America’s main concern in developing national security policies is the protection of the United States and its citizens from foreign threats that compromise the safety of the nation. Currently, America’s national security policy strives to strengthen homeland security while also promoting domestic and global peace. To develop a better understanding of America’s national security policy, students who are interested in pursuing a career in international relations should understand its origins, as well as the structures and organizations within the policy.

Early National Security Policy

During the early 1800s, with Europe gripped by the Napoleonic Wars, the United States remained neutral, opting for peace through trade with European nations like France and Britain, rather than imposing risks to national security by entering the fray. Toward the end of the 19th century, America became more formidable due to the rapid advancement of industrialization and the growth of the U.S. Navy. The American government was able to leverage this growth and quickly become a major stakeholder in the power struggle occurring globally. This was essential to the development of national security policies, as the United States was able to form a strong military that could help defend the young nation’s policies, as well as protect its populace.

World War II brought major change to the global landscape, but little damage to American infrastructure. This gave America the flexibility to expand its national security policy with the National Security Act of 1947 and adjust their official intention towards the containment and dissolution of communism in an effort to displace Soviet power. As the 20th century progressed, the nuclear arms race became the focal point of national security in the United States, and for all major powers across the globe. America introduced the Mutual Assured Destruction national security policy, which guaranteed the absolute destruction of both the attacking and defending nations if a nuclear attack were to be launched. This was a rather bold policy designed to frustrate any attempts by foreign nations to engage in nuclear war, which was the outcome most feared from the Cold War.

The Cold War marked a massive progression in the international arms race, and nations took additional measures to build alliances and gather intelligence. It was during this period of American history that important security structures like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and United Nations had their roles in American national security tested and explicitly redefined in anticipation of future attacks to be waged against the United States. Today, professionals who have gained authority in the field of national security are also tasked with developing innovative solutions to modern national security issues like cyber warfare, chemical attacks, and insurgency.

Important Structures and Organizations Within the Policy

The United States’ national security policy is developed by several groups that must cooperate to produce a policy that achieves an overall goal of safeguarding American citizens. When President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, several large-scale government organizational changes were made for the sake of having more control over national security. These changes were not limited to the reorganization of existing structures, but also the introduction of new ones. Currently, the following are the most influential structures in regards to the United States’ national security policy:

  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – Formed in 1947, the CIA is America’s foremost intelligence agency and exists to provide United States policymakers with proper intelligence that could prove to be vital during the legislative process. For example, when other nations take covert actions against the United States, the CIA advises the Legislative and Executive branch members of the activity, so that they can develop policies to proactively address any potential threats. The CIA operates in five different directorates: Operations, Analysis, Science & Technology, Support, and Digital Innovation.
    • The Directorate of Operations employs undercover citizens in foreign regions as spies, helping the agency gain access to critical information about foreign governments. This directorate is also responsible for performing specific covert activities when authorized by the President, in the effort to protect certain institutions from being infiltrated by hostile foreign entities.
    • The Directorate of Analysis is a network of analysts who are tasked with sifting through data obtained by the CIA and identifying the best ways to use that information to solve an array of national security and foreign policy problems.
    • The Directorate of Science and Technology is comprised of teams of engineers and scientists who are responsible for creating the most innovative and sophisticated tools for use by the CIA and other United States agencies.
    • The Directorate of Support provides essential developmental services to the CIA that range from the acquisition of qualified talent, training of new officers, protection of CIA agents, selection of equipment, communications support, and several other vital operations. The Directorate of Digital Innovation, a recent addition, concentrates on advancing solutions in IT infrastructure and tradecraft related to gathering and analyzing digital information.
  • National Security Agency (NSA) – The NSA was established in 1954 and is responsible for all operations that involve the collection of foreign electronic signals. The NSA is also tasked with processing and disseminating that information for the purpose of preventing foreign entities from gaining access to classified national security information.
  • The National Security Council (NSC) – The National Security Council was created in 1947 for the purpose of effectively coordinating national security policies. The council exists more as an advisory body to the President and his highest ranking members, including the United States’ Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy, and the National Security Advisor.
  • Department of Defense – The U.S. Department of Defense operates with the singular goal of providing the military forces needed to avert war and maintain national security.
  • Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – The DIA operates in a similar manner as the CIA, with the key difference being that the DIA is focused on domestic United States defense topics, while the CIA extends its operations on an international scale. Outside of its functional center, the Defense Combating Terrorism Center, the DIA also maintains four regional centers: the Americas center, the Asia/Pacific center, the Europe/Eurasia center, and the Middle East/Africa center. These centers collaborate with smaller, community-based centers to advance the success of American national security policy.

Although each organization involved with America’s national security policy has individual priorities and agendas, they all share the overarching goal of protecting the United States of America and its citizens. To accomplish this expansive task, organizations within the national security policy structure may share pertinent information with one another if they believe that it can prove helpful. For example, the NSA may transfer information that it decodes to the DIA if they believe it can assist the DIA and the executive branch in making decisions and securing American citizens. The relationship between the organizations can also extend beyond simply sharing information, as leaders from each structure may meet together to discuss ways to improve security measures and leverage new technologies.

Professionals within national security and international relations organizations are tasked with the responsibility of finding new solutions for effectively defending the American public from domestic and international issues. Only through in-depth study of the origins and components of America’s national security policy can the next generation of international relations professionals ensure that they understand how to effectively utilize and improve policies that aim to protect the American public.

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Our online Master of Arts in International Relations program offers a curriculum that evolves with current events to help you face the future of international affairs. Norwich University’s master’s degree in international relations covers many subjects to give you a look at the internal workings of international players, examine the role of state and non-state actors on the global stage, and explore different schools of thought. You can further strengthen your knowledge by choosing one of five concentrations in International Security, National Security, International Development, Cyber Diplomacy, or Regions of the World.

Recommended Readings
International Security & Tension at the Korean Border
4 Trends Involving International Security


About DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency

National Security Act of 1947, Office of the Historian

Hess on Walker, ‘National Security and Core Values in American History’, Michigan State University Department of History

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House

Department of Defense 1994, National Partnership for Reinventing Government

CIA Overview, Central Intelligence Agency

Military Strength Essays,

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