What were the five possible U.S. responses to
the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba, and why did President Kennedy select
the naval quarantine option?
In October 1962, U.S. aerial reconnaissance
pictures showed about forty offensive nuclear missiles being installed and
manned in Cuba by Soviet technicians. These missiles had an effective range
of a little more than two thousand miles and threatened much of America.
Although the United States had already broken off diplomatic relations with
Cuba after the revolution led by Fidel Castro, President John F. Kennedy refused to authorize air strikes
against the missile installations and instead demanded the immediate removal
of the missiles. To achieve that, he ordered a naval blockade and quarantine
of all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba. By a vote
of 20 to 0, the Organization of American States also
recommended that member nations take necessary measures to stop the flow
of offensive weapons to Cuba.
Kennedy told Nikita
Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, that if Cuba launched any missiles at
the United States it would be considered an act of war by the Soviet Union,
and the U.S. would retaliate directly against the Soviet Union. Americans
waited while Soviet ships carrying offensive weapons to Cuba approached the
blockade, while cargo ships were allowed to pass. On 28 October Khrushchev
accepted the American demands. The Soviet government agreed to dismantle
its bases and remove the missiles. Kennedy and Khrushchev came to a
compromise that if the nuclear missiles were pulled out of Cuba, the American
quarantine against Cuba would end and the U.S. would not invade the
island. The U.S. also agreed to speed up removal of nuclear missiles
from Turkey. The world was never as close to nuclear warfare as it
was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
- 1 January 1959, President Fulgencio
Batista fled; 2 January 1959 Fidel Castro proclaimed victory in Santiago;
2 February 1959 Cuba declared Castro was the new premier and
- 27 May 1960, United States ended
aid to Cuba.
- 12 July 1960, Nikita Khrushchev
supported Cuba in dispute with U.S. over Guantanamo Bay military
- 14 October 1960, Foreign banks
nationalized (7 August 1960, Castro had nationalized all U.S. property, about
770 million dollars).
- 17 April 1961, Bay of
- 22 October 1962, Kennedy announced
that Soviet Union had nuclear missiles in Cuba based on aerial reconnaissance
of 16 October.
- 26 October, Khrushchev said that
he would remove the missiles if the U.S. removed missiles from Turkey and
promised not invade Cuba. Kennedy replied that all work in Cuba must
stop before any negotiation.
- 28 October, Khrushchev agreed
to dismantle the sites (U.S. removed its missiles from Turkey in
- 30 August 1963, The U.S. and U.S.S.R.
established a "hot-line" to prevent the risk of an accidental nuclear
There are many sites devoted to the crisis.
A good starting point, the The
Cuban Missile Crisis gives an in-depth chronology. or the wikipedia entry. The letter (in Russian from the Soviet archives) from Khrushchev
to Kennedy is available. Check out some of the options available to President Kennedy.
If you have installed a RealAudio player on your computer,
you can listen to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, query the Russian ambassador about the missiles sites (text). There are also recordings
(RealAudio format) of all the White House
conversations taped during the crisis and President Kennedy's Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Soviet Arms Buildup in Cuba.
There is Thirteen Days in History, another great site of source materials. The movie Thirteen Days is on YouTube.
Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume XI is the volume of
official American documents dealing with the crisis.
The National Security Archives (NSA) has published
previously-classified documents about the crisis
(The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: A
Political Perspective After 40 Years), which also includes photos, and a Chronology
of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The NSA has also sponsored a series
of interpretive articles on the crisis as part of the Cold War International
History Project. See also, how the Cuban Missile Crisis fits into the overall context of the Cold War
at the Cold War International History Project; also check a list of Cold War Resources.
Finally, some other document collections are at:
One of the best accounts of the crisis is Michael
Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 (1991). James Blight, et al., Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the
Missile Crisis and the Soviet Collapse (1993), provides a comprehensive
description of the crisis. A highly critical account of America's policy
toward Cuba is M. H. Morley, Imperial State and Revolution: The
United States and Cuba, 1952-l986 (1987). Other accounts
include: Dino Brugioni, Eyeball to Eyeball (1991); David Detzer, The Brink (1979); Norman Finklestein, Thirteen Days/Ninety
Miles: The Cuban Missile Crisis (1994); Robert Thompson, Missiles
of October (1992). Robert Kennedy, The Thirteen Days (1968),
are the memoirs of one of the key participants in the crisis. For a perspective on the Cuban side of the
crisis, see Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis (2002) by
James Blight and Philip Brennes.
of Discussion With the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy), 5 October 1962
From the Ambassador at Large (Bowles) to President Kennedy, 13 October
of a Meeting at the White House, 16 October 1962
From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State, 16 October
of an Off the Record Meeting on Cuba, 16 October 1962
by Director of Central Intelligence McCone, 17 October 1962
and Audio of the Executive Committee Meeting, 18 October
1962 (or millercenter.org/president/kennedy)
From President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev, 22 October
John F. Kennedy's Speech Announcing the Quarantine Against Cuba, 22 October
From Attorney General Kennedy to President Kennedy about his meeting with
Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, 24 October 1962
From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, 24 October
From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State, 26 October
From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy (the Second Letter), 27
From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, 28 October
- Letter from Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy outlining his understanding that the Turkish Missiles would be removed, 28 October 1962
From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union, 27 October
Cuban Revolution, 1960
Bay of Pigs, 1961
John F. Kennedy
- Ernest May and Philip Zelikow,
eds. The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the
Cuban Missile Crisis (1997)
- Graham Allison, Jr., The Secret
Cuban Missile Crisis Documents (1994)
- ANatoli Gribkov and William Smith, Operation ANADYR : U.S. and Soviet Generals Recount the Cuban Missile
- Mary McAuliffe, ed., CIA Documents
on the Cuban Missile Crisis (1992)
- Laurence Chang and Peter Kornbluh,
eds., The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 : A National Security Archive
Documents Reader (1992)
- David Larson, The "Cuban Crisis"
of 1962: Selected Documents, Chronology, and Bibliography (1986)
- Ronald Pope, ed., Soviet Views
on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Myth and Reality in Foreign Policy Analysis (1982)