The National Security Council Reform Project

A Foundational Proposal for the Next Administration

A National Security Council Reform Project Report

by CHESTER A. CROCKER, THOMAS R. PICKERING, Daniel Levin and David C. Miller, Jr. 

Published: The Atlantic Council, July 2016

There is a growing consensus that the United States has made serious mistakes in foreign and defense policy over the past two decades. These problems can be observed in the administrations of both political parties. They are rooted both in a failure to define clearly our international strategic objectives and in the poor execution of what we have pursued. These issues have been aggravated by a failure to anticipate both the direct impact and the unintended consequences of our actions. This inability to effectively execute foreign policy and manage military force projection has eroded public confidence in our government and the perception of American leadership globally.

This foundational report serves as a point of departure for the next administration. It contains the essential elements for building the most effective national security structure in the small window between today and the first hundred days of the next administration. The perceived simplicity of these foundational recommendations has eluded many of the preceding administrations that have tried to implement some of the elements that you will read here.

Over the past two years, this document’s authors—Ambassadors Chester Crocker, David Miller, and Thomas Pickering; the Honorable Daniel Levin; and Chief of Staff, Colonel (sel.) Jason Kirby—personally conducted over sixty interviews with senior foreign policy, military, and intelligence officials. These officials included seven former national security advisors (NSAs), eight cabinet members and deputies, and seven three- and four-star flag officers. The report concludes that an important contributing factor to the problems stated above has been the structural and personnel failures at the National Security Council (NSC) in the management of foreign, defense, intelligence, and legal policy. An incoming president has much to be gained by establishing an effective NSC and much to lose if the NSC is poorly structured from the beginning.


As US Assistant Secretary of State, Chester Crocker led the diplomacy that produced the peace treaties signed by Angola, Cuba, and South Africa in 1988. These agreements resulted in Namibia’s independence and the withdrawal of foreign forces from Southern Africa. He chaired the US Institute of Peace Board from 1992 to 2004.

Chester Crocker is a founding Member of the Global Leadership. He has served as a member of the GLF Board since 2004, when the Foundation was incorporated and has led a GLF team in Africa.


Thomas R. Pickering served as US Ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and Jordan, and also as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. As US Representative to the United Nations during the First Gulf War, Pickering played a lead role in the UN Security Council’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Thomas Pickering has been a Member of the Global Leadership Foundation since 2009. He served as Chairman of GLF’s US Advisory Committee from 2006-2015 and was appointed to serve on the GLF Board in 2016. Pickering has been involved in a GLF project in Central America.

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