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

About this Collection

As national security adviser (1969-1975) and secretary of state (1973-1977), Henry A. Kissinger played a central, and sometimes dominating, role in shaping U.S. foreign and military policy during the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In this role Kissinger helped prosecute as well as negotiate an end to the Vietnam War; he carried out secret diplomacy to advance detente with the Soviet Union and rapprochement with China. He pressed for covert operations to destroy the Allende regime in Chile, and implemented the tilt to Pakistan during the 1971 South Asia Crisis. In later years he presided over U.S. policy during the October 1973 Middle East war soon after which he employed a "Shuttle Diplomacy" to contain the Middle East crisis. These are only a few of the prominent political events in which he played a major role.

Some three quarters of the 2,163 declassified documents in this collection were produced by Kissinger and his assistants on the National Security Council Staff. Even after Kissinger became Secretary of State, he relied on the NSC system for keeping meeting records, especially of the most sensitive matters such as relations with Beijing and Moscow, Middle East diplomacy, or meetings with the president. For those events when he did not rely on the NSC staff to record a meeting, he depended on a State Department country desk director or more senior officials, such as deputy or assistant secretaries of state, to prepare the memcons. A noteworthy feature of the records of Kissinger's memcons is that they are literally verbatim records of the meetings.

Research Value of the Collection

Until the late 1990s, Henry Kissinger's enormous memoirs, White House Years (1979) andYears of Upheaval (1982), were the only "primary sources" on U.S. diplomacy during the Nixon administration. Drawing on his personal control of a huge document 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. Beginning in the late 1990s, that changed, as important collections opened up in State Department records and the Nixon Papers at the National Archives. Over the following few years even more documentation became available.

As the first attempt to draw upon recent declassifications and present a comprehensive collection of records of meetings and conversations involving Henry Kissinger, this publication enables researchers to go beyond memoir literature when they 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 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 constitutes 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 managerial role in United States military operations in these countries
  • U.S. (especially Kissinger's) interactions with the North Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the Soviets in trying to bring conflicts in Indochina to an end
  • the final stages of the Indochina wars, including U.S. reactions to the collapse of the client regime in Saigon and the rise of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge
  • U.S.-Soviet détente and Kissinger's conduct of "back channel" diplomacy with the Soviet leadership
  • U.S.-China rapprochement, including initial White House efforts to communicate with Beijing; Kissinger's "secret trip" to China, July 1971; and subsequent high-level meetings with Chinese officials, including visits by presidents Nixon and Ford in 1972 and 1975, respectively
  • 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 as shuttle diplomat 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
  • negotiations to end minority white rule in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe
  • 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
  • relations between the mass media and policymakers

Coverage on some of these topics is broader and deeper than others. The extensive interaction between Kissinger and his high-level interlocutors make the memcons 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.

A noteworthy feature of the records of Kissinger's memcons is that they are literally verbatim records of the meetings. Kissinger was not the first U.S. official to use the transcript form; over the years government agencies had prepared detailed transcripts of conferences. Kissinger was, however, the first to have transcripts, instead of paraphrased records, routinely prepared to memorialize negotiations and other diplomatic exchanges. Very likely, he also made this part of the routine in order to aid in the eventual preparation of his memoirs. The transcripts do not merely record who said what, but sometimes whether anyone left the room, if there were discrepancies in the translation, or if there was a side conversation among the discussants (e.g., among Soviet officials). The detailed nature of the memcons further increases their value; they provide insights on Kissinger's conduct of diplomacy and also that of the heads of state, cabinet ministers, and diplomats with whom he spoke.

Besides providing a substantive primary source on the Nixon-Ford years, this collection also serves as a guide to the archival records of the period. To the greatest extent possible, each entry in the catalog includes the archival location for the document. These citations will provide researchers with a window for locating related documentation in the Nixon and Ford presidential library collections and in State Department records at the National Archives.