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National Security

National Security

Development of the concept and the study

National security and international conflict

National security and international cooperation

Problems and prospects


The term “national security” has long been used by politicians as a rhetorical phrase and by military leaders to describe a policy objective. More recently, however, it has been adopted by social scientists, to refer to both an analytical concept and a field of study. When modern social scientists talk of the concept, they generally mean the ability of a nation to protect its internal values from external threats. The field of study, therefore, encompasses attempts to analyze the manner in which nations plan, make, and evaluate the decisions and policies designed to increase this ability.

Development of the concept and the study

The origins of the concept of national security, at least in the United States, can be found in the different historical formulations of the concept of national interest [seeNationalInterest]. Although certain elements of the modern concept can be traced back to the thought of James Madison and appeared more recently in that of Charles Beard and Hans Morgenthau (see Bock & Berkowitz 1966), it is Walter Lippmann who first defined national security explicitly. “A nation has security,” he wrote, “when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war” (1943, p. 5). However, as Arnold Wolfers pointed out (1952), a simple translation of “the national interest” into “the national security interest,” coupled with a normative admonition that nations should pursue such an interest, does not lead to any greater conceptual clarity than the earlier formulations of “national interest.”

Only with the postwar trends of behavioralism and systems analysis did attempts at conceptual clarification and specification emerge. Morton Kaplan’s work (1957) reflects the trend to study all aspects of societal behavior as part of the total pattern which constitutes a behavior system. National interest and the national security interest, therefore, are treated as simply one aspect, albeit an important one, of the problem of system maintenance. Furthermore, the security of the national system is closely linked to the security of the sub systems which make up the national.system. [SeeSystemsAnalysis.]

The development of national security as a distinct academic field of interest owes much to po litical and administrative changes in the United States immediately following World War II. During that war, glaring deficiencies were discovered in the administrative machinery which was supposed to coordinate the war effort and to provide longrange plans for the postwar period. Technological advances, especially the advent of atomic weapons, demonstrated even more clearly that military matters could no longer be dealt with in a vacuum but had to be closely tied to political and economic considerations, both foreign and domestic in nature.

In 1947 the U.S. Congress passed the National Security Act, whose intent it was “to provide for the establishment of integrated policies and pro cedures for the departments, agencies, and functions of the Government relating to the national security” (sec. 2). The act established the National Security Council (NSC) “to advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign and military policies relating to the national security” (sec. 101a). At the same time, the office of special assistant to the president for national security affairs was established. Both institutions have grown in importance since 1947; the NSC now rivals the Cabinet as a policy-making body and the special assistant for national security affairs has become in some ways the most important member of the presidential staff.

The increase in governmental machinery was accompanied by an increased use of advisers from the academic and business communities. “Citizens’ committees” were set up to consider long-term objectives and recommend policy guidelines. Academic specialists (some of whom had already been used during World War n) were asked to present papers and studies on specific aspects of national security to various government agencies; some were used as regular advisers by these agencies and occasionally joined agencies as full-time employees. (Also, of course, government employees occasionally joined universities.) In addition, special organizations were established, under the auspices of the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Department of Defense, to conduct research into national security affairs. (Foremost among these is the RAND Corporation.) All this exchange of personnel and information led to intensified academic activity (for full details, see Lyons & Morton 1965).

Although much of this academic work was a continuation of earlier scholarly interests, it was only after the establishment of the government institutions that a consolidated field of study became discernible. Most of the post-1945 academic work can be classified under two themes: conflict and cooperation. Studies falling into the first category generally reflect the view that national security is concerned primarily with maximizing national power in conflict situations—in other words, national security policy making should be based on the assumption that a nation can be secure only if it increases its own power at the expense of another nation or other nations. Studies in the second category, by contrast, emphasize the minimizing of national power and stress conscious efforts to increase international cooperation. This view suggests that national security policies be based on the assumption that the security of a nation can increase if the security of all nations increases. Around each of these poles are clustered many studies, which can be further classified according to their substantive concerns.

National security and international conflict

The writings which assume that each nation’s security objective is the improvement of its relative power position can be subdivided into three categories, military, economic, and political, according to the ingredient of national security the authors focus on.

The earliest studies of national security tended to concentrate on military problems, a reflection of the early conception of national security as being rather narrowly concerned with military matters. Although scholarly work in the 1950s and 1960s has broadened the scope of the field considerably beyond purely military affairs, problems of strategy, tactics, weapons, and logistics still concern many scholars. The most significant work in this area obviously concerns nuclear weapons and technology (e.g., Kahn I960; Kissinger 1957) and deals with such problems as developing an optimum strategy for future total wars (Rowen 1960), the best methods for deterring nuclear attacks (Brodie 1959), the alternatives to all-out nuclear war, i.e., limited war (R. E. Osgood 1957), and unconventional warfare of different kinds (Osanka 1962). [See Limited war; Nuclear war; Strategy.]

Two world wars have clearly demonstrated that the industrial potential and economic resources of a nation are at the heart of its ability to wage war, and national security experts have increasingly turned to economic considerations and economic methods in their discussions. They have attempted to define and assess scientifically all the elements constituting a nation’s economic potential for war (Knorr 1957). Similarly, they have attempted to create economic criteria by which alternative weapon systems can be selected (Hitch & McKean 1960). This approach has found practical applications in the U.S. Department of Defense, where strategic programs are often considered in this way (Enthoven 1963) and where economists occupy important decision-making positions. In a broader sense, both academic and government economists, in the United States and abroad, have devoted much time to the problems of allocating national resources and finding the proper criteria to use when settling the competing claims of the military and nonmilitary sectors of the economy. Here is perhaps the clearest illustration of our definition of national security and the best instance of its application to an operational issue: what proportion of resources is needed to protect internal values from external threats? (Barnett 1958). [SeeEconomics ofDefense; Military power potential.]

Internal values are, of course, not merely economic, and national security makes serious demands upon political institutions as well. Although interest in this aspect of national security developed somewhat later, it is now one of the major areas of academic speculation. Here we find discussions of the relative importance of military and strategic interests, as opposed to political ones, in the policy-making process (Huntington 1961) and of the proper role of the bureaucracy in making national security decisions. More concretely, scholars discuss the best organizational structures for coordinating the complicated, overlapping concerns of national security (Kennan 1958) and the ways of recruiting the many kinds of specialists needed to deal with nuclear technology and economy. Once the scientists have been recruited, the problem of their proper use has by no means been resolved [Rapoport 1964; see alsoCivil-military relations; Military policy].

Going beyond the government, concern has been expressed about the role of the public in formulating security policy (Almond 1956). The twin obstacles of technical complexity and the need for secrecy make it impossible for the average citizen to “have a say,” and yet the danger exists that more and more of the national budget and of national policy making will be subsumed under the heading “national security.” The result may well be a “garrison state,” in which politics will be dominated by “specialists in violence” (Lasswell 1962). In international affairs concern is just as great and has brought about serious reconsideration of our traditional concepts of alliances (Liska 1962). To what extent does national security in the nuclear age require or even permit alliances based on traditional ties of friendship? The answer is far from clear. [SeeAlliances.]

National security and international cooperation

The writings that assume, explicitly or implicitly, that national security depends on encouraging international cooperation or even international integration are fewer in number and generally less systematic in treatment than those discussed above. Nevertheless, there is a growing realization that in the modern world any increase in the security of one nation may depend on an increase in the security of other nations and that the concept of international security may become as meaningful as that of national security. A growing number of studies are therefore being devoted to the various areas where international cooperation is considered desirable and attainable.

Arms control and disarmament come immediately to mind. Despite all the diplomatic negotiations and academic discussions, the goals of disarmament have remained as distant as ever. Studies have analyzed the technical problems at successive stages in the disarmament process (Blackett 1962a), the role that deterrence can play (Schelling 1962), and the implications of the spread of nuclear weapons (Rosecrance 1964). Furthermore, some attempts have been made to predict the social and economic effects of disarmament on different national societies (Benoit & Boulding 1963). [SeeDisarmament.]

Considerably less is known about other aspects of international cooperation, but the outlines of some areas have at least been sketched: regional integration (Haas 1961; Lindberg 1963; Yalem 1965), international cooperation in limited economic and technical areas (Jessup & Taubenfeld 1959), and long-term fundamental trends toward international economic integration (Myrdal 1956).[SeeInternational integration.] In this sphere of limited cooperation one could also include the schemes advanced for unilateral peaceful actions by great powers, designed to evoke similar responses from other nations and thus reduce the level of international tension. [SeeInternational relations, article onPsychological aspects; see also C. E. Osgood 1959 and Kelman 1965.]

Finally, some attention has been devoted to the permanent institutions and processes of international cooperation and integration. In this category we find many of the works dealing with international organization and international law. However, since few of them concern themselves directly with the contributions of these institutions and processes to national security, they need not be discussed at length here. The works of Claude (1956; 1961) and Bloomfield (1960) on the role of the United Nations in the security of the United States and the works of Henkin (1961) and Clark and Sohn (1958) on the role of international law in promoting a true sense of international community and laying the foundations for a lasting peace are important exceptions. [SeeInternational law; International organization; Peace.]

Problems and prospects

From the foregoing discussion it is clear that the substantive concerns of the field of national security have much in common with those of the traditional fields of international relations and foreign policy. It is therefore fair to ask whether the concept of national security offers a more fruitful method of organizing the growing mass of empirical data than do the traditional approaches, and, in fact, whether it is distinguishable in any significant way from these approaches.

National security and international relations

The links between the fields of national security and international relations are obvious. We can view international relations as being concerned basically with two areas of inquiry: the structure and process of the international system, and the behavior of different actors in the international system and the process by which they reach the decisions that guide this behavior (see Rosecrance 1963). The field of national security obviously pre-empts much of the material in the latter area, since, as we have said, it is the study of how nations make the decisions and policies designed to maximize the protection of their internal values from external threats. Traditionally, most of this material was classified under the heading “foreign policy studies.” Most studies of foreign policy, however, rested heavily on the concept of national interest, and our concept of national security has, in fact, emerged out of dissatisfaction with the concept of national interest (Bock & Berkowitz 1966, pp. 131-133).

As an organizing concept, national security has several advantages over foreign policy. First, it focuses on common elements and uniformities in the external policies of all national actors. It provides a convenient frame of reference which opens up possibilities of comparison between matters superficially disparate and which can help organize the welter of comparative data produced by the historical foreign policy approach. The national security orientation also adds a dimension to the concern of traditional foreign policy with conflict situations. It makes room, conceptually, for the consideration of common international interests, which could result in a simultaneous increase of security for all the actors in the international system. The maintenance of the international system thus becomes a legitimate goal of national security policy. Finally, national security focuses on the underlying unity of the internal and external activities of states by explicitly recognizing that external behavior is an integral part of the total behavior pattern of the national system. It therefore avoids the misleading dichotomy between domestic and foreign policy, which has typified the traditional study of foreign policy, and joins the two by envisaging both as designed to protect the same set of values and, ultimately, to maintain the national and even the international system. In utilizing a systems approach, national security facilitates the application of the techniques and findings of all the behavioral sciences to this particular segment of political behavior.

Even at this early stage in its development, the field of national security is characterized by a rich variety of work by scholars from many disciplines. It has shown a deep concern for the development of precise methodological tools. In many recent studies such modern social science techniques as game theory, simulation, information theory, input-output analysis and systems analysis have been applied to national security problems. Furthermore, concepts from economics, psychology, sociology, political science, and anthropology have been used to clarify and define issues of national security (see Berkowitz & Bock 1965, pp. 325-416).

Progress toward comparative analysis

It must be pointed out that the further development of national security studies as a field is to some extent contingent upon parallel developments abroad. If the field is to have a truly comparative character, it must be enriched by the work of researchers in other countries who are working on similar problems. Such a development would help make comparative analysis possible and would also serve to prevent the discipline from becoming too rigidly and narrowly tied to immediate American defense needs.

Some steps in this direction have already been taken. Indeed, the model for many of the recent developments in the United States with respect to establishing institutional links between the private intellectual community and the government was provided by Great Britain in World War n. The urgency of the military situation in England at that time led to a sizable recruitment of scientists into the government, in order that they might be able to apply their specialized skills to what until then had been considered strictly military problems. New methods of analysis were developed that were crucial in such fields as radar systems and strategic bombing techniques. The institutional and intellectual techniques that emerged formed the beginnings of a body of knowledge called operations analysis (see Quade 1964). The patterns of cooperation instituted here provided direction for postwar developments in both the United States and Great Britain. More recently, the founding of the Institute for Strategic Studies in England has paralleled the emergence in the United States of such institutions as the RAND Corporation, the Hudson Institute, and the Institute for Defense Analysis. Specific examples of recent British contributions include the work of Beaton and Maddox (1962) on the spread of nuclear weapons, the studies of war and disarmament by Blackett (1962b) and Noel-Baker (1958), and the study by Liddel Hart (1960) of problems of deterrence.

In other countries there have also been encouraging developments, adding to the international dimension of the national security field. The following works illustrate this trend: in France, Gallois’s study of the concepts of deterrence strategy (1960) and Aron’s work on war and related problems (1962); in the Soviet Union, Sokolovskii’s writings on the nature of general and limited warfare (1962) and Pokrovskiis work on the technology of nuclear war (1956); and in Australia, Modelski’s studies of decision making in foreign policy (1962) and of the international aspects of civil strife (1964) and Burns’s efforts (e.g., 1957) to apply rigorous mathematical thinking to strategic concepts. The Australian National University provides an academic setting for national security studies similar to that in many American universities.

National security as a policy science

As we have shown, national security combines unique possibilities not only for the study but also for th recommendation of important policy decisions. It is therefore rapidly developing into what Harold Lasswell has termed a policy science [SeePolic sciences].

This development contains potential disadvantages, as well as advantages. One of the chief dangers is that links between the intellectual and the policy maker may constrain the academic at mosphere of free inquiry. The growing dependence of university research upon government financing and sponsorship may well result in the erosion of academic independence. And, of course, similar pressures exist when the work is done under corporate auspices. There are signs that such pressures have already biased some studies.

Perhaps an even greater, if less obvious, danger lies in the complex differences between the needs of policy making and those of pure research. The challenge—response character of much of the work in the national security field may have weakened investigators’ commitment to pure inquiry. The de mand that the intellectual focus his talents on finding solutions to urgent and immediate problems of policy must inevitably turn his attention away from work on the longer-range, more fundamental questions which provide the basis for future progress.

On the positive side, it is undeniable that the field of national security has in many ways pro vided a stimulating environment for research, precisely because of the strong links between the policy maker and the intellectual. Personnel from government, corporations, and universities have cooperated on research projects, and much successful cross-fertilization has occurred between a wide range of disciplines and professions.

In the area of military strategy, for instance, the traditional insulation of the military from broad, academic inquiry has been broken by th new type of military man, trained in the national security centers. The recent published works of several American and European generals, clearly enriched by this experience, show considerable awareness of the broad political, social, and eco nomic aspects of military matters. Civilian strategists, most of them from academic life, have also benefited from closer contacts with military men and from the direct experience with operational strategic problems that they have acquired. Their work displays a greater precision and a better formulation of basic military issues than it did before the emergence of national security institutions.

Other areas of the national security field have also gained. One has only to compare the pre-World War II literature on disarmament, conflict management, and international organization with the works cited above to realize the progress made. Instead of Utopian images of a “world state,” idealistic peace plans, and prescriptions for “the only way” to achieve total disarmament, we now find attempts at accurate description and realistic analysis of policy alternatives, using the latest scientific concepts and methods. It is this combination of science and policy, with all its inherent dangers and promises, that seems to assure the future growth of the field of national security.

Morton Berkowitz and P. G. Bock

[See alsoForeign policyandInternational politics. Other relevant material may be found underInternational relations; Military; War.]


Almond, Gabriel A. 1956 Public Opinion and National Security Policy. Public Opinion Quarterly 20:371-378.

Aron, Raymond (1962) 1967 Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → First published as Paix et guerre entre les nations.

Barnett, Harold J. 1958 The Changing Relation of Natural Resources to National Security. Economic Geography 34:189-201.

Beaton, Leonard; and Maddox, JOHN R. 1962 The Spread of Nuclear Weapons. New York: Praeger.

Benoit, Emile; and Boulding, Kenneth E. (editors) 1963 Disarmament and the Economy. New York: Harper.

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Blackett, Patrick M. S. 1962a Steps Toward Disarmament. Scientific American 206, no. 4:45—53.

Blackett, Patrick M. S. 1962b Studies of War: Nuclear and Conventional. New York: Hill & Wang.

Bloomfield, Lincoln P. 1960 The United Nations and U.S. Foreign Policy. Boston: Little.

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Brodie, Bernard 1959 Strategy in the Missile Age. Princeton Univ. Press.

Burns, Arthur L. 1957 From Balance to Deterrence: A Theoretical Analysis. World Politics 9:494-529.

Clark, Grenville; and SOHN, LOUIS B. (1958) 1960 World Peace Through World Law. 2d ed., rev. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Claude, Inis L. (1956) 1964 Swords Into Plowshares: The Problems and Progress of International Organization. 3d ed. New York: Random House.

Claude, Inis L. 1961 The Management of Power in the Changing United Nations. International Organization 15:219-235.

Enthoven, Alain C. 1963 Economic Analysis in the Department of Defense. American Economic Review 53, no. 2:413-423.

Gallois, Pierre (1960) 1961 The Balance of Terror: Strategy for the Nuclear Age. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → First published as Stratégie de ιâge nucléaire.

Haas, Ernst B. 1961 International Integration: The European and the Universal Process. International Organization 15:366-392.

Henkin, Louis 1961 Toward a “Rule of Law” Community. Pages 17-41 in Conference on World Tensions, University of Chicago, 1960, The Promise of World Tensions. Edited by Harlan Cleveland. New York: Macmillan.

Hitch, Charles J.; and Mckean, R. N. 1960 The Economics of Defense in the Nuclear Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1961 The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Jessup, Philip C ; and Taubenfeld, Howard J. 1959 Controls for Outer Space and the Antarctic Analogy.New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Kahn, Herman (1960) 1961 On Thermonuclear War. 2d ed. Princeton Univ. Press.

Kaplan, Morton A. 1957 System and Process in International Politics. New York: Wiley.

Kelman, Herbert C. (editor) 1965 International Behavior: A Social-psychological Analysis. New York: Holt.

Kennan, George F. 1958 America’s Administrative Response to Its World Problems. Daedalus 87, no. 2:5-24.

Kissinger, Henry A. 1957 Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. New York: Harper.

Knorr, Klaus 1957 The Concept of Economic Potential for War. World Politics 10:49-62.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1962 The Garrison-state Hypothesis Today. Pages 51-70 in Samuel P. Huntington (editor), Changing Patterns of Military Politics. New York: Free Press.

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Lindberg, Leon N. 1963 The Political Dynamics of uropean Economic Integration. Stanford Univ. Press.

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Liska, George 1962 Nations in Alliance: The Limits of Interdependence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

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Modelski, George A. 1962 A Theory of Foreign Policy. New York: Praeger.

Modelski, George A. 1964 The International Relations of Internal War. Pages 14-44 in James N. Rosenau (editor), International Aspects of Civil Strife. Princeton Univ. Press.

Myrdal, Gunnar 1956 An International Economy: Problems and Prospects. New York: Harper.

Noel-Baker, Philip 1958 The Arms Race: A Programme for World Disarmament. London: Stevens; New York: Oceana.

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Osgood, Charles E. 1959 Suggestions for Winning the Real War With Communism. Journal of Conflict Resolution 3:295-325.

Osgood, Robert E. 1957 Limited War: The Challenge to American Strategy. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Pokrovskii, Georgii I. (1956) 1960 Science and Technology in Contemporary War. London: Stevens.

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National Security

National Security


Although central to studies across social science disciplines like political science, national security is a dynamic and contested concept. This entry surveys its history, definition, and entailments.

National security seems a simple concept with familiar resonance and clear articulations through history. Nation-states from their inception have sought security from external and internal threats and employed many means to survive. As the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote in The Leviathan (1660), security is the raison d'être of the Westphalian state: keeping domestic peace and safeguarding people and property against civil and foreign threats. Traditionally, external threats are highlighted, including those involving other states and matters of territory, population, and military/economic/political competition. Interstate wars, grand strategies, armaments, and alliances are emphasized. However, the internal dimension is also important; whether the time or place was early modern Europe, colonial America, Imperial Japan, or postcolonial Africa, Asia, and Latin America, issues of taxation, conscription, constitutional design, royal succession, class relations, religion, rights and liberties, food supply, and public health have all to varying degrees affected domestic stability and probabilities of conflict internally and externally.

Despite ordinary usage, the term national security is difficult to define. National security is security of the nation-state, but this means little without defining the terms nation-state and security. While there are competing conceptions, the nation-state is commonly understood as a political-legal entity possessing a monopoly on legitimate use of force within its territory. The state includes in political scientist Barry Buzan's formulationphysical (territory, population), institutional (rules, norms, governing apparatus), and ideational (nationalism, state legitimacy) elements. The state also possesses varying types and degrees of sovereignty. Security is more ambiguous. The scholar David Baldwin suggested the concept is confused or inadequately specified (2000, p. 12), and Buzan concluded security is essentially contested, eluding general definition (1991, p. 7). The problem, Baldwin argued, is not positing a general definition but the many particular specifications of that definition possible. For example, most definitions of security center on the idea of freedom from threat. This is vague and requires further specification: What constitutes freedom? How much is necessary? Who and what constitute threats? Who and what need to be protected? Is threat subjective, objective, or both; what does this mean for security? Depending on answers, widely different specifications result. Moreover, most specifications include other contested terms. Political scientist Arnold Wolfers's classic definition of security as absence of threats to acquired values [and] absence of fear such values will be attacked (2000, p. 485) and Baldwin's modification, [L]ow probability of damage to acquired values (2000, p. 13), both rely on acquired values. However, as scholar Bernard Brodie argued, values and vital interests are fundamentally debatable with no single, objective meaning.

What then is national security? National security is freedom from threat to the nation-state. Because national security absorbs confusion from the term security, it requires further specification. If the nation-state involves physical/institutional/ideational components, which components need to be secured? If trade-offs are involved in securing different components, how are preferences over components determined? How do variations along different components (e.g., different regime types or cultural-historical backgrounds) alter conceptions of national security? Who and what threaten the nation-state? If absolute security is unattainable, how much security is necessary? Without specifying these dimensions, national security is ambiguous and subject to political manipulation.

Selected definitions show possible variations. The influential journalist and political commentator Walter Lippmann said national security means a state need not sacrifice core values in avoiding war and can maintain them by winning in war. Scholars Frank Trager and Frank Simonie maintain national security is policy seeking favorable national and international political conditions for protecting and extending vital interests. Professor Richard Ullman finds national security is threatened by anything that can drastically and quickly degrade citizen quality of life or significantly narrow state or nongovernmental entity policy choices. Scholar David Lake said national security is the ability to use wealth as a polity sees fit. Most definitions include policy objectives like providing defense, preserving sovereignty over population and territory, protecting citizens' lives and property, preventing external interference, maximizing wealth and/or power, protecting economic opportunities and quality of life, promoting national values, seeking international prestige, and securing policy flexibility and leverage. Interestingly, state survival in the strictest sense of maintaining Westphalian statehood is mostly a consideration only for weak or failed states. Overall, each specification of national security, knowingly or not, imply different worldviews about the meaning of security and the nature of world politics and, therein, different understanding of threats to be guarded against and values to be maximized.

Different definitions of national security preference different strategies and policy instruments. Traditional views emphasize maintaining national defenses; ensuring resilience/redundancy of critical infrastructure; gathering accurate intelligence to assess threats; and skillfully using diplomacy and cryptodiplomacy to protect against military threats from other states (conventional and unconventional weaponry delivered via land, sea, air, or space). Domestic threats are downplayed. External strategies may vary. Realism identifies national security with state power and ability to secure national interest, however defined. Security is achieved by maintaining self-reliance through internal balancing (strengthening national resources and military might). External balancing (alliances) is used to maintain a balance of power among states (e.g., nineteenth-century Europe) so no hegemony or coalition can predominate. Liberalism identifies national security with states applying reason and ethics to collectively and peacefully lead international relations. National security is not just state security but individual and global empowerment. Liberalism advocates international law and institutions, collective security arrangements, and disarmament (e.g., League of Nations, Kellogg-Briand Pact). Neoliberalism also sees global strategies like promotion of free markets, international law/institutions, and transnational relations as key to national (and international) security. Neorealism, traditionally the dominant perspective on national security, identifies security (especially military security) as the prime motivation of states. Like realism, neorealism advocates internal and external balancing. Developing during the cold war, though, neorealism takes international structure into greater account. Understanding that efforts to increase security might paradoxically decrease it (e.g., arms race), neorealism developed more nuanced theories of coercion, or the limited or threatened use of force to induce an adversary to behave in some way. Coercion includes deterrence (discouraging actions detrimental to coercer's interests by making perceived costs outweigh benefits) and compellence (changing target behavior by manipulating costs and benefits). Conventional and nuclear coercion and coercion short of force (e.g., sanctions) are thus key policy instruments. Last, nontraditional views of national security broaden and deepen the concept to put greater emphasis on third world security, the constructed nature of security, non military issues (e.g., human rights, economic/political development, the environment, demographics, public health, gender), nonstate actors, and nonmilitary policy instruments.

SEE ALSO Arms Control and Arms Race; Defense; Defense, National; Deterrence; Intelligence


Baldwin, David A. 2000. The Concept of Security. In National and International Security, ed. Michael Sheehan. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Brodie, Bernard. 1973. War and Politics. New York: Macmillan.

Buzan, Barry. 1991. People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era. 2nd ed. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Hobbes, Thomas. [1660] 1985. The Leviathan. Edited with an introduction by C. B. MacPherson. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin.

Schultz, Richard H. Jr., Roy Godson, and George H. Quester, eds. 1997. Security Studies for the Twenty-First Century. Washington, DC: Brassey's.

Ullman, Richard H. 1983. Redefining Security. International Security 8 (1): 129153.

Walt, Stephen M. 1991. The Renaissance of Security Studies. International Studies Quarterly 35 (2): 211239.

Wolfers, Arnold. 2000. National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol. In National and International Security, ed. Michael Sheehan. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Erika Seeler

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National Security Act of 1947

National Security Act of 1947

Lynne K. Zusman and Neil S. Helfand

The United States emerged victorious from World War II but with the realization that a major reorganization of its national security policy was essential. Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which dealt a crippling blow to the nation and forced our entry into the war, highlighted the need for greater intelligence resources and coordination to prevent similar future disasters. Furthermore, during the course of the war our ground, sea, and air forces operated autonomously, with insufficient communication between them and without unified direction. Coordination of their operations by a united department became essential. Another important consequence of the war was the growth in power of the Soviet Union, which posed an ever greater threat to U.S. security. To cope with security challenges, the United States would need to modernize its organizational structure. The president would have to be supplied with the information necessary to make informed decisions to deal with future threats.

During the war President Franklin Roosevelt had addressed security and intelligence needs by creating the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the first organized effort by the United States to implement a centralized system of strategic intelligence. The OSS was responsible for collecting and analyzing information about countries at war with the United States, as well as for espionage and sabotage within those countries. By the end of the war the OSS had become legendary, both for its agents' feats and for the role it played in directly aiding the military with essential information to conduct its campaign. However, the OSS was disbanded after the war, and legislators recognized the need for a permanent intelligence agency capable of operating independently from other governmental departments. The result would be the National Security Act of 1947 (P.L. 80-235, 61 Stat. 496), signed by President Harry Truman, and its subsequent amendment through the National Security Act of 1949 (63 Stat. 579).


The National Security Act of 1947 is a historic piece of legislation. It single-handedly created a modern military organization, comprised of four institutions that operate effectively to this day: the Department of Defense, the United States Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council.

Department of Defense. The Department of Defense (DoD) unified the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force under a single cabinet-level secretary, the secretary of defense. This integration into one department was revolutionary for the time. (The National Security Act of 1949 amended the 1947 act by reorganizing certain aspects of the new department.) The secretary of defense has carried on as head of the unified army, navy, and air force to the present day. The law provided that the secretary of defense would report directly to the president. The secretary's primary tasks were to coordinate defense matters among the separate services and to develop general policies for the military.

United States Air Force. The 1947 act established the United States Air Force as an independent armed service within the Department of Defense. Until that time, the air force was an entity of the army, and traced its roots to the founding of the Aeronautical Division of the Army Signal Corps (1907).

Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) became the successor to the OSS, and the 1947 act reorganized, centralized, and streamlined the intelligence community. The act provided for the creation of a director of central intelligence (DCI) who is responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods. The National Security Act charges the DCI through the CIA with coordinating the nation's intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence that affects national security. The CIA is responsible for providing accurate, comprehensive, and timely foreign intelligence on national security topics to the president and the National Security Council. It further conducts counterintelligence activities, special activities, and other functions related to foreign intelligence and national security, as directed by the president.

National Security Council. The National Security Council (NSC) was given the task of coordinating and advising the president on the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to national security. The CIA was to provide the necessary intelligence and analyses to the NSC so that it could keep pace with trends and events and thus effectively advise the president. The NSC is made up of senior members of the U.S. government, the armed forces, and the intelligence community. This includes, among others, the president, vice president, secretary of state, secretary of the treasury, secretary of defense, national security advisor, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and director of central intelligence. Given its role as an advisory body to the president, the NSC is a flexible organization, to be used as each president sees fit.


Today, the importance of the reorganization of the country's national security institutions, as set forth by the National Security Act of 1947, cannot be overstated. The military's unified commands have achieved a remarkable degree of integration in organization and operations. The U.S. military is thus able to operate as one of the greatest fighting forces ever assembled. The CIA, through its enhanced intelligence-gathering techniques and coordination, has enabled presidents to have before them the most accurate and up-to-date information necessary to make informed decisions on national security issues.

Finally, the NSC, by incorporating the knowledge and talents of both the DoD and the CIA, provides the president with an invaluable forum for the deliberation and coordination of domestic, foreign, and military policies related to national security. Without the reorganization of the country's security infrastructure in 1947, America would not be prepared to face today's challenges to our national security.

See also: Central Intelligence Agency Act; Department of Homeland Security Act.

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National Security Act (1947)

National Security Act (1947)


In the aftermath of World War II, the United States government undertook a dramatic reorganization of the national military and intelligence community. Departments created for wartime operations, such as cryptology, intelligence, and domestic security, needed restructuring for useful peacetime employment. Congress, and a special council of presidential advisors, reviewed military and government operations. Based on their recommendations, the National Security Act of 1947 outlined the ambitious plan to unify the military departments under the direction of a cabinet-level secretary. The individual responsibilities of the army and navy were more clearly defined, and the air force was created. The National Security Act of 1947 created the National Security Council, a formal foreign policy and military advisory team for the president, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The act was amended several times between 1945 and 1985, yielding the current government, intelligence, and military structure present in the United States today.

Signed into law on July 26, the National Security Act of 1947 initiated an immediate reorganization of the intelligence community. During the war, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) performed most intelligence operations and trained a new generation of intelligence personnel. Though the OSS was initially slated for dissolution after the war, advisors close to President Harry S. Truman convinced the president that the organization could be retooled for peacetime operation, especially as Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union mounted. The act thus established a civilian successor agency to the OSS, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA was granted a broader mission to collect foreign intelligence data and conduct strategic surveillance. The position of director of central intelligence was created to administer the new agency and serve as a liaison between the intelligence community and the executive branch. The act assigned the task of domestic intelligence to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

To facilitate the sharing of information, the formation of strategic foreign policy, and the protection of national security, the National Security Act of 1947 established the National Security Council (NSC). Comprised of the president, vice president, secretary of state, and the secretary of defense, the council meets to discuss security, intelligence, and strategic issues. The director of central intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff serve on the NSC in an advisory capacity. The role of the council was intentionally left somewhat ambiguous in the act so that each president could use the council that best suited his administration and foreign policy agenda. The council mostly convened as an advisory board until the Nixon Administration when the NSC gained the permanence and prominence in foreign and strategic affairs that it has today.

The 1947 act substantially reordered the military, in addition to the intelligence community. The War Department was abolished, and its duties incorporated with those of the former Navy Department into the Department of Defense (DOD). The position of Secretary of Defense was created to govern the new Department of Defense, but the individual branches of military service retained their own Secretaries. The original National Security Act of 1947 has been amended several times to further alter the structure of the DOD. In 1949, the DOD was elevated to a high-level executive department and the secretary of defense gained more power over military department Secretaries. In 1986, the position of the secretary of defense was firmly established in the executive chain of command as part of revisions to national Continuity of Government plans.

The operational duties of the individual military branches were also altered by the adoption of the National Security Act. The organizational structure of the army remained the same, but new emphasis was placed on training and maintaining permanent, professional forces. The act granted the navy the ability to maintain airplane squadrons to conduct any flight operations that it deemed essential to its main sea operations. The navy also remained the governmental custodian of the marines. After the value of aircraft and air defenses were proved on the battlefields of Europe and in the Pacific Theater during World War II, the National Security Act of 1947 recognized the strategic need for a professional and permanent air fleet by creating the air force.

Amendments to the original 1947 act have changed some structural and functional aspects of the military and intelligence communities, but the basic structure remains in place today. The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States sparked a reexamination of the structure of national intelligence services and the manor in which information is shared by government departments. The recent passage of the Homeland Security Act, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, signal the largest reorganization of government security and intelligence agencies since the National Security Act of 1947.



Hogan, Michael H. A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 19451954. Cambridge University University Press, 1998.

U.S. Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States: Department of State, 19451950. Washington, D.C., 1996.


CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency)
CIA, Formation and History
FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)
National Security Advisor, United States
NSC (National Security Council)
NSC (National Security Council), History

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National Security Act

National Security Act (1947).The conditions leading to the entry of the United States into World War II in 1941 revealed a number of deficiencies in how its national security apparatus was organized. There were inadequacies in civil‐military policy coordination, in interservice coordination, and in intelligence. During the latter part of the war, debate arose over the possibility of merging the U.S. Army (and its subordinate air force) and the U.S. Navy into a single department. The army largely favored the concept; the air force saw it as the means to its independence; the navy was opposed.

It became apparent to Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal in 1945 that, given congressional interest, outright opposition was doomed. He decided it was best to come up with an alternative that he could support. He asked his former business colleague Ferdinand Eberstadt to review the issue.

Once immersed, Eberstadt realized that military coordination and unification was far from the entire problem. Indeed, in a very logical order, Eberstadt saw that each proposed solution led to the need for further change. If there was going to be a unified military, civil‐military coordination also had to be improved. Further, improved policy coordination also required more coherent intelligence support.

The idea of improved civil‐military coordination was not new. Various types of structures had been tried since at least Woodrow Wilson's administration, all with little effect. But the combination of evident problems at the outset of World War II, coupled with the growing demands of the postwar world and nascent Cold War, created a political consensus for some kind of action hitherto lacking. Even so, the unification struggle was in a long congressional debate (1945–47) that required the intervention of President Harry S. Truman for its completion.

The National Security Act signed into law on 26 July 1947 created a number of enduring structures: a National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate policy, consisting of the president, vice president, secretary of state, and the newly created secretary of defense (which went to Forrestal); a Department of Defense (actually created in a 1949 amendment, initially called a National Military Establishment), including a statutory Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS); and a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The U.S. Air Force was recognized as an independent service from the army, but the navy retained its own aviation force and prevented the marines from being absorbed by the army.

The controversies in the prolonged congressional debate over the act centered on four main areas. The new defense structure raised concerns about the distinct roles and missions of the services, a vital issue in terms of doctrine, force structure, and budgets. It is also a continuing issue. Some in Congress worried about the role and powers of the JCS, fearing that it might become a “Prussian General Staff,” threatening the concept of civilian control. Limits were placed, therefore, on the size of the JCS's joint staff and the powers of the chairman. A disproportionate amount of time was spent on the propriety of allowing the director of Central Intelligence to be an active duty military officer. Finally, there were concerns about the CIA becoming a “Gestapo.” Therefore, provisions were included denying the CIA police or subpoena powers or any internal security role.

Of equal interest are the issues that did not arise. The NSC, which proved to be a crucial policy vehicle for successive presidents (through the unforeseen and still not statutory position of national security adviser), raised little interest. Nor did the clause tasking the CIA with “other functions and duties related to intelligence,” which became the legal basis for covert operations.

The National Security Act was a central document in U.S. Cold War policy and in the acceptance by the nation of its position as world leader. Although the act did not actually unify the armed services, it did increase the coordination of the national security establishment. This went from a very ramshackle ad hoc structure to a much more coherent and more centralized one—via the president through the NSC, the increasing power of the secretary of defense, and the role of the CIA in intelligence.

One of the most striking features of the act has been its relative stability. Although all have been strengthened, the NSC, Defense Department, and CIA continue on in basic roles not very far from those envisioned by Eberstadt. There have been necessary adjustments to the act: the 1949 amendments creating a stronger central control in the office of the secretary of defense; improved congressional oversight of the CIA; and the Goldwater‐Nichols Act (1946) increasing the JCS structure and role. But the essentials remain largely the same.
[See also Civil‐Military Relations: Civilian Control of the Military; Commander in Chief, President as.]

Mark M. Lowenthal

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