Report From William Slany to Congress, July 1984

A scan of the original document is available for download (PDF, 1.69 MB, 32pp.)

Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1984 P-Reels, P840134-2027 through 2058.

Cited in Toward “Thorough, Accurate, and Reliable”: A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series, Chapter 9, Footnotes 108, 109, and 111

Report by the Historian of the Department of State to Congress

[Omitted here is a table of contents.]

Report on the Status of the Official Series Foreign Relations of the United States


The Conference Report on the Authorization Act for the Department of State for FY 1984 and 1985 (PL 98-164) requires that The Historian of the Department submit a report to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The report is to explain the reasons for the delay in the publication of the Foreign Relations series and the measures required to accelerate publication. The Historian is also asked to report on what would be required to bring the series to a 25-year line.

The Foreign Relations series began in 1861 as the annual report by the Secretary of State to Congress. In the 19th century cabinet officers provided annual reports to Congress on the conduct of their offices. In view of the unique responsibilities of the Secretary of State, the Congress required that he only submit documents rather than a narrative report. For some time these documentary reports were submitted on an occasional basis. In 1861 the Department of State began gathering a year’s diplomatic correspondence together in a volume or volumes as the Foreign Relations of the United States. The series ceased to be a report to Congress on the year’s diplomatic correspondence at the time of the Spanish-American war. The series thereafter increasingly became a report by the Department of State for the public as a whole.

The official record of American foreign policy presented in the Foreign Relations of the United States is used both within the government and by scholars, students, journalists, and the general public as a research tool, a teaching aid, and a reference resource. The volumes in the series are highly respected as an accurate, objective, authoritative record. A survey undertaken by the Department of State in 1982 demonstrated that more than 90 percent of academic and scholarly respondents found the Foreign Relations series essential to their research and studies and deserving of continued publication.

The Foreign Relations series has been steadily improved in quality, comprehensiveness, and size over the past 50 years. Present and past editors of the Foreign Relations series have carried out their responsibilities with pride and dedication. The government and the public have been well and faithfully served. The Department of State has supported and sustained improvements of the publication and had the general cooperation and endorsement of other government agencies. The series, nevertheless, has fallen ever further from currency. And despite the general and widespread scholarly support for the Foreign Relations series, doubts have begun to arise even among the academic advocates of the series that the more recent volumes less successfully met rising expectations regarding their completeness or their timeliness.

The following report explores the principal reasons for the delays in the publication of the official record in the Foreign Relations series. The report also outlines those steps required or already being taken to reverse the trend toward ever greater delay. The report analyzes the overwhelming obstacles in moving to publication 25 years after the events. The report’s conclusion is that a 30-year line is a reasonable and achievable goal for the Foreign Relations series, but a wide range of conceptual and procedural modifications are required if such a goal is to be achieved. Above all, a spirit of partnership with the academic community and government policymakers is essential to continue preparation of an authoritative and accurate published foreign affairs record.

What Are the Reasons for the Delays in the Publication of the Foreign Relations Series

The Foreign Relations series, published continuously by the Department of State since 1861, is now 30 or more years behind currency. It has never been so far behind events. The sense of delay has been emphasized by the dwindling number of published volumes -- only 15 in the past 5 years. There is no single cause for this delay, nor can it be attributed to any recent single event or policy. The effort by the Department of State to provide an up-to-date, authoritative published record of American foreign policy was difficult in the nineteenth century and has become far more so in the twentieth. A wide range of compiling clearance, and publishing problems have been confronted by the Department and its Historical Office over the years. The problems persist to the present day, albeit in a more contemporary context. Few of the issues are really new; most have been with us and our predecessors. There follows a report on the major problems in the preparation and publication of the Foreign Relations series, the efforts made over time to meet those problems, and the steps being taken now and in the near future to face the problems anew.

1. Comprehensiveness

The Problem

The Department and specifically its Office of the Historian continue to prepare the Foreign Relations series in accordance with a charter largely formulated in 1925. The charter calls for a comprehensive record based upon Department of State records supplemented as appropriate with records from other agencies. The meaning of “comprehensive” is no longer an absolute. Uncertainty over the definition prevents the making of sound and consistent decisions on all phases of the Foreign Relations program. Volumes are delayed because they are, for various reasons, not regarded as complete or because they will be perceived as incomplete by academic users.


Until 1925 the Department of State adhered to no formalized set of principles for the selection of records for publication in the Foreign Relations series. Although the volumes were, until 1898, fairly complete records of the preceding year’s diplomatic correspondence, some documents were omitted or summarized. Often these were quite important. The practice of selection became more pervasive in the early twentieth century. The modern era for the series began in 1925 with the appointment of a Department Historical Adviser and the promulgation by Secretary of State Frank Kellogg of a charter for the preparation of the modern Foreign Relations series.

The Kellogg order of March 25, 1925 defined the scope of the Foreign Relations series, the basis for editing standards, and the principles of clearance. It remains, to this day, with minor modifications, the Foreign Relations charter.

The Kellogg order was, in large measure, a codification of accumulated practices for the preparation of the Foreign Relations series. The series was envisaged as a record of foreign affairs “policies and decisions” essentially based upon the files of the Department of State. The order firmly insisted upon compiling principles of completeness, objectivity, and historical integrity, but it also clearly authorized omissions from the published record in order to avoid compromising current negotiations, to condense the record, to preserve confidence reposed in the Department by foreign governments and officia1s, to avoid needless offense to governments and individuals, and to avoid personal opinion not subsequently adopted by the Department as policy.

The Kellogg charter of 1925 has been the constant framework for preparation of the Foreign Relations series, but the actual compiling practices and the changing expectations of users have increasingly come into conflict with the charter’s principles. For some time the Foreign Relations series paid special attention to matters of international law, and the structure and format of the volumes reflected the international lawyers’ conceptual view of foreign relations as a series of discrete cases. Academic users of the series for the inter-war period sometimes criticized volumes for narrowness of scope and failure to document broader policy developments.

In the post-World War II period the Foreign Relations series remained bound by the Kellogg charter, but the Historical Office moved steadily toward an expanded interpretation of the 1925 guidelines. The State Department was no longer the single source for the official published record, and the focus of compiling shifted from international law cases to the wider realm of international diplomacy.

The postwar compiling of Foreign Relations volumes was expanded over the earlier volumes in five categories. First, the range of documents selected was more comprehensive and included major White House and military records. A wider assortment of Department records was also used. Second, the compilers sought far more systematically to include records showing the evolution of policies. Third, many more foreign government documents and information gained from foreign sources were included. Fourth, a much more elaborate editing mechanism was developed, involving the identification of drafters, comparison of texts, and a fuller identification of the details of those documents excluded.

The content of the series evolved in response to the fundamental change in the role of the United States in world affairs and the greater complexity of American foreign relations. The Historical Office editors emphasized political reporting and military aspects of diplomacy while giving international law and the negotiation of conventional treaties much less attention. An exclusively bilateral approach to viewing American foreign policy gradually gave way to a functional approach, a concern for multilateral diplomacy, and attention to the politico-military, scientific, commercial, and intelligence aspects of foreign policy.

During the 1950s and 1960s the Historical Office made several radical departures from previous Foreign Relations preparation practices and registered the most valuable achievement in government records publication in the postwar era. In response to Congressional requests and support, the Office collected and published the full American records of the World War II heads of government meetings. Working with the full cooperation of the Defense Department and the Presidential libraries, the Historical Office prepared highly detailed, day-to-day records of the wartime conferences. The scope was wider than ever attempted in the history of the Foreign Relations series. Every available scrap of paper was published. The Department published the Yalta volume in 1955, the twin Potsdam volumes in 1961, and the Tehran volume in 1961. The effort to prepare such detailed volumes proved too difficult for the Office to sustain over a short period of time. Preparation of five other volumes was allowed to proceed more gradually and was not completed until 1972.

The Historical Office was also directed to prepare a special China subseries during the late 1950s. The volumes were to provide the full authoritative record of American involvement in China in the 1940s up to the Communist takeover. A large team of historians prepared these volumes on the basis of established methodology, but on a vastly increased scale of inclusion. However, only a few of the proposed ten volumes were published before the Department reached the conclusion that the subject was too sensitive for early publication. The idea of a China subseries was quietly abandoned, and the remaining volumes were released gradually through the 1960s, and 1970s as part of the regular series.

The wartime conference and the special China volumes of the Foreign Relations series provided the model for a far more thorough and comprehensive compilation of foreign affairs records. The regular volumes of the series gradually began to reflect this wider scope.

The mid-1970s were another watershed in defining the scope and comprehensiveness of the Foreign Relations program as the Historical Office began compiling the Eisenhower-Dulles foreign affairs record. Although formally working within the Kellogg mandate, the Office devised a new set of methodologies and practices for compiling the published volumes: the editors systematically used the records of other agencies; lower-level Department records were explored to discover the roots of policy and alternative policy lines; traditional diplomatic exchanges were largely excluded in favor of policymaking papers and the records of internal deliberations; the military, economic, and cultural components of American foreign policy received even greater attention than before. The editors also sought to extend the series into the most sensitive and controversial episodes of American intelligence activities and political action in foreign countries.

The changing scope of the Foreign Relations series in recent years and its entry into the sensitive area of still current intelligence activities of the U.S. Government has been one of the major basic causes for the slowdown in the publication of the series. If one is to apply the absolutely widest definition of the meaning of foreign affairs records, then an even larger segment is either in other government agencies inaccessible to the official State Department historians or undeclassifiable. There has been increasing uncertainty within the Department and its Historical Office as to whether the series was meeting an agreed level of comprehensiveness in the published Foreign Relations record. The escalating expectations of the academic community for the widest possible publication record further complicates this judgment. The result has been a growing imprecision of purpose for the series that influences every step in the preparation of Foreign Relations volumes from earliest planning to publication.

The Solution

The Foreign Relations series requires a clear renewal of its mandate that accurately reflects the reality of the foreign affairs scene during the last 25 years. The Office of the Historian must work closely within the Department and with leaders of the academic community in developing a new Department regulation defining the scope and content of official records intended for publication in Foreign Relations volumes.

The Department of State should also consult with the academic community regarding the naming of an editorial board for the Foreign Relations series. The board would represent the scholarly disciplines and users most concerned with the Foreign Relations series. It would meet with the Office of the Historian leadership frequently to discuss plans, procedures, and problems. It would meet from time to time with the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs to report on its work and the prospect of the program. The board would report annually to the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation.

The Department of State must also consider naming special scholarly panels to consult with the Office of the Historian regarding particular volumes of the Foreign Relations series. The panels would review manuscripts, discuss compiling strategies, evaluate documents, and/or discuss planning of volumes. Wherever possible, the Department would bring distinguished private historians to the Office of the Historian to carry out editing assignments outside the realm of skills of the permanent Office staff.

2. The Expanding Foreign Affairs Records

The Problem

The record of American foreign affairs has grown astronomically over the past 40 years, and it continues to expand. The millions of pages of records sent, received, and generated by the Department of State and other agencies has reached a scale that makes it difficult for anyone or any group of professionals even to read it all, much less make evaluations, editing decisions, and selections. The sheer magnitude of handling all these pages in a traditional scholarly manner causes increasing delays.

The Background

The growth of the quantity of foreign affairs records is not accurately documented. Experts agree that the number of pages of paper records has expanded exponentially since the end of the 1940s. A conservative estimate of the number of pages of State Department records for the Eisenhower era is over 35,000,000 pages. This do not include the pages of records in the White House, Department of Defense, and other governmental agencies. In the 1960s telegraphic traffic to the Department alone amounted to 4,000 pages daily and 1,500,000 annually.

The Foreign Relations staff historians of the 1930s and 1940s, who rarely exceeded 10 in number, had difficulty reviewing, case by case and country by country, the much smaller body of foreign affairs records of the pre-World War II period. Despite their dedicated and persistent efforts, the staff could not do their work swiftly enough to avoid falling from 10 years behind currency in 1930 to more than 15 years from currency in 1945.

Since World War II, the United States has expanded its diplomatic relations to the scores of new, emerging nations. By 1983, the United States had embassies to 136 foreign governments, major diplomatic missions at the headquarters of a score of major treaty organizations, and 258 overseas posts. There are now hundreds of major foreign policy players throughout the world and a complex array of political, economic, military, scientific, agricultural, and cultural issues of vital importance to the United States. Attempting to sort out every aspect of these foreign affairs issues in a careful and scholarly manner is probably beyond the knowledge and skills of any reasonable size professional historical staff. In recent decades, the Historical Office staff has met its long-standing mission by becoming ever more selective in its preparation of the official record for publication and has excluded significant issues from consideration for the record.

The expanding scope of the Foreign Relations program in the 1960s and 1970s absorbed an ever larger portion of the total resources of the Historical Office. For several decades after 1945, the Foreign Relations staff and the policy studies staff more or less shared equally the Office resources and priorities. In 1975 the Office reorganized so as to concentrate 80 percent or more of Office staff on the acceleration of the preparation of the Foreign Relations volumes. In 1978 the Department’s Inspector General reviewed the Office programs and recommended a still more complete commitment of Office resources to the Foreign Relations program. For a few years, contract historians were hired to augment the regular Office staff. By the late 1970s, 20 professional historians were engaged in the compiling process. The Department matched the staff augmentation with steady increases in funds for the editing and printing of volumes.

The expansion of Department resources committed to the preparation of the Foreign Relations series in recent years has not, by and of itself, permitted the series to cope with the enormous, expanding foreign affairs record and accelerate the compiling and publication of a comprehensive record. The Office of the Historian has produced a bigger and ever more thorough record, but the hope of its being either complete or more timely has not been realized. The attempt to review all or most of the available foreign affairs documents has daunted a thoroughly professional staff and contributed to further delays in meeting a 20-year compiling line or even a 25-year compiling line.

The Solution

The review, selection, and compilation of the official authoritative record of American foreign policy has become too great a task to be carried out in accordance with the methodology and procedures that were appropriate in an earlier period. No one person or group of persons, however skilled and dedicated, can use the customary methods of reading, page by page, even all the “most important” documents. The vast and growing record requires new procedures and methodologies. The Office of the Historian is obliged, if it is not to be overwhelmed by the available record, to find ways of being far more selective. It must add to its professional staff of diplomatic historians certain nontraditional historians who can apply quantitative methods to the records, as well as international affairs experts, historians of science and technology, and economists who can evaluate the growing quantity of multilateral, technological, and economic and financial events that dominate the more recent foreign policy scene. On the other hand, the traditional concerns of the diplomatic historians -- the complexities of diplomacy and foreign relations -- must also be consistently pursued and not abandoned in favor of too exclusive a concentration on the Washington policymaking ferment. The adaptation of the staff to its new responsibilities has begun, but it must be developed more rapidly and more decisively.

3. Foreign Government Information

The Problem

An essential element of the official diplomatic record selected by the Office of the Historian for inclusion in the Foreign Relations series consists of documents originated by foreign governments -- diplomatic notes, aides-mémoire, communications of heads of government. An even larger portion of the selected record consists of American documents containing information obtained from foreign governments in confidence. The Department of State must obtain the formal concurrence of foreign governments for the publication of their documents in the Foreign Relations series. The successful conduct of contemporary foreign relations requires respect for information conveyed by other governments and their representatives in confidence. Some foreign governments are reluctant to grant such concurrences or are very slow in responding to Department requests. No major foreign governments release their official documents earlier than 30 years after the event; it may be 40 or 50 years or never. The processing of the Foreign Relations volumes is sometimes delayed pending the receipt of such concurrences.


The Department of State first began after World War I to seek the permission of foreign governments for printing their documents in the Foreign Relations series. The responsibility for identifying such documents and initiating diplomatic correspondence to obtain the necessary permissions to print was exercised by the Historical Office until 1980 when the Department’s Classification/Declassification Center took over responsibility for such clearances as part of the overall Department restructuring of declassification procedures. The basis for seeking such permission to print was found in international law. Until the 1970s, the obtaining of such permission had been a generally routine matter. There were occasionally exceptions when some foreign governments were either unwilling or indifferent to responding to these requests, but the impact upon the series was minor.

In the 1970s some governments became more concerned not only about the fast publication of some of their official documents in the Foreign Relations series but also about the inclusion in the volumes of sensitive information given to U.S. officials in confidence. These governments indicated that they expected the Department of State to provide their documents and their information the same level of protection they would receive at home. This concern was probably accentuated by what some governments consider as unwarranted disclosure of their information to American requesters using the Freedom of Information Act. The inclusion in the Foreign Relations series of documents from the 1950s of persisting sensitivity to some foreign governments also contributed to an atmosphere of reluctance or delay on the part of some foreign ministries. Some governments have failed to respond for several years to requests for permission to print documents. The Department of State believes that the Foreign Relations series cannot go forward without such permissions. The processing of some volumes has been delayed, and others have been revised to exclude the foreign document or information.

The Solution

The inclusion of foreign government documents and information creates delays in the Foreign Relations series that ultimately are outside the control of the U.S. Government. Several measures are available and should be pursued. First, the Office of the Historian can be far more selective in its use of foreign government information so that requests to other governments can be limited to the most essential items. Second, the Department can continue its efforts to persuade and assure foreign governments of U.S. commitment to protecting the confidentiality of diplomatic exchanges. Third, the Department and its missions abroad can urge foreign governments to give prompt and positive responses to requests for approval for publication of documents in the Foreign Relations series. Fourth, the standards for assessing the sensitivity of foreign government information can be still further perfected to exclude any information or documents not properly requiring concurrence from abroad.

4. Other Agency Records

The Problem

The full record of the development of American foreign policy requires the inclusion of documents and information from government agencies and departments other than the Department of State. In particular the Office of the Historian must have access to and permission to include documents from the White House, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Agency for International Development, the Department of Commerce, and the Treasury Department. Access to the records of these agencies is limited and sometimes impossible. The process of acquiring copies of documents from these other agencies, and subsequently declassifying those included in the proposed Foreign Relations volumes, is time-consuming and leads to delays in the production process -- delays usually of months and often of years.


When Secretary of State Kellogg established the modern Foreign Relations series in 1925, the authorizing regulation called for the preparation of an official diplomatic record essentially derived from the files of the Department of State, but required the inclusion of documents from other agencies when necessary to complete the record. Indeed, until World War II, the record of American foreign policy was almost exclusively the record of the Department of State. With the proliferation during and after the war of agencies concerned with foreign affairs, the Foreign Relations historians had to seek records from outside the Department. An increasing proportion of foreign policy decisions involved the President, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other government agencies including the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, the Agriculture Department, the Export-Import Bank, and various foreign aid agencies. Preparation of a comprehensive record of major foreign policy exchanges and activities required the review, evaluation, and reproduction of an ever larger body of records from these other agencies.

Such official access usually must occur at the Agency itself, sometimes at the National Archives, and particularly at the Presidential libraries. Access to the records retained by agencies is consistently difficult, although official access agreements were worked out during the 1970s with the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the historical areas of the various military services. The examination of other agency records at the National Archives and the Archives-managed Presidential libraries is orderly and professional but restricted by special access procedures required by the agencies, the need for the agency to review copies of all documents requested by the State Department historians, and the delays resulting from the resource and personnel limitations experienced by all National Archives units since 1980. Some agencies will, of course, provide no official access for State Department historians to agency records. Some agencies, like the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, require that documents involving their equity found in third agency files or in the files of the National Archives be reviewed by the agency before being released to State Department historians. An elaborate, time-consuming, and frequently imperfect procedure has been evolved by the State Department and other foreign policy agencies to permit access to, review, and copying of key foreign affairs records. The process is based upon caution and care for security and the proper handling of all records.

The difficulties encountered by the Historical staff in working with other agencies to prepare Foreign Relations volumes has caused two Presidents to encourage and call for closer working relationships. On September 6, 1961, President Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum No. 91 addressed to the Secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, and the Administrator of the General Services Administration. Kennedy’s directive called upon the heads of agencies concerned with the publication of the Foreign Relations series to avoid undue delays in the preparation of the volumes and to cooperate fully with the Department of State in the preparation of the series. On March 8, 1972, President Nixon issued directions which called upon the Secretary of State to speed up the publication of the Foreign Relations series to 20 years from currency and requested the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to cooperate fully with the Secretary of State in the most expeditious manner and to the maximum extent consistent with the requirements of national security.

The directives of Presidents Kennedy and Nixon and the efforts of the Department of State and its Historical Office have had only short-term success in maintaining an optimal relationship for the Foreign Relations series with other government agencies. There has never been a fully worked out interagency agreement, or priorities and procedures for cooperation in the preparation of the official published foreign affairs record. The absence of these priorities has added a serious delay to the series and compromised its ability to serve as a comprehensive record for all the government.

The Solution

Twelve years have passed since the last Presidential directive endorsing the preparation of the Foreign Relations series as the vehicle of official disclosure of the American foreign affairs record. Steps can be taken within the Executive Branch to formulate a comparable directive addressed to the principal foreign affairs agencies so that some momentum can be given to the program of compiling a complete Foreign Relations series. A new interagency procedure for regularized access and disclosure of agency records in the Foreign Relations series is also urgently needed. Such a system would rationalize and regulate the current time-consuming, ad hoc arrangements for gaining access to other agency records, for making copies, and for downgrading and declassifying information. Finally, the Office of the Historian for its part must exercise restraint in its use of other agency records so that its requests for access and copies do not overwhelm limited agency resources and thwart the best intentioned efforts at cooperation.

5. Declassification

The Problem

The largest part of the foreign policy record selected by State Department historians for inclusion in the Foreign Relations series is composed of classified documents. During the past 40 years, the government, including the State Department, has developed an increasingly elaborate declassification system capable of properly and fully protecting American diplomatic secrets. This declassification system has not developed smoothly, but by leaps forward in complexity and comprehensiveness, and has resulted in a variety of delays and dilemmas for the Foreign Relations program.


Early Department Clearance Procedures

The concern within the Department of State regarding the sensitivity of the Foreign Relations record goes back at least to the beginning of the twentieth century. The volume for 1898 on the Spanish-American War was delayed until 1901 and was carefully prepared by a high-ranking officer of the Department, John Bassett Moore. It was the first publication delay in 40 years. In the years that followed, senior Department officers took steps to assure that deletions or delays in the Foreign Relations program protected current policy discussions. Before 1930, the Department’s Solicitor exercised a pre-eminent role in the increasingly elaborate process for the sensitivity clearances of Foreign Relations volumes.

With the establishment of an Historical Adviser in 1925 and a major publication program in 1930, responsibility for the clearance of Foreign Relations volumes fell to the Department’s political divisions. The Historical Adviser established the precedent of appealing Foreign Relations clearance and publication problems to Under Secretaries of State and occasionally to the Secretary of State. The White House has occasionally delayed Foreign Relations volumes. President Roosevelt, for example, objected to and postponed the publication of some volumes of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference because he believed they recorded in too great detail the private deliberations of Allied heads of governments.

The World War II heads of government conference volumes and the special China volumes for the 1940s required intense security review. The issue of releasing particular documents in the volumes was intensely debated within the Department, with other agencies, and sometimes with other governments. The clearance process caused delays of volumes and deletion of documents and parts of documents.

The wartime conference volumes provided a model for a more careful, thorough collection of documents and editing of texts. The regular volumes of the Foreign Relations series began to reflect the newer, more scholarly approach. The improved procedures evoked general endorsement in the Department of State, but also some concerns. There emerged in the Department leadership a growing awareness of the substantive sensitivity of the official record and possible dangers in the detailed recording in Foreign Relations volumes of the discussions and exchanges involved in policy formulation. Secretaries Dulles and Rusk became final arbiters of some of these disputes. By the 1960s the clearance of volumes tended to be as lengthy a process as the compiling of the record.

Basis and Procedures for Declassification

Since World War II, a formal system for control and orderly disclosure of classified information has been developed and elaborated. Based on the National Security Act of 1947 and therefore keyed initially to the protection of intelligence information, procedures and criteria have been stipulated in a series of executive orders, beginning with President Truman’s in 1951 and continuing through, most recently, Executive Order 12356 issued by President Reagan in August 1982. In 1979, the newly created Classification/Declassification Center (A/CDC) assumed responsibility for declassification of Foreign Relations volumes from the geographic and functional bureaus of the Department. Most of the other Departments and Agencies involved in foreign affairs have formed similar centralized systems for declassification review.

Within A/CDC, systematic review is performed by retired senior Foreign Service Officers who have special area expertise and who enjoy the confidence of the geographic bureaus that declassification decisions will be properly made or, in marginal cases, referred to them. Thus, bureau personnel no longer find the document review responsibility competing for attention with, and frequently losing out to, pressing operational problems. Reviewers in CDC read documents selected for the Foreign Relations series on a line-by-line basis so that as much as possible of even sensitive documents is released. A/CDC also processes necessary referrals to other U.S. agencies and to foreign governments.

Relationship of the Foreign Relations Series to Scholars’ Access to Records

After World War II the Department of State maintained a program of limited access by scholars to the more recent classified portion of the agency records, while periodically transferring older historical portions of the foreign affairs files to the National Archives for accessioning and opening to the public. The program, coordinated for the Department by the Office of The Historian, defined that portion of the still classified record -- not yet transferred to the National Archives, but reviewed by the Office of the Historian in connection with the preparation of the Foreign Relations series -- as open to limited research by qual1f1ed researchers. Research notes made by users of the program were reviewed by the relevant Department bureaus.

The system was inherently inequitable and susceptible to favoritism. The gradual fall from currency of the Foreign Relations series also increasingly inhibited its utility. The program for restricted access for scholars was ended by the Department in 1975. After that time individuals could have access to the Department records already transferred to the National Archives, but could have no access to the records not yet accessioned. Specific individual requests could, of course, be made for papers under the expanded Freedom of Information Act. Also, scholars could initiate requests for historical documents through the Presidential libraries for mandatory declassification review of records held there, under provisions of the current Executive Order.

Controversies Regarding Declassification

The Department’s centralized classification/declassification program has implemented the requirements and spirit of the Carter (Executive Order 12065) and Reagan executive orders on information control. Systematic guidelines have been developed for the Department’s historical records, Freedom of Information Act requests are being met fairly and increasingly effectively, and foreign governments have been reassured regarding the proper security protection of their information. The scholarly community has not, however, been fully satisfied with the declassification program, particularly as it has affected the Foreign Relations series. The start-up of the Department’s declassification program in 1979 and the more fully systematized programs of other foreign affairs agencies had an immediate short-term impact upon the rate of publication of the series. The start-up difficulties appear now to have been overcome, but the declassification process has become elaborate, highly structured, and subject to delays unless all parties involved in the preparation of the Foreign Relations volumes work together closely and cooperatively. The Department’s declassification program, however it may compare with past programs, is the ally and shield of the Foreign Relations series and is the leader among the agencies in encouraging and advocating the disclosure of the foreign affairs record.

The Re-Review of Foreign Relations Volumes

Just as the Classification/Declassification Center came into being, a diplomatic incident over the inadvertent printing of highly sensitive foreign government information in a Foreign Relations volume led to a high-level Department of State decision that A/CDC should re-review some 20 volumes already in manuscript following evaluation for declassification under the previous arrangements. Although the Office of the Historian and A/CDC cooperated in accomplishing the re-review promptly within the Department, the necessity for additional referrals added to the delay, and in some instances the Office of the Historian chose to defer publication rather than accept the excisions and denials which the re-review produced. The re-review therefore caused some delay in fact, and the appearance of more. Although it is not a problem that will recur in the future, some scholars have continued to consider A/CDC an obstruction. In reality, its creation has facilitated the process of Departmental review.

How Is The System Working

The new centralized classification/declassification system within the Department and in some other agencies has been far more comprehensive and thorough in its systematic review of historical files and its clearance of Foreign Relations volumes than any previous clearance process. This cautious and careful implementation accurately reflects government directives and the mounting concerns of policy officers regarding the sensitivity of many foreign policy issues. Its strictness, however, has been viewed by many in the scholarly community as an excessive constraint upon declassification by comparison with pre-1979 practices. There is a general feeling among users of the Foreign Relations series that the Department and the government as a whole are erring in the direction of excessive classification. For their part, the officers responsible for the new declassification system feel that there has been too little recognition of how a careful line-by-line review permits the disclosure, with minimum excisions, of many documents that might otherwise be withheld entirely.

The Office of The Historian and the Classification/Declassification Center have worked ever more closely in the last several years toward common goals: to assure that only those records and information that require security protection are withheld from the Foreign Relations volumes; to develop a full, accurate Foreign Relations record; and to maintain the confidence of Department policy officers and foreign affairs officers in other agencies that sensitive national security will be properly protected.

Declassification of Other Agency Documents

An ever larger portion of the basic Foreign Relations record is derived from other agencies and from the documents and information of other governments. All U.S. agencies and authorities are generally supportive and sympathetic to the Foreign Relations program, but the process for identifying and clearing the documents and information is increasingly complicated and time-consuming. Considerable resources in government are expended in the review and declassification of Foreign Relations volumes. The process is not swift, but it must be faultless. The Department has worked carefully to fine tune the process and mitigate delays. The large scale of the Foreign Relations program makes acceleration of declassification difficult if due caution is to be observed. Furthermore, the Department of State declassification review must be completed before documents are referred to other agencies for their review and to other governments for concurrence. This sequential procedure unavoidably makes for delay.

The Solution

As indicated above, the goal of the Department of State is to achieve and maintain publication of the Foreign Relations series at the 30-year line. To that end:

  • We have improved communication between the Office of the Historian and A/CDC so that the latter can program its resources to respond as efficiently as possible to accommodate the Historian’s priorities.
  • A/CDC seeks to strengthen relations with counterpart elements of other Executive Branch agencies, to increase their understanding of the importance of the Foreign Relations series, and to obtain their action on referrals as rapidly as possible in competition with other priorities.
  • We are studying possibilities for telescoping an inevitably long process toward publication by running some of the numerous review and referral steps concurrently rather than sequentially.

To achieve the present goal, both the Office of the Historian and A/CDC will probably have to seek Departmental, Executive Branch, and ultimately Congressional, approval for increased resources beginning in fiscal years 1986 and 1987.

We believe that the division of effort and the existing cooperation between the Office of the Historian and A/CDC guarantee that the Department of State will continue to balance successfully its obligation to protect information to the limited extent necessary for national security, even after 30 years, with its wish to support the public’s right to access to the historical record of its government’s undertakings.

6. Printing

The Problem

In recent years the printing and publishing of the volumes of the Foreign Relations series has become an increasingly lengthy process. It is a process added on to the already lengthy declassification procedure. From the time a volume has at last been fully declassified to the time it is finally printed, bound, and released for sale, one year to 18 months routinely elapses. The scheduling of the precise date for release of volumes has become problematic. It is difficult to tell academic and other public users when volumes will be printed and released. The Department and particularly its declassification program have been blamed for delays in the release of volumes for which they have no responsibility. The delays in publishing have added an additional factor of demoralization to all other stages of the process. Those who are responsible for assigning priority to the preparation and clearing of Foreign Relations volumes ask themselves why they must act expeditiously when the Department cannot assure prompt publication of a volume once it is fully prepared and cleared.


The Foreign Relations series has been printed and published by the Government Printing Office (GPO) throughout its 120 years of existence. The Government Printing Office has provided consistent support to the Department as the Foreign Relations series has expanded in complexity and size over the last 50 years. The changing circumstances of the last 10 years, however, have severely tested the effectiveness of the publishing program and the government’s ability to place the official diplomatic record in the hands of the public in a timely and efficient manner.

Changing printing technology has had a major impact upon the production and publication of the volumes in the Foreign Relations series. In particular, the introduction in the late 1970s of computerized typesetting and the total abandonment of linotype printing contributed to the delay in the publication of more than 20 Foreign Relations volumes. The changeover in typesetting procedures caught many volumes in mid-stream. In 1983 the GPO announced it was completely computerizing its printing and asked the State Department to withdraw its holdings of linotype lead plates for nearly 20 Foreign Relations volumes in preparation and convert them into a computerized medium. These volumes had languished in the galley proof stage at the GPO for 5 or more years awaiting final declassification. Expensive and time-consuming reprocessing of the Foreign Relations texts by computerized typesetting was required. The Government Printing Office and the Department have worked closely in attempting to devise a fully effective and economical procedure for publishing Foreign Relations volumes from manuscript to printed books in the new technology. A fully effective system, however, eluded the parties through 1983.

Before the computerized typesetting procedures were fully introduced, the Department and the Government Printing Office attempted without great success to cope with the necessary backlog of Foreign Relations volumes. The Department of State and other agencies had always used classified printed galley proof of compiled Foreign Relations volumes in determining declassification decisions. Their convenience and legibility made the clearance process far more efficient than reading copies of the original documents. But the length of the declassification review process, sometimes 3, 4, or more years, created a growing backlog of partially printed volumes and undermined any predictable scheduling at the GPO. As the GPO phased out the linotype operation in the late 1970s, the backlogged volumes in galley proof were the victims of more unexpected and protracted handling delays. The delays accounted for the failure of the Foreign Relations volumes to be published promptly even after declassification was finally achieved.

The average final production phase of Foreign Relations has gradually lengthened from less than a year before 1978 to nearly two years in 1983, measured from the point at which a Foreign Relations volume is fully declassified to the date it is published and released to the press and the public. The process involves steps by both the Department and the GPO. The handling of volumes is closely confined by the need for continued security protection, even after declassification of documents in the volume, because of the volatility of day-to-day foreign relations events and the possibility of reversals of clearances of information included in Foreign Relations volumes awaiting release. The difficulty in resolving the processing delays within the GPO-Department relationship has spurred the search for alternative printers in private enterprise as an alternative to publication of the series by the Public Printer.

Even a more efficient GPO-State Department relationship may not be able to overcome other difficulties and problems associated with the processing of Foreign Relations volumes at the Government Printing Office. These include the limited number of volumes printed (fewer than 5,000 copies per volume), the paucity of advertising of volumes, the inability of purchasers to subscribe to the series, the short duration during which the volumes remain in print (fewer than 5 years), and the high agency production cost per volume.

The Solution

The Department has begun a comprehensive program to modernize the publication of the Foreign Relations series by careful application of computerized typesetting and printing processes. The Office of the Historian and the Publishing Services Division of the Department of State have worked closely with the Government Printing Office since 1981 to develop a computer program to print books using computerized printing processes, word processors, and magnetic tapes. The program and process will work equally well with books text-edited in the Office of the Historian, by commercial typesetters, or at the GPO. The first volumes to be produced in the new technology were published in 1983. As others follow, the speed of the publication process should increase while the cost to the Department and to purchasers will be reduced significantly. The printing and release of more volumes more rapidly will eliminate the backlog of volumes and the image of the Foreign Relations series as a publication not deserving of high priority and speedy processing.

If the Government Printing Office itself cannot develop the procedures and maintain the facilities to assure an accelerated publishing program in the new technology, the Department may seek from the Congress a waiver of the statutory requirement that the Foreign Relations series be prepared exclusively by the Public Printer. The prodigious nature of the publishing program to allow the Foreign Relations series to catch up to and maintain publication at a 30-year line will require care in maintaining adequate publishing capacity. The Department will continue to assure that the volumes of the series are promptly and fully distributed to the depository libraries and to members of Congress. The Department must seek the flexibility in printing that will permit a sustained and scheduled production of volumes. It will also seek improved distribution techniques to overcome problems of volumes being out-of-print prematurely, inadequately advertised, and unavailable by subscription.

7. Size

The Problem

The Historical Office has spurred the Foreign Relations series forward by expanding its scope and perfecting its methodological complexity. Accelerations have been mandated and goals have been established to bring the series closer to currency. Yet, the Foreign Relations series is currently further behind currency than ever. The American diplomatic record is of necessity less accessible to scholars than it was at the end of World War II. Uncontrolled growth has become the overriding problem of the published series. Its ever expanding size has leaped far beyond the ability of historians to compile, editors to edit, archivists to process, declassifiers to review, and printers to publish.


More than 260 Foreign Relations volumes have been published since the series began 123 years ago. More than 145 volumes have been published since 1950. The sad irony is that all the efforts to accelerate the publication of the series have failed, and the series has steadily fallen further behind currency. The following table outlines the growth of the series and its proximity to currency.

Number of Volumes Published Years Behind Currency
1861-1869 20 1
1870-1879 17 1
1880-1889 10 1
1890-1899 13 1
1900-1909 13 3
1910-1919 7 7
1920-1929 11 12
1930-1939 15 15
1940-1949 25 16
1950-1959 40 18
1960-1969 40 24
1970-1979 46 29
1980-1983 14 30+

The Department, often supported by the White House and Congress, has sought to press the series closer to currency. In each case the exhortation, goals, and additional resources have resulted in an improved series but an ever larger one that frustrated hopes of closing the gap.

The Department’s first Historical Adviser developed an acceleration plan in the late 1920s when the series was more than 10 years behind currency. A special World War I series and multiple volumes for the first war years were projected. Some 27 volumes were to be prepared in 5 years. The ambitious plan was adopted by the State Department, approved by the Budget Bureau, but Congress withheld funding for several years until persuaded by the scholarly community, led by Charles Evans Hughes, to authorize the program. The Department pressed forward with the program through the Depression and World War II. By the end of the 1940s, the 27 volumes had expanded to 50 and the series was 15 years behind currency.

After World War II the staff of the Historical Office expanded, and the program struggled to hold at a 15-year line. In order to meet the need for the official record of more recent and periodically important foreign affairs events, the Department launched two new special series. In response to Congressional requests and support, the Historical Office began the urgent compilation of the full records of the World War II heads of government meetings at Washington, Casablanca, Quebec, Tehran, Cairo, Yalta, and Potsdam. The Yalta volume was released in 1955, two volumes on the Potsdam meetings in 1960, and the Tehran conference volume in 1961. The remaining four volumes languished and were not all published until 1972. Also during the 1950s, the Department directed the Historical Office to prepare the full record of American involvement in China in the 1940s leading to the establishment of the People’s Republic. Ten volumes of the projected China subseries for Foreign Relations were hurriedly prepared by a special team. The sensitivity of the subject, however, required the Department to delay publication. The last of the 10 volumes was finally released in 1978.

On March 6, 1961, President Kennedy issued a directive endorsing the Foreign Relations series and calling upon department, agencies, and libraries to cooperate with the Department of State in publishing the volumes with a minimum of delay. The President pointed to the 20-year delay in the series as “unfortunate and undesirable” and called for a goal of publishing the official record at 15 years after the events. The Kennedy directive and White House support for the Foreign Relations series helped overcome some problems and assure sustained funding for the program, but the series fell further behind while growing ever larger in scale.

The steady expansion of the Foreign Relations series can be seen in the following table.

Years Chronicled Number of Volumes
1900-1910 15
1911-1920 49 (including Paris Peace Conference)
1921-1930 24
1931-1940 48
1941-1950 75 (including wartime conferences and expanded China subseries)
1951-1960 75+ (projected--58 already compiled)

On March 8, 1972, President Nixon issued a directive to Secretary of State Rogers requiring an accelerated publication program for the Foreign Relations series to bring it to a 20-year line “without impairing the quality or comprehensiveness of the series”. The goal was to be achieved in 3 years, and the series maintained at that level from then on. The Secretary of Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs were directed to cooperate with Secretary Rogers to meet the objectives of the President’s directive. The Presidential directive resulted in the augmentation of Historical Office resources and some increased cooperation by other agencies, but the series merely grew more comprehensive, more thoroughly edited, larger, and further behind currency.

The expanding scope of the Foreign Relations program absorbed an even larger portion of the total resources of the Historical Office. For several decades after 1945 the Foreign Relations staff and the policy studies staff had shared more or less equally the Office resources and priorities. By 1976 the Office reorganized so as to concentrate 80 percent or more of Office staff on the acceleration of the preparation of the Foreign Relations volumes.

Methodology was modernized, the staff augmented, acceleration exhorted, but the numbers of volumes actually published tended to diminish. The Historical Office began the first of some 24 volumes for the 1952-1954 triennium in 1974. Most were completed in manuscript by 1977. Only six of these were published by 1983. Another 27 separate volumes for 1955-1957 were begun in the late 1970s and were largely compiled by 1981. Compilation of the first 18 volumes for 1958-1960 was begun in the early 1980s.

In 8 years (1974-1981) of intense, accelerated compiling of the foreign affairs record, nearly 60 volumes were prepared. The compilation time had been barely held at the 25-year line and the publication time had slipped to 30 years. The prodigious compiling effort had been converted into only six published volumes and a backlog of substantial proportions had accumulated. The techniques for compiling the official record had completely outdistanced the means for publishing a declassified record. The record was in fact more inaccessible to the scholars and public than at any time since the end of World War II.

The Solution

Sixty years of experience by the Office of the Historian and other concerned elements of the Department of State demonstrate the futility of all efforts to bring the Foreign Relations series closer to currency unless and until careful, even severe, restraint can be exercised on the size of the series. The Historical Office must observe that restraint without compromising accepted standards of accuracy and comprehensiveness. The Historian must work to assure that only the essential official record is prepared in the most efficient and concise form consistent with longstanding responsibilities for scholarship. The overall size of the series should be scaled down from the high level of more than 35,000 printed pages prepared for the 1952-1954 triennium and again for the 1955-1957 triennium.

The Office of the Historian is giving particular attention to the use of microform supplements to the printed volumes of the series to assure scholars, students, and the public the widest possible access to a full authoritative record of American foreign policy. Microform cannot be a substitute for a letter press edition of the official record, but can be a means for providing libraries, institutions, and individual users with that part of the growing foreign affairs record that does not require presentation in print. Pilot projects already in process may provide the basis for requesting additional resources and expanding this element of the work.

What Would Be Necessary to Publish Foreign Relations at a 25-Year Line

To bring the Foreign Relations to a 25-year publication line within 15 years would require a prodigious effort in compiling, editing, declassification, and publication never before attempted or envisaged. The Department of State would have to publish the remaining principal records of the Eisenhower administration and the records of the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations by the year 2000. If the Department and its Office of The Historian were to prepare an official record of the scale prepared over the last 10 years, the program to reach the 25-year line for the year 2000 would require the preparation of 165 Foreign Relations volumes in the next 16 years. If the scale were somewhat constrained, the record could be produced in 150 volumes or less.

The compiling and editing of these 150 or more volumes over a period of 12 or more years would require a larger staff of historians and research assistants, an enlarged team of technical editors, and a support staff of clerks working on a sustained, uninterrupted basis. This level of production was never previously attained by the Office of the Historian. It is obviously not impossible, but to sustain it over 12 or more years would require optimum management and leadership.

The declassification of 150 Foreign Relations volumes over a 15-year period would require a substantially expanded declassification capacity in the Department of State and comparable expansions at the other agencies asked to review the proposed manuscripts for declassification. But even such an augmentation of staff by itself would bring about only a limited acceleration to the declassification process. The current sensitivity of documents and the state of U.S. relations with other countries will remain unavoidable constraints. Resources alone cannot speed up the preparation of the series. The only way this burden could be limited would be by careful restraint on the number of other agency documents included in the volumes by the historians and editors. The precise number of personnel required over the 15-year period would depend upon the scale of the volumes and the quantity of other agency documents included, but it certainly would require a substantial increase in State Department declassification costs. Substantial increases in the declassification personnel in other agencies involved in the clearance of Foreign Relations volumes would also be necessary.

The archival costs for an accelerated compiling program would also be great. Department of State critical records were converted in 1974 to a computerized machine-readable form -- the FAIS system. But pre-1974 records are all paper files. Intensified use of these records by the Office of the Historian would require additional Department records management personnel. The use of Presidential files at Cambridge, Austin, Ann Arbor, and elsewhere would require substantial increments of archivists from the National Archives which has suffered painful budget contractions in recent years. An exact estimate of archival costs for an accelerated program is difficult to assess, but a substantial increase in archival personnel and document copying costs must be presumed.

The printing and binding of 150 volumes in 15 years would require a considerable, sustained outlay of funds. The utilization of computerized printing and word processing, already far advanced in the Office of the Historian, has reduced costs from earlier linotype costs per volume. Nevertheless, the technical complexity of Foreign Relations volumes would require careful processing. A cost per volume of $100,000 must be considered as a minimum figure. The total cost of the accelerated program would amount to more than $15 million.

A program to bring the Foreign Relations series to a 25-year publication line would require large additional resources for an extended period of time, as well as agreement on the required scale and scope of the accelerated series. Acquisition of these resources and agreements may not be feasible. They may not even be desirable. The Department of State already has under study a variety of programs and studies aimed at a more realizable and ultimately more useful goal of maintaining the Foreign Relations series at a 30-year publication line. There are compell1ng policy arguments in favor of a 30-year line:

  • The Secretary of State has informed the Department’s Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation of his commitment to a systematic declassification program that aims at assuring public access to the official foreign affairs record 30 years after the events.
  • The Foreign Relations series can be subject to comprehensive verification and also serve as a guide to the full foreign affairs record if the volumes are published at the same time, or soon after the files are opened at 30 years.
  • A 30-year line will provide a mere realistic interval to declassify and desensitize most secrets; matters that require continued prolonged security protection may go on for 40, 50, or more years.
  • The United Kingdom Government maintains a 30-year line for opening its foreign affairs record.* Documents on British and Commonwealth Affairs, the series comparable to Foreign Relations of the United States, resumed publication in 1984 and aims at reaching something like a 30-year line.

Maintaining a 30 year line itself will prove a prodigious undertaking. If and when it is successful, those in government and in the public sector can assure the utility of seeking to move forward closer to currency.

Working With the Academic Community

The government as well as the academic community and the public in general have long demonstrated trust in the scholarship, objectivity, and accuracy of the Foreign Relations series. The Historical Office over the years has sought to earn that trust by steadily raising the level of professionalism of the volumes and soliciting the advice and verification of the users. But the trust continues to be tested, particularly as the timeliness of the series falls short of the expectations and needs of government and non-government users. It is a challenge that demands a new urgency and new solution.

American diplomatic history was once a very specialized discipline practiced by a handful of scholars. In the years following World War II, the study of American foreign affairs expanded as rapidly as America became involved around the world. In the pre-World War II period the traditional diplomatic historians were largely satisfied with the Foreign Relations series and the special arrangements for access to Department records for scholars. Circumstances changed drastically, however, in the following 40 years. The Foreign Relations series continued to be respected as an important tool of foreign affairs research, but its incompleteness on some sensitive topics may have limited its usefulness and even aroused fears regarding its objectivity. Worse still, the growing body of new scholars involved in the study of foreign affairs and international history often found their research increasingly thwarted by delayed publication of the official record in the Foreign Relations series and the perceived inadequacy of other means of access to official records. In recent years the American scholarly community has resorted to various panels and committees to give expression to its requirements and concerns regarding the foreign affairs record.

The involvement of the series in politicized topics such as the wartime conferences and China, the impact of clearance deletions on the content of published volumes, and the growing concern of the historical community over the publication program, caused the Department to create a Foreign Relations Advisory Committee** in the late 1950s. The Advisory Committee, composed of representatives of the major national historical, political science, and international law societies, was to monitor the integrity of the work of the Historical Office and to confirm to the academic community the objectivity and accuracy of the published volumes. The Advisory Committee has met annually at the Department of State since 1958 to review the Foreign Relations program and its plans and problems.

The Committee has carefully monitored the Foreign Relations program, acknowledging the scholarship of the volumes. The Committee has also consistently advised the Department to support adequately the Historical Office to allow the Foreign Relations program to proceed and has deplored the program’s steady retreat from 20 years to more than 30 years behind currency.

The Advisory Committee has, in recent years, become ever more concerned about the details of the operations of the Department as they affect the Foreign Relations series, particularly the declassification program. The Advisory Committee has also turned more of its attention to the question of scholars’ access to the full foreign affairs record and the Department’s policies in this area.

Recently, representatives of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Archivists have constituted a joint committee to investigate government programs of access and disclosure. The Committee wrote the Secretary of State in December 1981 to express concern about serious delays in declassifying documents for publication in Foreign Relations. On November 16, 1982, the Committee again wrote the Secretary, noting the “timely and objective release and publication of basic documents of American international relations is an important element in our system of open and responsible government.” The Committee has urged more resources and stronger support for the Foreign Relations series in order to overcome the time lag in publication which has slipped to 30 years.

The professional organizations are now actively engaged in other ways of promoting earlier disclosure of foreign affairs records. The American Historical Association vigorously supports earlier declassification. The Annual Report of its Research Division for 1982 contended that the present executive order on classification, E.O. 12356 of April 1982, “dramatically reverses policies of recent decades.” The report urged the establishment of a 20-year declassification line. The Organization of American Historians has appointed an access committee which includes the Foreign Relations series within its purview. Since 1976 the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, representing most major historical organizations in the United States, has worked in Washington on behalf of the National Archives and for more rapid declassification. The Coalition to Save Our Documentary Heritage is a more recent organization committed to the same objectives. The Society for History in the Federal Government, founded in 1979 and now with a membership of over 950, also has supported the acceleration of declassification and the release of Foreign Relations. The Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations established a government relations committee to monitor the publication of the Foreign Relations series and the opening of records at the National Archives. The American Society for International Law, a consistent advocate and supporter of the Foreign Relations over the past decades, has argued for its more timely publication and has passed several resolutions in recent years urging the more rapid release of Foreign Relations volumes.


The measures already undertaken and contemplated by the Department of State to achieve publication of the Foreign Relations series at the 30-year line should be pursued with deliberation and full care for the longstanding traditions of scholarship and objectivity of the Foreign Relations series. The Historian of the Department must have a full role in the process leading to decisions affecting the preparation, declassification, and publication of the volumes in the series. The Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation should be consulted by the Department at all stages in the development of an action program for the series. The academic community should be asked to become more involved with foreign affairs practitioners in the planning of the Foreign Relations series and any special supplements being planned for the 1960s and 1970s. This involvement should be aimed at assuring that the design, preparation, clearance, and publication of each Foreign Relations volume for future years meets the basic criteria for an authoritative, comprehensive, and objective volume. The high cost of preparing the series requires that it respond fully and precisely to historical requirements for a permanent record. It must address all major foreign affairs issues, depict the evolution of policies, and present a fully balanced picture of issues and possibilities in the diplomatic field. It must fully support the Department’s commitment to disclosing the official record to the public as soon as possible. The Department policy offices and declassification directors must also be made closer partners in the preparation and publication of the series and come to a fuller awareness of their responsibility for the success of the program.

All efforts with the public and within government must aim at the following three cardinal undertakings:

First, The Historian must exercise intense restraint upon the size of the record selected and compiled and upon the scale of documentation sought from other government agencies. The Historian cannot successfully accomplish this goal in the face of demands from within government and the public for expanded volumes. The prospective size and scope of the series must have full support from within government and from academic and scholarly users.

Second, criteria of completeness and comprehensiveness of the official foreign affairs record which have been debated over recent years must be defined. The current definition of comprehensiveness has not satisfied academic users of the series who find the expanded series still not sufficiently complete. Without an agreement on the scope of the Foreign Relations series, any program for publication will, however expensive, be hopelessly burdened with controversy~

Third, drawing closer to currency will necessarily result in a larger proportion of documents denied declassification on national security grounds or because of current sensitivity. The release of more foreign government documents will be denied concurrence and much more foreign government information will be denied. These circumstances conflict with the standards of completeness and with the sentiment of a majority of Foreign Relations users who, in a Department survey in 1982, expressed a preference for a more comprehensive series, even if published later, than for more selective volumes. The greater selectivity of the series would have to be clearly explained, understood, and acknowledged within government and the academic community.

William Z. Slany
The Historian of the Department of State

  1. The United Kingdom does not, however, completely open its foreign affairs files at 30 years, and significant portions of the foreign office files are protected well beyond 30 years.
  2. The Advisory Committee was renamed the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation in 1975.