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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): The Kissinger Conversations, Supplement II: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977

About this Collection

This set of Kissinger conversations includes many that the State Department had denied for years on executive privilege grounds. Many of them are telephone conversations with President Ford, Vice President Rockefeller, and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft during 1975 and 1976. They cover a wide range of issues including the end of the Vietnam war, U.S-Soviet relations, the Middle East peace process and the 1976 elections 

Henry Kissinger remains a larger-than-life figure in contemporary American culture as well as in U.S. foreign policy and decision-making circles. Rightly or wrongly, his tenure as national security advisor and secretary of state continues to be seen as a defining moment in the history of U.S. foreign relations. This compilation, comprising 980 records, updates the National Security Archive’s substantial publications of documents focusing on Kissinger’s roles in policymaking and diplomacy under presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. The collection includes freshly declassified memoranda of telephone conversation (telcons) and records of meetings held at the State Department and the White House. The topics of the documents cover a wide range of Nixon and Ford administration concerns, including the Vietnam War and related military actions in Laos and Cambodia; Middle East peace talks; conflicts in Jordan, Cyprus, and Angola; the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks; the tree cutting incident at the Korean Demilitarized  Zone in August 1976; Republican Party politics; and congressional investigations of intelligence activities during 1975, with a focus on Kissinger’s role in CIA covert operations in Chile during 1970. Most of the telcons are the fruit of successful litigation by the National Security Archive against the State Department, which had initially denied them largely on executive privilege grounds.  Many of these previously exempted documents are records of Kissinger’s conversations with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. As such, they are critically important sources of information on decision-making during the Ford administration. These records will be valuable not only for the study of U.S. diplomatic and military history but also other fields of history and the social sciences.

Research Value of This Collection

Until the late 1990s, Kissinger's memoirs, White House Years (1979), Years of Upheaval (1982), and Years of Renewal (1999), and to some extent, Richard Nixon’s memoir, RN (1978) and Gerald Ford’s A Time to Heal (1983) were the only "primary sources" on U.S. diplomacy during the Nixon-Ford administrations. Kissinger’s memoirs in particular drew on his s personal control of a huge document collection archived at the Library of Congress, which he could quote on a selective basis to describe his role in Nixon’s and Ford's decisions on the global policy issues of the day--war, peace, and crises; relations with key allies; and relations with the United States’ Communist adversaries. His accounts of détente, the Vietnam War negotiations, the rapprochement with China, and the October War, among other events, dominated the historiography of the period. Seymour Hersh's interview-based The Price of Power (1983) remains an impressive alternative to White House Years, but as long as Kissinger had an effective monopoly on the documents, researchers had to depend on his memoirs. Beginning in the late 1990s, the situation changed significantly as important collections opened up in State Department records and the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives, and as State Department historians gained access to Kissinger’s papers for the Foreign Relations of the United States compilations. In more recent years even more documentation has become available.

Along with the National Security Archive’s previous publications of Kissinger’s memcons and telcons, this collection enables researchers to go beyond memoir literature and prepare more authoritative accounts of developments during the Nixon and Ford administrations. While Kissinger's insights about the events in which he participated will remain important, researchers can use the new documents to determine the extent to which his memoirs elide or obscure the events in question. The research possibilities, however, are far more interesting than simply critiquing Kissinger. In light of his position at the top of the policy hill and the variety of issues that concerned him, an extensive collection of his memcons and verbatim meeting records constitute a critically important record of the history of international relations from 1969 to 1977. They are essential for research on such topics as:

  • Wars in Indochina: not only Vietnam, but also Laos and Cambodia, and the White House's role in managing United States military operations in these countries, including during the final stages of these conflicts
  • U.S.-Soviet détente and Kissinger's conduct of "back channel" diplomacy with the Soviet leadership
  • U.S.-China rapprochement and attempts to normalize diplomatic relations
  • Developments in South Asia, including the 1971 India-Pakistan war and the Nixon/Kissinger tilt to Pakistan during that crisis
  • The Middle East, including U.S. conduct during the 1973 October War and Kissinger's role in shuttle diplomacy during 1974-1975
  • Revolutions in Portugal and its colonies and U.S. policy toward the ensuing political crisis in Portugal and the civil war in Angola
  • Latin America, including Kissinger’s meetings with regional leaders during 1976 visits
  • U.S.-European relations, including policy coordination and consultations on a variety of "hot spots" and "hot issues," including the rise of Euro-Communism
  • The 1974 Cyprus crisis and U.S. relations with Greece and Turkey
  • International economic, energy, and raw materials policies
  • The impact of press leaks about illegal CIA domestic operations, assassination planning, and other intelligence activities which led to the Church Committee investigations during 1975
  • Kissinger’s working relationships with top officials: Presidents Nixon and Ford, Secretary of Defense Laird, Secretary of State William Rogers, and National Security Adviser Scowcroft, among others.
  • Republican Party politics during 1976, especially party primaries and the national convention.

Assassination Plots

Chile

Middle East

Vietnam