Recent INSA conference

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance last week hosted a conference on the sixtieth anniversary of the National Security Act. I went to one of the events, a panel on the National Security Council (NSC) with Tony Lake, Sandy Berger, and Brent Snowcroft. Here are some notes:

Sandy Berger was critical of people who think we need wholesale change. He feels that the current system hasn't worked for the last 6 years because of the Bush administration, but prior to that it worked decently. His position was 'don't blow the system up, reform it.' He had a list of recommendations for the next president:
  1. Fix your priority issues at the outset;
  2. Have a strong and honest National Security Adviser, in contrast to our last two;
  3. Fix the implementation of policy
  4. Get the best information and experts - this requires attracting academics into government, something we don't traditionally do (some recent exceptions include Rice and Mike Doran)
  5. Do some strategic planning - not something the US has been good at, our horizons have generally been the start of the next administration;
  6. More jointness/cooperation in the agencies;
  7. Coordinate the National Security budget, in order to demilitarize policy by emasculating DoD and giving State more power.
Tony Lake noted that while he is troubled by the consolidation of power in the Executive branch at the expense of the Judicial and Legislative branches, he feels the consolidation of power in the White House and NSC is inevitable and good (and happening in foreign governments as well). The definition of "National Security" is ever-changing, and the White House and NSC are the only places to mediate between a fluid group of agencies.

Lake also had a list of general thoughts:
  1. NSC should set the priorities, but allow implementation through departments. Whenever NSC gets involved with implementation they screw things up;
  2. The National Security Adviser should stay out of the public eye and out of politics. NSC staff should be career people, not political appointees;
  3. The NSC should be flexible, and should change to accomodate every new president's individual style;
  4. Keep the National Security Adviser and NSC out of the command structure;
  5. Clear up the confusion between who has in-country authority - whether that is the combatant commander or the ambassador;
  6. Now new major legislation is required, just minor fixes;
  7. Reform Congress - legislation is unwieldy and the committee structure is bloated, for instance the House and Senate intelligence committees should be combined.
Brent Snowcroft agreed with Lake that no two NSCs are the same - each are shaped by the President's style. Snowcroft argued to keep the NSC a small size so that it does not become inflexible - perhaps agencies that have specific interests (Commerce, Treasury, Agriculture, Energy, whoever) can come in for specific meetings, but not be present for every single meeting. Snowcroft again agreed with Lake that the NSC should stick to planning rather than execution, and agreed with Berger that a second Goldwater-Nichols would be infeasible. Goldwater-Nichols reformed one department (DoD), whereas a Goldwater-Nichols aimed at the NSC would have to reform the entire Presidential cabinet. Finally, the Department of Homeland Security is a disaster.

Snowcroft sees two changes since 1947. The first is the nature of warfare, changing from conventional to insurgency. The second, in my mind a logical outgrowth of the first, is the closer relationship between the military and diplomacy.

The audience was surprisingly sparse - less than half of the 150 or so seats were filled. All in all it was a well-spent hour seeing three (well, maybe only two...) of the most respected bigwigs in my field debate bureaucratic structure. I had a question regarding the National Security Act lined up but unfortunately there was only time for two questions before they had to get back to being bigwigs with stuff to do. Oh well - next time I run into Tony Lake on campus I'll surprise him.


A.E. said...

That's one of the great benefits to living in DC--just running into Tony Lake on campus, just like that. Although I think one of the major downsides (at least when I was there) was that the home team is the Washington Nationals.

BTW, I'm starting a Facebook group for security bloggers to better facilitate networking and discussion. Phil of Pacific Empire and Dan tdaxp have already signed up---Eddie of Hidden Unities once he reaches a non-Navy network. I'd love to have you on board.

The title is "A Discourse on Winning and Losing." Here's the link:

Adrian said...

Yeah, Tony Lake said he would give me Britt Snider's (former CIA's IG) email so I could ask him my question, but no email yet.

My first DC celebrity sighting was seeing Rumsfeld eating dinner at Martin's Tavern in Georgetown while I was on my way back from class. I just looked in the window and there he was - bit of a shock.

Good idea on the facebook group! I joined.