The Cuban Missile Crisis also known as the October Crisis in Cuba and the Caribbean Crisis in the USSR it was was a 13-day confrontation between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side, and the United States on the other, in October 1962. It was one of the major confrontations of the Cold War, and is generally regarded as the moment in which the Cold War came closest to turning into a nuclear conflict. It is also the first documented instance of the threat of mutual assured destruction (MAD) being discussed as a determining factor in a major international arms agreement.
After provocative political moves and the failed US attempt to overthrow the Cuban regime (Bay of pigs, Operation Mongose), in May 1962 Nikita Krushchev proposed the idea of placing Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt. During a meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro that July, a secret agreement was reached and construction of several missile sites began in the late summer. These preparations were noticed and on 14 October, a US U-2 aircraft took several pictures clearly showing sites for medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) under construction. These images were processed and presented on October 15, which marks the beginning of the 13-day crisis from the US perspective.
The United States considered attacking Cuba via air and sea, but decided on a military blockade instead, calling it a "quarantine" for legal and other reasons. The US announced that it would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba, demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile bases already under construction or completed, and return all offensive weapons to the USSR. The Kennedy administration held only a slim hope that the Kremlin would agree to their demands, and expected a military confrontation.
On the Soviet side, Premier Nikita Krushchev wrote in a letter from October 24, 1962 to President John F. Kennedy that his blockade of "navigation in international waters and air space" constituted "an act of aggression propelling human kind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war". However, in secret back-channel communications the President and Premier initiated a proposal to resolve the crisis. While this was taking place, several Soviet ships attempted to run the blockade, increasing tensions to the point that orders were sent out to US Navy ships to fire warning shots and then open fire. On 27 October, a U-2 plane was shot down by a Soviet missile crew, an action that could have resulted in immediate retaliation from the Kennedy crisis cabinet, according to Secretary of Defense McNamara's later testimony. Kennedy stayed his hand and the negotiations continued.
The confrontation ended on October 28, 1962, when Kennedy and United Nations General-secertary U thant reached an agreement with Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement never to invade Cuba. Secretly, the US also agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter IRBMs, armed with nuclear warheads, which were deployed in Turkey and Italy against the Soviet Union.
After the removal of the missiles and llyushin light bombers from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended at 6:45 pm EDT on November 20, 1962.
The tense negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which the use of nuclear weapons was not ruled out, pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear and direct communication between Washington and Moscow. As a result, a direct telephone link between the leaders of two countries was established.
Kennedy met with members of EXCOMM and other top advisers throughout October 21, considering two remaining options: an air strike primarily against the Cuban missile bases, or a naval blockade of Cuba. A full-scale invasion was not the administration's first option. Robert McNamara supported the naval blockade as a strong but limited military action that left the US in control. However, the term "blockade" was problematic. According to international law a blockade is an act of war, but the Kennedy administration did not think that the USSR would be provoked to attack by a mere blockade. Additionally, legal experts at the State Department and Justice Department concluded that a declaration of war could be avoided so long as another legal justification, based on the Rio Treaty for defense of the Western Hemisphere, was obtained via a resolution by a two-thirds vote from the members or the Organisation of American States (OAS).
Admiral Anderson, Cheif of Naval Operations wrote a position paper that helped Kennedy to differentiate between what they termed a "quarantine" of offensive weapons and a blockade of all materials, claiming that a classic blockade was not the original intention. Since it would take place in international waters, Kennedy obtained the approval of the OAS for military action under the hemispheric defense provisions of the Rio Treaty. Latin American participation in the quarantine now involved two Argentine destroyers which were to report to the US Commander South Atlantic [COMSOLANT] at Trinidad on November 9. An Argentine submarine and a Marine battalion with lift were available if required. In addition, two Venezuelan destroyers (Destroyers ARV D-11 Nueva Esparta" and "ARV D-21 Zulia") and one submarine (Caribe) had reported to COMSOLANT, ready for sea by November 2. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago offered the use of Chaguaramas Naval Base to warships of any OAS nation for the duration of the "quarantine". The Dominican Republic had made available one escort ship. Colombia was reported ready to furnish units and had sent military officers to the US to discuss this assistance. The Argentine Air Force informally offered three SA-16 aircraft in addition to forces already committed to the "quarantine" operation. This initially was to involve a naval blockade against offensive weapons within the framework of the OAS and the Rio Treaty. Such a blockade might be expanded to cover all types of goods and air transport. The action was to be backed up by surveillance of Cuba. The CNO's scenario was followed closely in later implementing the "quarantine". On October 19, the EXCOMM formed separate working groups to examine the air strike and blockade options, and by the afternoon most support in the EXCOMM shifted to the blockade option. Reservations about the plan continued to be voiced as late as the twenty-first, however, the paramount one being that once the blockade was put into effect, the Soviets would rush to complete some of the missiles. Consequently, the United States could find itself bombing operational missiles were the blockade to fail to force Khrushchev to remove the missiles already on the island. President Kennedy signs the Proclamation for Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba at the oval office on October 23, 1962.At 3:00 pm EDT on October 22, President Kennedy formally established the Executive Committee (EXCOMM) with National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 196. At 5:00 pm, he met with Congressional leaders who contentiously opposed a blockade and demanded a stronger response. In Moscow, Ambassador Kohler briefed Chairman Khrushchev on the pending blockade and Kennedy's speech to the nation. Ambassadors around the world gave advance notice to non-Eastern Bloc leaders. Before the speech, US delegations met with Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and French President Charles de Gaulle to brief them on the US intelligence and their proposed response. All were supportive of the US position.
On October 22 at 7:00 pm EDT, President Kennedy delivered a nation-wide televised address on all of the major networks announcing the discovery of the missiles. It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union. Kennedy described the administration's plan: To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba, from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. This quarantine will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and carriers. We are not at this time, however, denying the necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their Berlin blockade of 1948. During the speech a directive went out to all US forces worldwide placing them on DEFCON 3. The heavy cruiser USS Newport News was designated flagship for the blockade,with the USS Leary (DD-879) as Newport News' destoyer escort.