Raja Furqan Ahmed
On October 16, 1962, US national security advisor Mcgeorge opened his daily briefing book at the White House. There were two memos that were to be discussed with the president, quickly. The first was the state department’s memo regarding the India-China war as the border situation had become more serious and India could be in need of help from America. The second memo was regarding the national security of America itself. The CIA had reported that in Cuba there were secret nuclear missile bases, images of which had been taken by US cameras.
During the start of John F. Kennedy’s presidential tenure, the Cold War was at its peak. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, a failed attempt by the USA to overthrow the Fidel Castro revolutionary government in Cuba, meant that the Cuban government was expected to take revenge, probably in partnership with the USSR. Cuba was located in the backyard of America. The threat was very close at hand.
As estimated by the CIA, there were between 6,000 and 8,000 Soviet troops on the Cuban island, but according to Soviet records they were more than 50,000. The Soviets not only sent to Cuba medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, they also deployed tactical missiles with nuclear warheads. The Soviets managed to keep their activity hidden. But in mid October, the US detected evidence that the USSR was providing logistical as well as physical support to the Cuban revolutionarily government.
US president Kennedy chose a blockade of Cuba, backed by military action. He gave a speech on October 22, 1962, and took the nation into confidence. Kennedy warned that the purpose of the Soviet missiles in Cuba could be none other than to provide nuclear strike capability against America. He vowed to protect the United States from such a threat, no matter what the cost.
Kennedy ordered the Pentagon to be prepared for invading Cuba. 120,000 troops from eight divisions along with two U.S. Army airborne divisions would parachute into Cuba. The First Marine Division would conduct a separate landing. Three aircraft carrier battle groups, including the first-ever nuclear-powered carrier, USS Enterprise, would provide air support.
The US also highlighted the issue in the United Nations in an emergency meeting of the Security Council on October 25. It challenged the USSR to admit the existence of its missiles in Cuban waters. The USSR Ambassador refused to answer. On October 27, the US plane U-2 was shot down and its pilot killed by the Cuban government. This ratcheted up the tensions.
The next thirteen days were difficult for the Kennedy government. The president consulted with his top advisers and cabinet officials. These meetings, conducted by the Executive Committee of the National Security Council which comprised military as well as civil officers, prepared for the use of force. Among the options which were considered were airstrikes on missile bases, blockade or invasion of Cuba, but the president’s brother Robert F Kennedy, who was the attorney general, was not in favour of hard power. Instead, he advocated negotiation and dialogue.
The most dangerous evening of the Cuban missile crises was on October 27. It was on this evening that the decision was taken to resolve the issue through peace and not war. President Kennedy after taking advice from his brother and other senior officers decided that he will respond to the letter from USSR president Khrushchev, in which the USSR offered to remove its missiles if the USA removed its Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy. This withdrawal of US arms was to done through the United Nations, for it to be credible, but Kennedy preferred a secret understanding, not an open agreement that would appear to the public, and to NATO allies, as a concession to blackmail.
President Kennedy elected his brother Robert to transmit this sensitive message to Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, who later in the night met Robert in his office at the justice department. At that time the game was in the hand of Robert, because he was the one who had to pass the message and then to take back to the president the terms and conditions which the USSR was willing to offer. This meeting turned out to be the turning point in the crisis. USSR president Khrushchev ordered to withdraw missiles from Cuba and Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba ever again. He also secretly promised to withdraw the US’s nuclear missiles based in Turkey and Italy. On November 20, 1962, Kennedy finally ordered the lifting of the naval blockade of Cuba.
The writer is a student of International Relations and freelance journalist currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan. [email protected]