Cuban Missile Crisis October 1962

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Cuban Missile Crisis October 1962


Fidel Castro took power in Cuba after the Cuban revolution of 1959 and soon took actions against American trade interests on the island. The previous leader had been a corrupt dictator named Batitsta and made Cuba a playground for Mafia bosses and major corporations. In response, the U.S.A. stopped buying Cuban sugar and refused to supply its former trading partner with much-needed oil. The U.S. government became increasingly concerned about the new Cuban government, and this became a major focus of the new Kennedy administration when it took office in January 1961. In Havana, one of the consequences of this was the fear that the U.S. might intervene against the Cuban government. This was proven when in April 1961 when Cuban exiles, trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), staged an invasion of Cuban territory at the Bay of Pigs. Although the invasion was quickly repelled, it intensified a buildup of Cuban defense that was already under way. U.S. armed forces then staged a mock invasion of a Caribbean island in 1962 called Operation Ortsac. The purpose of the invasion was to overthrow a leader whose name was, in fact, Castro ("Ortsac" spelled backwards). Although Ortsac was a fictitious name, Castro soon became convinced that the U.S. was serious about invading Cuba. Shortly after the Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro declared Cuba to be a socialist republic and entered close ties with the Soviet Union leading to a major upgrade of Cuban military defense. In February 1962, the U.S. began an economic embargo against Cuba.

U.S. nuclear advantage

The United States had a decided advantage over the Soviet Union in the leading up to the crisis. For example, by the close of 1962 the United States had a dramatic advantage in nuclear weapons with more than 300 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and a fleet of Polaris missile submarines. The Soviet Union for its part had only four to six land-based ICBMs in 1962, and about 100 short-range, primitive V-1-type cruise missiles that could only be launched from surfaced submarines.

Few in Washington, D.C. seriously believed that several dozen or so ballistic missiles in Cuba could change the essential fact of the strategic balance of power: the Soviet Union was hopelessly outgunned. It is now known conclusively that the United States had around 8 times as many nuclear weapons as the Soviet Union in 1962: 27,297 warheads to the USSR's 3,332. Top officers in the Soviet Union concluded "that the US then possessed decisive advantage in arms and intelligence, and that the USSR no longer wielded a credible nuclear deterrent". (Melman, 1988: 119)

In 1961, the U.S. started placing 15 Jupiter IRBM (intermediate-range ballistic missiles) nuclear missiles near İzmir, Turkey, which directly threatened cities in the western sections of the Soviet Union, including Moscow through its 1500 Mile range and flight time of about 16 minutes. These missiles were regarded by President Kennedy as being of questionable strategic value; an SSBN (ballistic submarine) was capable of providing the same cover with both stealth and superior firepower.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had publicly expressed his anger at the Turkish deployment, and regarded the missiles as a personal attack. The deployment of missiles in Cuba — the first time Soviet missiles were moved outside the USSR — is commonly seen as Khrushchev's direct response to the Turkish missiles.

Soviet missiles on Cuban soil, with a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,200 statute miles), could threaten Washington, D.C. and around half of the U.S.'s SAC bases (of nuclear-armed bombers), with a flight time of under twenty minutes. In addition, the U.S.'s radar warning systems oriented toward the USSR would have provided little warning of a launch from Cuba.

Missile deployment

Khrushchev devised the deployment plan in May of 1962, and by late July, over sixty Soviet ships were en route to Cuba, some of them already carrying military material. John McCone, director of the CIA, had recently been on honeymoon to Paris where he had been told by French Intelligence that the Soviets were planning to place missiles in Cuba, so he warned President Kennedy that some of the ships were probably carrying missiles; however, the President concluded that the Soviets would not try such a thing. Kennedy's administration had received repeated claims from Soviet diplomats that there were no missiles in Cuba, nor any plans to place any, and that the Soviets were not interested in starting an international drama that might impact the U.S. elections in November.

[edit] U-2 flights

A U-2 flight in late August photographed a new series of SAM (surface-to-air missile) sites being constructed, but on September 4, 1962 Kennedy told Congress that there were no offensive missiles in Cuba. On the night of September 8, the first consignment of SS-4 MRBMs was unloaded in Havana, and a second shipload arrived on September 16. The Soviets were building nine sites — six for SS-4s and three for SS-5s with a range of 4,000 kilometres (2,400 statute miles). The planned arsenal was forty launchers, an increase in Soviet first strike capacity of 70%. This matter was readily noticed by the Cuban population, and perhaps as many as a thousand reports of such reached Miami, and were evaluated and then considered bogus by U.S. intelligence.

RF-101 Voodoo reconnaissance photograph of San Cristobal MRBM launch site.

number of unconnected problems meant that the missiles were not discovered by the U.S. until a U-2 flight of October 14 clearly showed the construction of an SS-4 site near San Cristobal. The photographs were shown to Kennedy on October 16. By October 19 the U-2 flights (then almost continuous) showed four sites were operational. Initially, the U.S. government kept the information secret, telling only the fourteen key officials of the executive committee. The United Kingdom was not informed until the evening of October 21. President Kennedy, in a televised address on October 22, announced the discovery of the installations and proclaimed that any nuclear missile attack from Cuba would be regarded as an attack by the Soviet Union and would be responded to accordingly. He also placed a naval "quarantine" (blockade) on Cuba to prevent further Soviet shipments of military weapons from arriving there. The word quarantine was used rather than blockade for reasons of international law (the blockade took place in international waters) and in keeping with the Quarantine Speech of 1937 by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Kennedy reasoned that a blockade would be an act of war, and war had not been declared between the U.S. and Cuba. However, Nikita Khrushchev claimed that the blockade was illegal, and ordered ships to bypass the quarantine. Later, a U-2 flight was shot down by an SA-2 Guideline SAM emplacement on October 27, causing negotiation stress between the USSR and the U.S. Khrushchev had not given the order, and Castro had used the freedom of using SAM missiles. However, Kennedy did not destroy the site, as he claimed to do, if such an incident happened.

U.S. response

With the news of the confirmed photographic evidence of Soviet missile bases in Cuba, President Kennedy convened a special group of senior advisers to meet secretly at the White House. This group later became known as the ExComm, or Executive Committee of the National Security Council. From the morning of October 16 this group met frequently to devise a response to the threat.

An immediate bombing strike was dismissed early on, as was a potentially time-consuming appeal to the United Nations. They were eventually able to put out the possibility of diplomacy, narrowing the choice down to a naval blockade and an ultimatum, or full-scale invasion. A blockade was finally chosen, although there were a number of conservatives (notably Paul Nitze, and Generals Curtis LeMay and Maxwell Taylor) who kept pushing for tougher action. An invasion was planned, and troops were assembled in Florida. However, U.S. intelligence was flawed: they believed Soviet and Cuban troop numbers on Cuba to be around 10,000 and 100,000, when they were in fact around 43,000 and 270,000 respectively. Also, they were unaware that 12 kiloton-range nuclear warheads had already been delivered to the island and mounted on FROG-3 "Luna" short-range artillery rockets, which could be launched on the authority of the Soviet commander on the island, General Issa Pliyev, in the event of an invasion. Though they posed no threat to the continental U.S., an invasion would probably have precipitated a nuclear strike against the invading force, with catastrophic results.

There were a number of issues with the naval blockade. There was legality — as Fidel Castro noted, there was nothing illegal about the missile installations; they were certainly a threat to the U.S., but similar missiles aimed at the USSR were in place in Europe and Turkey. There was concern of the Soviet's reaction to the blockade; it might turn into escalating retaliation.

Kennedy spoke to the American public, and to the Soviet government, in a televised address on October 22. He confirmed the presence of the missiles in Cuba and announced the naval blockade as a quarantine zone of 500 nautical miles (926 km) around the Cuban coast. He warned that the military was "prepared for any eventualities", and condemned the Soviet Union for "secrecy and deception". The U.S. was surprised at the solid support from its European allies, particularly from President Charles de Gaulle of France. Dean Acheson was specifically dispatched to Paris to brief de Gaulle. Nevertheless, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, as well as much of the international community, did not understand why a diplomatic solution was not considered.

The case was conclusively proved on October 25 at an emergency session of the UN Security Council. U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson attempted to force an answer from Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin as to the existence of the weapons, famously demanding, "Don't wait for the translation!" Upon Zorin's refusal, Stevenson produced photographs taken by U.S. surveillance aircraft showing the missile installations in Cuba.

Khrushchev sent letters to Kennedy on October 23 and 24 claiming the deterrent nature of the missiles in Cuba and the peaceful intentions of the Soviet Union; however, the Soviets had delivered two different deals to the United States government. On October 26, they offered to withdraw the missiles in return for a U.S. guarantee not to invade Cuba or support any invasion. The second deal was broadcast on public radio on October 27, calling for the withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey in addition to the demands of the 26th. The crisis peaked on the 27th, when a U-2 was shot down over Cuba and another U-2 flight over Russia was almost intercepted when it strayed over Siberia. At the same time, Soviet merchant ships were nearing the quarantine zone. The world held its breath as both nuclear powers swore they would not back down.

What was not known to the world was that the U.S. had already taken the first shots at the U.S.S.R. At 5pm on October 27, 1962 an American ship depth charged a Russian sub breaking the blockade. It exploded but did not penetrate the hull. What they didn’t know was that the sub was carrying a nuclear warhead and the Soviet captain gave the order to retaliate by launching a nuke against an American target. As a safety device he required two on board officers to simultaneously turn their keys arming the warhead. At the last minute second captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov refused to turn his key. Had he not nuclear war would have followed.

Meanwhile, Kennedy responded by publicly accepting the first deal and sending Robert F. Kennedy to the Soviet embassy to privately accept the second that the fifteen Jupiter missiles near İzmir, Turkey would be removed six months later. Kennedy also requested that Khrushchev keep this second compromise out of the public domain so that he did not appear weak before the upcoming elections. This had ramifications for Khrushchev later. The Soviet ships turned back, and on October 28 Khrushchev announced that he had ordered the removal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. The decision prompted then Secretary of State Dean Rusk to comment, "We were eyeball to eyeball, and the other fellow just blinked."

Satisfied that the Soviets had removed the missiles, President Kennedy ordered an end to the quarantine of Cuba on November 20.

The Cuban Missile Crisis spurred the creation of the Hot Line, a direct communications link between Moscow and Washington D.C. The purpose of this undersea line was to have a way the leaders of the two Cold War countries could communicate directly to better solve a crisis like the one in October 1962. Later, Kennedy official Secretary of State Dean Rusk to comment, "We were eyeball to eyeball, and the other fellow just blinked." Indeed the Soviets did blink but who saved the world?

Using the underlined words create a 20 word crossword puzzle on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Provide a blank copy and an answer key. Make sure your hints or clues are accurate. (20 marks)

Answer the following questions:

  1. Did the USA have a legal right to ‘blockade the USSR’ from Cuba?

  2. Did Cuba have a legal right to have nuclear missiles on it’s soil?

  3. Did the USA try to invade Cuba to remove the Castro gov’t before 1962?

  4. Did the USA have nuclear missiles pointed at the USSR next to its borders?

  5. What would you do if you were the American President and the Soviets were putting missiles right next door to the USA?

  6. What would you do if you were the Soviet President and had to defend far away Cuba and defend your international right to sail the seas?

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