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Institute for the Study of Diplomacy

Case Study

The Cuban Missile Crisis:

U.S. Deliberations and Negotiations
at the Edge of the Precipice

Rodney A. Snyder
photo source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/
Case 129

The Cuban Missile Crisis:

U.S. Deliberations and Negotiations at the
Edge of the Precipice

Gabrielle S. Brussel

ISBN 1-56927-334-0
Copyright © 1988 by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy

All rights reserved. No part of this publication

may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
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or otherwise without the prior permission
of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

The opinions and analysis contained in this

case study are solely those of the author(s),
and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, the School
of Foreign Service, or Georgetown University.

1316 36th St. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20007 | isd.georgetown.edu | diplomacy@georgetown.edu

This case study was made possible (in part) by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The
statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.
BACKGROUND response. The administration, and particularly the pres-
ident, was not interested in beginning a military con-
On Monday, October 22, 1962, after six days of secret frontation with the Soviet Union, but the United States
U.S. government deliberations, President John F. Ken- was strongly committed to proving to its allies and
nedy announced on television that the Soviet Union adversaries that it could meet whatever it perceived as a
had placed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Sovi- threat to its national security and its sphere of influence.
ets had staged a sealift to Cuba, which had begun in July Furthermore, since the Soviets had been warned
of that year and continued over the next few months, against employing such a display of force, the adminis-
which constituted a major military deployment involv- tration wanted to prove it would back up statements of
ing more than one hundred shiploads and containing policy with actions.
several thousand vehicles and more than twenty thou- Publicly the crisis lasted for six days—from Ken-
sand men. U.S. policymakers interpreted these actions nedy’s speech on October 22 until the official Soviet
as contradictions of explicit Soviet pledges and state- statement on October 28 that the missiles in Cuba
ments that Soviet aid to Cuba was defensive and would would be dismantled and removed from the island. For
remain so. U.S. policymakers, however, the crisis began on Octo-
The United States employed political pressure on ber 16 at 11:45 A.M. during the first meeting of the
bilateral and multilateral levels—through both formal group of advisors that became known as the ExComm.1
and informal channels. It also applied military pressure The group served the president almost twenty-four
while policymakers sought to resolve the crisis short of hours a day as the United States managed the situation.
war. The United States succeeded in presenting a firm When they were presented with the evidence of
and resolved stance, but it stopped short of a bellicose the missiles, U.S. government officials were surprised
and angered by the Soviet deception. Kennedy person-
ally assembled a politically diverse group of advisors
comprising representatives of the public and private
sectors that he believed would contribute to a success-
ful resolution. They were men he depended on regard-

2 Gabrielle S. Brussel

less of rank or political affiliation, men he believed Germany

served their country and his administration above all. • Former Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett
They were recruited regardless of seniority, the criteria
• Wall Street lawyer and former High Commis-
for their selection being President Kennedy’s assess-
sioner of Germany John McCloy
ment of their intelligence, judgment, and loyalty. Dur-
ing the crisis this advisory group consisted of: The ExComm was primarily divided into two
camps—the hawks and the doves3—with the hawks
• Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
advocating a military confrontation and the doves
• Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stressing negotiation. The hawks included Taylor,
• Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon Acheson, the Joint Chiefs (without U.S. Marine Corps
• Secretary of State Dean Rusk (who was absent Commandant David Shoup), McCloy, Nitze, and, ini-
during a large part of the deliberations) tially, Dillon and McCloy. The doves were Robert Ken-
• Under Secretary of State George Ball nedy, McNamara, Gilpatric, Ball, Thompson, Sorenson,
• Soviet expert and Ambassador at Large Llewellyn Stevenson and Lovett. The others were indecisive,
“Tommy” Thompson2 shifting their opinions as the days wore on.
• Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara The president mandated, and his advisors agreed,
that the crisis remain secret until the United States for-
• Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric
mulated a plan. Consequently, to avoid leaks, the circle
• General Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint
of people in government who knew about the crisis
Chiefs of Staff
remained extremely tight. The group met almost con-
• Assistant Secretary for International Security tinuously for the two weeks of the crisis. It broke up
Affairs Paul Nitze
into smaller groups for purposes of analysis and debates
The Central Intelligence Agency members while experts presented information, but the composi-
included: tion of the general group remained consistent.
• Deputy Director Marshall Carter for the first day The Soviets placed missiles on an island that the
and United States had viewed as its backyard since the late
• Director John McCone, who returned to Wash- nineteenth century. U.S.-Cuban relations, though cer-
ington on October 16, thereafter. tainly strained by 1962, had been closely tied for almost
The special assistants/advisors to the president a hundred years. As far back as 1808, U.S. foreign policy
included: and government officials had viewed Cuban interests
• McGeorge Bundy, advisor on national security “as their own.” Repeated offers to buy Cuba culminated
affairs in the Ostend Manifesto of 1854, which stated that the
• Presidential Counsel Theodore “Ted” Sorenson United States had the “right” to acquire Cuba. Later
U.S. government officials asserted that Cuba was “indis-
• Kenneth O’Donnell
pensable to the United States.”
Other intermittent participants included:
On January 1, 1959, Cuban rebels took control of
• Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs the government. The United States officially recognized
Edwin M. Martin the new regime on January 7. Not long after, U.S.-
• Deputy Under Secretary U. Alexis Johnson Cuban relations began to deteriorate. Tensions
• Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, U.S. representative increased steadily, and the two nations went head-to-
to the United Nations head in public forums. Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Cas-
• USIA Deputy Director Donald Wilson tro refused to back the United-States in its Cold War
• State Department Director of Intelligence and with the Soviet Union. In April 1959, President Dwight
Research Roger Hilsman D. Eisenhower publicly refused to meet with Castro
• Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who left during his trip to the United States, instead leaving
the deliberations after a naval quarantine was cho- Washington to play golf. By December Castro had
sen as the U.S. policy response but served as Ken- declared himself and his revolution Communist and had
nedy’s personal emissary to France and West received substantial Soviet backing. Soon the United
The Cuban Missile Crisis 3

States reduced trade with Cuba and refused to purchase carry trade to Latin America has given it strategic
sugar from Cuba above world sugar prices. Cuba importance.
increased its anti-American rhetoric. The Soviets began Cuba was the only communist country that had a
to purchase sugar at premium prices, sent aid packages, U.S. naval base on its territory. It was also the only
and promised to “support the Cuban people with . . . country that maintained both Soviet and U.S. military
rocket fire if aggressive forces in the Pentagon dare[d] installations and by which Soviet naval vessels freely
to launch an intervention against Cuba.” passed. Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, covering forty-
Trade between the United States and Cuba dimin- five square miles, 1 percent of Cuban territory, trains
ished quickly. In 1958 exports from the United States more than 40,000 U.S. military personnel every year.
totaled 69.8 percent of Cuban imports; by 1961 this fig- Built after the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-
ure was down to 3.7 percent. In contrast, Soviet American War, Guantánamo was leased in perpetuity to
imports from Cuba rose during the same period from 0 the United States. The Castro government has long
to 48.2 percent. Trade with Soviet bloc countries maintained that the agreement for the base is illegiti-
accounted for 73.4 percent of Cuba’s trade in 1961, mate because the governments were not “on equal foot-
while just three years earlier it had been a mere 2.5 per- ing” and because Cuba was coerced into the contract by
cent. Tensions culminated in expropriation of all U.S. a foreign government. Many U.S. government officials
property in Cuba (1960–61) and the 1962 U.S. trade and analysts feared that the Soviet Union would request
embargo. Further exacerbating the relationship was the a U.S. withdrawal from Guantánamo in exchange for
1961 Bay of Pigs episode. Supported by the CIA and the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. This prop-
personally approved by President Kennedy, anti-Cas- osition was never brought to the negotiating table, and
tro Cuban exiles attempted to invade Cuba. The inva- President Kennedy maintained during the ExComm
sion failed, and the U.S. government withdrew its air deliberations that it would be rejected “out of hand.”
support of the exiles after they reached the island. The Soviet placement of missiles in Cuba went
Although Kennedy made a public apology and the beyond actual military and strategic importance; it was
administration pursued diplomatic negotiations to a modern, post-nuclear affront to U.S. perceived inter-
secure the release of captured exiles from Cuban jails, ests dating back to the early nineteenth century. On
the crisis contributed greatly to strained relations. December 2, 1823, President James Monroe delivered
Moreover, the Kennedy administration employed poli- an address to Congress in which he asserted that the
cies that had the potential to cause the ouster or death United States viewed the Western Hemisphere as its
of Fidel Castro. The United States also encouraged the sphere of influence and that European expansionism in
political and diplomatic isolation of Cuba with the dec- the Western Hemisphere would be regarded as “danger-
laration by the Organization of American States (OAS) ous to [United States] peace and safety.” The United
in January 1962 that Cuba’s government was incompati- States would respond in whatever manner was neces-
ble with the inter-American system. These incidents sary to protect itself. In May 1904 President Theodore
and policies created an atmosphere of mistrust and mis- Roosevelt’s “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doc-
apprehension, with the Soviets and the Cubans expect- trine refined the U.S. view of European expansionism
ing an invasion and the United States fearing increased by asserting that the United States had the “right” to
Soviet-Cuban ties and military build-ups. intervene in the Western Hemisphere and Caribbean.
Cuba’s importance to the United States is a result of Thus, the United States has long considered the West-
its geography and politics. it is ninety miles from the tip ern Hemisphere a special region of influence.
of Florida, closer than Puerto Rico to the coast of Although the Monroe Doctrine was originally
United States. It lies on the Windward Passage, the directed at Western European expansion, subsequent
Straits of Florida, the Yucatan Channel, and the ship- interpretations were directed at the Soviet Union and
ping lanes from the east coast of the United States. It has the possibility of Soviet expansion in the region. The
direct access to the strategic sea lanes of South and 1962 decision to put missiles in Cuba made Cuba the
Central America, the Caribbean and the Western allies first Soviet ally to receive ballistic missiles. The United
of the United States. Since its early role as a colony of States viewed this policy as a direct attack against its
Spain, Cuba’s proximity to the Caribbean sea lanes that public and private perceptions of regional influence and
4 Gabrielle S. Brussel

global balance. “Ever since the Monroe Doctrine, the ever. At the first meetings of the ExComm, the advisors
United States has perceived a special interest in exclud- debated five hypothetical answers to the question of
ing European military power from the Western Hemi- Soviet motivation.
sphere. This was a powerful fact of [U.S.] political The first hypothesis was based on the Soviet
consciousness. . . .4 Union’s strong commitment to maintaining a position
President Kennedy intended to address the Soviet in Latin America and, specifically, to supporting the
decision immediately and firmly. His administration social and political revolution in Cuba. It was already
believed that the missiles would affect global percep- sending great amounts of aid to Cuba. Although the
tions of U.S. strength and resolve, causing allies and United States had not continued its planned military
adversaries to question U.S. ability and commitment to and air support during the actual invasion of the Bay of
global alliances. Furthermore, the missiles in Cuba Pigs, it had sponsored an invasion of Cuba less than two
would threaten the global power structure that the years before. The Soviet government saw an opportu-
United States sought to maintain. nity to defend a firm ally and decided to take it.
The missile balance also contributed to uneasy Constant discussions were going on in Congress, in
relations between the United States and the Soviet the White House, and in the Cuban exile community
Union. When Kennedy became president, he received regarding invasion. On September 4 President Kennedy
contradictory evidence and intelligence. By late sum- stated that “. . . the Castro regime will not be allowed to
mer and certainly by fall 1961 the administration real- export aggressive purposes by force or the threat of
ized that Soviet missile superiority, which had been a force. It will be prevented by whatever means may be
campaign issue in 1960, did not exist—that the United necessary from taking action against any part of the
States, in fact, was ahead. Kennedy and his advisors dis- Western Hemisphere. . . .” Three days later he asked
cussed their options and decided to inform the Soviets Congress for standby authority to call up reserves. On
that they knew the U.S. missile gap did not exist. In September 13 Kennedy reiterated his stand against
October 1961 Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gil- Cuba and the Castro regime “exporting aggressive pur-
patric was selected to give a speech disclosing U.S. poses by force or threat of force” [emphasis added]. One
armed strength and revealing that the missile gap was week later Congress passed a joint resolution on Cuba
actually reversed—the Soviets were at a military disad- stating that the United States would “prevent by what-
vantage, not the United States. The United States ever means may be necessary, including the use of arms,
briefed its allies, including allies who the United States the Marxist-Leninist regime in Cuba from extending,
knew had been penetrated by Soviet intelligence offi- by force or the threat of force, its aggressive or subver-
cers, in order to reinforce its position. sive activities to any part of this hemisphere.”
Although Kennedy and his administration repeat-
edly declared that the United States would not attempt
U.S. POLICY RESPONSE additional military action against Cuba, the belligerent
statements Kennedy made throughout September 1962
The ExComm began by trying to understand why the did not persuade the Cuban and Soviet governments
missiles were deployed in Cuba. What could Khrush- that Cuba’s safety was ensured. Kennedy questioned
chev hope to gain by such a dangerous gamble? If the whether the U.S. mistake was “in not saying sometime
United States could understand the motivations of the before this summer that if they do this we’re [going] to
Soviets, it could better manage an end to the crisis and act.”6
communicate more effectively with the opposition. The second hypothesis was that missiles in Cuba
would alter the geopolitical and psychological situation,
U.S. Deliberations showing the world unequivocally that the United States
was unable to control its sphere of influence, the West-
Dean Acheson told Charles de Gaulle that the Soviets ern Hemisphere. These missiles would tell U.S. allies
placed missiles in Cuba because they believed that they that the United States could not stop Soviet influence
could get away with it.5 The discussions about the ninety miles off the coast of Florida, in a country that
deployment went deeper than Acheson’s answer, how- had been a U.S. territory and, for more than sixty years,
The Cuban Missile Crisis 5

a U.S. satellite. The perception that even the Western really.”9 Discussing U.S. policy options for response to
Hemisphere was unmanageable for the United States the emplacement, Robert Kennedy effectively argued
would have lead the world to ask: How could the that such an attack would horrify the world. The United
United States be expected to extend protection to its States was one of two superpowers in the world, he
allies all over the world if it could not protect itself from said; for it to attack Cuba would “destroy” the “essence
missiles in Cuba? The United States considered that [of ] our history and our ideals.”10
even this question in the minds of allies or adversaries The ExComm members discussed these five possi-
would have altered the global balance of power. bilities at length. In the end they decided that the
The third hypothesis raised the possibility that the answers to the question were the perceived balance of
missiles were placed in Cuba simply to be removed. military power and a basic testing of Kennedy’s will.
Rusk suggested that “Mr. Khrushchev may have . . . The missiles would embarrass the U.S. government and
known that [the United States does not] really live demonstrate its inability to control its sphere of influ-
under fear of his nuclear weapons to the extent that . . . ence. Furthermore, according to the U.S. advisors, the
he has to live under fear of ours.”7 The missiles could be Soviets believed that the risk they were taking was not
used as bargaining chips to secure the Soviet borders great. They were testing the will of a young and rela-
with Turkey or traded to obtain a more positive settle- tively inexperienced administration. Khrushchev
ment of the Berlin arrangement for the Soviets. If the thought “Kennedy too young, intellectual, not prepared
United States made military concessions, it would well for decision-making in crisis situations.”11
diminish its prestige. Soviet statements suggested that
they would “trade Cuba for Berlin” support this Soviet Motivations
The fourth hypothesis, advanced by Nitze and Tay- The ExComm assessments were somewhat accurate,
lor, was that the missiles would, in fact, alter the strate- though they were also bound by U.S. perceptions of
gic strength of the Soviet Union with relatively little reality, which did not coincide with Soviet and Cuban
cost. The Soviets knew that the missile gap did not perceptions. The primary Soviet reasons for deploying
exist, but they traded on the fact that the United States the missiles were to defend the Cuban revolution and to
believed it to be true. The newly announced U.S. mili- deter a U.S. attack. ExComm policymakers immedi-
tary superiority made them vulnerable. Placing mis- ately discounted this motivation. The United States
siles in Cuba would help the Soviets change the balance knew it did not intend to invade Cuba and believed it
of missile power. Bases in Cuba for Soviet medium- had communicated this intention to the Soviets and the
range ballistic missiles and intermediate-range ballistic Cubans. In fact, it had not. The Soviets believed the
missiles (MBRMs and IRBMs) were a quick and rela- United States thought it was in its interest to launch a
tively inexpensive means of cutting the U.S. warning first strike against Cuba. “We had no doubt the United
time. Although the United States would still retain a 2- States would repeat the attack on Cuba after the Bay of
to-1 military superiority over the Soviet Union, the mis- Pigs.12 Furthermore, in the Soviet view, and most espe-
siles in Cuba would substantially change the appearance cially in Khrushchev’s eyes, the loss of Cuba would
of that superiority. Kennedy noted later that “appear- “have been a terrible blow to Marxism-Leninism,”
ances contribute to reality,” and the United States could diminishing Soviet “stature throughout the world, but
ill afford the appearance of weakness or decreasing especially in Latin America.”13
strength. The placement of missiles in Cuba was first dis-
The fifth hypothesis assumed that the Soviets cussed in April of 1962 between Anastas Mikoyan,
wanted the United States to discover the missiles and Soviet first deputy premier and special envoy to Cuba at
attack the island, thereby splitting the allies and fueling the end of the Cuban missile crisis, and Khrushchev.14
anti-American sentiment through the world. Question- Khrushchev continued personal discussions with advi-
ing this theory, however, President Kennedy wondered sors throughout the spring. By July some Presidium
“if . . . any other time since the Berlin blockade . . . the (now called Politburo) members were let in on the dis-
Russians [had] given [the United States] so clear provo- cussions with Cuba, but there was no written corre-
cation . . . because they’ve been awfully cautious spondence.15
6 Gabrielle S. Brussel

Khrushchev believed estimates that a Soviet inva- such a ploy. It was, he said, “an effort to materially
sion of Cuba would take “three or four days, a week, change the balance of power . . . a deliberately provoca-
maybe,” and, therefore, “the same time would be tive and unjustified change in the status quo.”24
needed for a U.S. invasion. [Since t]hat was not long Although Kennedy’s advisors were not unanimous
enough to defend against it, even by retaliating some- about the U.S. response, they agreed that the political
where else . . . [i]t was thought [to] deter an invasion implications of the missiles were serious and that their
beforehand.”16 The Cubans did not agree with the emplacement was a deliberate challenge to U.S. prestige
Soviet defense assessment, asserting that they had and influence. Even Adlai Stevenson, whose relations
270,000 armed and mobilized troops and could fight an with the president were strained after the crisis25 and
invasion much longer than several days. In fact, this was who encouraged nonmilitary solutions, said, “No politi-
double McNamara’s 1962 estimate.17 cian could have missed the significance of Russian mis-
The Soviets also believed that the missiles would siles in Cuba. We just had to get them out of there.”26
repair the strategic imbalance in deliverable missiles.18 The advisors, however, were not in accord on the
Deploying missiles on the U.S. periphery would estab- U.S. policy response, nor were they all concerned with
lish Soviet strength, countering the U.S. missiles posed the military consequences of the Soviet actions.
on the Soviet borders.19 During his 1959 U.S. tour, MRBMs and IRBMs were placed in four missiles sites
Khrushchev asked, “How would [the United States] feel on the southern edge of Sierra del Rosario in west cen-
if there were Soviet military bases in Mexico and Can- tral Cuba—Guanajay and Sagua la Grande (to have
ada.”20 The ExComm discussed this on Tuesday, Octo- three battalions of MRBMs each), and San Cristó bal
ber 16. Rusk reminded the policymakers that McCone and Remedios (to have two battalions of IRBMs each).
“suggested some weeks ago that one thing Mr. Khrush- In total there would be forty launch pads—San Cristó
chev may have in mind is that . . . we don’t really live bal and Sagua la Grande would each have twelve, and
under fear of his nuclear weapons to the extent, that . . . Guanajay and Remedios would each have eight.
he has to live under fear of ours. Also we have nuclear The weapons transfers were accomplished in two
weapons nearby, in Turkey and places like that.”21 phases, with the defensive weapons first and the offen-
Khrushchev maintained exactly that view: “In sive missiles and weapons later. The plan included
addition to protecting Cuba, our missiles would have MRBMs with ranges up to 1,100 nautical miles; IRBMs
equalized what the West likes to call ‘the balance of with ranges up to 2,200 nautical miles; IL-28s (Beagle
power’ . . . now [the United States] would learn just bombers) with ranges of 600 nautical miles and the abil-
what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you; ity to deliver nuclear or nonnuclear payloads of 6,000
we’d be doing nothing more than giving them a little of pounds; surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) with the ability
their own medicine.”22 Soviet officials later said that to strike at targets at altitudes of 80,000 feet and at a
correcting the nuclear balance was “important” to horizontal distance of 30 nautical miles; Cruise missiles;
Khrushchev “because there were only two thoughts: KOMAR guided-missile patrol boats; and MiG-21 air-
defend Cuba and repair the imbalance. But defending craft capable of speeds up to 1,000 knots at 40,000 feet.
Cuba was the first thought.”23 Soviet technicians, operators, mechanics, and soldiers
sent to the four installation points numbered more than
U.S. Response 20,000. The MRBMs had an estimated ability to hit one-
third of the United States, including the District of
On Tuesday, October 16, members of the ExComm Columbia, St. Louis, and Dallas; Panama; and all of
assembled in the White House Cabinet room for their Central America. The IRBMs stationed in Cuba were
first meeting. CIA analysts and photo reconnaissance estimated to be able to hit southeastern Canada, all of
intelligence experts made a formal presentation. After the United States, Mexico, Central America, Panama,
the initial presentation of the U-2 photographs, the and most of South America.
ExComm discussions turned to the significance of the The U.S. policy was not one that “came out of the
missiles. The men present in the room had a wide range blue”; it was publicly and privately reiterated by many
of responses. President Kennedy was angered by the advisors. From the beginning McNamara maintained
Soviet actions and quite aware of the implications of that “a missile is a missile. It makes no great difference
The Cuban Missile Crisis 7

whether you are killed by a missile fired from the Soviet for several days, he concluded that it was impossible to
Union or from Cuba.”27 He did not believe that the write a letter to Khrushchev “to which his reply could
Soviets were attempting to alter the military balance. not outmaneuver us.”34 Consequently, the Bohlen plan
“The military balance [has not] changed.”28 McNamara as such was rejected.
argued in favor of limited action because it could be Diplomatic advances were not discounted com-
increased as the situation warranted it. At the 6:30 P.M. pletely, although they were not considered without
meeting on that first day, he urged the president to con- other concurrent actions. They were rejected outright
sider the consequences of an air strike against Cuba, as a preliminary to U.S. actions. Diplomatic notes
saying, “The consequences of these actions have not would provide the Soviets and the Cubans with warn-
been thought through clearly.”29 He said further, “I ing time and would not change the U.S. position. A pri-
don’t know quite what kind of a world we live in after vate diplomatic approach would be time consuming,
we’ve struck Cuba, and . . . we’ve started it . . . After but the administration feared the possibility that noth-
we’ve launched . . . sorties, what kind of world do we ing would be accomplished in a public forum. Further-
live in. . . . I think State and [Defense] ought to work on more, Kennedy and his advisors believed that they had
the consequences of any one of these courses of actions, already on many occasions warned the Soviets against
consequences which I don’t believe are entirely clear.”30 this type of action. Bringing the issue to the U.N. Secu-
The options that the ExComm addressed included rity Council alone was discounted because, as a perma-
inaction, private diplomatic advances, an expression of nent member, the Soviet Union had an automatic veto
outrage at the United Nations, limited military action in and, ironically, Soviet Ambassador Valerian I. Zorin
the form of a blockade of Cuba, surgical air strike was serving as the chairman of the Council.
against the island, and general invasion. The president Another alternative, which seemed especially
did not believe that the missiles changed the global mil- attractive in light of the possibility of disengaging the
itary balance, but he did believe that they had serious Soviet-Cuban alliance, was to approach Castro directly.
political ramifications, and, consequently, the United The ExComm considered sending a message that would
States had to respond to their emplacement. After highlight the problems for Castro. The United States
months of reassurances against such an action, the saw it as “action [by] the Soviets . . . [which] threatened
United States would not tolerate a Soviet action carried [Castro] with attack from the United States, and . . .
out in such a deliberate and deceitful manner.31 Fur- therefore the overthrow of this regime.” The United
thermore, missiles in the Western Hemisphere point- States would point to Soviet statements suggesting the
ing directly at the United States would not be judged in possibility of “bargaining” Soviet “support [for Cuba]
the same manner as missiles similarly targeted but and these missiles, against concessions in Berlin, and
located in the Soviet Union. elsewhere, and therefore . . . threatening to bargain him
Kennedy believed that not addressing the Soviet away.”35
actions would have severe consequences in Soviet mili- This approach was not rejected, but it was “set
tary and political expansionism. He said, “[W]hen we aside” for the time being as Kennedy believed this to be
said we’re not going to and then they go ahead and do a U.S.-Soviet confrontation and crisis. Since the weap-
it, and then we do nothing, then . . . I would think that ons were Soviet-designed, Soviet-built, Soviet con-
our risks increase. . . . After all this is a political struggle structed, and Soviet-controlled, he did not believe that
as much as military.”32 Soviet expert and newly addressing Castro on this issue would be useful.
appointed U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Bohlen Approaching Castro would have afforded the Soviets
attended the meetings on the first two days. In a memo- advance notice. Furthermore, Castro might have
randum to the president he noted that “no one can responded defensively, thereby forcing a faster or more
guarantee that this can be achieved by diplomatic difficult military confrontation if he had not perceived
action—but it seems to me essential that this channel the approach to be genuine.36
should be tested out before military action is The ExComm members next discussed the alterna-
employed.”33 The Bohlen plan suggested sending a let- tive of military action. The hawks believed that the
ter to the Kremlin before pursuing a military response. Soviet missiles had strategic as well as political value.
Although Sorenson worked on composing such a letter General Taylor and Assistant Secretary Nitze argued
8 Gabrielle S. Brussel

that the missiles exposed part of the U.S. strategic could be increased as the circumstances warranted.
bomber force to sudden ground attack and cut the U.S. “Further, it was dramatic and forceful pressure, which
warning time from approximately fifteen minutes to would be understood yet, most importantly, still leave
three minutes or less.37 Advocates of military action [the United States] in control of events.”40
against Cuba pointed out that military action was the The “fast track” had advocates as well. At the first
only option that would physically remove the missiles. ExComm meeting, the majority of advisors encour-
The direct surgical air strike on the missiles in Cuba aged an air strike. They perceived the United States as
option came to be known as the “fast track.” Propo- threatened strategically and believed it would have to
nents of this alternative maintained that the missiles respond in a quick military manner that left no room for
were not defensive or placed for the sake of Cuba but debate; a surprise attack on Cuba would have removed
were, in fact, designed to enhance the Soviet position the missiles and proved to the Soviets and to the world
and to intimidate the United States and its allies. that the United States stood by its word. The United
The other option that claimed ExComm’s attention States had warned the Soviet Union repeatedly against
was the “slow track.” Advocated by the doves, this plan emplacement of missiles in Cuba, and now the United
called for a limited military embargo of Soviet ship- States should respond in a forceful manner, according
ments to Cuba, enforced by a naval blockade of the to advocates of the position. The joint Chiefs of Staff,
island. McNamara was one of the earliest advocates of Acheson, and Taylor remained strong proponents of a
the blockade. “He argued that it was limited pressure, surgical air strike against Cuba, while other advisors
which could be increased as the circumstances war- changed their opinions sharply.
ranted. Further, it was dramatic and forceful pressure, Advisors quickly pointed to the ramifications in
which would be understood38 yet, most importantly, other U.S. military posts and situations. Deputy Secre-
still leave [the United States] in control of events.”39 tary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric pointed to the “points
Both of these alternatives constituted direct con- of vulnerability around the world,” suggesting that “pre-
frontations with the Soviets. The naval blockade, how- cautionary measures” might have to be taken. He also
ever, would be somewhat less provocative as it did not said that the measures adopted must be military and
entail the immediate risk of casualties. It could be grad- political.41 McNamara was also concerned with the con-
uated and tightened, and, although it would be a show sequences and ramifications of a surgical air attack, sug-
of force, it would not be immediately life threatening. In gesting that U.S. forces around the world must be put
addition, the United States had planned military on alert.”42
maneuvers off the coast of Florida that could be used to Under Secretary of State George Ball was among
cover the preparations. those concerned with the costs of such a response. On
Opponents of the blockade, including Acheson, October 17, the second day of the meetings, he became
Taylor, and General Curtis LeMay, criticized the policy the first firm opponent of an air strike.43 Ball said that
because the Soviets could take advantage of it. They the bombing of Cuba would be in distinct contradiction
correctly concluded that it would not remove the mis- of U.S. traditions and history. Robert Kennedy agreed
siles. It could easily drag on while the world debated its and became the staunchest advocate of this philosophy.
legality and legitimacy. At the same time, the Soviets Kennedy believed that the U.S. response must be con-
could continue their missile construction and build-up. sistent with U.S. values. He maintained that the United
Furthermore, if the Soviets attempted to “run the States was fighting for something more than just sur-
blockade,” the United States would be forced into firing vival and that all our heritage and our ideals would be
the first shot. Above all, traditional rules in interna- repugnant to such a sneak military attack.”44 In an argu-
tional relations protected the freedom of the seas. A ment with Acheson, he said that “advocating a surprise
blockade was an act of war. Vice-President Johnson had attack by a very large nation against a very small one . . .
recently characterized it as such in response to Republi- could not be undertaken by the United States if we were
can Senator Kenneth Keating’s demand for an embargo to maintain our moral position at home and around the
of Cuba. By Wednesday, October 17, Secretary McNa- world.”45 Furthermore, he said, “My brother is not
mara, in Robert Kennedy’s words, “became the block- going to be the Tojo of the 1960s,” nor would he initiate
ade’s strongest advocate,” arguing that limited pressure a “Pearl Harbor in reverse.”46
The Cuban Missile Crisis 9

Acheson staunchly opposed the analogy of Pearl he would consider in making his decision. Discussion
Harbor. He argued that the United States had warned quickly centered on whether the immediate U.S.
the Soviet government for months against placing response should be a blockade or an air strike.
offensive weapons in Cuba. The president had specifi- On the third day of the crisis, Thursday, October
cally discussed this in his public statements of Septem- 18, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko called on
ber 4 and September 13, 1962. On October 3 Congress the president. During the meeting, which had been
had authorized the president to prevent “by whatever planned weeks before, Gromyko told Kennedy that the
means may be necessary” Cuba from endangering U.S. Soviets would do nothing about Berlin or a German
security. Furthermore, Acheson stated, the Western peace treaty until after the November 6 congressional
Hemisphere had, since the Monroe Doctrine, been in elections. He said that U.S. hostilities against Cuba
the U.S. military and political sphere of influence. The could lead to problems between the Soviet Union and
doctrine unequivocally stated that European interfer- the United States. The Soviet Union, he continued, had
ence in that sphere will not be tolerated by the United given Cuba assistance for purely defensive purposes. At
States. For Acheson, these warnings negated the “sur- that point, Kennedy stopped him, saying that the
prise attack” suggestion of the Pearl Harbor analogy. United States had no intention of invading Cuba and the
For the president and the attorney general, however, Soviet Union’s supplying of arms to Cuba was having a
these statements and warnings were not enough to jus- profound effect on the people of the United States and
tify a surprise attack. In fact, the attorney general later was a source of great concern.49 Kennedy then read
characterized President Kennedy’s decision against the Gromyko his statement of September 4, which declared
attack as based on “his belief in what is right and what is that Soviet placement of offensive weapons in Cuba
wrong.”47 would have serious consequences and that the United
The final option the ExComm considered was a States would go to any length to stop Cuban aggression
general invasion of Cuba. Few of the advisors believed and Soviet expansionism in Latin America. He did not
that the U.S. response should begin with such extreme ask Gromyko directly whether there were offensive
action, though several advisors saw it as an opportunity missiles in Cuba. If Gromyko was puzzled by the presi-
to “take Cuba away from Castro.” This response was dent’s actions, he did not appear so. Upon leaving the
quickly discounted as risking a world war. At the very White House, Gromyko described the meeting as “use-
least it was a step that would give the world cause to ful, very useful.”50
indict U.S. aggression and interventionism for years to As the days wore on, the meetings and debates con-
come. tinued. Certain people, from government analysts to
Mindful of previous crises during which the presi- reporters, began to be aware that a major policy issue
dent had not received complete information, President was under discussion, although they were not quite sure
Kennedy set an informal agenda for the ExComm meet- of its content. The president ordered the armed forces
ings encouraging discussion by all present regardless of to stand at DefCon 2, a stage of military preparation
rank. Open discussion of all alternatives was encour- that is one step away from actual confrontation. As the
aged, with advisors presenting and updating reports, United States fortified its position, it publicly defended
analyses, and suggestions. The president believed that the build-up as part of long-planned naval activities in
his presence had a constraining effect on the discussion, the Caribbean—Philbriglex-62.51 Arthur Sylvester,
arresting interaction between less senior advisors and information chief of the Defense Department, denied
their supervisors and overwhelming the possibility for the significance of the build-up, saying that the exercise
“true give-and-take.” For this reason and because he had “nothing to do with any possible imminent action
wanted to maintain his schedule to convey the appear- against Cuba.”52 Time was running short, however.
ance of normality, Kennedy did not attend the delibera- Speculation centered on Berlin, on India, and on
tions during the first days.48 Robert Kennedy served as the Far East as well as on Cuba. At one point during the
an informal chair at the meetings, although the discus- deliberations W. Averill Harriman, assistant secretary of
sions were rarely directed and largely unstructured. state for Far Eastern affairs, was summoned to a private
The president instructed the group to develop a con- anteroom in the west wing of the White House and left
sensus in favor of one or two specific responses, which there as a decoy to encourage journalists to speculate
10 Gabrielle S. Brussel

about a crisis in the Far East rather than in Latin Amer- take out their missiles, kill a lot of Russians and then do
ica. Martin Hillenbrand of the German Affairs Office nothing.”56
and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Robert Kennedy, continuing an argument that he
Philips Talbot were also called to the White House in a and others, including McNamara and Ball, supported,
public manner as decoys.53 Government officials did maintained that the president was not faced with a
everything they could think of to avoid publicity. One “zero-sum” choice. Instead, he suggested that the presi-
evening a mid-level official told Secretary Rusk, “I dent should begin with responses that offered the least
know there is something going on that you don’t want risk of war and increase pressure if necessary. The
to talk about. But if security is all that tight, maybe blockade was a limited action that could be tightened or
you’d better tell all those big wheels from across the supplemented with an air strike as time went on. A
river to get their cars off the street.”54 After that the lim- turning point occurred when Secretary of the Treasury
ousines were left in the basement garage Douglas Dillon shifted his opinion away from support of
On the evening of Thursday, October 18, when the an air strike to a blockade. “What changed my mind,”
State Department gave a dinner party for Gromyko, the he suggests, “was Bobby Kennedy’s argument that we
ExComm was divided into two clear camps—air strike ought to be true to ourselves as Americans, that sur-
versus blockade. At the beginning the group was prise attack was not in our tradition. Frankly, these con-
divided almost evenly. McCone, Dillon, Taylor, Ache- siderations had not occurred to me. . . .”57
son, and Nitze favored a strategic air strike. Initially Around 10:00 P.M. the advisors left the State
McGeorge Bundy had supported a blockade, but by Department to meet with the president. In a meeting
that time he also favored an air strike. Robert Kennedy, that lasted past midnight, they presented two policy
options they had been debating for days: the air strike
McNamara, Gilpatric, Thompson, Ball, and Lovett,
and the blockade. In the course of the meeting the advi-
however, believed that the United States must pursue a
sors were not able to answer all of the president’s ques-
blockade, at least before resorting to more drastic mili-
tions, and their own opinions began to shift again. The
tary action. The air strike proponents suggested an
president sent them back to the State Department for
advance warning to both the Cubans and the Soviets
further deliberations. The next day the advocates of the
through contacts in the Swiss government.55
two plans split up to write recommendations outlining
Soviet expert Llewellyn Thompson, resuming an
the steps each policy would require. Presidential Assis-
argument he had supported in earlier meetings, main-
tant Theodore Sorenson was asked to draft a speech
tained that the missiles were placed and controlled by that would justify the blockade. It was to include an
the Soviets. To consider Castro as a major policymaker analysis of the Latin American countries that could
in this crisis, he believed, would be futile. Since this was assist in the blockade and the military procedures that
a dramatic departure from previous Soviet military pol- would be used to stop ships. The advocates of immedi-
icy (they had never before placed missiles outside the ate military action were required to draw up a list of
Soviet Union), Thompson argued, the plan must have riot-control equipment that would be used to maintain
originated in the Kremlin. A resolution, therefore, had domestic security throughout Latin America; weapons
to be negotiated with the Kremlin. Furthermore, that would be barred from Cuba; an analysis of the
attacking the Soviet missiles meant killing Soviets, and Cuban exile groups in the United States; and a pro-
it was unlikely that Khrushchev would not respond in posed communication to Khrushchev designed to per-
kind somewhere in the world. President Kennedy suade him that it would be inadvisable to move
agreed. During a briefing with Air Force Chief of Staff militarily against us in the Caribbean, in Berlin, or else-
General Curtis LeMay, Kennedy said that although he where in the world.58 The Justice and State depart-
understood the position of the joint Chiefs of Staff in ments were entrusted with the task of building the legal
calling for immediate military action, there would in all defense for the blockade.
probability be some Soviet military retaliation to a U.S. The deliberations were not over, however. On Fri-
military action. “They, no more than we,” Kennedy day, October 19, the opponents of a blockade continued
said, “can let these things go by without doing some- to raise criticisms of the plan and to argue the futility of
thing. They can’t, after all their statements, permit us to such action. Furthermore, they suggested that the “slow
The Cuban Missile Crisis 11

track” of a blockade would remove any advantage that “defensive quarantine”59 would be considered “use of
the United States might have with a surprise attack. force” prohibited by Article 2(4) of the UN Charter,
Reporters were becoming more persistent as the which states:
global U.S. military mobilization continued. At 1:20
P.M. an alert went out to Atlantic and Caribbean bases All Members shall refrain in their international rela-
and commands warning them against possible attacks. tions from the threat or use of force against the ter-
High-level policymakers were canceling appointments ritorial integrity or political independence of any
and speaking engagements. Government officials were state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the
remaining in Washington when they were scheduled to Purposes of the United Nations.
be in other places. Troop movements and mobilizations
were being questioned, even though they were covered There are, however, exceptions to the “use of
somewhat by the naval exercises. The president main- force” prohibition, including self-defense in an armed
tained his scheduled campaign stops in Illinois while his attack, action by the United Nations itself, and regional
advisors continued their discussions, but questions arrangements. The regional arrangements exception,
were being raised about what was going on. Time was stated in Article 52(1) and Article 52(2), sanctions
running out. “appropriate” actions for the maintenance of regional
peace and security. Katzenbach believed that the block-
International and Legal Ramifications ade with a regional sanction would provide a solid legal
basis. He also felt that the United States could, without
The ExComm now began a new debate: What could be the sanction, defend the blockade in view of a state’s
the justification for the limited response, or “slow
right of self defense.
track,” which was, in fact, an act of war? Furthermore,
An Organization of American States (OAS) sanc-
what domestic constitutional questions were involved?
tion, under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocity,
Although the blockade was considered a less provoca-
or Rio Treaty (a treaty to which Cuba is a signatory),
tive response, it was not in accord with international
established cooperative relations and a forum to deal
law or with U.S. traditions. The history of foreign policy
with internal and external conflicts among the Ameri-
provides numerous examples of the importance to gov-
can states. Meeker argued that this treaty would legiti-
ernments of freedom of the seas. Indeed, the United
mize a quarantine of Cuba. Meeker especially noted
States had fought the War of 1812 to protect American
access to the seas. Articles 6 and 8 of the Rio Treaty, which condone mea-
sures taken within the organization (including the rec-
Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and
State Department Deputy Legal Advisor Leonard ommendation of force by one or more members) to
Meeker were responsible for creating a legal frame- resolve a situation that endangers the peace and secu-
work to justify the naval blockade. Although the admin- rity of the hemisphere:
istration already believed that it was important for its
actions to have a legal basis, Thompson emphasized the Article 6: If the inviolability or the integrity of the
importance of this point in dealing with the Soviet gov- territory or the sovereignty or political indepen-
ernment. He noted that although the Soviets might dence of any American State should be affected by
manipulate the legal justifications or ramifications of a an aggression which is not an armed attack or by an
situation, they consistently sought legal interpretations extra-continental or intra-continental conflict, or
to justify their actions in the international sphere. by any other fact or situation that might endanger
Katzenbach maintained that U.S. military actions the peace of America, the Organ of Consultation
(including a blockade) could be justified on the interna- shall meet immediately in order to agree on mea-
tional principle of self-defense based on Chapter VII, sures which must be taken in case of aggression to
Article 51, of the United Nations Charter. Moreover, a assist the victim of the aggression or, in any case,
blockade would not require a declaration of war. measures which should be taken for the common
Meeker agreed that U.S. actions were valid on the basis defense and for the maintenance of the peace and
of “self-defense,” but he maintained that a blockade or security of the Continent.
12 Gabrielle S. Brussel

Article 8: For the purposes of this treaty, the mea- suggested that the president should consider proposing
sure on which the Organ of Consultation may agree that Cuba be demilitarized, neutralized, and its territo-
will comprise one or more of the following: recall rial integrity guaranteed by the demobilization of U.S.
of chiefs of diplomatic missions; breaking of diplo- forces at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base. Additionally,
matic relations; breaking of consular relations; par- either as an alternative or as an accompanying proposal,
tial or complete interruption of economic relations the president should consider dismantling the obsolete
or of sea, air, postal, telephonic, and radiotele- Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy.
phonic or radiotelegraphic communications; and Kennedy discounted both options. He did not want
the use of armed force. to give up Guantánamo at that time, and he refused to
be perceived as trading away an ally for the safety of the
The advisors recognized that the language used to United States, whether the missiles in the Mediterra-
describe the crisis was critical. Meeker was careful, nean were militarily useful or not. Primarily, the United
therefore, to qualify the naval response as a “defensive States could not and would not negotiate under threat.
quarantine” rather than a “blockade.” A defensive quar- The president did agree, however, that the political
antine would not necessarily imply a state of war, while importance of the U.S. negotiating position had to be
a blockade would be subject to considerable retaliation addressed and strengthened. With the exception of Ste-
as an act of war. Both advisors underscored the state- venson, the ExComm fully agreed with the president’s
ment in Article 2(4), which outlaws “use of force” that refusal to include the U.S. missiles in a negotiation
is “inconsistent with the Purposes of the United package. A straw vote revealed that the ExComm
Nations.” They suggested that the quarantine would be remained split, with six advisors voting for a surgical
“legal” in the context of Article 2(4) as it supported the strike and eleven advocating a naval quarantine within a
aim of maintaining international peace. Furthermore, context of international negotiations.61
within the sanction of the regional institution, the OAS, That morning the president ordered the U.S. mis-
a “defensive quarantine” would not be illegal. Sorenson siles stationed in Turkey to be defused. This rendered
began a draft that announced a blockade but suggested them incapable of firing without a direct order by an
that the United States would increase the pressure of authority.62 This was done to consolidate the responsi-
the blockade and proceed to more offensive actions if bility of the crisis into the hands of the executive and to
the Soviet build-up continued. prevent, to the best of the administration’s ability, esca-
lation through mistake, misperception, or miscalcula-
The Presidential Decision tion of an unauthorized government official. This
action did not affect the U.S. strategic position or
At 2:30 P.M. on Saturday, October 20, after five days of diminish its security. By the fall of 1962, only Air Force
almost constant deliberations, the ExComm presented General LeMay believed that the Jupiters were “good
two alternative proposals to President Kennedy: military weapons.”63 Turkey maintained that the mis-
siles were a physical sign of the U.S. commitment to
1. Begin with a naval blockade and increase the mili- NATO, and to Turkey in particular. In May and June
tary pressure as the crisis demands; or 1962 the State Department had broached the subject
with the Turkish government; both times the Turkish
2. Begin with an air strike of Cuba, probably accom- government refused to discuss it. Although in August
panied by an invasion of Cuba. 1962 Bundy had pursued the subject of how to remove
the missiles, no action had as yet begun.64
Assistant Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric President Kennedy decided in favor of a blockade
summarized the general opinion of the ExComm: or “defensive quarantine.”65 Although he realized that
“Essentially, Mr. President, this is a choice between the quarantine would not remove the missiles, he knew
limited action and unlimited action; and most of us that an air strike would not necessarily remove all of
think that it’s better to start with limited action.”60 them either, thereby forcing an escalation to higher lev-
Adlai Stevenson said that the United States should els of military confrontation. This course allowed the
be prepared to negotiate to remove the missiles. He United States to increase pressure as required. Once the
The Cuban Missile Crisis 13

United States went forward with an attack, there would Cuban air space? Should he state that the United States
have been little recourse. The quarantine bought some would continue its blockade whether it received
time. regional approval from the OAS or not? Should the
The president was scheduled to make a statement speech mention Berlin and try to forestall a retaliatory
on Monday October 22, but the administration was not action there?
sure it could keep the crisis from reaching the press. Kennedy decided against showing the enlarged
James Reston of the New York Times had many of the photographs on the grounds that the viewer would
facts. Alfred Friendly of the Washington Post also had a probably not be able to discern the missile sites in the
fair idea of what was going on. Both the New York Times photographs. Robert Kennedy later admitted that the
and the Washington Post, in addition to the New York first time he looked at the photographs he had to take
Herald Tribune, complied with the request that they the photo reconnaissance analysts at their word, since
wait on the story until the president had gone public what he saw “appeared to be no more than the clearing
hours later. of a field for a farm or the basement of a house.” This
The final hours of the weekend were spent drafting had been the reaction of many of the experts in the
the president’s speech to the public; contacting con- room, including President Kennedy.67 Although the
gressional leaders; coordinating the military mobiliza- public would have seen later stages of construction, the
tion and naval buildup; establishing support systems, president did not want to present questionable evi-
including doctors and nurses, that would be needed in dence. At the same time the administration did not
the event of a military confrontation; and dispatching want to heighten panic, so the president removed any
ambassadors to inform our allies. Kennedy also sent specific references to Hiroshima and megatonnage.
personal envoys to French President Charles de Gaulle, The speech would admit the secret surveillance of
Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, West Ger- Cuba and would announce that the United States would
man Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and British Prime increase this surveillance until the crisis abated. Sur-
Minister Harold Macmillan. Presidential letters, sent veillance was justified in an earlier OAS communiqué
through U.S. embassies, went to forty-three heads of condemning secret military preparations. Although the
state. United States would institute the blockade in any event,
The president gave a final, last-minute consider- the ExComm chose not to review that point in the
ation to an air strike during a meeting with General speech in the hope that the statement about “the
Walter C. Sweeney, Jr., commander-in-chief of the Tac- defense of [U.S.] security and of the entire Western
tical Air Command, on the morning of Sunday, October Hemisphere” would encourage regional unity and
21. Sweeney explained that an air attack could not be approval. The speech discouraged Soviet advances in
certain of destroying all the missile sites in Cuba. In Berlin, stating that the United States would resist any
fact, he said, approximately ten percent of the missiles hostile retaliations anywhere in the world “including in
would remain, necessitating a U.S. invasion. That con- particular [against] the brave people of West Berlin.”68
firmed the president’s decision to begin with the naval At 2:30 P.M., October 21, the National Security
quarantine. The air strike plan as outlined by the mili- Council formally ratified the decisions of the ExComm.
tary included bombing several populated areas as well Admiral George W. Anderson outlined the navy’s plan
as military installations. Later reports suggested that for the blockade. Orders from the Pentagon readied
U.S. intelligence advisors had estimated that 25,000 Guantánamo naval base for a possible confrontation,
Cubans would be killed if the decision had been made evacuating family dependents and assigning operational
to bomb the missiles sites and destroy the bases.66 control of specified army and air force units. In the eve-
Once the president made his decision, time and ning Secretary of Defense McNamara formally
energy were channeled into reviewing the speeches to approved the procedures and authorized air force inter-
be made and deciding on the exact presentation the ceptors flying in the United States to carry nuclear
president would make. There were many questions: weapons.
How would he explain the U.S. evidence? Would he On Monday, October 22, the political and military
present the photographs on television? Should the preparations continued. John McCloy flew back to the
president admit to illegal reconnaissance flights over United States from Europe to join the Stevenson team
14 Gabrielle S. Brussel

at the United Nations. A blockade-planning directive began the briefing with a description of the intelligence
was ordered to the Atlantic fleet, and the air force mis- reports and a report of the U.S. response. Members of
sile crews received maximum alert orders. One hundred the congressional group were fairly uniform in their
fifty-six Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) criticism of a blockade. Believing it slow and ineffec-
were readied for firing. The bomber force was dis- tive, they called for stronger action. Some, including
persed, with B-47s sent to forty civilian airports and the Senator Richard Russell of Georgia and Senator J. Wil-
B-52 bomber force ordered into the air. During the fol- liam Fulbright of Arkansas (both Democrats), went so
lowing month a significant portion of the B-52s were in far as to call for an invasion.
the air at all times. In addition, the force on the ground President Kennedy later suggested that the con-
carried a full load of fuel and bombs and was ready to gressional leaders were responding as the executive
take off on fifteen minutes notice. Five army divisions advisors had at first. He believed that “if they had gone
were on full alert, and 180 ships were deployed in the through the five-day period we had gone through—in
Caribbean.69 looking at the various alternatives, advantages and dis-
The ExComm met to discuss the presidential advantages . . .—they would have come out the same
announcement. Abram Chayes, the legal advisor of the way we did.”70 Kennedy responded to the congressional
State Department, stressed that the legal basis of the leaders by stating that he was acting by executive order,
quarantine was the right of collective action found in presidential proclamation, and inherent powers, not
the Rio Treaty and in the UN Charter. He emphasized under a resolution or an act of Congress.”71 He was
the OAS right to take collective actions to guard the seeking bipartisan governmental unity, he explained,
security of the region and Article 52 of the UN Charter, but the planned U.S. response of a quarantine would
maintaining a state’s right to make regional arrange- continue in any event. Congressional support was
ments. important to Kennedy, but he had already decided that
The United States did not point to Article 51 of the the executive branch would formulate a response with-
UN Charter protecting the right of all nations to self- out contacting Congress.
defense because that article allowed a broad interpreta- The State Department was also preparing briefings.
tion of self-defense. International justifications and Secretary Rusk left the meeting with Congress for a
pleas of self-defense had been established over many meeting with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.
years. Chayes maintained that a dangerous and difficult Dobrynin was given an advance copy of the president’s
precedent would be set if the United States extended speech. Rusk recalled that Dobrynin “age[d] ten years
the interpretation of “self-defense” to “anticipatory self- right in front of [his] eyes.”72 In fact, Dobrynin’s own
defense” in regard to the placement of offensive missiles government had not informed him of the missile
close to U.S. borders when an attack, although possible deployment. In the State Department’s international
in the future, was obviously not imminent. conference room, Under Secretary Ball briefed the
The legal advisors urged policymakers to support ambassadors of forty-six allied countries, showing them
the U.S. position with the other available avenues of photographs of the sites. U.S. ambassadors all over the
international legal posture. This was agreed upon, and world, including Foy Kohler in Moscow, were giving
the text of the president’s speech was changed. Chayes similar briefings
agreed with Meeker’s emphasis on terminology, At 7:00 P.M. (EST) President Kennedy broadcast
strongly recommending that the U.S. action be termed on an international network arranged by the U.S. Infor-
a “defensive quarantine” rather than a blockade. The mation Agency:73
president also accepted this idea. Action Memorandum
No. 196 was approved, formally establishing the advi- This government as promised, has maintained the
sors as the Executive Committee of the National Secu- closest surveillance of the Soviet military build-up
rity Council “for the purpose of effective conduct of the on the island of Cuba. Within the past week,
operations of the executive branch in the current crisis.” unmistakable evidence has established the fact that
Later that day President Kennedy met with leading a series of offensive missile sites is now in prepara-
members of Congress, many of whom had been flown tion on that imprisoned island. The purpose of
back to Washington. McCone, Rusk, and McNamara these bases, can be none other than to provide a
The Cuban Missile Crisis 15

nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemi- around the world. God willing, that goal will be
sphere. . . . achieved.”
During the president’s speech, the State Depart-
This urgent transformation of Cuba into an impor- ment continued addressing world opinion to gain a
tant strategic base—by the presence of these large, world consensus favoring or at least understanding the
long-range and clearly offensive weapons of sudden proposed U.S. actions. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson
mass destruction—constitutes an explicit threat to requested that the Security Council convene to address
the peace and security of all the Americas. . . . the “dangerous threat to peace and security of the world
caused by the secret establishment in Cuba” of long-
This secret, swift and extraordinary build-up of range offensive missiles. He delivered this request to the
Communist missiles—in an area well-known to chairman of the Security Council, Soviet Ambassador
have a special and historical relationship to the Valerian Zorin.74 The United States had ready a draft
United States and the nations of the Western Hemi- resolution calling for the dismantling of the missiles
sphere, in violation of Soviet assurances, and in under the jurisdiction of the UN Observer Corps. If this
defiance of American and hemispheric policy—this were done, the blockade would be called off.
sudden, clandestine decision to station strategic Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American
weapons for the first time outside of Soviet soil is a Affairs Edwin Martin briefed the ambassadors of the
deliberately provocative and unjustified change in OAS, while Secretary Rusk met with members of the
the status quo which cannot be accepted by this nonaligned and neutral nations. Characterizing the
country, if our courage and our commitments are Soviet emplacement as a “gross . . . error of judgement,”
ever to be trusted again by either friend or foe. . . . Rusk appealed to the nations to “look at this situation in
terms of national purposes, national commitments,
national interests.” Further, he suggested that “one of
Our unswerving objective, therefore, must be to
the issues . . . involved . . . the independence of states . .
prevent the use of these missiles against this or any
.” and that Cuba was the victim rather than the perpe-
other country, and to secure their withdrawal or
trator of the act.75 McNamara and Ball also held brief-
elimination from the Western Hemisphere. . . .
ings that evening for the correspondents of the State
Department and the Pentagon. When asked how far the
The president went on, outlining the initial
navy would go to stop a Soviet vessel, McNamara
response planned by the United States, including the
responded, “If there is an indication of offensive weap-
naval quarantine, continued surveillance, reinforce- ons on board” and the captain refuses another course or
ment of Guantánamo Bay, and a diplomatic approach port, “we will use force.”76
consisting of negotiations at the UN, through the OAS,
The OAS met at 9:00 A.M. on Tuesday, October
and in bilateral discussions with Khrushchev. He
23, to discuss the U.S. resolution proposing a U.S.
warned that the United States would retaliate if neces- “quarantine” of Cuba. Martin estimated that the United
sary: States would get fourteen votes—the minimum neces-
sary to approve the collective action under the Rio
It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any Treaty (two-thirds of the twenty-one member nations).
nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any The U.S. delegation, including Secretary of State Rusk,
nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by urged the OAS to act in concert for the defense of the
the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a entire hemisphere. The nations discussed the blockade
full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union. throughout the day. Eighteen favored the blockade. The
Bolivian ambassador, under instructions from his gov-
Kennedy concluded with a statement reaffirming ernment to boycott the OAS for reasons relating to an
the U.S. commitment to freedom and peace, “Our goal earlier border dispute, was unable to participate in the
is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; proceeding. Deciding, however, to take a stand on what
not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace was viewed as one of the most important decisions the
and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, OAS would ever make, he abstained on a paragraph and
16 Gabrielle S. Brussel

voted with the majority. Uruguay alone abstained, mak- four launchers were in Cuba, as well as nine Luna short-
ing the vote nineteen to zero in favor of a U.S. naval range, nuclear-tipped missiles with six mobile launch-
quarantine of Cuba. ers. Moreover, the local Soviet commander in Cuba had
permission to fire a nuclear retaliation in response to a
U.S.-ordered invasion of the island. The atomic war-
U.S.-SOVIET NEGOTIATIONS heads on the Soviet rockets had yields of six to twelve
kilotons, or 6,000 to 12,000 tons of TNT.
On Tuesday, October 23, the UN Security Council held At 11:56 A.M. (EST) the U.S. Embassy in Moscow
its first meeting on the Cuban missile crisis. U.S. transmitted the response by Chairman Nikita Khrush-
Ambassador Adlai Stevenson denounced the Soviet chev to President Kennedy’s public statement:78
actions in Cuba, while Soviet Ambassador Valerian
Zorin accused the United States of risking world war [M]easures outlined in your statement represent
and making “false accusations.” The Soviet ambassador serious threat to peace and the security of peoples.
introduced a resolution calling for condemnation of the United States has openly taken path of gross viola-
United States for violating the UN Charter and increas- tion of Charter of United Nations, path of violation
ing the likelihood of world war. The Cuban ambassador of international norms of freedom of navigation on
also condemned the U.S. actions, announcing that high seas, path of aggressive actions both against
Cuba would never accept UN observers on the island. Cuba and against Soviet Union.
The United States estimated that it could depend
on seven votes (including its own) from its allies among
Statement of Government of United States Amer-
the permanent members, France, Great Britain, and
ica cannot be evaluated in any other way than as
China, and Venezuela, Chile, and Ireland who, by rota-
naked interference in domestic affairs of Cuban
tion, were sitting on the council. The Soviet bloc on the
Republic, Soviet Union, and other states. Charter
Security Council consisted of Romania and the Soviet
of United Nations and international norms do not
Union, which, as a permanent member, had an auto-
give right to any state whatsoever to establish in
matic veto. The other alternate members during the
international waters control of vessels bound for
rotation were neutral.77 Secretary General U Thant was
shores of the Cuban Republic.
asked to mediate the crisis.

It is self-understood that we also cannot recognize

Edge of the Precipice
right of United States to establish control over
armaments essential to Republic of Cuba for
In Washington the CIA presented evidence to the
strengthening of its defensive capacity.
ExComm that “as of the day before, four MRBM sites
were ‘operational’ and many others had ‘emergency
capability.’" The Soviet technicians continued to We confirm that armaments now on Cuba, regard-
improve the sites. The “emergency capability” would less of classification to which they belong, are des-
become “fully operational” shortly. The ExComm tined exclusively for defensive purposes, in order to
decided, with the president’s approval, that if a U-2 secure Cuban Republic from attack of aggressor.
reconnaissance plane flying surveillance over Cuba was
fired on, the United States would, with specific permis- I hope that Government of United States will show
sion from President Kennedy, use bomber and fighter prudence and renounce actions pursued by you,
planes to destroy the Surface-to-Air missile site (SAM) which could lead to catastrophic consequences for
that had shot down the U.S. plane. The United States peace throughout the world. . . .
did not know if nuclear warheads were on the island, so
the administration shaped its strategy assuming the Kennedy responded immediately, transmitting a
worst. In fact, two-thirds of the Soviet warheads were letter through the U.S. State Department to the U.S.
either on the island or en route to it. Thirty-six war- Embassy in Moscow. It was delivered in Moscow at 7:00
heads for use on medium-range missiles and twenty- A.M. October 24 (Moscow time). Briefly discussing the
The Cuban Missile Crisis 17

cause of the crisis, Kennedy firmly announced that the renewed those pledges and denied the existence of
quarantine would go into effect:79 offensive missiles in Cuba. Kennedy observed that the
president had chosen a less belligerent attitude toward
I think you will recognize that the steps80 which the Soviet Union than other political figures in the
stated the current chain of events was the action of United States would have and suggested that the Soviet
your government in secretly furnishing offensive actions had “devastating implications for the peace of
weapons to Cuba. We will be discussing this matter the world.”81 Dobrynin questioned the U.S. silence
in the Security Council. In the meantime, I hope regarding the missiles during the Kennedy-Gromyko
that we both show prudence and do nothing to meeting the previous week. The attorney general
allow events to make the situation more difficult to replied that “there was nothing the President could tell
control than it already is. Gromyko that Gromyko didn’t already know—after all,
why didn’t Gromyko tell the President.”82 The presi-
I hope that you will issue immediately the neces- dent had met Soviet demands for the “withdrawal of
sary instruction to your ships to observe the terms American troops from Thailand.” He believed that he
of the quarantine, the basis of which was estab- was negotiating in good faith and “sneaking missiles
lished by the vote of the Organization of American into Cuba now displayed the Soviet leaders as hypocrit-
States this afternoon, and which will go into effect ical, misleading and false.” Kennedy asked if the Soviet
at 1400 hours Greenwich time October twenty- ships were continuing on their course toward Cuba.
four. . . . Dobrynin replied that “that had been their instructions
and he knew of no change.”83 The meeting ended in a
That evening the president signed the interdiction stalemate, neither man secure in his knowledge of the
orders that were to go into effect the next day. The other.
materials to be stopped included SAMs, bomber air- That evening the president met with British
craft, bombs, air-to-surface rockets and guided missiles, Ambassador David Ormsby-Gore. Ormsby-Gore sug-
warheads, support equipment for the banned weapons, gested that Kennedy should release the aerial photo-
and any other materials so designated by the secretary graphs proving the U.S. position. This would help to
of Defense “for the purpose of effectuating this procla- rally public opinion behind the U.S. position. It was
mation.” McNamara, as secretary of Defense, ordered absolutely imperative that the world accept that the
the quarantine: Any ships headed for Cuba would be missiles represented a real crisis rather than a political
interdicted. The president reserved to himself the right attempt to increase public support before the important
to order each ship to be intercepted or boarded. Again, congressional elections on November 6. The president
as with the order to defuse the Turkish missiles, by agreed with the ambassador on this point and decided
completely centralizing the orders the President aimed to publish enlarged versions of the pictures the next
to reduce the ability of government officials to take day.
matters into their own hands and unwittingly increase The quarantine line was drawn at 10:00 A.M. on
the levels of tension. Wednesday, October 24, by nineteen U.S. ships operat-
The United States asked its African allies to refuse ing as Task Force 136. If the Soviet ships bound for
landing rights to Soviet planes seeking to refuel on Afri- Cuba continued at their current speed, two ships would
can territory. This was especially important for Senegal be intercepted before noon.84 More than twenty Soviet
and Guinea, the most practical refueling stops for ships bound for Cuba had been tracked by navy recon-
planes en route to Cuba from the Soviet Union. Both naissance planes.
nations disavowed the Soviet buildup in Cuba and President Kennedy received a warning from
agreed to refuse landing rights to Soviet planes. Khrushchev stating that the Soviet Union would not
In Washington, Ambassador Dobrynin met with accept the U.S. “ultimatum:”85
Robert Kennedy to discuss the events of the past six
weeks. Kennedy reminded him of the repeated Soviet Having posed these conditions to us with these
pledges not to place offensive missiles in Cuba and to conditions, you, Mr. President, have challenged us.
give Castro only defensive assistance. Dobrynin Who asked you to do this? By what right have you
18 Gabrielle S. Brussel

done this? Our relations with the Republic of Cuba, interdiction line within one hour. A Soviet submarine
like our relations with other states, regardless of had moved into position between the two ships. The
what sort of state it may be, concern only the two U.S. Navy planned to meet the Soviets with an aircraft
countries between which those relations exist. . . . carrier supported by anti-submarine equipped helicop-
ters. The U.S.S. Essex would signal the submarine by
You, Mr. President, are not declaring quarantines, sonar. If it failed to respond, depth charges would be
but advancing an ultimatum and threatening that released to force the submarine to surface.
unless we subordinate ourselves to your demands, The administration had come to the moment it had
you will use force . . . You are no longer appealing carefully attempted to avoid, the “first exchange with an
to reason, but wish to intimidate us. . . . Russian submarine.” Even at that moment the presi-
dent asked if “there was some way we can avoid” it. This
Reference to the decision of the Organization of moment was characterized as “the edge of the precipice
American States cannot in any way substantiate the with no way off.”86 The U.S. government began to make
demands now advanced by the United States. This final preparations for a retaliation by the Soviets in Ber-
organization has absolutely no authority or basis to lin. At 10:25 A.M., however, a report stating that the
make decisions like that of which you speak of in Soviet ships had stopped “dead in the water” was
your letter. received. Seven minutes later the report was confirmed.
The fourteen ships closest to the quarantine line had
Consequently, we do not recognize these decisions. stopped in the water or had turned back toward the
International law exists, generally recognized Soviet Union, although the tankers bound for Cuba
norms of conduct exist. We firmly support the
continued. The president was determined to afford
principles of international law, strictly observe the
both nations the time necessary to negotiate their way
norms regulating navigation on the high seas and in
out of the crisis. “No ships will be stopped or inter-
international waters. We observe these norms and
cepted. . . . If the ships have orders to turn around, we
enjoy the rights recognized by all states.
want to give them every opportunity to do so. Get in
direct touch with the Essex and tell them not to do any-
You wish to compel us to renounce the rights that
thing . . . give the Russian vessels an opportunity to turn
every sovereign state enjoys, you are attempting to
back. We must move quickly because the time is expir-
legislate in questions of international law, and you
are trampling upon the generally accepted norms
of this law. . . . What morality, what law can justify
such approach by the American Government to Avoiding the Confrontation
international affairs? You cannot find such a moral-
ity and such a law. . . . The U.S. military community was not completely reas-
sured by the Soviet actions. Some officers speculated
The Soviet Government considers that violation of that ships might have altered their course in order to
freedom of the use of international waters and rendezvous with Soviet submarines, six of which had
international air space is an act of aggression, push- been tracked in the area, and then attempt to force their
ing mankind toward the abyss of a world missile- way through the line. The president ordered the Soviet
nuclear war. . . . Of course, we shall not be simply ships followed but not boarded. This, he believed
observers of piratical actions of American ships on would keep the United States in an alert position, afford
high seas. We will then be forced on our part to Khrushchev time to plan his next move, aware of U.S.
take the measure we deem necessary and adequate pressure and restraint, but not cause precipitate action.
in order to protect our rights. For this we have all At 1:00 P.M. the administration released the photo-
that is necessary. graphs of Soviet bases in Cuba. This was especially
important in London where public opinion was run-
Just after 10:00 A.M. McNamara announced that ning against the U.S. administration. Many critics felt
the ships Gagarin and Komiles were going to reach the that the Democratic administration was creating a pro-
The Cuban Missile Crisis 19

paganda campaign to aid its party during the upcoming must not be a Soviet ship nor the ship of a Western ally,
elections but preferably should belong to a neutral state.
U Thant, attempting to mediate between the two That day at the United Nations, Ambassador Zorin
governments, proposed the simultaneous suspension of denied the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, chal-
the quarantine and the arms shipments. This, he main- lenging Ambassador Stevenson to present evidence
tained, would facilitate and establish the groundwork proving their existence. Stevenson obliged with a dra-
for an immediate summit meeting between Khrushchev matic flair:
and Kennedy. Kennedy and Khrushchev responded to
the secretary general the next day, Thursday, October Mr. Ambassador we do have the evidence. We have
25. Khrushchev accepted the proposal: “I declare that I it and it is clear and incontrovertible. . . . You, the
agree with your proposals which accord with the inter- Soviet Union, have sent these weapons to Cuba.
est of peace.” Kennedy did not: “As we made clear in You, the Soviet Union, have created this new dan-
the Security Council, the existing threat was created by ger not the United States. . . .
the secret introduction of offensive weapons into Cuba,
and the answer lies in the removal of such weapons.” I remind you that the other day you did not deny
First, remove the missiles then the United States will the existence of these weapons, but today . . . you
negotiate. Otherwise, the quarantine will remain. now say that they do not exist, or that we haven’t
proved they exist. . . .
Khrushchev decided to approach the U.S. govern-
ment in an unofficial manner. He settled on inviting vis-
All right, Sir, let me ask you one question. Do you,
iting businessman William Knox, president of
Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has
Westinghouse International, to meet with him on
placed and is placing medium and intermediate
Wednesday in the Kremlin. During the ensuing discus-
range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no? Don’t
sion, Khrushchev presented the Soviet view to a man
wait for the translation, yes or no?
he viewed as an informal channel to the U.S. govern-
ment. Discussing semantic questions of “offense and
Zorin: I am not in an American courtroom. . . . In
defense,” he admitted what his ambassadors and offi-
due course, Sir, you will have your answer.
cial statements had been denying, namely that there
were missiles and other offensive weapons in Cuba.
Stevenson: You are in the courtroom of world
Furthermore, the Soviet Union would use them if nec-
opinion right now and you can answer yes or no.
essary. He warned that they would also sink the Ameri-
You have denied that they exist and I want to know
can vessels if the United States attempted to stop and whether I have understood you correctly.
board the Soviet ships.
On Thursday, October 25, Walter Lippmann’s col- Zorin: Continue with your statement. You will have
umn in the Washington Post suggested that there were your answer in due course.
“three ways to get rid of the missiles already in Cuba:”—
invasion and occupation, total blockade and what he Stevenson: I am prepared to wait for my answer
termed a “face-saving agreement,” a trade of the U.S. until hell freezes over, if that’s your decision. And I
missiles in Turkey for the Soviet missiles in Cuba. am also prepared to present the evidence to this
At 8:00 A.M. (EST) on Thursday, October 25, a room.
Soviet tanker, the Bucharest, was intercepted but was
allowed to pass through the quarantine line without a With that Stevenson turned to a set of easels
U.S. boarding. An East German passenger ship was also behind him and presented the enlarged photographs of
allowed through. The United States decided that since the Soviet missile sites to the Security Council. Zorin
it was only a matter of time until a ship was boarded, did not respond. Stevenson said, “We know the facts,
contingency plans would have to be made. After long and so do you, Sir, and we are ready to talk about them.
discussions the ExComm, the State Department, and Our job here is not to score debating points. Our job,
the Pentagon agreed that the first ship to be boarded Mr. Zorin, is to save the peace. And if you are ready to
20 Gabrielle S. Brussel

try, we are.” The Security Council adjourned later that House, observing that Zorin would also be prepared to
day and did not meet again until the crisis had ended. pursue an agreement along this terms.
At 7:00 A.M. (EST) Friday, October 26, the U.S.S. Scali went directly to Roger Hilsman, director of
Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., stopped the American-built, Pan- the Department of Intelligence and Research for the
amanian-owned, Lebanese-registered freighter Mar- State Department. He dictated a memorandum, indi-
cula. The Marcula was bound for Cuba with a Soviet cating what Fomin had said, and gave it to the secretary
charter. It had been tracked since the previous evening. of state. The secretary brought the proposal to the pres-
The encounter had been specifically planned by the ident and returned to Scali with the following message
White House; it was selected as a neutral ship sailing for Fomin:
under a Soviet charter. The U.S. Navy stopped and
searched the vessel. The Marcula cooperated with little I have reason to believe that the USG sees real pos-
protest, presumably under Soviet instructions. But con- sibilities in this and supposes that representatives
struction of the missile sites continued at an increasing of the two governments could work this matter out
pace. with U Thant and with each other. My impression
Kennedy stepped up the psychological and politi- is, however, that time is very urgent.
cal pressure. Low-level photo reconnaissance flights
over Cuba were increased to one every two hours. Scali met with Fomin later that day. After being
assured that the message “came from the highest
From Florida to Washington, contingency plans were
sources,” Fomin rushed to send the communiqué back
made in the event that the United States was forced to
to his own government.
bomb and invade Cuba. The State Department was
That day Robert Kennedy met with Dobrynin.
ordered to proceed with preparations for establishing a
Dobrynin was puzzled about the U.S. reluctance to
civilian government in Cuba after the occupation of
accept the missiles in Cuba on the same level that the
that country by U.S. troops.88
Soviets viewed the U.S. missiles in Turkey. “Robert
On Friday, October 26, statements went to the
Kennedy said, ‘You are interested in the missiles in Tur-
press that there was no evidence to date indicating that
key?’ He thought pensively and [continued], ‘One min-
there is any [Soviet] intention to dismantle or discon-
ute, I will go and talk to the President.’ He went out of
tinue work on these missile sites. On the contrary, the
the room . . . [He] came back and said, ‘The President
Soviets are rapidly continuing their construction of said that we are ready to consider the question of Tur-
missile support and launch facilities, and serious key, to examine favorably the question of Turkey.’”90
attempts are under way to camouflage their efforts.”89 Dobrynin quickly contacted Moscow.
Early that afternoon, John Scali of ABC News was That evening the White House received a long per-
contacted by Fomin, who urgently requested that Scali sonal message from Khrushchev. In it, he debated the
meet him for lunch. Although Fomin was listed as a offensive character of the missiles and discussed the
Soviet Embassy counselor, the U.S. intelligence com- total destruction and devastation that would occur in a
munity knew that he was a KGB colonel and the direc- U.S.-Soviet nuclear confrontation:91
tor of Soviet intelligence operations in the United
States. Fomin asked if the State Department would be I see, Mr. President, that you too are not devoid of
willing to settle the crisis under the following agree- a sense of anxiety for the fate of the world, of
ment: The missile sites would be dismantled under UN understanding, and of what war entails. . . . I have
supervision and sent back to the Soviet Union, Castro participated in two wars and know that war ends
would state publicly that he would not accept any fur- when it has rolled through cities and villages,
ther offensive weapons, and the United States would everywhere sowing death and destruction.
give an unconditional pledge never to invade Cuba.
Scali said that although he believed the United States You are mistaken if you think that any of our means
would be interested, he did not speak for the govern- on Cuba are offensive. However, let us not quarrel
ment and would have to contact the administration. now. It is apparent that I will not be able to con-
Fomin urged Scali to send this proposal to the White vince you of this. But I say to you: you, Mr. Presi-
The Cuban Missile Crisis 21

dent, are a military man and should understand: If you are really concerned about the peace and
can one attack, if one has on one’s territory even an welfare of your people, and this is your responsibil-
enormous quantity of missiles of various effective ity as President, then I . . . am concerned for my
radiuses and various power, but using only these people. Moreover, the preservation of world peace
means. These missiles are a means of extermination should be our joint concern, since if, under con-
and destruction. But one cannot attack with these temporary conditions, war should break out, it
missiles, even nuclear missiles of 100 megatons would be a war not only between reciprocal claims,
because only people, troops, can advance. Without but a worldwide cruel and destructive war.
people, any means however powerful cannot be
offensive. . . . Why have we proceeded to assist Cuba with mili-
tary and economic aid? The answer is: we have
But, Mr. President, do you really seriously think proceeded to do so only for reasons of humanitar-
that Cuba can attack the United States and that ian conditions. . . .
even we together with Cuba, can attack you from
the territory of Cuba?. . . . Has something so new If assurances were given by the President and gov-
appeared in military strategy that one can think ernment of United States that the USA would not
that it is possible to attack thus? I say precisely participate in an attack on Cuba and would restrain
attack, and not destroy, since barbarians, people
others from action of this sort, if you recall your
who have lost their sense, destroy.
fleet, this would immediately change everything. I
am speaking for Fidel Castro, but I think that he
I believe that you have no basis to think this way.
and the government of Cuba, evidently, would
You can regard us with distrust, but, in any case,
declare demobilization and would appeal to the
you can be calm in this regard, that we are of sound
people to get down to peaceful labor. . . .
mind and understand perfectly well that if we
attack you, you will respond the same way. . . .
Let us therefore show statesmanlike wisdom. I pro-
pose: we, for our part, will declare that our ships,
This indicates that we are normal people, that we
bound for Cuba, will not carry any kind of arma-
correctly understand and correctly evaluate the sit-
ments. You would declare that the United States
uation. Consequently, how can we permit the
will not invade Cuba with its forces and will not
incorrect actions which you ascribe to us? Only
support any sort of forces which might intend to
lunatics or suicides, who themselves want to perish
carry out any invasion of Cuba. Then the necessity
and to destroy the whole world before they die,
could do this,. We, however, want to live and do for the presence of our military specialists in Cuba
not at all want to destroy your country. We want would disappear. . . .
something quite different: to compete with your
country on a peaceful basis. We quarrel with you, Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull
we have differences on ideological questions. But on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the
our view of the world consists in this, that ideologi- knots of war, because the more the two of us pull,
cal questions, as well as economic problems, the tighter this knot will be tied. And a moment
should be solved not by military means, they must may come when this knot is tied so tight that even
be solved on the basis of peaceful competition. . . . he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it,
and then it will be necessary to cut the knot. And
Let us normalize relations. . . . You asked what hap- what that would mean is not for me to explain to
pened, what evoked the delivery of weapons to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of
Cuba. . . . We were very grieved by the fact . . . that what terrible forces our two countries dispose. . . .
a landing took place, that an attack on Cuba was
committed, as a result of which many Cubans per- These thoughts are dictated by a sincere desire to
ished. . . . relieve the situation, to remove the threat of war.
22 Gabrielle S. Brussel

This letter arrived in four sections. The ExComm give satisfaction and hope to the peoples of Cuba
debated the legitimacy of the letter and the possibility and Turkey and to increase their confidence in this
of the Soviet government proceeding with its proposal. security, will make a statement in the Security
Acheson did not believe that the Soviets would go Council to the effect that the Soviet Government
through with the deal. He viewed it as a personal plea gives a solemn pledge to respect the integrity of the
from Khrushchev, dispatched without the consent of frontiers and the sovereignty of Turkey, not to
the Politburo. Although it did not ask for more than the intervene in its domestic affairs, not to invade Tur-
United States was willing to give, it also did not specify key, not to make available its territory as a place
how the missiles would be withdrawn. The ExComm d’armes for such invasion, and also will restrain
decided to regard the letter as an actual proposal. The those who would think of launching an aggression
Soviet experts in the State Department were instructed against Turkey either from the Soviet territory or
to analyze it in conjunction with the memoranda on the from the territory of other states bordering Turkey.
Fomin discussions.
The next day, Saturday, October 27, participants in The United States will make the same statement in
the ExComm morning meeting learned that another the Security Council with respect to Cuba. It will
Khrushchev proposal had arrived. In a formal and pre- declare that the United States will respect the
cisely composed response, which was broadcast over integrity of the frontiers of Cuba, its sovereignty,
Moscow Radio, Khrushchev requested a quid pro quo. If and undertakes not to intervene in its domestic
the United States wanted the Cuban missiles disman- affairs, not to invade and not to make its territory
tled, they would have to dismantle the missiles in Tur- available as [a] place d’armes for the invasion of
key:92 Cuba, and also will restrain those who would think
of launching an aggression against Cuba either
You are worried over Cuba. You say that it worries from U.S. territory or from the territory of other
you because it lies at a distance of ninety miles states bordering on Cuba. . . .
across the sea from the shores of the United States.
However, Turkey lies next to us. Our sentinels are These are my proposals, Mr. President. . . .
pacing up and down and watching each other. Do
you believe that you have the right to demand secu- Fomin and Scali met again that afternoon. Fomin
rity for your country and the removal of such weap- pointed to the Lippmann article of Thursday, October
ons that you qualify as offensive, while not 25, linking the missiles in Turkey with the missiles in
recognizing this right for us? Cuba. Scali cautioned Fomin that it did not matter what
anyone wrote without the authority of the U.S. govern-
You have stationed devastating rocket weapons, ment. James Reston’s columns in the New York Times
which you call offensive, in Turkey literally right were specifically designed to present the White House
next to us. How then does recognition of our equal in a cautious light and to refute Lippmann’s proposal.
military possibilities tally with such unequal rela- Reston argued that the Soviets had placed missiles in
tions between our great states. . . . Cuba as bargaining chips to negotiate the removal of the
U.S. missiles in Turkey or even the missiles defending
This is why I make the proposal: We agree to Berlin, and therefore, to trade them was exactly what
remove those weapons from Cuba which you the Soviets had intended.
regard as offensive weapons. We agree to do this During the October 27, ExComm meeting, the
and to state this commitment in the United United States was confronted with a second problem:
Nations. Your representatives will make a state- Rudolf Anderson, the U-2 pilot who flew one of the
ment to the effect that the United States, on its part early flights that discovered the missiles, was shot down
. . . will evacuate its analogous weapons from Tur- over Cuba. Earlier the ExComm had decided that, in
key. . . . the event of a U.S. casualty, it would respond with mili-
tary force against the SAM site that had shot down its
We, having assumed this commitment in order to pilot. In the message the ExComm had just received,
The Cuban Missile Crisis 23

Khrushchev specifically stated that the missiles were in to Fomin, they decided to take the more forceful
Soviet control:93 approach.
Although it seemed a fair quid pro quo, the admin-
The weapons on Cuba that you have mentioned istration knew immediately that it would not be pub-
and which, as you say, alarm you, are in the hands licly acceptable. Thompson warned Kennedy that the
of Soviet officers. Therefore any accidental use of Soviets would interpret Kennedy’s acceptance as proof
them whatsoever to the detriment of the United of the weakness of his government and his presidency.
States of America is excluded. These means are sit- Secretary Rusk suggested that the United States could
uated in Cuba at the request of the Cuban Govern- accept the proposal and have Turkey reject it. In that
ment and only in defensive aims. Therefore, if there way the Soviets would honor their agreement, while the
is no invasion of Cuba, or attack on the Soviet missiles would remain in Turkey.
Union, or any of our other allies then, of course, The withdrawal would not affect the actual military
these means do not threaten anyone and will not balance because the Polaris submarines in the Mediter-
threaten. For they do not pursue offensive aims. ranean would provide protection to NATO and Turkey.
In fact, the Jupiter missiles constituted less than three
Here was a confirmation that the Soviet SAMs in percent of the U.S. capacity to deliver a first strike. The
Cuba were fully operational and had attacked and killed president had been pursuing a tentative course toward
a U.S. Air Force officer. The ExComm was shaken—the removing the missiles, but no clear decision had yet
been reached. In fact, Rusk had informally discussed
crisis was escalating and capable of getting out of con-
the removal of the missiles with a Turkish government
trol. Who had shot down Anderson? The Soviet stand-
official. Although Turkey did not object to the U.S. mil-
ing order, it was learned later, “to fire on any aircraft
itary assessment of the missiles, the domestic costs of
that flies overhead in wartime,” was followed. The local
removing the missiles so quickly would be high, and
Soviet commanders had twenty minutes to decide once
Turkey preferred to wait for the stationing of Polaris
the U-2 was spotted. They were unable to contact their
submarines before removing the Jupiters. Obsolete mis-
superiors and General Georgy A. Voronkov gave the
siles were now hostage to a crisis resolution. The presi-
order to shoot.” The president said, “It isn’t the first
dent said, “I am not going to go to war over worthless
that concerns me [now], but both sides escalating to the
missiles in Turkey. I don’t want to go to war anyhow,
fourth and fifth steps—and we don’t go to the sixth
but I am certainly not going to go to war over worthless
because there is no one around to do so.”95 First, there missiles in Turkey. Now I don’t know how to get out of
was a U.S. military casualty; second, the ExComm was this.”96
not sure exactly how to respond to the Soviet proposal;
The missiles were committed to NATO. Trading
and third, even more puzzling, what was the Soviet pro- them for the Cuban missiles would make U.S. allies and
posal? adversaries think that their doubts about the value of
The advisors debated whether Khrushchev had “extended deterrence” were well founded. Alliance
been outvoted or overruled. Why did a second proposal security would be sacrificed at the cost of U.S. security.
contradictory to the first arrive? Had he lost control of The president later said, “appearances contribute to
the government? Perhaps the first letter had indeed reality.” The United States was in a crisis confrontation
been written without the knowledge of the other mem- with the Soviet Union because of the importance of
bers of the Soviet government; when they learned of perceptions. It could not allow the impression to be cre-
the letter, they unanimously vetoed the overtures it ated that it had traded an ally or lessened its commit-
contained. Llewellyn Thompson did not believe this to ment to an ally in a crisis.
be true. Instead, he theorized that the Soviets had con- The ExComm addressed the question of the next
strued Lippmann’s proposal as inside information from step the U.S. government would have to take. Although
the White House. Thompson also thought that the the decision was not yet firm, the advisors began to fear
Soviets were probably divided in their assessment of that the initiation of an air strike would be a likely
the situation and its resolution. Therefore, when they response. The president decided that the United States
read the column, although Scali had denied its validity would agree to the trade, but he preferred that it be a
24 Gabrielle S. Brussel

private agreement between the two governments nego- tems from Cuba under appropriate United
tiated by Robert Kennedy and Anatoly Dobrynin. Ken- Nations observation and supervision; and under-
nedy also instructed Rusk to prepare a contingency take, with suitable safeguards, to halt the further
plan. Andrew Cordier, president of Columbia Univer- introduction of such weapons systems into Cuba.
sity, said that he would be willing to contact U Thant
and have him appeal to both nations to pursue a missile 2. We, on our part, would agree—upon the estab-
trade. Cordier was to speak with U Thant upon further lishment of adequate arrangements through the
signal by the U.S. government.”97 The United States United Nations to ensure the carrying out and
issued a public statement that the current threat must continuation of these commitments—(a) to
be addressed—the build-up must stop, the weapons remove promptly the quarantine measures now in
must be rendered inoperative, and all shipments must effect and (b) to give assurances against an inva-
be stopped—before negotiations and arms control sion of Cuba. I am confident that other nations of
efforts could continue. the Western Hemisphere would be prepared to do
Robert Kennedy then made a proposal to the presi- likewise.
dent and the ExComm that at worst would delay the
escalation of U.S. military responses and at best would If you give your representative similar instructions,
resolve the crisis: respond to the first Khrushchev cor- there is no reason why we should not be able to
respondence and ignore the formal letter. He argued complete these arrangement and announce them
that the U.S. letter should accept the Soviet proposal to the world within a couple of days. . . . I would
clearly, specifying the U.S. understanding of the pro- like to say again that the United States is very much
posal and thus avoiding a debate on the missiles in Tur- interested in reducing tensions and halting the
key. The president agreed that that might be a viable arms race; and if your letter signified that you are
alternative and sent the attorney general and Sorenson prepared to discuss a detente affecting NATO and
to draft the letter. The success of the endeavor the Warsaw Pact, we are quite prepared to consider
depended on whether Fomin was actually acting as a with our allies any useful proposals.
representative of his government when he met with
Scali. The U.S. government did not reject the Soviet But the first ingredient, let me emphasize, is the
offer; it simply accepted a previous one:98 cessation of work on missile sites in Cuba and mea-
sures to render such weapons inoperable, under
I have read your letter of October 26th with great effective international guarantees. The continua-
care and welcomed the statement of your desire to tion of this threat, or a prolonging of this discussion
seek a prompt solution to the problem. The first concerning Cuba by linking these problems to the
thing that needs to be done, however, is for work to broader questions of European and world security,
cease on offensive missile bases in Cuba and for all would surely lead to an intensification of the Cuban
weapons systems in Cuba capable of offensive use crisis and a grave risk to the peace of the world. For
to be rendered inoperable, under effective United these reasons I hope we can quickly agree along the
Nations arrangements. lines outlined in this letter and in your letter of
October 26th.
Assuming this is done promptly, I have given my
representatives in New York instructions that will The letter was transmitted and received by the
permit them to work out . . . an arrangement for a Soviet Foreign Ministry in Moscow at 10:30 A.M. on
permanent solution to the Cuban problem along October 28 (Moscow time).
the lines suggested in your letter of October 26th. Robert Kennedy took a copy of the text to
As I read your letter, the key elements of your pro- Dobrynin. He told Dobrynin that the United States
posals—which seem generally acceptable as I knew that the work in Cuba had been continuing at
understand them—are as follows: increasing rates. Furthermore, the death of Rudolf
Anderson had put the crisis on another level. The presi-
1. You would agree to remove these weapons sys- dent did not want a military confrontation, but “they
The Cuban Missile Crisis 25

had forced our hand.” He continued, saying that the The president refused to approve a military escala-
United States was ready to begin military action shortly. tion, although the preparations continued for a military
Dobrynin said he believed that the Soviet leader- confrontation beginning as early as Tuesday, October
ship was committed to its course of action. He did, 31. The president did, however, order twenty-four
however, question Kennedy about the Turkey-Cuba troop-carrier squadrons of the U.S. Air Force Reserve
trade. Kennedy replied to active duty. It was estimated that a 60,000–100,000
person ground force would be necessary to invade
there could be no quid pro quo or any arrangement Cuba. The army and marine corps units were already in
made under this kind of threat or pressure, and that Florida or in the Panama Canal Zone. The U.S. military
in the last analysis this was a decision that would was prepared for any contingency.
have to be made by NATO. However . . . President The U.S. government waited impatiently and
Kennedy had been anxious to remove those mis- pessimistically for the Soviet response. McNamara
siles from Turkey and Italy for a long period of time remembers the sunset of Saturday, October 27th. “I, at
. . . and it was our judgement that, within a short least, was so uncertain as to whether the Soviets would
time after the crisis was over, those missiles would accept replying to the first instead of the second, or
be gone.99 accept . . . our acceptance of the formula of the first,
that I wondered if I’d ever see another Saturday sunset
like that.”106 Many of the advisors, including Robert
Furthermore, he told Dobrynin that “if the Soviets
Kennedy, George Ball, and Alexis Johnson, had similar
ever discussed this, we would deny it.”100 President
feelings. On Sunday afternoon at 5:00 P.M. (Moscow
Kennedy promised, “If this leaks into the press, I will
time), however, Khrushchev’s response was broadcast
deny it. I give my word I will do this, but this promise
over Moscow radio and delivered to the U.S. Embassy
should not be made public.”101
Kennedy presented the agreement to Dobrynin as
“a settled intent [of the U.S. government].”102 Further,
I have received your message of October 27,1962. 1
“as long as it [was] not connected to the crisis, as long as
express my satisfaction and appreciation for the
nobody represented it as a quid pro quo, which it was
sense of proportion you have displayed, and for
not . . . and as long as nobody tried to make an open
realization of the responsibility which now
affair of it” the arrangement would be consum- devolves on you for the preservation of peace
mated.”103 It could not be publicly acknowledged, how- throughout the world. . . .
ever, since the United States did not want the
agreement to be “taken by many people as a sellout of In order to eliminate as rapidly as possible the con-
our allies.”104 To avoid further U.S. military action, flict which endangers the cause of peace, to give an
Robert Kennedy stated that the Soviet agreement must assurance to all people who crave peace, and to
be forthcoming quickly, and he demanded an answer reassure the American people, all of whom, I am
the next day. sure, also want peace, as do the people of the
During discussions years later, McNamara said Soviet Union, the Soviet Government, in addition
to earlier instructions on the discontinuance of fur-
it was important to frame [the withdrawal] as it was ther work on the weapons constructions sites, has
framed, because . . . [the United States was] dealing given a new order to dismantle the weapons, which
not with a military problem, but with a political you describe as offensive, and to crate and return
problem. And if [it] had not framed the withdrawal them to the Soviet Union. . . .
from Turkey as [it] did, [the United States] would
have created another political problem. [It] would Cuba and the Cuban people were constantly under
have divided the Alliance. [The United States] the continuous threat of an invasion of Cuba. . . .I
would have weakened it and the Soviets would should like to say clearly once more that we could
have faced a weakened Alliance, and this would not remain indifferent to this. The Soviet Govern-
have been a danger to the Alliance.105 ment decided to render assistance to Cuba with
26 Gabrielle S. Brussel

means of defense against aggression—only meant This is an important and constructive contribution
for defensive purposes. We have supplied the to peace.
defense means which you describe as offensive
means. . . . We shall be in touch with the Secretary General of
the United Nations with respect to reciprocal mea-
I regard with respect and trust the statement you sures to assure peace in the Caribbean area.
made in your message of October 27,1962, that no
attack would be no attack, no invasion of Cuba, and It is my earnest hope that the governments of the
not only on the part of the United States, but also world can, with the solution of the Cuban crisis,
on the part of other nations of the Western Hemi- turn their urgent attention to the compelling neces-
sphere, as you said in your same message. Then the sity for ending the arms race and reducing world
motives which induced us to render assistance of tensions. This applies to the military confrontation
such a kind to Cuba disappear. between the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries as
well as to other situations in other parts of the
It is for this reason that we instructed our officers world where tensions lead to the wasteful diversion
—these means as I had already informed you earlier of resources to weapons of war.
are in the hands of the Soviet officers—to take
appropriate measures to discontinue construction President Kennedy insisted that the U.S. govern-
of the aforementioned facilities, and to dismantle ment resist any attempt to present the resolution as a
them, and return them to the Soviet Union. As I U.S. victory. He appreciated the costs that the Soviet
had informed you in my letter of 27 October, we Union and Khrushchev would pay to dismantle the mis-
are prepared to reach agreement to enable U.N. siles. He did not want to raise the stakes for the Soviets
representatives to verify the dismantling of these or risk a change in the resolution agreement. In a letter
means. . . . to Khrushchev on December 14, however, President
Kennedy reiterated his insistence that U.S. “assurances
The letter also discussed the dangers of the nuclear against an invasion of Cuba” were contingent on assur-
age and the possibility for better relations between ances that offensive weapons be removed from Cuba
NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Khrushchev urged caution and not reintroduced, and that Cuba itself commit no
in future military relations, stressing the necessity to aggressive acts against its neighbors. Castro and the
avoid provoking a fatal step. Cuban government were not pleased with what they
Dobrynin called Robert Kennedy to arrange an perceived as a Soviet betrayal. Khrushchev later admit-
immediate meeting. He said that the Soviet government ted that Castro was not informed of the U.S.-Soviet deal
had agreed to the U.S. proposal. The missiles would be regarding the missiles in Turkey. Castro issued a state-
dismantled and shipped back to the Soviet Union. ment demanding that the United States end the “block-
Dobrynin also conveyed that Khrushchev wanted to ade,” economic pressure on Cuba, harassment by
send his best wishes to the president and the attorney Cuban exiles, overflights of Cuban territory, and raids
general. by exile commando groups and withdraw from Guantá-
The president ordered the overflights of Cuba dis- namo Bay Naval Base. Furthermore, he refused to allow
continued and instructed the navy not to halt any ships. on-site UN supervision of the withdrawal of the weap-
He also arranged for a watch of the Cuban exile groups ons.
to forestall any behavior that might endanger the agree- Upon receipt of the official text of Khrushchev’s
ment. Kennedy’s immediate response was released to statement, Kennedy released a formal reply:109
reporters and read over Voice of America:108
I consider my letter to you of October twenty-sev-
I welcome Chairman Khrushchev’s statesman-like enth and your reply of today as firm undertakings
decision to stop building bases in Cuba, disman- on the part of both our governments which should
tling offensive weapons and returning them to the be promptly carried out. I hope that the necessary
Soviet Union under United Nations verification. measures can at once be taken through the United
The Cuban Missile Crisis 27

Nations, as your message says, so that the United tion to the problem of disarmament, as it relates to
States will be able to remove the quarantine mea- the whole world and also to critical areas. Perhaps
sure now in effect. . . . now, as we step back from danger, we can together
make real progress in this vital field. I think we
Mr. Chairman, both of our countries have great should give priority to the question relating to the
unfinished tasks and I know that your people as proliferation of nuclear weapons, on earth and in
well as those of the United Sates can ask for noth- outer space, and to the great effort for a nuclear test
ing better than to pursue them free from the fear of ban. But we should also work hard to see if wider
war. Modern science and technology have given us measures of disarmament can be agreed and put
the possibility of making labor fruitful beyond any- into operation at an early date. The U.S. govern-
thing that could have been dreamed of a few ment will be prepared to discuss these questions
decades ago urgently, and in a constructive spirit, at Geneva or
elsewhere. . . .
I agree with you that we must devote urgent atten-


The author acknowledges the guidance of Professor Roger (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1982), 123; see
Hilsman and would like to express special gratitude to Profes- also Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (Boston: Lit-
sor Pamela S. Falk. tle, Brown and Company), 1970, 493.
1. The advisory group that served Kennedy throughout 14. Sergo Mikoyan, CC Transcript, 26.
the crisis was known later as the Executive Committee of the 15. Ibid., 27.
National Security Council (ExComm). For the sake of clarity, 16. Ibid., 29.
the term ExComm will be used throughout. 17. B. Allyn et al., “Essence of Revision: Moscow, Havana,
2. Charles “Chip” Bohlen, was present at the original and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Security (14), no.
meeting instead of Thompson, but, to avoid suspicion, he 3 (Winter 1989–90), 140 and n.10.
assumed his duties as ambassador to France. 18. Sergo Mikoyan, CC Transcript, 29–30.
3. The terms were not used during the crisis but were 19. Allyn, “Essence of Revision,” 138.
popularized later in an article in the Saturday Evening Post by 20. McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: The Political
Stewart Alsop and Charles Bartlett, December 8,1962. History of the Nuclear Weapon (New York: Random House,
4. McGeorge Bundy, Proceedings of the Cambridge Con- 1988), 418.
ference on the Cuban Missile Crisis, CSIA Working Paper No. 21. Rusk, KPR Transcript, 14.
89–2, ed. D. Welch (Cambridge: Center for Science and Inter- 22. Bundy, Danger and Survival, 418.
national Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, 1989), 32. 23. Mikoyan, CC Transcript, 30.
[Hereinafter CC Transcript]. 24. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Robert Kennedy and His
5. Elie Abel, The Missile Crisis. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippin- Times (New York: Random House, 1978), 545.
cott, 1966), 113. 25. Bundy, Danger and Survival, 458–59.
6. John F. Kennedy, Kennedy Presidential Recordings 26. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 60.
Transcript (16 October 1962), 36. Papers of John F. Kennedy, 27. Ibid., 51.
Presidential Papers, President’s Office Files, John F. Kennedy 28. Robert McNamara, Proceedings of the Hawk’s Cay Con-
Library, Boston. [Hereinafter KPR Transcript]. ference on the Cuban Missile Crisis, CSIA Working Paper No.
7. Dean Rusk, KPR Transcript (Presidential Recordings, 89–1, ed. D. Welch (Cambridge: Center for Science and Inter-
11:50 A.M.–12:57 P.M.), 14. national Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, January
8. Ibid., 15. 1989), 10.
9. John F. Kennedy, KPR Transcript (Presidential 29. McNamara, KPR Transcript (Presidential Recordings,
Recordings, 6:30 P.M.–7.55 P.M.), 35–36. 6:30 P.M.–7.55.PM.), 25.
10. Robert F. Kennedy, The Thirteen Days: A Memoir of 30. Ibid, 22.
the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1969), 39; 31. See CC Transcript, 32–35.
see also 37–38. 32. John F. Kennedy, KPR Transcript (Presidential
11. Fyodor Burlatsky, CC Transcript, 24. Recordings, 6:30 P.M.–7:55 P.M.), 15.
12. Georgi Shaknazarov, CC Transcript, 45. 33. Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, 553.
13. R. Pope, ed., Soviet Views on the Cuban Missile Crisis 34. Sorenson memorandum, October 20, 1962, RFK
28 Gabrielle S. Brussel

Papers, in Robert Kennedy and His Times. 63. Bundy, Danger and Survival, 428.
35. Edwin M. Martin, KPR Transcript (Presidential 64. Ibid.
Recordings, 6:30 P.M.–7:55 P.M.), 5. 65. Although some of the members of the ExComm,
36. Dean Rusk, KPR Transcript (Presidential Recordings, including Secretary Dean Rusk, criticized questions of termi-
6:30 P.M.–7:55 P.M.), 5. nology as “semantics,” President Kennedy was impressed by
37. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 52. the importance of terminology during the crisis.
38. Although the United States was not initiating a life- 66. Robert Kennedy Campaign Speech, October 13, 1964,
threatening situation with a naval blockade, such action was Rockville Centre, New York, 64.
considered against the freedom of the seas and could be inter- 67. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 24.
preted as a violation of international law. Furthermore, prece- 68. John F. Kennedy, “Radio and Television Report to the
dent was against the United States because it had gone to war American People on the Soviet Arms Buildup in Cuba,” Octo-
with England over a violation of the freedom to navigate the ber 22, 1962, 7:00 P.M., cited in The Public Papers of the Presi-
seas (War of 1812). dents, John F. Kennedy, 1962 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1963),
39. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 34. 806–9.
40. Ibid. 69. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 132.
41. Roswell Gilpatric, KPR Transcript (Presidential 70. Ibid.; see also Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 55.
Recordings, 6:30 P.M.–7:55 P.M.), 50. 71. Sorenson, Kennedy, 702.
42. Robert S. McNamara, KPR Transcript (Presidential 72. J. Blight and D. Welch, On the Brink: Americans and
Recordings, 6:30 P.M.–7:55 PM.), 50. Soviets Reexamine the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: Hill
43. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 64. and Wang, 1989), 185.
44. Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, 549. 73. U.S. Department of State, Bulletin 47, no. 1220
45. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 38. (November 12, 1962): 715–30; see also D. Larson, ed., The
46. Ibid.; Abel, The Missile Crisis, 64; Schlesinger, Robert Cuban Crisis of 1962: Selected Documents, Chronology and Bib-
Kennedy and His Times, 547. liography, 2nd ed. (New York: University Press of America,
47. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 64. 1986), Document 17: President Kennedy’s Message of Octo-
48. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 33. ber 22, 1962, 59–63.
49. Ibid., 40–41. 74. The chairmanship of the Security Council rotates.
50. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 77. During October 1962 the Soviet Union was serving in the
51. The purpose of the exercise was to liberate a mythical chairmanship.
Republic of Vieques from a dictator named Ortsac (Castro 75. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 125.
spelled backward). It included 7,500 Marines, four aircraft 76. Ibid., 126.
carriers, twenty destroyers, and fifteen troop carriers. The 77. The Security Council comprises fifteen members.
exercise was scheduled to take place on the island of Vieques Five permanent members—the five Allies of World War II,
off the coast of Puerto Rico. Invitations to the media had gone the United States, the Soviet Union (now the Commonwealth
out long before October 1962. Graham T. Allison, Essence of of Independent States), France, Great Britain, and China—
Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: Little, have the special voting right of an automatic veto; and ten
Brown, 1971), 47; Abel, The Missile Crisis, 102. rotating members are elected by the permanent members for
52. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 103. two-year terms based on geographic distribution. Although
53. Ibid., 102. the nonpermanent members have a vote on the Security
54. Ibid., 79. Council, their veto does not automatically defeat a res-
55. The Swiss government seemed a likely choice for such olution. A veto cast by a permanent member defeats the reso-
a task as it houses, even to this day, the U.S. Interest Section. lution.
The Interest Section functions in place of an embassy, deal- 78. Informal translation by the American Embassy in
ing with U.S.-Cuban relations on a limited diplomatic basis. Moscow. U.S. Department of State, Bulletin 69, no. 1795
56. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 36. (November 19, 1973): 636–37, cited in Larson, The Cuban
57. Abel, The Missile Crisis, 81. Crisis, 67–68.
58. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 45. 79. Ibid., 68–69.
59. Meeker borrowed the phrase (with citation) from 80. This was transmitted to the American Embassy as
FDRs “quarantine-the-aggressor” speech. “steps” but was corrected there to read “step.”
60. Theodore C. Sorenson, Kennedy (New York: Harper 81. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 66.
and Row, 1965), 694. 82. Ibid.
61. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. 83. Ibid.
Kennedy in the White House (New York: Fawcett Premier, 84. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 69.
1965), 739. 85. Informal translation by the American Embassy in
62. George Ball, Alfred P. Sloan Transcript (New York), Moscow. U.S. Department of State, Bulletin 69, no. 1795
56–57. (November 19, 1973): 636–37, cited in Larson, The Cuban
The Cuban Missile Crisis 29

Crisis, 127–29. 103. Ibid.

86. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 70. 104. Bundy, Alfred P. Sloan Transcript, 66. Ambassador
87. Ibid., 72. Dobrynin made one attempt, two days later, October 27,
88. Ibid., 85. 1962, to make the deal public. He brought the attorney gen-
89. New York Times, October 26, 1962, and Abel, The Mis- eral an unsigned letter from Khrushchev to President Ken-
sile Crisis, 176. nedy specifying the details of the agreement. After reading
90. Allyn, “Essence of Revision,” 159. the letter, it is believed that Robert Kennedy told the ambas-
91. Informal translation by the American Embassy in sador the next day that there was no quid pro quo, and the let-
Moscow. U.S. Department of State, Bulletin 69, no. 1795 ter makes it appear that there was. “If you feel it is necessary
(November 19, 1972): 640–43, cited in Larson, The Cuban to write letters then we will also write one which you cannot
Crisis, 175–80. enjoy.” Furthermore, evidence suggests that the attorney gen-
92. U.S. Department of State, Bulletin 47, no. 1220 eral warned that if the Soviets published any document
(November 12, 1962): 741–43, cited in Larson, The Cuban regarding the deal, it would be automatically canceled.
Crisis, 183–86 (unofficial translation). Dobrynin replied that the “Soviet government would not
93. Ibid., 185. publish the correspondence. Kennedy said. ‘Speaking quite
94. Allyn, “Essence of Revision,” 161.
frankly, you also told me that your government never
95. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 94–95.
intended to put missiles in Cuba.”’ RFK, handwritten notes
96. McNamara, Alfred P. Sloan Transcript (n.d.), 63.
(n.d.), and RFK to Dean Rusk, reporting on the interview,
97. Cordier was chosen because he had been a deputy to
October 30, 1962, RFK Papers, cited in Schlesinger, Robert F.
U Thant, and Rusk believed that he could be discreet.
Kennedy, 564.
98. U.S. Department of State, Bulletin 47 no. 1220
105. McNamara, Alfred P. Sloan Transcript, 67.
(November 12, 1962): 743, cited in Larson, The Cuban Crisis,
187–88. 106. Ibid., 55.
99. Kennedy, Thirteen Days, 108–9. 107. U.S. Department of State, Bulletin 47, no. 1220
100. McNamara, Alfred P. Sloan Transcript, 59. (November 12, 1962): 743–45, cited in Larson, The Cuban
101. Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers: The Glas- Crisis, 189–93.
nost Tapes (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990), 179. 108. Ibid., 193–94.
102. Bundy, Alfred P. Sloan Transcript, 65. 109. Ibid., 194–95.

RELATIONS, 1960–63

1960 1961
Aug. 6: The Cuban government nationalizes the prop- Jan. 2: Cuba demands that the United States reduce its
erty of companies owned or partially owned by the embassy personnel to a total of eleven within two days.
United States. Prime Minister Fidel Castro defends this Jan. 3: The United States and Cuba end diplomatic rela-
on the grounds that the U.S. reduction of the Cuban tions; their affairs are turned over to the Swiss and
sugar quota was, in effect, “economic aggression” Czechoslovakian embassies, respectively.
against the Cuban government.
Feb. 1: Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa characterizes
Aug. 10: The United States releases an analysis of the the U.S.-Cuban agreement regarding Guantánamo Bay
nationalization, concluding that more than $1 billion Naval Base as illegitimate because Cuba was not on an
was expropriated. “equal footing with the United States” and “because the
Sept. 17: The Cuban government expropriates U.S.- Cuban people were coerced by a system of government
operated banks in Cuba. The United States protests this imposed upon them from abroad.”
action. Mar. 31: President John F. Kennedy reduces Cuban
Oct. 19: The United States embargoes all exports to sugar imports to zero.
Cuba except nonsubsidized foodstuffs, medicines, and Apr. 12: President Kennedy says that U.S. armed forces
medical supplies. will not intervene in Cuba to overthrow Castro.
Nov. 24: The United States maintains that Soviet-bloc Apr. 16: Castro mobilizes the Cuban armed forces
military aid to Cuba has totaled more than 28,000 tons against a U.S. invasion. Castro characterizes his govern-
since the revolution. ment as “socialist.”
30 Gabrielle S. Brussel

Apr. 17: Miro Cardona, a Cuban exile leader, announces Sept. 2: The Kennedy administration asserts that the
a seaborne invasion of Cuba. The unsuccessful invasion, Soviet military aid to Cuba is defensive. Senator Keat-
which involves Cuban exiles supported and trained by ing criticizes the Kennedy policy of “do[ing] nothing.”
the United States, becomes known as the Bay of Pigs Sept. 3: A Soviet-Cuban joint communiqué announces
Invasion. The United States denies involvement in the Soviet military and technical assistance to Cuba.
invasion but expresses sympathy for the rebels. The
Cuban government captures 1,113 rebels. The United Sept. 4: Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin promises
States admits it supported the exiles. Attorney General Robert Kennedy that the Soviet
Union will not initiate a provocation in Berlin or in
Sept. 7: The U.S. Congress prohibits U.S. aid to any Southeast Asia before the November 1962 election.
country providing aid to Cuba unless the president Dobrynin also says that the Soviet Union will not give a
determines that such assistance is in the national inter- third power the ability to start a nuclear war that would
est. involve the Soviet Union. President Kennedy says at a
Dec. 2: Castro announces that he is “a Marxist-Leninist press conference that the Soviet aid to Cuba is defen-
and will be a Marxist-Leninist until the last day of . . . sive, but he maintains that the United States will do any-
[his] life.” thing to stop Cuban aggression and Soviet expansion in
Latin America.
Sept. 5: Secretary of State Dean Rusk tells nineteen
Feb. 3: President Kennedy announces an embargo on Latin American allies that the United States will work
shipments of all goods except medical supplies to Cuba. to stop the expansion of communism in Latin America.
Mar. 2: The United States estimates that Cuba has Sept. 7: Senator Everett Dirksen and Representative
received more than $110 million in military and techni- Charles Halleck issue statements urging a stronger U.S.
cal services from the Soviet Union. policy toward Cuba. Both statements propose the presi-
May–Jun.: On orders contained in a National Security dential authorization of troops to stop the expansion of
Council memorandum, representatives of the State Cuban communism. President Kennedy calls for the
Department attempt to discuss withdrawing the U.S. “readiness” of the reserves.
Jupiter missiles deployed in Turkey. The Turkish gov- Sept. 11: The Soviet Union repeats the warning that
ernment rebuffs the negotiators. Cuba will be protected by Soviet military forces.
Jul. 1962: Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missiles are sent Sept. 13: President Kennedy repeats his warning against
secretly to Cuba. Cuban expansion and offensive weapons in Cuba but
says that the weapons in Cuba are defensive. He encour-
Aug. 1962: The National Security Council issues a sec-
ages US. allies to discontinue trade with Cuba.
ond action memorandum ordering the withdrawal of
the Jupiter missiles from Turkey. In a meeting with Under Secretary of State Chester
Bowles, Dobrynin denies the possibility of offensive
Aug. 19: Castro announces that farm land in Cuba will missiles in Cuba.
be taken over and “state farms” established.
Sept. 16: Senator Barry Goldwater attacks the “do noth-
Aug. 24: The United States announces that Soviet mili- ing” policy of the Kennedy administration.
tary assistance to Cuba has increased more than twenty
cargo ships are thought to have arrived in Havana har- Sept. 17–18: Senators Goldwater, Strom Thurmond,
bor carrying military equipment. and John Tower, and former Vice President Richard
Nixon call for a U.S. blockade of Cuba.
A Cuban exile group shells beach-front buildings in
Sept. 18: In a meeting with Ambassador Foy D. Kohler,
Havana. The United States disavows prior knowledge of
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev assures the ambassa-
the raid.
dor that the “last thing he wanted to do was to embar-
Aug. 30: President Kennedy rejects Senator Homer E. rass the President on the eve of the elections.”
Capehart’s proposal for a U.S. invasion of Cuba.
Sept. 19: The U.S. Intelligence Board meets and
Sept. 1: Senator Kenneth Keating asserts that more than approves an intelligence estimate concluding that the
1,000 Soviet military personnel and undisclosed “Soviets would not introduce offensive weapons in
amounts of Soviet military assistance are in Cuba. Cuba.” CIA Director John McCone does not agree, but
The Cuban Missile Crisis 31

he is away on his honeymoon and is only able to cable The Department of Defense announces the transfer of
his disapproval. twelve navy jet fighters to the southern tip of Florida,
stating that the transfer occurred at the beginning of
Sept. 21: The Soviet government asserts in the United
Nations that a U.S. attack on Cuba would mean war
between the Soviet Union and the United States; the Oct. 20: President Kennedy meets with General Walter
United States responds by asserting that the threat to C. Sweeney, Jr., commander in chief of the Tactical Air
peace . . . comes not from the United States, but from Command; Sweeney says they could not be certain an
the Soviet Union.” attack would eliminate all missile sites. Kennedy makes
his final decision in favor of a naval quarantine.
Sept. 26: Congress passes a resolution authorizing the
use of force if necessary to stop Cuban expansion in Oct. 22: Under Secretary Ball briefs the representatives
of forty-six NATO, SEATO, CENTO, and nonaligned
Latin America.
nation allies. Assistant Secretary of State for Latin
Oct. 10: Alpha 66, a Cuban exile group, claims responsi- American Affairs Edward Martin briefs OAS allies.
bility for a raid in Cuba on October 7.
The United States formally requests a meeting of the
Oct. 15: Reconnaissance photographs taken from U-2 UN Security Council.
flights over Cuba disclose long-range missile sites in The ExComm is established under National Security
Cuba. CIA Directors Lieutenant General Marshall S. Council Action Memorandum No. 196 as the Executive
Carter and Dr. Ray Cline are notified; they, in turn, Committee of the National Security Council.
notify the others in the chain of command.
President Kennedy meets with seventeen members of
Oct. 16: President Kennedy is informed of the missiles Congress and his cabinet to discuss the issues.
and forms an advisory board, inviting officials from his
Secretary of State Dean Rusk meets with Ambassador
cabinet, the Justice Department, the CIA, the Depart-
Dobrynin, giving him an advance copy of President
ment of Defense, and the State Department and other Kennedy’s speech.
experts to meet in the Cabinet Room. All participants
are instructed to work on solutions in absolute secrecy. President Kennedy addresses the nation, explaining the
Khrushchev and U.S. Ambassador Foy Kohler meet to U.S. situation, announcing a “defensive quarantine” of
Cuba, and showing photographs of the Cuban missile
discuss a wide range of topics, including Cuba and Ber-
sites. He announces that the United States will respond
to any threat or to any action that endangers its citizens.
The Castro government asserts that U.S. planes were
The Department of Defense puts U.S. military forces on
flying “provocatively and repeatedly” over Cuban terri-
alert throughout the world.
torial waters.
Oct. 23: The United States submits a resolution to the
Oct. 17: Under Secretary of State George Ball presents OAS citing Article 6 of the Rio Treaty of 1947 authoriz-
the first sustained argument against an air strike on ing member states to proclaim and enforce a blockade
Cuba. individually or collectively if the “integrity or sover-
Oct. 17–20: The president’s advisory group, now called eignty or political independence” of a nation is threat-
the ExComm, debates the options for removing the ened. The OAS unanimously approves the U.S.
missiles. Secretary McNamara, supported by lawyers blockade.
from the justice and State departments, presents a case Ambassador Dobrynin meets with Robert Kennedy to
for a blockade. General Maxwell Taylor presents the discuss the events. Dobrynin repeats the Soviet pledge
option of immediate military action in the form of an air not to place missiles in Cuba and denies the existence of
strike. missiles in Cuba.
Oct. 18: Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko meets with The ExComm agrees that, in the event of a U-2 casu-
President Kennedy at the White House to discuss U.S.- alty, the United States will hit a surface-to-air missile
Soviet relations. Gromyko repeats the Soviet denials site in Cuba.
regarding offensive missiles in Cuba. Kennedy does not The CIA presents evidence to the ExComm that four
confront the Soviet minister with the missile informa- MRBM sites are “fully operational,” the rest have
tion, but he reads Gromyko the text of his press release “emergency capability,” and technicians are continuing
of September 4. Gromyko does not respond. to improve the sites.
32 Gabrielle S. Brussel

The reserves are mobilized to active duty. Secretary Oct. 27: The United States receives a letter from the
McNamara orders the naval quarantine in effect. Soviet government offering to trade the missiles in
Castro addresses the Cuban people, telling them that Cuba for the missiles in Turkey.
the missiles are defensive and declaring that the U.S. ExComm members, especially military representatives,
blockade was an “act of piracy.” He mobilizes the Cuban begin to encourage the air strike option.
President Kennedy refuses to bargain “under fire” with
The Soviet oil tanker Bucharest is intercepted but the missiles. Robert Kennedy suggests that the United
allowed to proceed with only alongside visual observa- States respond to the first letter from Khrushchev and
tion. ignore the second. A letter pledging that neither the
Oct. 24: Two Soviet ships, which would be intercepted United States nor its allies will invade Cuba if the mis-
before noon stop dead in the water. siles are removed (subject to international verification
U Thant, acting secretary general of the United and inspection) is sent to Khrushchev.
Nations, proposes that President Kennedy and Premier Robert Kennedy, meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin,
Khrushchev suspend all action while a summit is con- asserts that the United States will feel forced to go to
vened to discuss the issues. Khrushchev accepts; Ken- war if the Soviets do not withdraw the missiles immedi-
nedy does not, maintaining that the missiles must be ately. He adds that the missiles in Turkey will be with-
removed first, although he does agree to maintain com- drawn within a few months.
munications channels.
Oct. 28: Premier Khrushchev announces the with-
Oct. 25: Ambassador Adlai Stevenson challenges Soviet drawal of the Soviet missiles.
Ambassador Valerian Zorin in the Security Council to
deny the Cuban missiles. Zorin refuses to respond, and Oct. 29: A State Department-Defense Department task
Stevenson produces the reconnaissance photographs; force is convened to address the Cuban Missile Crisis
the Security Council adjourns. issues, including the removal of the Jupiter missiles in
President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev, in letters
to Acting Secretary General U Thant, pledge coopera- Nov. 2: Castro rejects any form of international verifica-
tion in the crisis. Khrushchev says that he will tempo- tion or inspection of the missile withdrawal.
rarily keep Soviet ships away from the quarantine line. Nov. 5: The United States receives assurance from the
In his Washington Post column, Walter Lippmann sug- Soviet Union that it supported international verification
gests a U.S.-Soviet missile trade—the Jupiter missiles in or inspection of the missile withdrawal; the United
Turkey for the Soviet missiles in Cuba. States maintains that the “no invasion” pledge was sub-
Oct. 26: The American-built, Panamanian-owned, Leb- ject to international inspection of the withdrawal pro-
anese-registered, and Soviet-chartered freighter Mar- cess.
cula is stopped and boarded by the U.S. Navy. It is Nov. 7: The United States and the Soviet Union agree to
allowed to continue to Cuba. a withdrawal procedure whereby U.S. naval ships will
Premier Khrushchev writes a personal letter to Presi- inspect Soviet ships removing the missiles from Cuba.
dent Kennedy discussing the instability and insanity of November 20: President Kennedy announces that the
the crisis, acknowledging the missiles, and agreeing to U.S. naval quarantine of Cuba has been lifted.
remove them if Kennedy pledges that the United States
will not invade Cuba. 1963
A U-2 reconnaissance pilot, Rudolf Anderson, is shot Jan. 7: Following a Cuban decision to block interna-
down over Cuba. tional verification of the missile withdrawal, the United
States and the Soviet Union issue a joint communiqué
Oct. 26, 28: James Reston attempts to refute Walter
ending direct negotiations over the Cuban Missile Cri-
Lippmann in his column in the New York Times, main-
taining that the Soviet missiles in Cuba were always
meant as bargaining chips, so bargaining with them is Apr. 15: The United States withdraws its Jupiter mis-
exactly what the Soviets had planned. siles from Turkey.
The Cuban Missile Crisis 33


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