Neutrality and the National Security Council adviser

05/19/05

An article published in the latest issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly examines the impact of the "neutral" or "honest" broker in presidential decision-making, specifically looking at the role of the National Security Council (NSC) adviser. Author John P. Burke illustrates the positive and continuing contribution of the role to effective decision-making and considers the feasibility of adding additional tasks, i.e. policy advocacy, public visibility, political watchdog, and operational assignments, to the role. Expanding responsibilities may corrupt the nature of the position, as neutrality is essential. Or weaken the role, as a show of favoritism or advocacy can lead others directly to the president rather than to a potentially biased adviser. "Effective brokerage especially establishes conditions of interpersonal trust and confidence in the integrity of the decision process that may permit the introduction of some forms of policy advocacy, public visibility, and other additional activities. But the latter must be carefully weighed against their effects on the broker role," Dr. Burke opines.

The role of the NSC adviser does not exist in a vacuum; and ultimately, the president is responsible, and the organization's culture relevant, to how many tasks the adviser takes on. For example, brokerage and political advocacy form a combustible mix. Personal advocacy may compromise the perception of the adviser's neutrality while creating the new perception of that of a competitor to other participants. Yet, in limited forms, advocacy is beneficial-- if a discussion is not balanced and the president needs to hear an underrepresented point-of-view. "The broker role is no cure all, and it may not be applicable to all presidents or all decision making contacts," Burke concludes. "But absent an effective process, of course, the probabilities of sound decisions are likely lessened."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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