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What Is the Role of the National Security Advisor?

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The National Security Advisor, officially known as the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, serves as a chief advisor to the President of the United States on national security issues. The National Security Advisor serves on the National Security Council and is assisted by staff that produces research, briefings, and intelligence reports.

The National Security Advisor’s office is in the White House, near the office of the President, and during a crisis operates from the White House Situation Room updating the President on the latest events.

The National Security Advisor is appointed by the President but not confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which protects the position to some degree from political controversy and partisanship. The role is not connected administratively to the Departments of State or Defense but offers independent advice, effectively creating a policy triad that the President may rely upon for advice. The National Security Advisor’s role and relative influence varies from administration to administration, and from advisor to advisor.

National Security Council and the National Security Advisor

The National Security Advisor plays a critical role in administration of the National Security Council (NSC), which advises and assists the President on national security and foreign policy issues. The Council also serves as the President’s principal arm for coordinating national security and foreign policies among various government agencies. The NSC is composed of the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Advisor; the Council is chaired by the President.

The NSC is also advised by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, the White House Chief of Staff, the Counsel to the President, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. The Attorney General and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget may be invited to NSC meetings pertaining to their responsibilities.

Historical facts about the National Security Advisor

The first National Security Advisor was Robert Cutler under President Eisenhower in 1953, and 20 different advisors have served every President since that time. Zbigniew Brzezinski, under President Carter, was the first National Security advisor to be elevated to cabinet-level status in 1977. President Reagan demoted the National Security Advisor from cabinet-level status and subordinated the role to the Secretary of State. Six National Security Advisors served under President Reagan, representing the highest turnover in the position in history.

Brent Scowcroft is the only person to serve as National Security Advisor in two different administrations, under President Ford and President George H.W. Bush. General Colin Powell became the first African-American to serve as National Security Advisor, under President Reagan; and Condoleezza Rice the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor, under President George W. Bush.

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