Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. The subseries presents a documentary record of major foreign policy decisions and actions of the Carter administration. This specific volume documents U.S. foreign policy toward Southeast Asia during that administration. It continues to document many of the issues and themes that were addressed in the previous volume on Southeast Asia: Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume E–12, Documents on East and Southeast Asia, 1973–1976. Additionally, readers may wish to read this volume in conjunction with the Carter volumes on China (especially for information on the Sino-Vietnamese War), Japan and Korea, and Global Issues (especially for the information on Micronesia): Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XIII, China; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XIV, Korea; Japan; and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXV, Global Issues; United Nations Issues.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXII

With the conclusion of the Vietnam War preceding President Carter’s ascension to the presidency, the new administration focused much of its Southeast Asia-related attention on Vietnam, seeking to normalize relations with the Vietnamese government and dealing with the Sino-Vietnamese War, the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea, and the famine in Kampuchea. The Sino-Vietnamese War and the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea created a refugee crisis that had huge implications for all of Southeast Asia. The refugee situation dominated U.S. interaction with the region and coincided with a U.S. domestic agenda that sought to establish refugee policy and legislation. In addition to documenting the implications of the Southeast Asian refugee crisis, this volume documents regional issues such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the narcotics traffic in the Golden Triangle, which included Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, where the Carter administration grappled with the increased opium production in these countries.

Australia’s prominence in the U.S. relationship with Southeast Asia is clear from the documents included in this volume, especially the rich correspondence between President Carter and Australian [Page VIII] Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. High-level meetings happened more with officials from Australia and New Zealand than with other countries in Southeast Asia and included discussions about nuclear proliferation.

This volume also covers the establishment of U.S. relations with newly independent Pacific island nations, many of which were gaining their independence during the Carter administration. The Philippines features prominently in this volume due to the special importance of the base negotiations that took place during the Carter years.

While there are many memoranda of conversation in this volume, covering meetings involving high-level discussions in Washington and New York City and congressional delegations sent to Southeast Asia, many of the crisis situations are documented through telegrams in real time. Rich documentation of meetings and correspondence, especially with regard to refugee issues, provides insights into the policy formulation process in Washington.

While critical political, military, and demographic events were transpiring in Southeast Asia throughout the Carter administration, many in the region struggled with the United States’ largely reactive policy agenda. Individual countries, as well as ASEAN, wanted to be taken seriously in the global arena, but the Carter administration did not prioritize its relationships with most Southeast Asian countries within the larger foreign policy context. Nevertheless, most of these countries sought to engage Washington, educate it, and gain greater inclusion in its foreign policy agenda during the Carter years.


The editors wish to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Jimmy Carter Library, especially Dave Stanhope, James Yancey, Ceri McCarron, Brittany Parris, and Amanda Pellerin. Thanks are due to the Historical Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency, who were helpful in arranging full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency. The editors would also like to thank Sandy Meagher for her valuable assistance in expediting the use of files of the Department of Defense.

David P. Nickles collected documentation for this volume. Melissa Jane Taylor collected and selected documentation and edited the volume. Both editors worked under the supervision of Kathleen Rasmussen, Chief of the Global Issues and General Division, and Adam Howard, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. Kristin Ahlberg also reviewed the volume. Dean Weatherhead coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Heather McDaniel completed the copy and technical editing.

Melissa Jane Taylor