National Security Council

Anna Kasten Nelson

The National Security Council (NSC) has been a ubiquitous presence in the world of foreign policy since its creation in 1947. In light of the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, policymakers felt that the diplomacy of the State Department was no longer adequate to contain the USSR. The NSC was created specifically to coordinate the various strands of national security policy among the agencies then operating under the rubric of national security. Originally, it was centered around a council dominated by the military services and the State Department and was a paper-driven organization that mostly discussed papers prepared by staff. Both President Harry Truman and President Dwight D. Eisenhower enhanced the role of the council while relying upon interdepartmental staffs for information and analysis. John F. Kennedy chose to use the NSC quite differently. He rarely called the council together, relying instead on the newly appointed national security adviser and his staff. Lyndon B. Johnson followed suit and even enhanced the role of the national security adviser and his staff while calling together the council only for its public relations value. By the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, the NSC had become the national security adviser and his staff, although the original term continued to be used to describe the effort of the president to integrate national security policy. The story of the NSC, therefore, is the story of the evolution of the organization established in 1947.


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Nelson, Anna Kasten. "President Truman and the Evolution of the National Security Council." Journal of American History 72 (September 1985): 560–378.

——. "The Importance of Foreign Policy Process: Eisenhower and the National Security Council." In Günter Bischof and Stephen E. Ambrose, eds. Eisenhower, A Centenary Assessment. Baton Rouge, La., 1995.

Prados, John. Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush. New York, 1991.

See also Decision Making ; Department of Defense ; Department of State ; Presidential Advisers ; Presidential Power .

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