Review: Decisions of the Highest Order–Perspectives on the National Security Council (Paperback)

4 Star, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform)

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Amazon Page

4.0 out of 5 stars

Classic–Contains Useful Material Not in the New Edition,

April 21, 2005
Karl F. Inderfurth
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

This is the orginal gold standard book on the National Security Council, now “replaced” but not fully so, by the new edition, “Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council,” just published in February 2004.

However, this original edition contains two sections, one on “Disorders” (of the NSC) and the other on “Remedies” (for NSC dysfunctionalities) that have not been fully migrated to the new book, and for that reason, I recommend that this version of the book also be bought, as a supporting element for the value of those two sections and a few other items of significant historical value in understanding the NSC.

Readers should be aware that both books focus on the NSC as primarily a “big stick” actor obsessing with the use of military “hard” power to impose America’s will, and while there are helpful mentions in both books of “soft” power options, by and large neither book really addresses the full range of instrumental of national power (commercial, cultural, religious), nor does each book address how one understands and orchestrates all the non-Federal actors including American evangelical organizations, chambers of commerce, multinational corporations, etcetera, in stabilizing and reconstructing the world.

Never-the-less, this is standard book in the field, bringing together the very best minds available in America, and the updated version, while updated, does not completely replace it.

The editors and publishers might usefully consider a new volume on “comparative national security decision-making” in which sections address how Arab, Chinese, European, South American, South Asian, and Russian national security decisions are made.

See also, with reviews:
Bureaucratic Politics And Foreign Policy
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America’s Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti=Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It
Why We Fight
The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
Ike – Countdown to D-Day

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Review: Fateful Decisions–Inside the National Security Council (Paperback)

4 Star, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform)

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

4.0 out of 5 stars Updated Improved Version, But Dropped Some Good Stuff,

April 21, 2005
Karl F. Inderfurth
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

This is an updated and improved version of the 1988 version, “Decisions of the Highest Order: Perspectives on the National Security Council,” a book that remains, in its original form, a gold standard in the field.

The new improved version is both that–new and improved, with updated perspectives all the way into the first Bush Administration, recognizing the end of the Cold War and the new Global War on Terror, and I venture to say there is no finer book available for orienting both undergraduate and graduate students–as well as mid-career adult students–with respect to the vital role that the National Security Council plays in orchestrating Americas foreign and national security policies.

I have just two modest criticisms, both easily addressed through the use of other readings, but which would take this excellent book to a full five stars if the next edition integrated more material:

1) The original had some really excellent pieces Disorders and on Remedies, and the new version, while more timely and current, has left some useful historical perspectives on the cutting room floor. I would have preferred that the editors add as they have, but with less deletion from the past.

2) The book still has the flavor of the Cold War in that the NSC is looked upon as a largely military “big stick” get our way in the national security arena book, and it does not orient its readers to the full range of national capabilities, all of the instruments of national power including the economic, cultural, and religious. It does not fully reflect the growing role of non-state actors and the emerging appreciation for national security as a multi-cultural arena in which non-governmental organizations such as Doctors without Borders, and Chambers of Commerce, have at least as much to contribute to stabilization and reconstruction as do the U.S. Armed Forces.

In my view, this book is the standard, but I would like to see a third edition that addresses these last two points.

See also, with reviews:
Bureaucratic Politics And Foreign Policy
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America’s Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti=Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It
Why We Fight
The Fog of War – Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
Ike – Countdown to D-Day

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