After weeks of study and bureaucractic battling, top Reagan administration officials yesterday decided on a new framework for the making of international policy that gives leading roles to the secretaries of state and defense and the director of the CIA -- and a key coordinating role to the president's national security affairs adviser.
The plan falls significantly short of the structure that Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. proposed in a memorandum submitted on Inauguration Day that would have given Haig a larger role in framing of policy, administration sources said.
Instead, the structure that sources said is now officially in place provides for the White House to retain a crucial role in the coordinating of policymaking, through the office of national security affairs adviser Richard V. Allen and his White House boss, presidential counselor Edwin Meese III.
The new framework was agreed upon in a meeting yesterday in Meese's office in the West Wing of the White House. Attending were Meese, Haig, Defense Secretary Casper W. Weinberger, CIA Director William J. Casey, Allen, Deputy Secretary of State William P. Clark and Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci. President Reagan did not attend, nor was he involved in the negotiations in which the new framework was fashioned -- after considerable discussion and some dicord within the administration, according to informed sources.
Nevertheless, these sources stressed that the decisions reached at yesterday's meeting are now official Reagan administration policy.
The new framework calls for the creation of three senior interdepartmental groups (SIGs). One will deal primarily with matters of foreign policy and will be chaired by the secretary of state. Another will deal with matters that primarily concern military and defense policy and will be chaired by the secretary of defense. A third will deal with intelligence policy and will be chaired by the CIA director.
The key decision about whether a specific problem should be treated as primarily foreign, defense or intelligence policy will be made by the president's national security affairs adviser, administration sources said. This will preserve for the White House the crucial question fo control over the framing of international policy.
Haig, the most experienced of the Reagan international policy high command, touched off the intra-administration controversy Jan. 20 by submitting a 15-page memorandum to the White House in which he proposed that the State Department take the central role in the formulation of national security policy. But presidential counselor Meese and White House chief of staff James A. Baker III set Haig's proposal aside and called for further study.
Weinberger then countered with a memo of his own, seeking to increase his department's role and to trim that of Haig. And at Meese and Baker's urging, Haig and Weinberger got together and submitted a joint proposal. Meanwhile, Casey added a memo suggesting a framework that differed from the Haig-Weinberger plan by saying that some policy areas were primarily of an intelligence nature and should be chaired by the CIA. And that set the stage for yesterday's meeting.
The trio of senior interdepartmental groups essentially will replace the Cabinet-level policy review committee of the Carter administration. The Reagan plan, however, is patterned mostly after the way the Johnson administration handled such matters.
As officials explained it, the top policy- and decision-making body will be the National Security Council, established by law and chaired by the president. The SIGs will be chaired by the No. 2 person, or deputy, in state, defense and intelligence. They will be a coordinating group, under overall control of their bosses while overseeing the work of slightly LOWER-LEVEL INTERDEPARTMENTAL GROUPS (IGs) run by assistant secretaries who will develop the policy considerations.
The other key group in the Carter White House was the special coordinating committee, used for crisis management and headed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security affairs adviser.
Officials said yesterday that final decisions on how specific crises will be managed have not been made, but it is clear that all the major agencies will be involved and that management will be centered in the White House.
Interviews with a number of officials indicate that three major considerations hung over the White House deliberations on how to organize itself in the national security field. These involved how to make sure that the president received the views of all his key advisers in a balanced fashion, how to insure that the president's own views and prerogatives in foreign policy were preserved, and how best to cope with both the acknowledged talent and dominance of Haig in a still young administration.
In many ways, Haig was the central figure. The idea in the White House was to take advantage of the former Army general's many skills and his experience in national security matters, yet keep him from "running away with the store," as one mid-level official put it.
Haig clearly had more experience than any other major figure in the new administration in both national security matters and in knowing how power usually flows in the White House.
Reagan has made it clear that Haig will be the chief foreign policy spokesman and that national security affairs adviser Allen will play a much more behind-the-scenes role as a coordinator of advice. But several officials have said that as the administration gains more experience, Haig's expertise will begin to be balanced elsewhere in the administration, and other officials, including Allen, will be seen to have important roles.