"One Hell of a Gamble": Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964.


ALEKSANDR FURSENKO AND TIMOTHY NAFTALI, "One Hell of a Gamble": Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964 (New York: Norton, 1997), 420 + pp. $27.50 cloth (ISBN 0-393-04070-4).

The collapse of the cold war brought with it the promise of new documentary findings in Russian and eastern European archives about numerous superpower crises and controversies. Although the most optimistic predictions regarding access to Russian sources have yet to materialize, important contributions have emerged from both Western and Russian scholars. This recent study of the Cuban missile crisis stemming from a Russian-American scholarly collaboration builds on special access to high-level Soviet documents from several Russian depositories. Using a narrative approach, Fursenko and Naftali offer previously unrevealed details about superpower policy toward Cuba from 1958 to 1964. The authors contend that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President John F. Kennedy squandered opportunities to achieve detente because of their mutual obsession with Cuba. In the end, the superpower confrontation in the Caribbean provoked the most dangerous crisis of the cold war.

The authors begin their treatment of the crisis and its origins with an account of both American and Soviet uncertainty regarding Fidel Castro's intentions toward the Soviet Union. They claim that Fidel's trusted subordinates, Raul Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, were secret communists who hid their allegiance to Moscow from him. Through their clandestine machinations, Moscow became convinced that Havana could become a reliable cold war ally and open a crucial breach in Washington's hemispheric zone of hegemony. Eager to score an important political victory in the superpower struggle, Khrushchev worked to squelch any U.S. invasion plans by extending Moscow's nuclear umbrella over Cuba in July 1960. According to the authors, Che Guevara hoped for even firmer assurances of Soviet willingness to thwart U.S. hostility and, in November 1960, inquired about Moscow's interest in basing missiles on the island (p. 70). Although Khrushchev hesitated to take such a dangerous gamble so early in the budding alliance relationship, he did authorize the sale of numerous military supplies to Havana (pp. 46-47, 54).

The broad outlines of Naftali and Fursenko's account are very familiar to most scholars. The Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 proved that the Cubans and Soviets were not jumping at shadows. After this...

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