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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): Presidential Directives on National Security, Part II: From Truman to George W. Bush

About this Collection

Contains more than 1,836 highest-level documents issued by presidents from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush concerning foreign affairs, defense and arms control policy, intelligence and counterterrorist activities, and international economic policy. Thanks to a long-standing Freedom of Information Act campaign by the National Security Archive, the two parts of this collection contain every single presidential directive released to date. (All of the documents in Part II became available after the publication of Part I.)

Furthermore, unlike the daily stream of White House proclamations and press releases that are designed to frame official policy for public consumption, these directives and requests for studies reflect each president's actual, behind-the-scenes priorities, goals and decisions. In addition, the numerous substantive responses to study requests that are included here, particularly from the Nixon and Ford administrations, offer an insider's view of many of the most important policy documents that crossed the president's desk throughout the post-World War II period.

Research Value of the Collection

Subsequent to their creation in 1947, the National Security Council and its staff have come to play a crucial role in the formulation and implementation of U.S. national security policy. The council has been a forum at which the different strands of U.S. international policy and activities—diplomatic, military, intelligence, and international economic—have come together. The NSC staff and its often visible and influential chief, the president’s national security adviser, have been charged with the responsibility of developing and implementing national security policies.

A key means of fulfilling these tasks has been the systems of decision and study directives employed by all presidents since Harry Truman. The directives’ importance stems from a number of factors. The decision directives are definitive statements of presidential policy that supersede any interpretations of that policy, which might be claimed by departments and agencies. In addition, such directives provide more than a general statement of policy. They enumerate steps to be taken by assorted departments and agencies in order to implement the announced policy. Furthermore, study directives and the associated studies provide key data on the considerations that led to policy decisions.

The documents contained in this collection, along with those in the first volume, allow a researcher to begin a study of the formulation and implementation of U.S. national security policy at the highest level—whether the focus is on a particular administration or a particular area (overall national security policy, defense policy, foreign policy, international economic policy, or intelligence policy) over a given time period. They also provide valuable data for a researcher seeking to explain the actions taken by a specific department or agency—some of which may be the direct result of instructions contained in decision directives.