Comprising over 15,500 telcons, this collection documents Kissinger's conversations with top officials in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including the president, Secretaries of Defense Laird, Richardson, and Schlesinger, Secretary of State Rogers, and a host of other senior officials, as well as noted journalists, ambassadors, and business leaders close to the White House. Topics range widely, including détente with Moscow, the Vietnam War (negotiations and military action, including the war's end), the Jordanian crisis (1970), rapprochement with China, the Middle East negotiations, U.S.- European relations, U.S-Japan relations, the Cyprus crisis, and the unfolding Watergate crisis.
Until the late 1990s, Henry Kissinger's enormous memoirs, White House Years (1979) andYears of Upheaval (1982) were the only significant "primary sources" on U.S. diplomacy during the Nixon administration. Drawing on his personal control of a huge collection at the Library of Congress, Kissinger's memoirs quoted numerous but selective excerpts to describe his role in Nixon and Ford's decisions on the global policy issues of the day--war, peace, and crises; relations with key allies; and relations with the U.S.'s 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. This changed during the late 1990s, as important collections opened up in State Department records and the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives. Over the following few years even more documentation became available.
Along with the National Security Archive's earlier publication of Kissinger memcons, 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 and recollections 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 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 telcons constitutes a critically important record of the history of international relations from 1969 to 1977. While coverage of some areas is broader and deeper than others, these materials are essential for research on such topics as:
The extensive interaction between Kissinger and his high-level interlocutors make the telcons a critically important source not only for the study of U.S. diplomatic and military history but also for other fields of history and the social sciences, notably presidential decision-making.
A noteworthy feature of the documents is that they are, to the extent that it was possible at the time, literally verbatim records of Kissinger's telephone conversations. Kissinger was not the first senior U.S. official to have records prepared of such conversations, but he may have taken the practice further than anyone else, in part because he did so much business on the telephone. In this way, he could keep track of Nixon's (or Ford's) wishes, follow up on decisions, and preserve a record of what he told journalists, among other considerations. (Very likely, he also made recording of the telcons routine in order to aid in the eventual preparation of his memoirs.) The detailed nature of the telcons increases their value; they provide insights into Kissinger's conduct of diplomacy and also that of the presidents, diplomats, and officials with whom he spoke.