News / USA

50th Anniversary of Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuban Crisis, missile rangeCuban Crisis, missile range
x
Cuban Crisis, missile range
Cuban Crisis, missile range
On October 14th, 1962, pictures taken by an American U-2 spy plane revealed the presence of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba.

Graham Allison, an expert on the Cuban Missile Crisis, said there were two types of missiles.  “One were medium-range ballistic missiles, which could deliver a nuclear warhead at D.C. [District of Columbia],” he said.  “And there were intermediate-range nuclear missiles that could deliver warheads as far as Omaha, [Nebraska], where the Strategic Air Command [was located].  So these covered two-thirds of the United States.”

Allison said the discovery was made by what he called “a magical intelligence capability”.  “That an airplane, the U-2, could fly at over 60,000 feet, nobody would know that it was there, over territory, and then with this amazing camera take pictures that gave you details of what was happening on the ground - this was just unimaginable for most people. It was a great American intelligence success because the missiles were discovered before they were operational,” said Allison.

Kennedy Discusses Options

President John F. Kennedy then convened a small group of experts to decide what course of action to take.  The group deliberated in secret for most of a week.  Initially, the experts favored air strikes followed by an invasion, but they felt that would inevitably lead to nuclear war.

Allison said they knew that Soviet-leader Nikita Khrushchev would respond in some forceful way.  “So they think he is going to attack U.S. missiles in Turkey - we had missiles there that looked almost exactly like the missiles they were putting in Cuba.  And then when they attacked the missiles in Turkey, which were nuclear-warhead armed missiles designed to fire against the Soviet Union, we would obviously have to respond against the Soviet Union,” he said.  “So that could have been another path to nuclear war, which was the reason why they rejected that option after they thought about it for a while and chose instead a naval blockade of Cuba.”

Kennedy Opts for Naval Blockade

President Kennedy made the announcement during a televised speech to the nation on October 22nd, 1962.  He warned the Soviet leadership, saying, “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

Two days later, Soviet ships approached the quarantine line and stopped.  Secretary of State Dean Rusk was quoted as saying: “We were eyeball to eyeball and the other fellow just blinked.”

Sergei Khrushchev, son of the Soviet leader, was 27 at the time.  He said he remembers his father as being calm throughout the crisis.  "He was not panicking. He thought that one of the most important things was not allow to make the first shot,” Khrushchev said. “Because after the first shot, there will be no negotiation and everything would be in the hands of the military who behave in a very different way.  And I think President Kennedy had the same idea, to avoid the first shot, because before this you can bargain, after that - you will die."

Khrushchev said his father and President Kennedy were adversaries, but they negotiated with each other.

While the naval quarantine of Cuba worked, tensions rose as Moscow continued to make operational the missiles already in Cuba.

Differing Messages from Khrushchev

On October 26th, 1962, `Kennedy received a message from  Khrushchev, offering to withdraw the missiles from Cuba, in exchange for assurances that Washington would neither invade that country nor overthrow Fidel Castro.

Before replying, President Kennedy received - the next day - another letter from Khrushchev.  This time the offer was worse: the U.S. must withdraw its missiles from Turkey as a price for Moscow withdrawing its missiles from Cuba.

Graham Allison said Kennedy and his staff decided to ignore the second letter and agreed to incorporate the contents of the first letter in a new proposal.

U.S. Proposal

“And the proposal consists of three components.  One is a public deal - and the public deal is basically what the first letter proposed, which is you withdraw the missiles and I will guarantee that we will not invade Cuba or attack Cuba.  There is a private ultimatum, and it says we need a response within the next 24 hours or else we are going to act,” said Allison.  “And there is a third component - which I call a ‘secret sweetener’ - which says we are not prepared to do a deal with you for the missiles in Turkey.  But I’ll just tell you as a fact, if the missiles are withdrawn from Cuba, within six months, there will not be any missiles in Turkey.”

On October 28th, Nikita Khrushchev announced on Radio Moscow the Soviet Union had accepted the American offer and would withdraw its missiles from Cuba.

Blow to Moscow's Prestige?

Sergei Khrushchev said some people saw this as a blow to Moscow’s prestige.  “In each bargaining, you have decisions that satisfied you as much as possible and in each case you have the people who will not be satisfied with the thing [decision],” said Khrushchev.  “It was in the United States and it was in the Soviet Union too.  Especially on our side, there were the Chinese who just hated this feeling, they told us you are scared, you surrendered to the Americans, you have to start the war.  All the time, it is those people who are standing aside and they want the other people to start the war.”

By mid-November 1962, all Soviet missiles were out of Cuba.  And by next April - as per their secret deal - all U.S. missiles in Turkey were removed.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

South Korea Divided on Response to North’s Cyber Attack

In past five years, officials in Seoul have accused Pyongyang of hacking into banks, government websites, causing chaos and inflicting millions of dollars in damages More

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Bentiu

Residents have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy, but planning for the future remains uncertain as fear of attacks looms More

2015 Could Be Watershed for Syria Conflict

Republican control of US Senate in January could lead to more aggressive policy against IS militants in Syria - and against regime of Bashar al-Assad More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil Wari
X
Adam Bailes
December 22, 2014 3:45 PM
In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.

All About America

AppleAndroid