On October 15th, 1962, an American spy plane flying over Cuba took
a series of photographs. Analysis of the photographs confirmed what
CIA agents had feared for several weeks. The Soviet Union had missile
sites on Cuba.
Photographic evidence of a missile site on Cuba.
Cuba was now an ally of the Soviet Union. In 1961 the
US had backed a failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government. Missiles
on the island would be able to reach far inside mainland America. Analysis
of the photographic evidence suggested that these missiles were not
just Surface To Air (SAM) missiles that are purely defensive in nature
but medium range nuclear missiles: which were considered to be offensive
weapons. This poses a few questions: What motives have the Soviet Union
and Cuba got for placing offensive weapons on the Island? and What should
be done about the development?
Response / Action
||Reason for this
action being taken
- Photographs taken by a U2 spy plane are analysed by military
experts. They show that missile sires are in place in Cuba. President
Kennedy is informed. He calls a meeting of top officials (held
the next day) to discuss the situation.
|Kennedy needed to know what the exact
situation was and what the options were.
- Kennedy asks whether the missiles are operational and what his
advisors think the options, and their consequences would be. Kennedy
asks his advisors to continue surveillance flights and to begin
preparations for an air strike on Cuba and an invasion.
Knowing whether or not the missiles
are operational informs Kennedy what timescale he has to work
within. Asking for a range of options gives him a choice. Continued
surveillance ensures that information is up to date and accurate.
Kennedy's options at this point were:
- Air Strikes to take out the missile sites
- Invade Cuba
- Negotiate a deal with the Soviet UnioDo nothing as the US
had more than enough missiles to counter this new threat.
- Place Cuba under Quarantine to stop missiles arriving
- Use Nuclear Weapons against Cuba or the Soviet Union
- Ongoing U2 flights over Cuba. Advisors consider the options and
make intial plans for each of them.
||Kennedy is covering all options here
and giving himself and his team thinking time.
- CIA analysts report that there is evidence of medium range weapons
on Cuba, not just short range missiles. This hardens the line
of those advocating an immediate military response. Under Secretary
of State, George Ball, comments that such action would be: "without
giving Khrushchev some way out." President Kennedy meets
with Gromyko, who assures him that there are only defensive weapons
|Gromyko was the Soviet Foreign Secretary.
Having this discussion allows Kennedy to open up diplomatic channels
which has the potential to reach a settlement without provoling
conflict. It also alerts the Soviet Union to the fact that America
are aware of the missiles and considering their options.
|October 19th - President
Kennedy meets with the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and
the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They discuss military
Again, Kennedy is thinking through
the various options available to him and making sure that things
are in place to enact whichever option he decides is the correct
course of action.
|October 20th -
President Kennedy cancels appointments and visits, citing
ill health. He orders preparations for a defensive quarantine of
Cuba to begin. A television appearance about the crisis is booked..
America was undergoing mid term elections
at this time so President Kennedy and other leading politicians
would be expected to be on the campaign trail. He needed to be
able to focus on the Cuban Missile Crisis without alarming the
public, so citing a minor health issue is used to prevent the
public being concerned.
The television appearance is booked because reporters were aware
of the crisis. Some of them had been approached by Soviet spies.
Kennedy needed to make the story public himself so that the situation
wasn't inflamed by the press.
- General Maxwell Taylor advises that an air strike might not take
out all of the missiles. Kennedy orders the quarantine to go ahead.
The media are warned that any leaks of the crisis may lead to Soviet
Choosing to place Cuba under Quarantine
is risky - the Soviets might ignore the blockade and provoke armed
response - but not as likely to result in all out war as alternative
actions would take. It also provides time for the Soviet Union
to come to the negotiating table.
- Leaders of Congress are shown photographic evidence of the missile
sites. Marines are sent to reenforce the base at Guantanamo Bay.
Kennedy goes on live television and announces the presence of the
missiles to the nation. The US military is put on DEFCON 3.
Kennedy needs to ensure that leading
politicians are aware of the situation. This is especially important
given the elections that are about to take place.
Guantanamo Bay is a US base on Cuba. If there is military action,
the base will become a very important strategic site - and be
under immediate threat.
DEFCON 3 is a security alert level. It places the armed forces
at readiness for war.
- The quarantine line is in place. Robert Kennedy is sent to talk
to Ambassador Dobrynin. Khruschev sends Kennedy a letter that
says that the quarantine leads to a "serious threat to peace
and security of peoples". Kennedy changes the quarantine
line from 800 to 500 miles from Cuba.
|Changing the Quarantine line from 800
to 500 miles provides the Soviet Uunion and America with crucial
extra time to avoid bringing the crisis to a head.
- All but one Soviet vessels on route to Cuba slow down or change
course. US forces are placed on DEFCON 2.
Placing US forces on DEFCON 2 puts
them at the highest state of readiness that they have been since
the end of the Second World War. It means that if the one ship
still on course at full speed does not comply with the Quarantine
restrictions, that force could be deployed immediately.
- Kennedy writes to Khruschev laying the blame for the crisis in
the hands of the Soviet Union. The Executive Committee of the National
Security Council proposes offering a deal - no missiles in Cuba
in return for US missiles being withdrawn from Turkey.
Writing to Khruschev keeps diplomatic
channels open. It makes it clear that there are things that are
and are not acceptable to the United States and provides scope
for a response. Discussing deals at EXCOMM shows that this is
part of a diplomatic effort to secure a peaceful solution to the
- Former KGB spy Aleksandr Fomin proposes a halt to the building
of the missile sites in return for a public guarantee that the
US will never invade Cuba. Kennedy receives a letter from Khruschev
that proposes exactly the same thing.
|Talking to Fomin shows that the US were
willing to consider many options. It sends a message that they are
willing to reach an agreement.
- A new letter from Khrushchev arrives, proposing a public trade
of Soviet missiles in Cuba for U.S. missile in Turkey. A U2 spy
plane is shot down over Cuba. Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy meet again
to discuss a solution. President Kennedy tells Khruschev that he
will make a public statement saying that the US will never invade
Kennedy's reaction to the shooting
down of the U2 spy plane was calm and considered. Many advisors
would advocate an immediate retaliatory response. That would almost
certainly have resulted in follow up actions being taken by the
Cubans / Soviets. Ongoinf diplomatic talks at the height of the
crisis show that there is a determination to reach a peaceful
conclusion to the crisis.
|October 28th - Khruschev
announces on Radio Moscow that the missiles are being withdrawn.
Secretly, Kennedy agrees to withdraw US missiles from Turkey.
||Opting to make the withdrawal of missiles
from Turkey secret is a political move by Kennedy. He doesn't appear
to have made concessions to the Soviet Union which is vital to his
parties chances in the mid-term elections. The fact that the Soviets
allow this to be kept secret suggests that they were happier to
work with Kennedy than with his political opponents.