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Building a Better NSC

Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009

This is perhaps the most important change in U.S. foreign policy by the Obama administration so far. Good policy starts with a rational process, and the new system that National Security Adviser James Jones outlines in his interview with the Washington Post closely mirrors the recommendations of many of those experts who have examined how to build a better-functioning national security policymaking process.

Here, for example, is our own Richard Weitz summarizing the findings of the Project on National Security Reform, a nonpartisan organization funded by Congress, foundations and the private sector:

Interagency cooperation remains possible at the tactical level even without strategic and operational integration, but it requires serendipitous cooperative relationships, exceptional policy entrepreneurship, or other uncomfortably random conditions. In those cases where unity is achieved, the happy coincidence of high-level policy attention, limited bureaucratic costs, or personal relationships is likely at work. . . .

Even when the U.S. national security system does pursue clearly defined objectives, it often does so inefficiently, leading to wasted money, time, and other assets. . . .

Although the national security adviser is institutionally positioned to promote interagency collaboration and efficient policy implementation, the incumbent often lacks the authority to achieve these ends given inadequate mechanisms for consistently delegating presidential authority. . . .

The reforms that Jones outlines, which include making the national security adviser "
the primary conduit of national security advice to Obama," if well and fully implemented, sound like they may go a long way toward helping the National Security Council function as it was meant to function -- as the single body where U.S. national security policy is coordinated and developed with input from across the executive branch.