The Nixon administration brought far-reaching changes to the National Security Council. Building on a strong mandate from (and a strong policy relationship with) the President, National Security Assistant Henry A. Kissinger achieved operational policy dominance greater than any predecessor or successor. His role and methods generated enormous controversy. They were also tied to substantial policy achievements: an opening to China, arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, and eventually an historic, albeit flawed, Vietnam peace accord.
One means of gaining insight into how the Nixon NSC actually worked is to ask those who were there. This was the purpose of the Nixon NSC Oral History Roundtable, conducted on December 8, 1998, at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Thirty years almost to the day after Kissinger and other Nixon transition planners developed a blueprint for a new system, we brought together a group of ten veteran practitioners and observers of American foreign policy who were directly involved in the Nixon process to share their recollections with us. The participants drew on their experiences as advisers in the Nixon transition; as members of President Nixon's NSC staff; and as officials who dealt with the Nixon NSC from important vantage points in other agencies. For over three hours, they spoke informally about how and why the new system was established, how it operated, and how it evolved over time. The discussion confirmed much that is already in the public domain, but it also brought to light new facts and insights. We hope students of the Nixon administration and of the modern foreign policy process and its institutions will find it useful.
I.M. "Mac" Destler is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.
Ivo Daalder is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.