Sixty-two years ago today, Harry Truman signed the National Security Act, creating the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It was an attempt to put American national security on a systematic footing, appropriate to its now dominant role in the world. There comes a point where ad hoc just doesn’t cut it.
Apparently, with the Falklands War looming, Thatcher called in an old experienced civil servant had a gin with him and asked, “How do you actually run a war?”
(What a fine way to do business.)
The civil servant advised her on how to set up a War Cabinet and added, “It’s got to have regular meetings come hell or high water.”
This civil servant had observed the poor management in other crises, such as 1956 when things were run in a haphazard manner, “as if it were a private laundry and not… a major country on the world stage…”
The National Security Act was intended (particularly the establishment of the National Security Council) to do just that for the United States. There is no salvation in process (Truman got into trouble several times in managing the Korean war), but it is also awfully hard to steer the ship of state without it.
Also, the act placed the VP on the NSC – a matter of specific interest to yours truly – but also a recognition that orderly transitions were now essential.