This issue begins with an article by David M. Barrett discussing a peculiar aspect of the Kennedy administration's attempt to cope with the failure of the U.S.-sponsored intervention in the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in April 1961. On 24–25 April, barely a week after the operation had collapsed, high-ranking administration officials, including President John F. Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, spent two full days holding confidential, off-the-record briefings for more than 200 journalists. The briefings had been scheduled long before the Bay of Pigs operation occurred and were originally intended as general overviews, but the agenda was hastily adjusted to include coverage of the Bay of Pigs. The policymakers diverged in their views of what had gone wrong and sought to mitigate the public relations damage caused by the fiasco. Although the content of the briefings is interesting in itself, the most intriguing thing about the sessions is that they have remained largely obscure and unknown for nearly six decades, even though more than 200 journalists attended them. The various policymakers’ efforts to control the narrative would almost certainly be infeasible in the age of the Internet, but even in the early 1960s it was extraordinary and perhaps unique. The very fact that the full content of what was said during the briefings has never been disclosed is indicative of how much has changed in the government's relations with the press in the decades since.
The next article, by Andrea Benvenuti and David Martin Jones, offers a reappraisal of Australian foreign policy during the premiership of the Labor Party leader Gough Whitlam in the mid-1970s. Whitlam's supporters maintain that he succeeded in creating a more balanced approach for Australia, moving it away from a heavy focus on the United States and establishing more robust ties with key countries in East and Southeast Asia. Benvenuti and Jones show that the chorus of praise for Whitlam is mostly delusional. Far from bolstering Australia's role in the world, Whitlam weakened Australia's position by alienating the country's two most important allies, the United States and Great Britain, and stirring unease among many officials in East Asia and Southeast Asia who worried that Whitlam's actions would induce the United States to curtail its presence in the region. Whitlam's quest for a supposedly more progressive and enlightened foreign policy, Benvenuti and Jones argue, was counterproductive for Australia and detrimental to regional security.
The next article, by Matthew Jones, harks back to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in June 1962, using it as a point of departure for analyzing the Kennedy administration's lack of enthusiasm for (and even hostility toward) independent national nuclear forces (other than U.S. forces) within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Although the speech is usually cited for the comments McNamara made about U.S. counterforce targeting in nuclear war, he also offered some barbed observations about small national nuclear forces possessed by U.S. allies in NATO, specifically Great Britain and France. Such forces, McNamara argued, were “dangerous,” “expensive,” and “prone to obsolescence,” and he left no doubt that the administration hoped these forces would be phased out as independent entities. This portion of McNamara's speech sparked a contentious debate in Britain in the latter half of 1962 about the future of the country's independent nuclear force. All of this, Jones argues, served as the prelude to the U.S.-British crisis over Skybolt in late 1962.
The next article, by Jayita Sarkar, examines the attempts by U.S. officials in the 1970s to curb French and West German exports of nuclear technology to countries of exigent concern for nuclear proliferation. India's detonation of a nuclear explosive in 1974 showed that civilian nuclear technology could be used with great efficacy in a nuclear weapons program. U.S. officials pressured the French and West German governments to withhold nuclear technology from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Pakistan, and Iran. Some progress on the matter was achieved within the Nuclear Suppliers Group and export control guidelines, but the fundamental problem U.S. policymakers faced was that, even when one transaction was successfully blocked, new customers for the nuclear technology soon emerged. Because of the global energy crisis in the mid-1970s in the wake of the Arab oil embargo, nuclear technology was extremely attractive for many countries that did not want to remain so heavily dependent on oil. Hence, efforts to prevent nuclear exports proved to be mostly quixotic.
The next article, by Jonathan Colman, traces how the U.S. State Department came up with a legal justification for the blockade imposed against Cuba at the outset of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. The United States already had acrimonious relations with Fidel Castro's Communist regime in Cuba and was trying to overthrow the Cuban dictator, but the surprise discovery of Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles in Cuba in mid-October 1962 greatly aggravated the tensions. Devising a legal case for the blockade proved tricky because precedents tended to undercut what the United States was hoping to show. Even though the U.S. government gained worldwide support for its insistence on the removal of Soviet missiles during the Cuban missile crisis, the international legal case for the blockade had little if anything to do with that support.
The issue then includes a forum on an important book by Frank Dikötter recounting the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong in China in 1966. Dikötter shows how the Cultural Revolution devastated Chinese society and left a long-term scarring legacy. He also discusses the impact of the Cultural Revolution on China's relations with the Soviet Union and the reorientation of Chinese policy toward the United States. Three experts—Sergey Radchenko, Joseph Torigian, and Radoslav Yordanov—offer critiques of Dikötter's book, and these are followed by a spirited reply from Dikötter.
The issue concludes with six shorter book reviews.