The Cuban missile crisis—known as the October Crisis or Caribbean Crisis
The Cuban missile crisis—known as the October Crisis (Spanish:Crisis de octubre), The Missile Scare or the Caribbean Crisis (Russian: Карибский кризис, tr. Karibskiy krizis) was a 13-day confrontation in October 1962 between the United States and theSoviet Union over Soviet ballistic missiles deployed in Cuba. It played out on television worldwide and was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full scale nuclear war.
In response to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, and the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkeyagainst the USSR with Moscow within range, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to agree to Cuba's request to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter future harassment of Cuba. An agreement was reached during a secret meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro in July and construction on a number of missiles sites started later that summer.
An election was underway in the U.S. and the White House had denied Republican charges that it was ignoring dangerous Soviet missiles 90 miles from Florida. These missile preparations were confirmed when an Air Force U-2 spy plane produced clear photographic evidence ofmedium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missile facilities. The United States established a military blockade to prevent further missiles from entering Cuba. It announced that they would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba to be dismantled and returned to the USSR.
After a period of tense negotiations an agreement was reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement never to invade Cuba without direct provocation. Secretly, the US also agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter MRBMs, which were deployed in Turkey and Italy against the Soviet Union but were not known to the public.
When all missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 20, 1962. The negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear, and direct communication line between Washington and Moscow. As a result, the Moscow–Washington hotline was established. A series of agreements sharply reduced U.S.-Soviet tensions for the following years.
Earlier actions by the United States
The United States was concerned about an expansion of Communism, and a Latin American country allying openly with the USSR was regarded as unacceptable, given the US-Soviet enmity since the end of World War II. Such an involvement would also directly defy the Monroe Doctrine, a United States policy which, while limiting the United States' involvement with European colonies and European affairs, held that European powers ought not to have involvement with states in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States had been embarrassed publicly by the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961, which had been launched under President John F. Kennedy by CIA-trained forces of Cuban exiles. Afterward, former President Eisenhowertold Kennedy that "the failure of the Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to do something that they would otherwise not do." The half-hearted invasion left Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and his advisers with the impression that Kennedy was indecisive and, as one Soviet adviser wrote, "too young, intellectual, not prepared well for decision making in crisis situations ... too intelligent and too weak." US covert operations continued in 1961 with the unsuccessful Operation Mongoose.
In addition, Khrushchev's impression of Kennedy's weakness was confirmed by the President's soft response during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, particularly the building of the Berlin Wall. Speaking to Soviet officials in the aftermath of the crisis, Khrushchev asserted, "I know for certain that Kennedy doesn't have a strong background, nor, generally speaking, does he have the courage to stand up to a serious challenge." He also told his son Sergei that on Cuba, Kennedy "would make a fuss, make more of a fuss, and then agree."
In January 1962, General Edward Lansdale described plans to overthrow the Cuban Government in a top-secret report (partially declassified 1989), addressed to President Kennedy and officials involved with Operation Mongoose. CIA agents or "pathfinders" from the Special Activities Division were to be infiltrated into Cuba to carry out sabotage and organization, including radio broadcasts. In February 1962, the United States launched an embargo against Cuba, and Lansdale presented a 26-page, top-secret timetable for implementation of the overthrow of the Cuban Government, mandating that guerrilla operations begin in August and September, and in the first two weeks of October: "Open revolt and overthrow of the Communist regime."
Balance of power
When Kennedy ran for president in 1960, one of his key election issues was an alleged "missile gap" with the Soviets leading. In fact, the United States led the Soviets by a wide margin that would only increase. In 1961, the Soviets had only four intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). By October 1962, they may have had a few dozen, although some intelligence estimates were as high as 75.
The United States, on the other hand, had 170 ICBMs and was quickly building more. It also had eight George Washington- and Ethan Allen-class ballistic missile submarines with the capability to launch 16 Polaris missiles each, with a range of 1,400 miles (2,300 km).
Khrushchev increased the perception of a missile gap when he loudly boasted to the world that the USSR was building missiles "like sausages" whose numbers and capabilities actually were nowhere close to his assertions. The Soviet Union did have medium-range ballistic missiles in quantity, about 700 of them; however, these were very unreliable and inaccurate. Overall, the United States had a very considerable advantage in total number of nuclear warheads (27,000 against 3,600) at the time and, more importantly, in all the technologies needed to deliver them accurately.
The United States also led in missile defensive capabilities, Naval and Air power; but the USSR enjoyed a two-to-one advantage in conventional ground forces, much more pronounced in field guns and tanks (particularly in the European theater).
On October 27, after much deliberation between the Soviet Union and Kennedy's cabinet, Kennedy secretly agreed to remove all missiles set in southern Italy and in Turkey, the latter on the border of the Soviet Union, in exchange for Khrushchev removing all missiles in Cuba. There is some dispute as to whether removing the missiles from Italy was part of the secret agreement, although Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs that it was; nevertheless, when the crisis had ended McNamara gave the order to dismantle the missiles in both Italy and Turkey.
At 9:00 am EST, on October 28, a new message from Khrushchev was broadcast on Radio Moscow. Khrushchev stated that, "the Soviet government, in addition to previously issued instructions on the cessation of further work at the building sites for the weapons, has issued a new order on the dismantling of the weapons which you describe as 'offensive' and their crating and return to the Soviet Union."
Kennedy immediately responded, issuing a statement calling the letter "an important and constructive contribution to peace." He continued this with a formal letter:
I consider my letter to you of October twenty-seventh and your reply of today as firm undertakings on the part of both our governments which should be promptly carried out ... The US will make a statement in the framework of the Security Council in reference to Cuba as follows: it will declare that the United States of America will respect the inviolability of Cuban borders, its sovereignty, that it take the pledge not to interfere in internal affairs, not to intrude themselves and not to permit our territory to be used as a bridgehead for the invasion of Cuba, and will restrain those who would plan to carry an aggression against Cuba, either from US territory or from the territory of other countries neighboring to Cuba.
Kennedy's planned statement would also contain suggestions he had received from his adviser, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in a "Memorandum for the President" describing the "Post Mortem on Cuba."
The US continued the blockade, and in the following days, aerial reconnaissance proved that the Soviets were making progress in removing the missile systems. The 42 missiles and their support equipment were loaded onto eight Soviet ships. The ships left Cuba from November 5–9. The US made a final visual check as each of the ships passed the blockade line. Further diplomatic efforts were required to remove the Soviet IL-28 bombers, and they were loaded on three Soviet ships on December 5 and 6. Concurrent with the Soviet commitment on the IL-28's, the US Government announced the end of the blockade effective at 6:45 pm EST on November 20, 1962.
At the time when the Kennedy administration thought that the Cuban missile crisis was resolved, nuclear tactical rockets stayed in Cuba since they were not part of the Kennedy-Khrushchev understandings. However, the Soviets changed their minds, fearing possible future Cuban militant steps, and at November 22, 1962 the Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan told Castro that those rockets with the nuclear warheads were being removed too.
In his negotiations with the Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, US Attorney General Robert Kennedy informally proposed that the Jupiter missiles in Turkey would be removed "within a short time after this crisis was over." The last US missiles were disassembled by April 24, 1963, and were flown out of Turkey soon after.
The practical effect of this Kennedy-Khrushchev Pact was that it effectively strengthened Castro's position in Cuba, guaranteeing that the US would not invade Cuba. It is possible that Khrushchev only placed the missiles in Cuba to get Kennedy to remove the missiles from Italy and Turkey and that the Soviets had no intention of resorting to nuclear war if they were out-gunned by the Americans. Because the withdrawal of the Jupiter missiles from NATO bases in Southern Italy and Turkey was not made public at the time, Khrushchev appeared to have lost the conflict and become weakened. The perception was that Kennedy had won the contest between the superpowers and Khrushchev had been humiliated. This is not entirely the case as both Kennedy and Khrushchev took every step to avoid full conflict despite the pressures of their governments. Khrushchev held power for another two years.
Aftermath The nuclear-armed Jupiterintermediate-range ballistic missile. The US secretly agreed to withdraw these missiles from Italy and Turkey.
The compromise embarrassed Khrushchev and the Soviet Union because the withdrawal of US missiles from Italy and Turkey was a secret deal between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Krushchev went to Kennedy thinking that the crisis was getting out of hand. The Soviets were seen as retreating from circumstances that they had started. Khrushchev's fall from power two years later was in part because of thePolitburo embarrassment at both Khrushchev's eventual concessions to the US and his ineptitude in precipitating the crisis in the first place. According to Dobrynin, the top Soviet leadership took the Cuban outcome as "a blow to its prestige bordering on humiliation."
Cuba perceived the outcome as a partial betrayal by the Soviets, given that decisions on how to resolve the crisis had been made exclusively by Kennedy and Khrushchev. Castro was especially upset that certain issues of interest to Cuba, such as the status of the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, were not addressed. This caused Cuban–Soviet relations to deteriorate for years to come.:278 On the other hand, Cuba continued to be protected from invasion.
Although General Curtis LeMay told the President that he considered the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis the "greatest defeat in our history," his was a minority position. He had pressed for an immediate invasion of Cuba as soon as the crisis began, and still favored invading Cuba even after the Soviets had withdrawn their missiles. 25 years later, LeMay still believed that "We could have gotten not only the missiles out of Cuba, we could have gotten the Communists out of Cuba at that time."
After the crisis the United States and the Soviet Union created the Moscow–Washington hotline, a direct communications link between Moscow and Washington, D.C. The purpose was to have a way that the leaders of the two Cold War countries could communicate directly to solve such a crisis. The world-wide US Forces DEFCON 3 status was returned to DEFCON 4 on November 20, 1962. U-2 pilot Major Anderson's body was returned to the United States and he was buried with full military honors in South Carolina. He was the first recipient of the newly created Air Force Cross, which was awarded posthumously.
Although Anderson was the only combatant fatality during the crisis, 11 crew members of three reconnaissance Boeing RB-47 Stratojets of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing were also killed in crashes during the period between September 27 and November 11, 1962. Further, seven crew died when a MATS Boeing C-135B Stratolifter delivering ammunition to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base stalled and crashed on approach on October 23.
Critics including Seymour Melman and Seymour Hersh suggested that the Cuban missile crisis encouraged US use of military means, such as in the Vietnam War. This Soviet–American confrontation was synchronous with the Sino-Indian War, dating from the US's military blockade of Cuba; historians speculate that the Chinese attack against India for disputed land was meant to coincide with the Cuban missile crisis.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a historian and adviser to John F. Kennedy, told National Public Radio in an interview on October 16, 2002, that Castro did not want the missiles, but that Khrushchev had pressured Castro to accept them. Castro was not completely happy with the idea but the Cuban National Directorate of the Revolution accepted them to protect Cuba against US attack, and to aid its ally, the Soviet Union. Schlesinger believed that when the missiles were withdrawn, Castro was angrier with Khrushchev than he was with Kennedy because Khrushchev had not consulted Castro before deciding to remove them. Although Castro was infuriated by Krushchev, he planned on striking the United States with remaining missiles immediately after the blockade was lifted.
In early 1992, it was confirmed that Soviet forces in Cuba had, by the time the crisis broke, received tactical nuclear warheads for their artillery rockets and Il-28 bombers. Castro stated that he would have recommended their use if the US invaded despite knowing Cuba would be destroyed.
Arguably the most dangerous moment in the crisis was only recognized during the Cuban Missile Crisis Havana conference in October 2002. Attended by many of the veterans of the crisis, they all learned that on October 27, 1962 the USS Bealehad tracked and dropped signaling depth charges (the size of hand grenades) on the B-59, a Soviet Project 641 (NATO designation Foxtrot) submarine which, unknown to the US, was armed with a 15 kiloton nuclear torpedo. Running out of air, the Soviet submarine was surrounded by American warships and desperately needed to surface. An argument broke out among three officers on the B-59, including submarine captain Valentin Savitsky, political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and Deputy brigade commander Captain 2nd rank (US Navy Commander rank equivalent) Vasili Arkhipov. An exhausted Savitsky became furious and ordered that the nuclear torpedo on board be made combat ready. Accounts differ about whether Commander Arkhipov convinced Savitsky not to make the attack, or whether Savitsky himself finally concluded that the only reasonable choice left open to him was to come to the surface. During the conference Robert McNamara stated that nuclear war had come much closer than people had thought. Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, said, "A guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world."
Fifty years after the crisis, Graham Allison wrote:
Fifty years ago, the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. During the standoff, US President John F. Kennedy thought the chance of escalation to war was "between 1 in 3 and even," and what we have learned in later decades has done nothing to lengthen those odds. We now know, for example, that in addition to nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, the Soviet Union had deployed 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba, and the local Soviet commander there could have launched these weapons without additional codes or commands from Moscow. The US air strike and invasion that were scheduled for the third week of the confrontation would likely have triggered a nuclear response against American ships and troops, and perhaps even Miami. The resulting war might have led to the deaths of 100 million Americans and over 100 million Russians.
BBC journalist Joe Matthews published on October 13, 2012, the story behind the 100 tactical nuclear warheads mentioned by Graham Allison in the excerpt above. Khrushchev feared that Castro's hurt pride and widespread Cuban indignation over the concessions he had made to Kennedy might lead to a breakdown of the agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States. In order to prevent this Khrushchev decided to make Cuba a special offer. The offer was to give Cuba more than 100 tactical nuclear weapons that had been shipped to Cuba along with the long-range missiles, but which crucially had passed completely under the radar of US intelligence. Khrushchev concluded that because the Americans hadn't listed the missiles on their list of demands, the Soviet Union's interests would be well served by keeping them in Cuba.
Anastas Mikoyan was tasked with the negotiations with Castro over the missile transfer deal designed to prevent a breakdown in the relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union. While in Havana, Mikoyan witnessed the mood swings and paranoia of Castro, who was convinced that Moscow had made the agreement with the United States at the expense of Cuba's defense. Mikoyan, on his own initiative, decided that Castro and his military not be given control of weapons with an explosive force equal to 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs under any circumstances. He defused the seemingly intractable situation, which risked re-escalating the crisis, on November 22, 1962. During a tense, four-hour meeting, Mikoyan convinced Castro that despite Moscow's desire to help, it would be in breach of an unpublished Soviet law (which didn't actually exist) to transfer the missiles permanently into Cuban hands and provide them with an independent nuclear deterrent. Castro was forced to give way and – much to the relief of Khrushchev and the whole Soviet government – the tactical nuclear weapons were crated and returned by sea to the Soviet Union during December 1962.
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