Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The National Security Council: An FPRI Primer

The National Security Council: An FPRI Primer

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
Thematic Strand Index:

• Standard #2: Time, Continuity and Change
• Standard #6: Power, Authority and Governance
• Standard #9: Global Connections

National History Standards:

• US History Standard Era 9, Post World War II (1945-1968)
o Standard 2A How the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics
 Analyze the change from confrontation to coexistence between the Soviet Union and the United States.
• US History Standard Era 10, Contemporary United States (1968 to the Present)
o Standard 1C Recent developments in US foreign and domestic policies
 Evaluate the reformulation of foreign policy in the post-Cold War era.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Science, 6-12

Key Ideas and Details

• RH/SS.2—determine and summarize central ideas and themes
• RH/SS.3—analyze text related individuals, events or ideas

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
• RH/SS.9—analyze and/or compare primary/secondary sources

Comprehension and Collaboration
• SL.1—prepare and participate effectively in a range of conversations.
• SL.2—integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

• SL.4—present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

1. Analyze the role of the National Security Council (NSC) in United States security and foreign relations.

2. Assess the impact of the NSC on United States security and foreign relations.

3. Assess the relationship of the NSC to the State Deaprtment.

4. Explain the impact of the NSC on presidential power.

5. Analyze the role of the NSC on at least one presidential administration.

1. After your students have carefully reviewed the LESSON INFORMATION below, begin an introductory discussion about what the NSC is and what it does.

2. Ask each student or pairs or groups of three students, to select a presidential administration from Truman to the present.

3. Each student or groups of students, will then assess the performance of the NSC and its Presidential Security Advisor(s) during that Administration. Its relationship to the State Department should also be examined. Students should be given a day in class and time at home, to do their research and discuss their findings. Teachers should determine the scope of the write-up and length of the report to the class.

4. Students should report to the class their findings. This can range from three to ten minutes, depending on the time teachers want to spend on the NSC. After the reports, the class should assess the overall performance and effectiveness of the NSC.

5. Grading can be based on the student research, class presentations, and class discussions.


Watch the FPRI Primer Video at

Read the Primer Essay at

Other materials included in the attached pdf.

Teachers can choose to limit the scope of this lesson to a single Presidential Administration
or one particular time period. Research can also be assigned as homework by individuals rather than in groups.

The lesson can be expanded to include the relationship of the NSC to the CIA and other intelligence services. There are 16 in all.


• The National Security Council: An FPRI Primer
o Video:
o Essay:

• ORBIS—FPRI’s Journal of Foreign Affairs
o Numerous articles throughout its publishing history concerning the NSC

Organization of the National Security Council System
“Organization of the Nat#661F2C

Organization of the National Security Council
“Organization of the Nat#661F24

Records of the National Securities Council
Records of the National #662246

Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council by David Rothkopf. (2005)

The Reagan Files: Inside the National Security Agency by Jason Saltoun-Ebin (2012)

Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council by Karl F. Inderfurth and Loch K. Johnson (2004)

Honest Broker?: The National Security Advisor and Presidential Decision Making by John P. Burke (2010)

The National Security Council: An Organizational Assessment by Richard A. Best, Jr. (1992)

From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War by Robert M. Gates (1996)

  • Paul Dickler
  • FPRI
Grade Level
  • High School: 9, 10, 11, 12
Time Frame
  • Three to four classroom periods.

If you have any questions about this lesson plan, or if you wish to contact the author, please email us at