Handwritten Note from British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan
By Helmi Raaska, Archivist
For more than ten years the primary focus of my work has been archival processing and declassification review of collections that comprise the files of the National Security Adviser to the President (Henry Kissinger, succeeded by Brent Scowcroft). It has been and continues to be an amazing opportunity to read many fascinating documents relating to foreign policy and international affairs. There is something new every day! This brief note I have chosen to share struck a chord with me the first time I read it, and it has stayed with me as one of my favorite items. It brings serious negotiations about nuclear technology to a very personal level.
Then British Foreign Secretary and future Prime Minister James Callaghan passed this note to Henry Kissinger on July 4, 1974, when they were at a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels. Callaghan asked, with concern for his grandchildren, what Kissinger’s assessment of the future nuclear world was. Callaghan’s last three words, “for my grandchildren,” express the enduring hope of humankind that each generation will leave the world a safer place for those who follow.
The note was brought from Brussels to National Security Council staff in Washington. Jan Lodal, Director of the Office of Program Analysis, prepared a lengthy reply to the question of whether the world would be safer or at greater risk in ten years. After the technical assessment, the closing paragraph expresses “sufficient optimism for a safe world, and fright of a world at much greater risk, so that I will continue striving to bring nuclear technology under control.”
As was his usual practice, Secretary Kissinger was in New York when the United Nations met in General Assembly in September 1974. While in New York he would have bilateral meetings with foreign officials who were also attending sessions of the General Assembly. Jan Lodal’s reply to Callaghan’s note was transmitted to Kissinger at the United Nations in the event he wished to discuss it at his scheduled breakfast meeting with Callaghan.
The Callaghan note and Lodal’s response are in folder, “United Kingdom (2),” Box 15, National Security Adviser: Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada. Materials concerning the Kissinger and Callaghan meeting in New York are available in folders, “September-October, 1974 – United Nations – General,” and “September 23-24, 1974 – United Nations – TOHAK,” Box 1, National Security Adviser: Trip Briefing Books and Cables for Henry Kissinger.