Skip to Main Content

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

About this Collection

Henry Kissinger remains a larger-than-life figure in contemporary American culture as well as official U.S. foreign policy and decision-making circles. His tenure as national security advisor and secretary of state continues to be seen as a defining moment for America’s global position. For that reason, any new release of previously unavailable portions of his official record is a noteworthy event.

This latest compilation, comprising nearly 550 records, updates the National Security Archive’s substantial body of documents focusing on Kissinger’s roles in policymaking and diplomacy under presidents Nixon and Ford. The collection includes freshly declassified memoranda of telephone conversations (telcons) and transcripts of National Security Council and State Department meetings and overseas trips. Most of the telcons and many of the memoranda of conversations were declassified at the specific request of the National Security Archive, which has earned far-reaching praise for its work on the Kissinger period. Many of the telcons from the Ford administration are the result of a Freedom of Information appeal filed in 2007 (over 600 more remain to be released).

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; international terrorism; and U.S. government surveillance of American citizens.  Other topics include economic warfare against Chile during the Allende years; Kissinger’s trips to Latin America; and the 1971 South Asia crisis. Some of the telcons from 1976 stem from Kissinger’s search for legal advice against a lawsuit filed by former NSC staffer Morton Halperin who had been wiretapped on Kissinger’s instructions.

Research Value of the Collection

Until the late 1990s, Henry Kissinger's enormous memoirs, White House Years (1979) and Years 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 documents on a selective basis 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 Presidential Materials at the National Archives. Over the following few years even more documentation became available.

Along with the National Security Archive's previous publications of Kissinger's memcons and telcons, this collection of records 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 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 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 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. The nearly verbatim records of Kissinger's telephone conversations and meetings make these documents a critically important source for the study of U.S. diplomatic and military history and the social sciences, notably presidential decision-making.