. The portraits of presidential style, organization, and politics are empirically and theoretically rich.
Do bureaucracies or presidents run foreign policy? The answer has long been debated. But in this important study of the Carter, Reagan, and first Bush administrations, William Newmann rightly argues that both process and the president are vital to understanding how our government reaches its crucial foreign policy decisions.
Newmann presents a compelling analysis; his strengths lie in the depth of his research, his mastery of the scholarly literature, and the rigor of his analysis. Any student of national security policymaking would benefit from reading this book.
William W. Newmann is assistant professor of political science and public administration at Virginia Commonwealth University. His work on national security decision making and homeland security have appeared in Public Administration Review and Presidential Studies Quarterly, where an article adapted from this book was named “Best Article” of 2001.