Home / Articles / Deconstructing the “Deep State”: Subordinate Bureaucratic Politics in U.S. National Security
Does America really have a national security “deep state”? If by this loaded term we simply mean a sprawling bureaucracy filled mostly by a permanent cadre of lower-level officials, then inarguably the answer is yes. But how much influence does this so-called “deep state” exert, and to what ends? This debate conspicuously lacks for useful academic insight about the “real” deep state. For various reasons, the international relations field of foreign policy analysis (FPA) has largely neglected to study the role, motivation, and influence of lower-level bureaucrats. We seek to redress this knowledge gap by suggesting a new conceptual paradigm of subordinate bureaucratic politics to augment existing models for explaining American national security decisions. This additional lens enriches the analytic toolkit of FPA by revealing hitherto underappreciated dynamics including intra- and trans-agency bargaining, the key role of issue-driven interest coalitions, and persistent divisions such as between regional and functional issues.