Presidents, Bureaucrats, and Foreign Policy

Presidents, Bureaucrats, and Foreign Policy

by I. M. Destler

The Description for this book, Presidents, Bureaucrats, and Foreign Policy, will be forthcoming.

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The Description for this book, Presidents, Bureaucrats, and Foreign Policy, will be forthcoming.

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Princeton University Press
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Presidents, Bureaucrats, and Foreign Policy

The Politics of Organizational Reform

By I. M. Destler


Copyright © 1974 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-07543-3



In March 1971, Senator Stuart Symington made a speech denouncing "the concentration of foreign policy decisionmaking power in the White House" which had deprived Secretary of State William P. Rogers of his rightful authority. What got the headlines was the Senator's ad-libbed remark that Rogers was "laughed at" on the cocktail circuit as "Secretary of State in title only." But what he was really attacking was "the unique and unprecedentedly authoritative role of Presidential Adviser Henry Kissinger," who had become, said Symington, "clearly the most powerful man in the Nixon Administration next to the President himself."

Much of the press reaction inevitably centered around the personalities of Kissinger and Rogers, and their relative influence as individuals in power-conscious Washington. President Nixon's response to a news conference question two days later treated the issue mainly in these terms. He sought to bolster Rogers' prestige by characterizing "Senator Symington's attack upon the Secretary" as a "cheap shot," and insisting "very simply that the Secretary of State is always the chief foreign policy adviser and the chief foreign policy spokesman of the administration." But at issue was something more fundamental: how the executive branch of the United States government should be organized for the central management and coordination of foreign policy. Though never really saying so publicly, Nixon had chosen — apparently quite consciously — to build an organizational system which would give his Assistant for National Security Affairs the central responsibility for foreign affairs short of the President. Symington was arguing that the Secretary of State was the official who should play this role.

In protesting the weakening of the Secretary, the Senator was in good company. Of eleven major studies or proposals on foreign affairs organization which had addressed the subject since World War II, seven had urged that overall foreign policy coordination be built mainly around the Secretary and his department. Only two backed alternative solutions. And the best of the studies — that conducted by Senator Henry Jackson's national security subcommittee — had explicitly warned against efforts to base foreign policy coordination on a "super-staff" in the White House.

President Nixon also had ample precedent when he proclaimed the primacy of his Secretary in form while weakening it in practice. The Kennedy Administration had described the Secretary's role as "agent of coordination in all our major policies toward other nations," but its major organizational innovation was the creation of a White House foreign policy staff which actually did much of the coordinating. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson created a network of general interdepartmental committees to support the Secretary in exercising his "authority and responsibility" for "the overall direction, coordination, and supervision of interdepartmental activities of the United States government overseas." But there was little evidence that either he or his Secretary of State Dean Rusk took the committees seriously. Richard Nixon went both of his predecessors one better. Immediately after his inauguration he established a policymaking system providing unprecedented White House staff authority, all the while reaffirming "the position of the Secretary of State as his principal foreign policy adviser."

The President built this system because he had a goal — Presidential control over foreign policy. The State Department had not achieved this for other Presidents, and Nixon apparently concluded that a White House-centered system had better prospects for success. The system was not designed mainly to shut out Congress, though it did tend to have that effect. What Nixon primarily sought to control, rather, was "his" part of the government, the executive branch. As Kissinger put it somewhat later, "The nightmare of the modern state is the hugeness of the bureaucracy, and the problem is how to get coherence and design in it."

It is a bureaucracy which could neutralize an explicit order by President Kennedy-that our obsolete and provocative Jupiter missiles be removed from Turkey, simply by not implementing the order. It is a bureaucracy which could at the same time pursue delicate negotiations with North Vietnam and unleash bombing attacks on Hanoi which destroyed any chance of the negotiations succeeding. It is a bureaucracy which could locate a blockade around Cuba in October 1962 not where the President wanted it in order to minimize the danger of a rash Soviet response, but where the Navy found it most consistent with standard blockade procedures and the military problems as the Navy saw them. It is a bureaucracy which can provide unbalanced or incomplete information, continue outmoded policies through its own inertial momentum, and treat the needs of particular offices and bureaus as if they were sacred national interests.

It is also a bureaucracy which contains considerable talent and unrivalled expertise, coupled with the means for giving Presidential decisions real effect; thus it is indispensable. It is filled with men generally loyal to the President, and to a certain degree responsive to him. But because they tend to be responsive even more to the demands of their own particular jobs and organizations, they see things very differently from the way he does. To get "coherence and design" from this bureaucracy is an enormously difficult task. Yet to seek it is essential to our conducting an effective foreign policy at all.

This book is about this problem — how the government should be organized for purposive and coherent foreign policy. By "policy" we mean here not what we aspire to accomplish but what the government actually does. To have policy that is "purposive" means, then, to have what we do relate to what we aim to do; drawing on Webster, it is policy "having or tending to fulfill a conscious purpose or design." By wishing it to be "coherent" we mean we want the various things we do to be consistent with one another and with our broader purposes. Moreover, we do not mean consistency in the sense of being in line with certain general principles, or appearing to be. We mean instead consistency in effect. Thus a "coherent" foreign policy could well include defending one country against "aggression" and not another."

The aim of coherent and purposive foreign policy has been shared by most analysts, pundits, and high-level practitioners in post-war America. Twenty-five years ago Walter Lippmann complained that "our foreign relations are not under control, that decisions of the greatest moment are being made in bits and pieces without the exercise of any sufficient overall judgment." Since then men of such divergent policy viewpoints as Senator Jackson and George Kennan have stressed the need for our government to "speak with one voice," and have sought to show how it might be organized to do so. And most international relations scholars assume that states do or should act "rationally," as purposive units. Whether speaking of the "science" of "statecraft" or the "art" of diplomacy, they have tended to assume the existence of a central intelligence and guiding force.

Yet the goal does raise certain problems both of definition and of desirability. Precision is impossible, for example, in distinguishing "foreign" from other types of national policy. International issues are becoming more and more intertwined with a range of domestic policy interests, from the textile industry fighting Asian imports to young men resisting the draft for a foreign war. But this book assumes the broadest reasonable definition. "Foreign policy," as used here, means activities by government officials which influence (and whose purpose, in large part, is to influence) either events abroad or relationships between Americans and citizens of other countries, especially relations between the U. S. government and other governments. Specifically included is a wide range of defense issues, since our armed forces are intended mainly for providing security against actual or potential threats from other countries, influencing events beyond our borders, or strengthening our international bargaining position generally. Thus our use of the term "foreign policy" encompasses what others call "national security policy." It also includes international economic policy, specifically aid, trade, monetary, and commercial policy.

Another important question relates to whether we really want our foreign policy to be entirely coherent. In stressing the need for the government to pursue calculated, purposive policies aiming to affect the world or parts of it in certain intended ways, this study tends to understate the degree to which governmental institutions perform useful functions simply by acting as a focal point for the resolution of the various foreign policy-related interests in our society. It is hard to make a case in theory that all of our government's overseas actions should be entirely consistent, and it is certain in fact that they will not be. There is clearly room for different programs pursuing values important to particular segments of our society, such as development assistance, cultural exchange, or the Peace Corps. It is also perfectly reasonable and legitimate for unions and industries directly affected by particular imports to undertake campaigns to restrict them, however much those favoring a liberal trade policy may regret their doing so.

When one reaches the political-military sphere, however, the case for "pluralism" becomes weaker, and the need for central control more urgent. Neither our armed forces, nor their network of overseas bases, nor our various intelligence activities can reasonably be considered ends in themselves. To the degree that they become so, they pose threats not only to international but to internal security. They must instead be the instruments of foreign policy purposes. It is also in the political-military area where we face the danger of irrevocability — in a matter of days, through failure to control our military actions in another Cuban missile crisis; or over a period of years, if an uncontrolled arms race eventually creates a condition where one nation feels it has to "strike first."

Yet there can be no clear separation between the political-military (or national security) policy area and other U. S. government foreign affairs-related activities. The Marshall Plan was more than an economic program. The problem of U. S. troops in Europe is at once a military, diplomatic, and balance of payments issue of the first rank. For this reason, this study will continue to speak about bringing coherence to foreign policy as a whole. But as the careful reader will notice, the emphasis throughout is on the political-military side, with the main examples drawn from this sphere and the analysis and proposals directed mainly toward it.

Once these general problems are clarified, a study about organizing for coherent foreign policy must cope with other types of questions. At one level, these are the "practical" ones raised repeatedly by both analysts and practitioners. Can the foreign affairs government be effectively run from the White House staff? By the State Department? What devices are available to help assure that important issues are brought before top decision-makers in the most thorough and balanced way, and that decisions are in fact carried out? To what extent can broad advance planning make our actual policy more "rational?" Will coordinating committees really coordinate? And perhaps most important of all, once it is decided that a certain official or institution should play a central policy role, how does one go about increasing the chances that he (or it) will actually play it?

But a review of how others have sought to answer these questions forces us to face broader issues. For in seeking to use organizational changes to promote purposive. and coherent policy, experts and practitioners alike have often produced both strikingly inadequate recommendations and notably ineffective remedies. The first Hoover Commission, for example, urged in 1949 that the State Department should serve as "the focal point for coordination of foreign affairs activities throughout the Government," but neglected to even discuss how its bureaucratic rivals were to be made receptive to such coordination. Thirteen years later the Herter Committee on Foreign Affairs Personnel placed its hopes for State Department management and interagency coordination on the creation of a new, "Number Three" job, Executive Under Secretary of State. Never once did it raise the obvious question of how the incumbent could develop sufficient influence over those whom he was to "manage." Yet this recommendation was endorsed in 1968 by a major foreign affairs professional organization, and in 1969 by an important independent study.

Both the Hoover and Herter reports failed to resolve (or even to treat) the central problem of how their chosen coordinators could develop sufficient leverage within the bureaucracy to be effective. It may not be just coincidence that the Herter proposal was not adopted, and that the Hoover recommendation did not work. Nor, given this track record, is it surprising that Presidents have increasingly disregarded expert counsel to build foreign policy coordination around State, and sought instead to construct an alternative mechanism in the White House. Yet practitioners often do just as badly. The Eisenhower Administration's elaborate policy planning machinery was apparently more effective in burying key issues than in highlighting them. The 1969 State Department sought to emulate the White House and Defense by creating a staff to support the Secretary on critical current policy issues, yet undermined its prospects for effectiveness by the way it organized the staff in relation to other departmental units. Even the Nixon-Kissinger system, the product of considerably more sophisticated analysis of the ways of bureaucracies, has developed a number of quite serious weaknesses which threaten the achievement of the President's goals.

An effort to analyze why reforms so often fail makes us face a more "theoretical" question: How in general can we make organizational changes affect what the government actually does, in the way we intend to affect it? And to seek an answer to this question is to raise still another: What sorts of motivations and influences do affect how government officials behave in the day-today bureaucratic world? Or to change that question slightly: How is policy in fact made?

A serious study of foreign affairs organization, then, must involve an effort to relate organization to the "real world" of policy-making. This book seeks to do so in three ways. The first is relatively theoretical — a search for what general things scholars have to say about the foreign affairs governmental process. The second is more practical — a look at what has happened in the foreign affairs government since i960, with special attention to the White House and the State Department. The third is an effort to assess the utility of specific organizational devices, such as central staffs and coordinating committee systems, and in particular to discover the circumstances which contribute to their effectiveness. All three assume the goal of purposive and coherent foreign policy. All seek to throw light on how, and how much, it can be achieved.

The remainder of this chapter seeks to provide a brief introduction to the foreign affairs government and its organizational problems. Chapter Two looks at the most prominent post-war organizational approaches, seeking to uncover their central thrusts and their apparent underlying assumptions. A resulting dissatisfaction with their treatment of the major problems sets the stage for Chapter Three, which delves into academic studies of bureaucratic politics for illuminating concepts about how foreign policy is actually made. This creates a general framework for Chapter Four, which puts forward a tentative foreign affairs organizational strategy.


Excerpted from Presidents, Bureaucrats, and Foreign Policy by I. M. Destler. Copyright © 1974 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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