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Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy - History

Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy - History


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Moscow, undated (received April 29)

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: I have with interest acquainted myself with your message of April 11. If my impression is correct as to its principal motive, namely to seek out new possibilities for the cooperation of our countries in the resolution of questions which are ripe for settlement, then it is fully responsive to my thoughts. I, like you, consider as formerly that it is extremely important to us to understand each other clearly in order to avoid unnecessary dangers or obstacles to progress in the achievement of peaceful agreements. Everything which proceeds to the advantage of mutual understanding and trust between our countries and between us personally will always meet on my part a most favorable response.

My colleagues and I frequently ponder over how relations are developing between our two countries. Yes, and could it be otherwise if by virtue of the position occupied by the USSR and the USA on earth, Soviet-American relations had become a political meridian of their own sort from which one as a matter of fact takes a reading of prognoses and hopes for the peaceful future of peoples. Probably I shall be close to your frame of mind if I say that the crisis in the region of the Caribbean Sea has given many people a new stimulus for reflection on this account.
In fact not so long ago both you and I were in the ranks of allied armies acting against the aggressors. These times come to memory not because, as they say, the words of the song do not leave you but because we rightfully prided ourselves on the fact that the Soviet and American peoples each in their own way wrote their words in the general hymn of victory over Hitlerite Germany and militarist Japan. No, I mentally return to that tragic and at the same time heroic period because it clearly demonstrated the possibility of the establishment between the Soviet Union and the USA of such relations as when their mutual interests decidedly outweigh the differences of views on the remainder. Unfortunately, shortly after the war relations between our countries were upset and rolled down an inclined plane.
We did not wish to accept such a position and undertook practical efforts in order to find some sort of general basis which would permit a return to relations between our countries in a better direction. In proposals following this aim, we appealed both to you and your predecessors in the Office of President and here we were talking about a wide circle of international questions: disarmament, security in Europe, direct Soviet-American relations and many other things. Now, one way or another it must be recognized that the track in which relations between our countries found themselves under Franklin Roosevelt, now remains empty. We refuse to believe that the sole path which remained for the two mightiest powers was a slide along that inclined plane from one international crisis to another still more dangerous one. There is another perspective: given the mutual desire of the parties--and as for us we say "Yes"--it is possible to raise our countries to the highway of peaceful, mutually beneficial cooperation. I think you share my certainty that such a beneficial turning-point in Soviet-American relations, and government officials who knew how to bring it about, would be applauded not only by Soviet and American peoples but by all to whom peace on our planet is dear.
Therefore, we have not abandoned hope that the Government of the USA irrespective of all difference of world outlook and way of life, will together with us work for the creation of conditions for peaceful, I underline peaceful, competition in the course of which each social system, each country, would demonstrate its possibilities for the satisfaction of the requirements of the people.
The entire foreign political activity of the Soviet Government is subordinate to the service of peace and peaceful co-existence. It is precisely from these positions that we approach the international questions touched upon in your message.
The question of the cessation of nuclear testing is touched upon in your message. As you doubtless know, we have long considered that our Western partners are still far from having traversed their part of the distance to the desired finish--the conclusion of an agreement.
We have now received from you and Prime Minister Macmillan new proposals on this question. Inasmuch as you and the Prime Minister are addressing yourselves to us together and inasmuch as some time is required to study these proposals, I shall not specially dwell here on the question of the cessation of testing and shall write you and the Prime Minister separately. I shall only say that for its part the Soviet Government has done and will do everything in order in the shortest possible time to approach the final act, which would crown the efforts of many years, to agree on the conclusion of an agreement on the cessation of testing of nuclear weapons.

Here I shall dwell on a question which, although to a certain extent also touches on the cessation of nuclear testing, has itself acquired increasing significance and urgency particularly now in connection with various plans for the creation of nuclear forces of NATO. I have in mind the task which by the will of history has been placed first of all before our countries; to act so that nuclear armaments even before general and complete disarmament should remain walled up in the arsenals of those powers which already possess, them and in order that it would be possible not to fear that sometime the doors of the nuclear club will be broken and we shall hear the triumphant exclamation, shall we say, in the German language, "I am already here!" You of course know well the point of view of the Soviet Government concerning the non-dissemination of nuclear weapons. In brief it consists in this, that if it is not possible immediately to agree on the destruction of such weapons, then at least anticipating this it is necessary not to permit their further dissemination. And seriously if a dam is properly constructed which would not permit a flood of nuclear weapons then the first duty of the builders is to concern themselves that no single crack or outlet canals remain; otherwise all the construction loses its meaning. The proposal of the Soviet Government to conclude an international agreement which on the one hand would contain the requirement of the atomic powers not to transfer any form of nuclear weapons--directly or indirectly including via military alliances to those states which do not possess them--and on the other hand the obligations of other powers not to manufacture or to acquire such weapons serves precisely this purpose./4/ In other words, we are talking here about new states not acquiring or utilizing nuclear weapons in any form.

I note with satisfaction that in your message you confirm that the USA is decisively against the development of additional national nuclear potentials. At the same time you, now as formerly, attempt to convince me that neither the multinational nor multilateral nuclear forces being planned for NATO will increase the danger of the spreading of nuclear weapons and that the Soviet Government can rely on the continuing and decisive opposition of the USA to the dissemination of national nuclear forces. Obviously, some sort of gradual acquiring of, or partial participation in, the control of nuclear armaments in your view is better than an appearance of new national nuclear forces.
But you will agree, Mr. President, that no matter what crack appears, opening the way to atomic weapons, be it only the size of a little finger, it makes no difference; once such a crack exists there will be found fingers which in this fashion will find their way to the control panels of these weapons. I do not speak of the fact that for states tempted by military adventurism and revengism, the degree of acquisition thus received would appear only a temporary step toward the putting forward of further demands which in the final analysis would lead to the unleashing of new nuclear potential which, as you write, the USA seeks to avoid. It seems that this is clear to everyone who looks on all of these things not only from the positions of NATO. The question arises naturally why place yourself before the choice between what is bad and that which is still worse? Would it not be better to cast aside both the bad and the still worse variant and choose the good?
We rapidly believe that the Government of the USA will strive to arrange it so that the multinational and multilateral nuclear forces of NATO, no matter how their creation comes out in practice could never be used without the Government of the USA. But one way or another states which are included in the nuclear pool of NATO, including the FRG, will have a vote there and will participate in the formulation of opinions and, as a consequence, of the final decisions concerning the utilization of nuclear armaments. Indeed, we all witnessed the fact that in NATO the voice of Western Germany is increasingly listened to although everything indicates that at least some members of this bloc not without suspicion look upon the foreign policy of that state remembering the past and knowing from personal experience the habits of the German militarists.
It is also no less clear that if there were concluded a genuine agreement which left no loopholes concerning the non-dissemination of nuclear weapons, then in these conditions neither Western Germany nor anyone else would dare go against the collective will of the participants in that agreement since in that case they would appear in a most unfavorable light before all the world and would be subjected, it may be said, to the moral ostracism of all mankind.
Naturally we will set forward separately in greater detail our views concerning the draft declaration about the non-dissemination of nuclear weapons which the Secretary of State, D. Rusk, recently handed Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin./5/ But it is already possible to say that unfortunately this draft does not bring us any closer to the achievement of agreement. It is impossible not to note that it contains in reality the same positions which formerly deprived us of the possibility of coming to mutual understanding. This particularly relates to the possibility of permitting access to Western Germany of nuclear weapons on which as a practical matter the American draft is based. No one can expect the agreement of the Government of the Soviet Union to the growth of nuclear fangs by the West German Bundeswehr. I believe you will understand that from our point of view the realization of any plans for the creation of collective nuclear forces cannot but shake the ground under the achievement of international agreement concerning the non-dissemination of nuclear weapons in which the USA should be interested no less than the Soviet Union.

Already for a protracted period, in the exchange of opinions between us no matter in what channels they took place, one and the same question has inevitably arisen--concerning the situation around Cuba. To a considerable degree this is understandable if one considers how we passed through a most dangerous crisis in the fall of last year. But it is impossible not to recognize also that tension around Cuba decreases too slowly and at times rises anew not unlike the way the mercury jumps in the thermometers of the present spring.
And of course when one thinks about where the abnormalities are coming from which are making the atmosphere in the region of the Caribbean Sea ever more feverish, one comes to the conclusion that a one-sided approach can least of all help the situation.
If one allows that in the Western Hemisphere uneasiness is evoked by the presence in Cuba of a certain small number of Soviet troops which are helping Cubans to master the weapons delivered by the Soviet Union for the purpose of strengthening the defense capabilities of Cuba, then how much more uneasiness should be evoked in the countries of Europe, Asia and Africa by the hundreds of thousands of American troops in the Eastern Hemisphere? It is sufficient to make such a comparison in order that things can be seen in proper perspective. At our meetings in Vienna we seemed to have agreed to proceed from the fact that the forces of our states were equal. Well, then, if our forces are equal, then there should also be equal possibilities. Why does the United States forget about this?
You know that we have withdrawn from Cuba a significant part of our military personnel. I can tell you that we have withdrawn several times more people than has been stated in the American press. How this matter will develop in the future depends on a number of circumstances and in the first place on the pace at which the atmosphere in the region of the Caribbean Sea will be normalized, and whether, as could be expected, the reasons which occasioned the necessity for assistance to the Cubans by Soviet military specialists and instructors will disappear.
I would like to express the thought of how important it is in evaluating what is happening around Cuba that one rise above one-sided understandings and base his judgments on the respective estimate of the situation of the interested parties. From your point of view, as set forth in your message, the reconnaissance flights of American aircraft over Cuba are only "peaceful observation." But if one were to characterize these flights objectively, without even considering the point of view, understandable to everyone, of the country over which they are being carried out, then they cannot be described other than as an unrestrained intrusion into the air space of a sovereign government and as a flagrant violation of the elementary norms of international law and the principles of the UN Charter, to which are affixed the signatures of both the USA and Cuba. It is natural that no state prizing its sovereignty, no government solicitous of the interest and dignity of its people, can tolerate such flights.
Perhaps it is desired that we recognize the right of the USA to violate the Charter of the United Nations and international norms? But this we cannot do and will not do.
We have honestly carried out the obligations we assumed in the settlement of the crisis in the region of the Caribbean Sea, and withdrew from Cuba even more than we promised to withdraw. There are no grounds for you to doubt the readiness of the Soviet Union to carry out firmly in the future as well the agreement which was reached between us. Why then are reconnaissance flights by American aircraft over Cuba necessary? What are they looking for there when there is not a single thing, seen in the light of the agreement reached, which could cause concern? Trampling on sovereignty in this way can lead to quite serious consequences for us if it is not stopped in time.
And can one pass over in silence or recognize as in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter the continuing efforts to strangle the economy of Cuba? I shall not address myself to this in more detail although of course I could find many words with which to characterize these actions, even from a purely humanitarian point of view.
The Soviet Union gives due credit to the measures which have recently been undertaken by the USA, as well as by England, in connection with the attacks which have taken place on Soviet vessels near the Cuban coast. We of course do not underestimate the significance of these measures and hope that they will be sufficiently effective to preclude the possibility of a repetition of armed raids against Cuba.
I read with a feeling of satisfaction that passage of your message in which you confirm that you have neither the intention nor the desire to invade Cuba and where you recognize that it is up to Cuban people to determine their fate. That is a good statement. We have always stressed that, like any other people, the Cuban people possess the inalienable right to determine their own fate as they see fit.
A few words about Laos, since you touched on this subject in your message. Certainly the events which have taken place during the past weeks in that country give rise to some concern. Especially alarming is the murder of the Minister of Foreign Affairs K. Pholsena. The life has been cut short of a statesman whose signature was put on the Geneva Agreements on Laos, whose name, together with that of Souvanna Phouma, personified a policy of neutrality for Laos. There are also other facts which show that in that little country great passions continue to boil, leading on occasion to dangerous flare-ups.
There is much to indicate that forces are raising their heads there which also before were resisting the development of the country along the path of peace, independence and neutrality, and information is constantly reaching us indicating that this is taking place with certain outside help. I examined this matter long and carefully in order to see whether this was true and came to the conclusion that the proverb "where there is smoke there is fire" was applicable to the present situation.
It appears to us that the United States can exert appropriate influence so as to prevent dangerous complications in Laos, which are necessary neither to you nor to us.
As you obviously know, we are at the present time carrying on consultation with the British co-chairman of the Geneva Agreement.
There is no need for me to say that the Soviet Government as formerly is holding firmly to the course of supporting a neutral and independent Laos, which was agreed upon in our meeting in Vienna. We are doing everything that depends on us in order to maintain peace and quiet in that country. If the USA also follows this course firmly, and we think that this should be the case, then it would seem that we can look at the situation in Laos without excessive pessimism.
I received your message dealing with the situation in Laos which you authorized Mr. Harriman to give me He and I exchanged views on this question, and he obviously will report our conversation in detail to you. Therefore I will limit myself in the present message to what I have said above.

I agree with you that we have before us also other questions and problems aside from those mentioned in your message. In the first instance, I would mention the conclusion of a German peace treaty and normalization of the situation in West Berlin on that basis. The solution of this problem, and given mutual desire that is not now such a difficult matter, would undoubtedly bear the greatest returns both from the standpoint of the interest of consolidating peace and for a serious improvement in Soviet-American relations. As long as the remnants of the Second World War, which constantly make themselves known continue to exist, then both you and we will be forced to devote ever greater funds to armaments, that is to increasing our ability to destroy each other. And understandably in such a situation it is difficult to count on agreement on disarmament, which requires above all faith and still more faith for its attainment. Therefore, if one realistically evaluates the situation, one cannot but come to the conclusion that the conclusion of a German peace treaty would create better conditions also for the resolution of the question of questions of the modern day--universal and complete disarmament.
I like the proposition you have made concerning a trip to Moscow of your duly authorized personal representative with whom it would be possible to discuss unofficially and frankly problems of interest to both of us. Please be assured that your envoy will receive a good reception in Moscow and complete readiness on the part of the Soviet Government and me personally for a confidential and productive exchange of views.
As concerns the choice of time for your duly authorized personal representative to arrive in Moscow, I am inclined to think, after examining the list of undertakings, in part also of a domestic nature, which demand my participation, that probably the most appropriate period for this meeting would be 10 to 12 June, if of course that is acceptable to you.
Thank you for your warm personal greetings to me and to my family. Please accept my cordial greetings. I request you as well to convey my warm greeting to your wife and to all those near you.


Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy - History

These texts are from versions published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Volume VI: Kennedy-Khrushchev Exchanges (Washington D.C. : U.S. Department of State, 1996). Source notes and footnotes added to the published version have been removed.

Chairman Khrushchev's Letter to President Kennedy, October 23, 1962

Department of State
Division of Language Services
(Translation)

LS NO. 45989
T-85/T-94
Russian

Embossed Seal of the USSR

I have just received your letter, and have also acquainted myself with the text of your speech of October 22 regarding Cuba.

I must say frankly that measures indicated in your statement constitute a serious threat to peace and to the security of nations. The United States has openly taken the path of grossly violating the United Nations Charter, path of violating international norms of freedom of navigation on the high seas, the path of aggressive actions both against Cuba and against the Soviet Union.

The statement by the Government of the United States of America can only be regarded as undisguised interference in the internal of the Republic of Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other states. The United Nations Charter and international norms give no right to any state to institute in international waters the inspection of vessels bound for the shores of the Republic of Cuba.

And naturally, neither can we recognize the right of the United States to establish control over armaments which are necessary for the Republic of Cuba to strengthen of its defense capability.

We affirm that the armaments which are in Cuba, regardless of the classification to which they may belong, are intended solely for defensive purposes, in order to secure the Republic of Cuba against the attack of an aggressor.

I hope that the United States Government will display wisdom and renounce the actions pursued by you, which may lead to catastrophic consequences for world peace.

The viewpoint of the Soviet Government with regard to your statement of October 22 is set forth in statement of the Soviet Government, which is being transmitted to you through your Ambassador at Moscow.

Draft of President Kennedy's Letter to Chairman Khrushchev, October 23, 1962

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have received your letter of October twenty-third. I think you will recognize that the step which started the current chain of events was the action of your Government in secretly furnishing long-range missiles to Cuba. We will be [handwritten "are" inserted] discussing this matter in the Security Council. In the meantime, I am concerned that we both show prudence and do nothing to allow events to make the situation more difficult to control than it already is.

With this in mind I hope you will issue instructions to your ships bound for Cuba not to challenge the quarantine legally established by the Organization of American States this afternoon

Sincerely,

The Final Version of President Kennedy's Letter of October 23 as Transmitted by State Department Telegram

Washington, October 23, 1962, 6:51 p.m.

985. You should deliver following letter addressed by the President to Chairman Khrushchev immediately. This replaces message contained Deptel 982.

"Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have received your letter of October twenty-third. I think you will recognize that the step which started the current chain of events was the action of your Government in secretly furnishing offensive weapons to Cuba. We will be discussing this matter in the Security Council. In the meantime, I am concerned that we both show prudence and do nothing to allow events to make the situation more difficult to control than it already is.

I hope that you will issue immediately the necessary instructions to your ships to observe the terms of the quarantine, the basis of which was established by the vote of the Organization of American States this afternoon, and which will go into effect at 1400 hours Greenwich time October twenty-four.

Sincerely, JFK."

Rusk

Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, October 24, 1962

Moscow, October 24, 1962.

Dear Mr. President:

I have received your letter of October 23, have studied it, and am answering you.

Just imagine, Mr. President, that we had presented you with the conditions of an ultimatum which you have presented us by your action. How would you have reacted to this? I think that you would have been indignant at such a step on our part. And this would have been understandable to us.

In presenting us with these conditions, you, Mr. President, have flung a challenge at us. Who asked you to do this? By what right did you do this? Our ties with the Republic of Cuba, like our relations with other states, regardless of what kind of states they may be, concern only the two countries between which these relations exist. And if we now speak of the quarantine to which your letter refers, a quarantine may be established, according to accepted international practice, only by agreement of states between themselves, and not by some third party. Quarantines exist, for example, on agricultural goods and products. But in this case the question is in no way one of quarantine, but rather of far more serious things, and you yourself understand this.

You, Mr. President, are not declaring a quarantine, but rather are setting forth an ultimatum and threatening that if we do not give in to your demands you will use force. Consider what you are saying! And you want to persuade me to agree to this! What would it mean to agree to these demands? It would mean guiding oneself in one's relations with other countries not by reason, but by submitting to arbitrariness. You are no longer appealing to reason, but wish to intimidate us.

No, Mr. President, I cannot agree to this, and I think that in your own heart you recognize that I am correct. I am convinced that in my place you would act the same way.

Reference to the decision of the Organization of American States cannot in any way substantiate the demands now advanced by the United States. This Organization has absolutely no authority or basis for adopting decisions such as the one you speak of in your letter. Therefore, we do not recognize these decisions. International law exists and universally recognized norms of conduct exist. We firmly adhere to the principles of international law and observe strictly the norms which regulate navigation on the high seas, in international waters. We observe these norms and enjoy the rights recognized by all states.

You wish to compel us to renounce the rights that every sovereign state enjoys, you are trying to legislate in questions of international law, and you are violating the universally accepted norms of that law. And you are doing all this not only out of hatred for the Cuban people and its government, but also because of considerations of the election campaign in the United States. What morality, what law can justify such an approach by the American Government to international affairs? No such morality or law can be found, because the actions of the United States with regard to Cuba constitute outright banditry or, if you like, the folly of degenerate imperialism. Unfortunately, such folly can bring grave suffering to the peoples of all countries, and to no lesser degree to the American people themselves, since the United States has completely lost its former isolation with the advent of modern types of armament.

Therefore, Mr. President, if you coolly weigh the situation which has developed, not giving way to passions, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot fail to reject the arbitrary demands of the United States. When you confront us with such conditions, try to put yourself in our place and consider how the United States would react to these conditions. I do not doubt that if someone attempted to dictate similar conditions to you--the United States--you would reject such an attempt. And we also say--no.

The Soviet Government considers that the violation of the freedom to use international waters and international air space is an act of aggression which pushes mankind toward the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war. Therefore, the Soviet Government cannot instruct the captains of Soviet vessels bound for Cuba to observe the orders of American naval forces blockading that Island. Our instructions to Soviet mariners are to observe strictly the universally accepted norms of navigation in international waters and not to retreat one step from them. And if the American side violates these rules, it must realize what responsibility will rest upon it in that case. Naturally we will not simply be bystanders with regard to piratical acts by American ships on the high seas. We will then be forced on our part to take the measures we consider necessary and adequate in order to protect our rights. We have everything necessary to do so.

Respectfully,

N. Khrushchev

Letter From President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev, October 25, 1962

October 25, 1962

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have received your letter of October 24, and I regret very much that you still do not appear to understand what it is that has moved us in this matter.

The sequence of events is clear. In August there were reports of important shipments of military equipment and technicians from the Soviet Union to Cuba. In early September I indicated very plainly that the United States would regard any shipment of offensive weapons as presenting the gravest issues. After that time, this Government received the most explicit assurances from your Government and its representatives, both publicly and privately, that no offensive weapons were being sent to Cuba. If you will review the statement issued by Tass in September, you will see how clearly this assurance was given.

In reliance on these solemn assurances I urged restraint upon those in this country who were urging action in this matter at that time. And then I learned beyond doubt what you have not denied -- namely, that all these public assurances were false and that your military people had set out recently to establish a set of missile bases in Cuba. I ask you to recognize clearly, Mr. Chairman, that it was not I who issued the first challenge in this case, and that in the light of this record these activities in Cuba required the responses I have announced.

I repeat my regret that these events should cause a deterioration in our relations. I hope that your Government will take the necessary action to permit a restoration of the earlier situation.

Sincerely yours,

Department of State Telegram Transmitting Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, October 26, 1962

Moscow, October 26, 1962, 7 p.m.

1101. Policy. Embassy translation follows of letter from Khrushchev to President delivered to Embassy by messenger 4:43 p.m. Moscow time October 26, under cover of letter from Gromyko to me.

Begin Text.

Dear Mr. President:

I have received your letter of October 25. From your letter, I got the feeling that you have some understanding of the situation which has developed and (some) sense of responsibility. I value this.

Now we have already publicly exchanged our evaluations of the events around Cuba and each of us has set forth his explanation and his understanding of these events. Consequently, I would judge that, apparently, a continuation of an exchange of opinions at such a distance, even in the form of secret letters, will hardly add anything to that which one side has already said to the other.

I think you will understand me correctly if you are really concerned about the welfare of the world. Everyone needs peace: both capitalists, if they have not lost their reason, and, still more, Communists, people who know how to value not only their own lives but, more than anything, the lives of the peoples. We, Communists, are against all wars between states in general and have been defending the cause of peace since we came into the world. We have always regarded war as a calamity, and not as a game nor as a means for the attainment of definite goals, nor, all the more, as a goal in itself. Our goals are clear, and the means to attain them is labor. War is our enemy and a calamity for all the peoples.

It is thus that we, Soviet people, and, together with US, other peoples as well, understand the questions of war and peace. I can, in any case, firmly say this for the peoples of the Socialist countries, as well as for all progressive people who want peace, happiness, and friendship among peoples.

I see, Mr. President, that you too are not devoid of a sense of anxiety for the fate of the world understanding, and of what war entails. What would a war give you? You are threatening us with war. But you well know that the very least which you would receive in reply would be that you would experience the same consequences as those which you sent us. And that must be clear to us, people invested with authority, trust, and responsibility. We must not succumb to intoxication and petty passions, regardless of whether elections are impending in this or that country, or not impending. These are all transient things, but if indeed war should break out, then it would not be in our power to stop it, for such is the logic of war. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction.

In the name of the Soviet Government and the Soviet people, I assure you that your conclusions regarding offensive weapons on Cuba are groundless. It is apparent from what you have written me that our conceptions are different on this score, or rather, we have different estimates of these or those military means. Indeed, in reality, the same forms of weapons can have different interpretations.

You are a military man and, I hope, will understand me. Let us take for example a simple cannon. What sort of means is this: offensive or defensive? A cannon is a defensive means if it is set up to defend boundaries or a fortified area. But if one concentrates artillery, and adds to it the necessary number of troops, then the same cannons do become an offensive means, because they prepare and clear the way for infantry to attack. The same happens with missile-nuclear weapons as well, with any type of this weapon.

You are mistaken if you think that any of our means on Cuba are offensive. However, let us not quarrel now. It is apparent that I will not be able to convince you of this. But I say to you: You, Mr. President, are a military man and should understand: Can one attack, if one has on one's territory even an enormous quantity of missiles of various effective radiuses and various power, but using only these means. These missiles are a means of extermination and destruction. But one cannot attack with these missiles, even nuclear missiles of a power of 100 megatons because only people, troops, can attack. Without people, any means however powerful cannot be offensive.

How can one, consequently, give such a completely incorrect interpretation as you are now giving, to the effect that some sort of means on Cuba are offensive. All the means located there, and I assure you of this, have a defensive character, are on Cuba solely for the purposes of defense, and we have sent them to Cuba at the request of the Cuban Government. You, however, say that these are offensive means.

But, Mr. President, do you really seriously think that Cuba can attack the United States and that even we together with Cuba can attack you from the territory of Cuba? Can you really think that way? How is it possible? We do not understand this. Has something so new appeared in military strategy that one can think that it is possible to attack thus. I say precisely attack, and not destroy, since barbarians, people who have lost their sense, destroy.

I believe that you have no basis to think this way. You can regard us with distrust, but, in any case, you can be calm in this regard, that we are of sound mind and understand perfectly well that if we attack you, you will respond the same way. But you too will receive the same that you hurl against us. And I think that you also understand this. My conversation with you in Vienna gives me the right to talk to you this way.

This indicates that we are normal people, that we correctly understand and correctly evaluate the situation. Consequently, how can we permit the incorrect actions which you ascribe to us? Only lunatics or suicides, who themselves want to perish and to destroy the whole world before they die, could do this. We, however, want to live and do not at all want to destroy your country. We want something quite different: To compete with your country on a peaceful basis. We quarrel with you, we have differences on ideological questions. But our view of the world consists in this, that ideological questions, as well as economic problems, should be solved not by military means, they must be solved on the basis of peaceful competition, i.e., as this is understood in capitalist society, on the basis of competition. We have proceeded and are proceeding from the fact that the peaceful co-existence of the two different social-political systems, now existing in the world, is necessary, that it is necessary to assure a stable peace. That is the sort of principle we hold.

You have now proclaimed piratical measures, which were employed in the Middle Ages, when ships proceeding in international waters were attacked, and you have called this "a quarantine" around Cuba. Our vessels, apparently, will soon enter the zone which your Navy is patrolling. I assure you that these vessels, now bound for Cuba, are carrying the most innocent peaceful cargoes. Do you really think that we only occupy ourselves with the carriage of so-called offensive weapons, atomic and hydrogen bombs? Although perhaps your military people imagine that these (cargoes) are some sort of special type of weapon, I assure you that they are the most ordinary peaceful products.

Consequently, Mr. President, let us show good sense. I assure you that on those ships, which are bound for Cuba, there are no weapons at all. The weapons which were necessary for the defense of Cuba are already there. I do not want to say that there were not any shipments of weapons at all. No, there were such shipments. But now Cuba has already received the necessary means of defense.

I don't know whether you can understand me and believe me. But I should like to have you believe in yourself and to agree that one cannot give way to passions it is necessary to control them. And in what direction are events now developing? If you stop the vessels, then, as you yourself know, that would be piracy. If we started to do that with regard to your ships, then you would also be as indignant as we and the whole world now are. One cannot give another interpretation to such actions, because one cannot legalize lawlessness. If this were permitted, then there would be no peace, there would also be no peaceful coexistence. We should then be forced to put into effect the necessary measures of a defensive character to protect our interests in accordance with international law. Why should this be done? To what would all this lead?

Let us normalize relations. We have received an appeal from the Acting Secretary General of the UN, U Thant, with his proposals. I have already answered him. His proposals come to this, that our side should not transport armaments of any kind to Cuba during a certain period of time, while negotiations are being conducted--and we are ready to enter such negotiations--and the other side should not undertake any sort of piratical actions against vessels engaged in navigation on the high seas. I consider these proposals reasonable. This would be a way out of the situation which has been created, which would give the peoples the possibility of breathing calmly. You have asked what happened, what evoked the delivery of weapons to Cuba? You have spoken about this to our Minister of Foreign Affairs. I will tell you frankly, Mr. President, what evoked it.

We were very grieved by the fact--I spoke about it in Vienna--that a landing took place, that an attack on Cuba was committed, as a result of which many Cubans perished. You yourself told me then that this had been a mistake. I respected that explanation. You repeated it to me several times, pointing out that not everybody occupying a high position would acknowledge his mistakes as you had done. I value such frankness. For my part, I told you that we too possess no less courage we also acknowledged those mistakes which had been committed during the history of our state, and not only acknowledged, but sharply condemned them.

If you are really concerned about the peace and welfare of your people, and this is your responsibility as President, then I, as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, am concerned for my people. Moreover, the preservation of world peace should be our joint concern, since if, under contemporary conditions, war should break out, it would be a war not only between the reciprocal claims, but a world wide cruel and destructive war.

Why have we proceeded to assist Cuba with military and economic aid? The answer is: We have proceeded to do so only for reasons of humanitarianism. At one time, our people itself had a revolution, when Russia was still a backward country. We were attacked then. We were the target of attack by many countries. The USA participated in that adventure. This has been recorded by participants in the aggression against our country. A whole book has been written about this by General Graves, who, at that time, commanded the US Expeditionary Corps. Graves called it "The American Adventure in Siberia."

We know how difficult it is to accomplish a revolution and how difficult it is to reconstruct a country on new foundations. We sincerely sympathize with Cuba and the Cuban people, but we are not interfering in questions of domestic structure, we are not interfering in their affairs. The Soviet Union desires to help the Cubans build their life as they themselves wish and that others should not hinder them.

You once said that the United States was not preparing an invasion. But you also declared that you sympathized with the Cuban counter-revolutionary emigrants, that you support them and would help them to realize their plans against the present Government of Cuba. It is also not a secret to anyone that the threat of armed attack, aggression, has constantly hung, and continues to hang over Cuba. It was only this which impelled us to respond to the request of the Cuban Government to furnish it aid for the strengthening of the defensive capacity of this country.

If assurances were given by the President and the Government of the United States that the USA itself would not participate in an attack on Cuba and would restrain others from actions of this sort, if you would recall your fleet, this would immediately change everything. I am not speaking for Fidel Castro, but I think that he and the Government of Cuba, evidently, would declare demobilization and would appeal to the people to get down to peaceful labor. Then, too, the question of armaments would disappear, since, if there is no threat, then armaments are a burden for every people. Then too, the question of the destruction, not only of the armaments which you call offensive, but of all other armaments as well, would look different.

I spoke in the name of the Soviet Government in the United Nations and introduced a proposal for the disbandment of all armies and for the destruction of all armaments. How then can I now count on those armaments?

Armaments bring only disasters. When one accumulates them, this damages the economy, and if one puts them to use, then they destroy people on both sides. Consequently, only a madman can believe that armaments are the principal means in the life of society. No, they are an enforced loss of human energy, and what is more are for the destruction of man himself. If people do not show wisdom, then in the final analysis they will come to a clash, like blind moles, and then reciprocal extermination will begin.

Let us therefore show statesmanlike wisdom. I propose: We, for our part, will declare that our ships, bound for Cuba, will not carry any kind of armaments. You would declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its forces and will not support any sort of forces which might intend to carry out an invasion of Cuba. Then the necessity for the presence of our military specialists in Cuba would disappear.

Mr. President, I appeal to you to weigh well what the aggressive, piratical actions, which you have declared the USA intends to carry out in international waters, would lead to. You yourself know that any sensible man simply cannot agree with this, cannot recognize your right to such actions.

If you did this as the first step towards the unleashing of war, well then, it is evident that nothing else is left to us but to accept this challenge of yours. If, however, you have not lost your self-control and sensibly conceive what this might lead to, then, Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.

We welcome all forces which stand on positions of peace. Consequently, I expressed gratitude to Mr. Bertrand Russell, too, who manifests alarm and concern for the fate of the world, and I readily responded to the appeal of the Acting Secretary General of the UN, U Thant.

There, Mr. President, are my thoughts, which, if you agreed with them, could put an end to that tense situation which is disturbing all peoples.

These thoughts are dictated by a sincere desire to relieve the situation, to remove the threat of war.

Respectfully yours,

[s] N. Khrushchev

October 26, 1962. End Text.

Original of letter being air pouched today under transmittal slip to Executive Secretariat.

Kohler

Telegram of President Kennedy's Reply to Chairman Khrushchev's Letter of October 26, 1962

Washington, October 27, 1962, 8:05 p.m.

1015. Following message from President to Khrushchev should be delivered as soon as possible to highest available Soviet official. Text has been handed Soviet Embassy in Washington and has been released to press:

"Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have read your letter of October 26th with great care and welcomed the statement of your desire to seek a prompt solution to the problem. The first thing that needs to be done, however, is for work to cease on offensive missile bases in Cuba and for all weapons systems in Cuba capable of offensive use to be rendered inoperable, under effective United Nations arrangements.

Assuming this is done promptly, I have given my representatives in New York instructions that will permit them to work out this weekend--in cooperation with the Acting Secretary General and your representative--an arrangement for a permanent solution to the Cuban problem along the lines suggested in your letter of October 26th. As I read your letter, the key elements of your proposals--which seem generally acceptable as I understand them--are as follows:

1) You would agree to remove these weapons systems from Cuba under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision and undertake, with suitable safeguards, to halt the further introduction of such weapons systems into Cuba.

2) We, on our part, would agree--upon the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations to ensure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments--(a) to remove promptly the quarantine measures now in effect and (b) to give assurances against an invasion of Cuba. I am confident that other nations of the Western Hemisphere would be prepared to do likewise.

If you will give your representative similar instructions, there is no reason why we should not be able to complete these arrangements and announce them to the world within a couple of days. The effect of such a settlement on easing world tensions would enable us to work toward a more general arrangement regarding 'other armaments', as proposed in your second letter which you made public./2/ I would like to say again that the United States is very much interested in reducing tensions and halting the arms race and if your letter signifies that you are prepared to discuss a detente affecting NATO and the Warsaw Pact, we are quite prepared to consider with our allies any useful proposals.

But the first ingredient, let me emphasize, is the cessation of work on missile sites in Cuba and measures to render such weapons inoperable, under effective international guarantees. The continuation of this threat, or a prolonging of this discussion concerning Cuba by linking these problems to the broader questions of European and world security, would surely lead to an intensification of the Cuban crisis and a grave risk to the peace of the world. For this reason I hope we can quickly agree along the lines in this letter and in your letter of October 26th.

/s/ John F. Kennedy"

Rusk

Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, October 27, 1962

Department of State
Division of Language Services
(Translation)

LS NO. 46236
T-94/T-24
Russian

Embossed Seal of the USSR

J. Kennedy, President of the United States
Copy to U Thant, Acting Secretary General of the U.N.

I have studied with great satisfaction your reply to Mr. Thant concerning measures that should be taken to avoid contact between our vessels and thereby avoid irreparable and fatal consequences. This reasonable step on your part strengthens my belief that you are showing concern for the preservation of peace, which I note with satisfaction.

I have already said that our people, our Government, and I personally, as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, are concerned solely with having our country develop and occupy a worthy place among all peoples of the world in economic competition, in the development of culture and the arts, and in raising the living standard of the people. This is the most noble and necessary field for competition, and both the victor and the vanquished will derive only benefit from it, because it means peace and an increase in the means by which man lives and finds enjoyment.

In your statement you expressed the opinion that the main aim was not simply to come to an agreement and take measures to prevent contact between our vessels and consequently a deepening of the crisis which could, as a result of such contacts spark a military conflict, after which all negotiations would be superfluous because other forces and other laws would then come into play--the laws of war. I agree with you that this is only the first step. The main thing that must be done is to normalize and stabilize the state of peace among states and among peoples.

I understand your concern for the security of the United States, Mr. President, because this is the primary duty of a President. But we too are disturbed about these same questions I bear these same obligations as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. You have been alarmed by the fact that we have aided Cuba with weapons, in order to strengthen its defense capability--precisely defense capability--because whatever weapons it may possess, Cuba cannot be equated with you since the difference in magnitude is so great, particularly in view of modern means of destruction. Our aim has been and is to help Cuba, and no one can dispute the humanity of our motives, which are oriented toward enabling Cuba to live peacefully and develop in the way its people desire.

You wish to ensure the security of your country, and this is understandable. But Cuba, too, wants the same thing all countries want to maintain their security. But how are we, the Soviet Union, our Government, to assess your actions which are expressed in the fact that you have surrounded the Soviet Union with military bases surrounded our allies with military bases placed military bases literally around our country and stationed your missile armaments there? This is no secret. Responsible American personages openly declare that it is so. Your missiles are located in Britain, are located in Italy, and are aimed against us. Your missiles are located in Turkey.

You are disturbed over Cuba. You say that this disturbs you because it is 90 miles by sea from the coast of the United States of America. But Turkey adjoins us our sentries patrol back and forth and see each other. Do you consider, then, that you have the right to demand security for your own country and the removal of the weapons you call offensive, but do not accord the same right to us? You have placed destructive missile weapons, which you call offensive, in Turkey, literally next to us. How then can recognition of our equal military capacities be reconciled with such unequal relations between our great states? This is irreconcilable.

It is good, Mr. President, that you have agreed to have our represent-atives [sic] meet and begin talks, apparently through the mediation of U Thant, Acting Secretary General of the United Nations. Consequently, he to some degree has assumed the role of a mediator and we consider that he will be able to cope with this responsible mission, provided, of course, that each party drawn into this controversy displays good will.

I think it would be possible to end the controversy quickly and normalize the situation, and then the people could breathe more easily, considering that statesmen charged with responsibility are of sober mind and have an awareness of their responsibility combined with the ability to solve complex questions and not bring things to a military catastrophe.

I therefore make this proposal: We are willing to remove from Cuba the means which you regard as offensive. We are willing to carry this out and to make this pledge in the United Nations. Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the United States, for its part, considering the uneasiness and anxiety of the Soviet State, will remove its analogous means from Turkey. Let us reach agreement as to the period of time needed by you and by us to bring this about. And, after that, persons entrusted by the United Nations Security Council could inspect on the spot the fulfillment of the pledges made. Of course, the permission of the Governments of Cuba and Turkey is necessary for the entry into those countries of these representatives and for the inspection of the fulfillment of the pledge made by each side. Of course it would be best if these representatives enjoyed the confidence of the Security Council as well as yours and mine--both the United States and the Soviet Union--and also that of Turkey and Cuba. I do not think it would be difficult to select people who would enjoy the trust and respect of all parties concerned.

We, in making this pledge, in order to give satisfaction and hope of the peoples of Cuba and Turkey and to strengthen their confidences in their security, will make a statement within the framework of the Security Council to the effect that the Soviet Government gives a solemn promise to respect the inviolability of the borders and sovereignty of Turkey, not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade Turkey, not to make available our territory as a bridgehead for such an invasion, and that it would also restrain those who contemplate committing aggression against Turkey, either from the territory of the Soviet Union or from the territory of Turkey's other neighboring states.

The United States Government will make a similar statement within the framework of the Security Council regarding Cuba. It will declare that the United States will respect the inviolability of Cuba's borders and its sovereignty, will pledge not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade Cuba itself or make its territory available as a bridgehead for such an invasion, and will also restrain those who might contemplate committing aggression against Cuba, either from the territory of the United States or from the territory of Cuba's other neighboring states.

Of course, for this we would have to come to an agreement with you and specify a certain time limit. Let us agree to some period of time, but without unnecessary delay--say within two or three weeks, not longer than a month.

The means situated in Cuba, of which you speak and which disturb you, as you have stated, are in the hands of Soviet officers. Therefore, any accidental use of them to the detriment of the United States is excluded. These means are situated in Cuba at the request of the Cuban Government and are only for defense purposes. Therefore, if there is no invasion of Cuba, or attack on the Soviet Union or any of our other allies, then of course these means are not and will not be a threat to anyone. For they are not for purposes of attack.

If you are agreeable to my proposal, Mr. President, then we would send our representatives to New York, to the United Nations, and would give them comprehensive instructions in order that an agreement may be reached more quickly. If you also select your people and give them the corresponding instructions, then this question can be quickly resolved.

Why would I like to do this? Because the whole world is now apprehensive and expects sensible actions of us. The greatest joy for all peoples would be the announcement of our agreement and of the eradication of the controversy that has arisen. I attach great importance to this agreement in so far as it could serve as a good beginning and could in particular make it easier to reach agreement on banning nuclear weapons tests. The question of the tests could be solved in parallel fashion, without connecting one with the other, because these are different issues. However, it is important that agreement be reached on both these issues so as to present humanity with a fine gift, and also to gladden it with the news that agreement has been reached on the cessation of nuclear tests and that consequently the atmosphere will no longer be poisoned. Our position and yours on this issue are very close together.

All of this could possibly serve as a good impetus toward the finding of mutually acceptable agreements on other controversial issues on which you and I have been exchanging views. These issues have so far not been resolved, but they are awaiting urgent solution, which would clear up the international atmosphere. We are prepared for this.


Document Friday: The Cuban Missile Crisis – Khrushchev’s Letter to Kennedy

At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet Secretary General Nikita Khrushchev penned a letter to his counterpart, US President John F. Kennedy. The letter described Kennedy’s order to “quarantine” Cuba as “an act of aggression which pushes mankind toward the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war.” Beyond reminding us how close the world came to nuclear war, today’s hot doc gives us a glimpse of the two brinksmen’s personal correspondence as they approached the precipice.

If you didn’t live through the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis, you almost certainly studied it in history class. Cold War historians still believe the Crisis to have been the Cold War’s pinnacle. Just in case you need some details, here’s a little background: Less than three months after JFK was inaugurated, the new President launched an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. It failed miserably the Castro regime remained firmly in power and strengthened its security alliance with the Soviet Union. This alliance included a Cuban-Soviet agreement to secretly construct nuclear missiles in Cuba. The colossal operation was hard to keep secret. Over one thousand reports of the missiles’ construction reached Cuban expats in Miami (these were largely ignored by the CIA). Finally, on 14 October 1962, an American U2 reconnaissance aircraft photographed the missile sites.

Upon seeing the photographs of the nuclear missiles, Kennedy assembled a secret, fifteen-member committee (named EXCOMM—Executive Committee of the National Security Council) to determine the course of action for the United States. Initially, the Committee listed five courses of action:

October 23, 1962 US Naval photograph showing Soviet nuclear missile sites in Cuba

  • Do nothing.
  • Use diplomatic pressure to get the Soviet Union to remove the missiles.
  • An air attack on the missiles.
  • A full military invasion.
  • The naval blockade of Cuba.

Kennedy—swayed by his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara—essentially chose the blockade. He “rebranded” the procedure as a quarantine—a blockade was internationally accepted as an act of war—and won the support of South and Central American nations. On 22 October 1962, in a nationally televised broadcast, Kennedy announced the existence of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba and his decision to quarantine the island. He direly stated that any nuclear attack from Cuba would “require[] a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

Khrushchev’s 24 October 1962 letter rejected Kennedy’s “ultimatum” and declared that the quarantine was an illegal and “piratical act” derived from the President’s “hatred for the Cuban people.” The Secretary General warned that “with the advent of modern types of armament” the United States had “completely lost its former isolation”—a not so subtle reference to the Soviet nuclear weapons miles off the Florida coast.

But despite its bellicose tone, Khrushchev’s letter ultimately conveyed that he understood and feared nuclear war. Repeatedly the letter takes a pleading tone, at one point opining to Kennedy that:

“You, Mr. President, are not declaring a quarantine, but rather are setting forth an ultimatum and threatening that if we do not give in to your demands you will use force. Consider what you are saying! And you want to persuade me to agree to this!… You are no longer appealing to reason, but wish to intimidate us.”

So… what happened? How did Khrushchev and Kennedy avert catastrophe? Next week we’ll look at the President’s reply to Khrushchev, the Crisis’s resolution, and new evidence proving that nuclear war was even closer than Khrushchev and Kennedy believed at the time.

PS. One final (very slightly related) document note. DC experienced its largest snowstorms in history this week. While I was snowed in and perusing documents (imagine that!), I came across a very interesting reference to snow and JFK. A large snow storm also blasted Washington just before his 1961 inauguration. But in this case, the Army Corps of Engineers was called in to clear away the snow using, among other things, …wait for it… FLAMETHROWERS! So, if any doc hounds find any primary source docs (including photographs!) about the flamethrowing away of DC’s snow, pass them along! For Pete’s sake, we could have used some flamethrowers this time around!!


Ex-CIA Chief Gives JFK Assassination Some QAnon-Style Spin

Something fishy is going on here. Any former CIA director knows better.

SpyTalk

Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty

By Gus Russo

Over the last four decades I have navigated the murky shoals of the JFK assassination, seeking to ascertain the truth with an open mind to all possibilities. The multitude of theories that have crossed my transom over all these years range from the ludicrous (Jackie did it) to the most plausible (Oswald did it.) On these treks, and in literally thousands of interviews, I have come to admire—with some exceptions—the men and women of our intelligence services.

So it was with a degree of shock that I recently learned that former CIA Director R. James Woolsey had co-authored a new book that posits a conspiracy theory that resides much closer to the ludicrous side of the JFK spectrum than the plausible, i.e. Khrushchev did it.

In Operation Dragon, co-authored with a former head of Romanian intelligence, the writers channel Qanon-style nonsense by contending that the Warren Commission concluded that Khrushchev hired Lee Harvey Oswald to kill Kennedy, and the proof is in the secret “code words” embedded in the report.

Seriously? Please, Mr. Woolsey, say it ain’t so.

Now, I have to confess I’m relying only on a detailed New York Post review of the book. (I’m busy on Earth.) But according to the Post reportage, the “decoded” Warren Report says the following:

US Marine Oswald was recruited by the KGB when he was stationed in Japan in 1957, whereupon he gave his KGB case officers vital technical details on the CIA’s super-secret U-2 spy plane, info that would help the Sovs shoot down a U-2 flight in May 1960. After Japan, Oswald defected to Moscow, where he became a KGB assassin chosen by Nikita to murder Kennedy. In June 1962, Oswald and his KGB-assigned wife exfiltrated to the US in order to murder Kennedy. In September 1963, two months before doing the deed, Oswald went to Mexico to meet with his Soviet case officer to finalize details.

Note: There is zero evidence for the paragraph you just read.

As Carl Sagan famously said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Without even reading the book I feel safe in predicting that Woolsey and his co-author, defector and former Romanian spy chief Gen. Ion Pacepa, not only have no extraordinary evidence, they don’t even have mediocre evidence—that is unless you reside in the “everything is fake news” world, in which case I recommend the Jackie-did-it-with-help-from-aliens theory. It’s the most entertaining. However, if you believe that the Earth is round, let me throw out some actual historical facts.

First, this is not new territory for Gen. Pacepa, who authored a 2007 book, Programmed to Kill, which also named Nikita K. as the bad guy. I did read that book, whose publication was said to have sent Sagan’s poor corpse spinning so fast that there was some belief that it caused a rash of earthquakes that year. In that book, it is clear that Pacepa so desperately wanted Khrushchev to be the bad guy that he piled innuendo upon suspicion upon unfounded allegation upon hearsay in order to convict a man who by all actual accounts respected and admired President Kennedy. To wit:

• At the height of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Khrushchev read JFK’s critical settlement proposal letter aloud to his advisers, then appealed to them for over an hour to trust the American president. Thankfully, they did. Khrushchev later wrote of the crisis: “I’ll always remember the late President with deep respect…he showed himself to be sober-minded…He showed real wisdom and statesmanship…”

• After Kennedy gave his landmark “Peace Speech” at American University in June 1963, Khrushchev called it “the greatest speech by an American President since Roosevelt.”

• Khrushchev’s son Sergei, who later became an American citizen and scholar at Brown University, said in a 2003 interview that his father trusted JFK much more than Nixon or Johnson, whom he considered more of a hawk.

• Sergei, a 28-year-old when Kennedy was killed, was with his father when the news came. He said that his father was so shaken that he wanted to attend the funeral himself, but decided that he didn’t know how the Americans would take it. So he and his wife sent a letter of condolence to Jackie, then he sent his top aide Anastas Mikoyan in his place. In the receiving line, Mikoyan was one of only two men who broke down weeping, so much so that Jackie had to console him as he cradled his head in both his hands. When Khrushchev learned that Kennedy’s killer Oswald had lived in the Soviet Union for two years, Sergei watched as his father immediately picked up the phone and called the KGB to find who this man was and what they knew about him.

• Regarding Oswald, where to begin? Let’s start with the fact that Oswald’s radar assignment in Japan gave him zero information on the U-2 spy planes. His Marine Air Control Squadron-1 unit had nothing to do with them. That was also the conclusion of Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko, KGB Chief Vladimir Semichastny and numerous others.

• Why would the Soviets hire an unstable man such as Oswald for the murder of the century? Oswald slashed his wrists just five days after arriving in Russia he had a horrible work record at a radio factory. When he returned to the U.S., Oswald did everything he could to draw attention to himself by going on the radio and television in New Orleans, preaching the gospel of Fidel—just what Nikita would want.

Lee Harvey Oswald during a press conference after his arrest in Dallas. Getty


SUMMITRY: A WARNING FROM THE CHILLY PAST

GEORGE BUSH'S summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow this week comes three decades after John F. Kennedy's fateful confrontation with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. It is tempting to grope for exact parallels between the most brutal summit of the Cold War and this week's expected gentlemanly talks on START and the Soviet economy. But in fact, comparison of the two meetings shows more than anything how far the world has come since the dangerous early 1960s.

Even in the post-Cold War age, every American-Soviet summit bears the potential for lofty intentions to be sabotaged by bad communication, miscalculationand the distractions of domestic politics. One can imagine the dark possibility that 30 years from now, a historian will find that the Bush-Gorbachev Moscow meeting was a turning point, undermining East-West relations and Soviet internal reform against the will of the two leaders.

With hindsight, we now know that this is what happened in Vienna. It is likely that both principals hoped the encounter would help usher in arms agreements and milder relations, but instead, Kennedy and Khrushchev entered the most perilous period of the Cold War. Apoplectic over Kennedy's indifference to his anxieties about Berlin and Germany, Khrushchev demanded that the president and his Western allies flee Berlin before the end of 1961. His low estimate of Kennedy's leadership abilities after their two days of private jousting had more than a little to do with his decision in 1962 to slip nuclear missiles into Cuba.

After Presidents Bush and Gorbachev adjourn, we should resist the temptation to instantly assess what was said and done. In the case of the Vienna summit, the story has been told so many times that we thought we knew it all: the warlike Russian leader's inevitable testing of the solemn young American, the president gravely warning that it will be a "cold winter." The transformation of Vienna into docu-drama caused many of us to forget that until recently our knowledge of those talks has come chiefly from two sources.

The first: Kennedy himself. During the weeks after the summit, although he ordered advisers shown the records of what was said in those closed rooms to be silent, he leaked excerpts from the talks that reflected well on him to favored reporters. Dean Acheson, who was providing part-time advice to Kennedy, wrote a friend in his elegant, acid fashion that "while JFK was giving us his lecture on security, he told us that newspaper men had even seen copies of his report on his talks with Mr. K. This did not come as a surprise to me since one of them, a neighbor of mine, told me that over the weekend JFK had read the best parts to him and a colleague."

The second source: In 1965, Theodore Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., used their access to the still-classified Vienna records to paraphrase the talks in their memoirs of JFK and his presidency. Certainly neither man wished to falsify history but, as both would acknowledge today, they were writing under the spell of powerful emotions that led them to use that material to make the best case for Kennedy's performance. (In 1976, Sorensen was publicly criticized when it was revealed that he had removed documents on Vienna and other secret records after resigning his White House job in 1964. His critics saw this as a casual attitude toward classified material, and it became a factor blocking his confirmation as Jimmy Carter's director of central intelligence Sorensen ultimately asked the president-elect to withdrew his nomination. In Sorensen's defense, protocols for removal of classified records from the White House were far less elaborate in 1964 than they were in 1976, two years after Watergate.)

Incredibly enough, it was only in September 1990 that the U.S. government unsealed the American record of what Kennedy and Khrushchev said to each other in Vienna -- a particularly outrageous delay since the contents were hardly a secret to the Russians or any Allied government. Combined with Soviet sources now available thanks to Gorbachev and glasnost, as well as other new material, we are able to step away from the folklore of 30 years and see the Vienna summit in a different way. We now know that in the spring of 1961, a Soviet intelligence agent named Georgi Bolshakov slipped into Robert Kennedy's office. He told the attorney general that the president and Khrushchev would surely have things to say to each other that could not be conveyed through official channels. He revealed that he had a direct line to the Soviet leader: He could offer a more true-to-life portrait of what Khrushchev was privately thinking than the Kennedys could ever get from the press or CIA. Bolshakov said that Khrushchev now wanted a summit with the president: In order to get it, he was willing to make substantial concessions to achieve the nuclear test ban treaty that JFK had advocated for years.

Robert took the news to his brother, who was troubled by the notion of meeting Khrushchev for the first time as president so soon after the failed Cuban invasion at the Bay of Pigs. In the wake of the Cuban humiliation, he would be under extraordinary pressure to demonstrate mastery and command. Still, he knew that whatever went badly during the meeting would be overlooked if it produced a test ban, which would have been the first major Soviet-American nuclear agreement. JFK accepted the invitation. The two-day encounter was set for June 3 and 4, 1961.

In mid-May, the president inflamed his old back injury during an Ottawa tree-planting ceremony. In the privacy of the White House family quarters, he used crutches for the first time in years. He briefly considered canceling the summit, saying, "I don't want to meet Khrushchev as a cripple." But he concluded that pulling out of the meeting for health reasons would be more damaging than to muddle through. Without telling his White House doctors or almost anyone else, Kennedy turned to an eccentric Manhattan physician called Max Jacobson, known in cafe society as "Doctor Feelgood" for boosting celebrity patients' mood and stamina with what he called "vitamin shots." His syringes may have contained vitamins and enzymes, but they at times also contained amphetamines, steroids, hormones and animal organ cells. At least one patient later died of what the New York medical examiner called "acute amphetamine poisoning."

The president's resort to Jacobson was not quite so bizarre as it might seem. Kennedy's long and difficult medical history -- bad stomach, bad back, Addison's disease -- had instilled in him the same lack of awe for medical experts as for the political experts who had told him that he had no chance to reach the Senate in 1952 or the presidency in 1960. His brother-in-law, Stanislas Radziwill, and other respectable friends were among Jacobson's clientele. If Jacobson could put him in fighting condition for the summit, he would have succeeded where others had failed. After arriving in Vienna, while pacing the corridors of the U.S. Embassy, waiting for Khrushchev, the president called in Jacobson (according to the doctor's unpublished memoir) and said, "You'd better give me something for my back."

On Saturday, the president told Khrushchev what he could and couldn't do to relieve the harshness of the Cold War and proposed that the chairman do the same. He described the narrowness of his 1960 victory. He said that he had inherited many U.S. policies and had no choice but to carry them out. (Khrushchev later complained to Kremlin colleagues that Kennedy had told him, "Don't ask for too much. Don't put me in a bind. If I make too many concessions, I'll be turned out of office.")

Kennedy also made the mistake of allowing Khrushchev to draw him into an argument over ideology. After debating Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon in 1960 and gaining excellent reviews for his presidential news conferences, he had expected to best Khrushchev in an argument over communism versus capitalism. But Khrushchev had the advantage of a half-century as an agitator and his overflowing idealism about world communism. From Soviet sources, we can now conclude that Kennedy's streak of cynicism about political leaders and his impatience with ideologues served him badly with Khrushchev. The chairman took Kennedy's comment that he could not defend all his predecessors' policies as a sign of irresolution. His aide Fyodor Burlatsky recalled that to Khrushchev, Kennedy had "more the look of an adviser, not a political decision-maker or president. Maybe in a crisis he would be an adviser, but not even the most influential." Burlatsky found that Khrushchev looked on Kennedy with the condescension of the self-made man: "He understood the feelings of simple people. John Kennedy had no such feeling. Maybe his relations with workers or peasants were like a political game."

As he had through other private channels since taking office, Kennedy asked Khrushchev in Vienna to agree to a standstill in the Cold War. He knew that the chairman was unhappy with the status quo in Berlin and Germany, but why couldn't this question be postponed for a few years until their two countries were getting along better? By asking Khrushchev to give up his demands on Germany and accept a Cold War standstill, Kennedy implied that he considered the chairman's public views a political charade that could be discarded in private. This asked Khrushchev to throw away his life's beliefs and guarantee American predominance in the world.

The chairman responded by rejecting this appeal and defending his own doctrine in fighting language. On Sunday, he demanded that the United States accede to Soviet terms on Germany and get out of Berlin by December 1961 -- or else risk a nuclear war. He slammed his open hand on the table: "I want peace. But if you want war, that is your problem." Khrushchev, in his memoirs, noted that Kennedy "looked not only anxious, but deeply upset . . . . I would have liked very much for us to part in a different mood. But there was nothing I could do to help him." Politics was a "a merciless business." Before he walked out of the room, Khrushchev rejected a test ban treaty as a Trojan Horse for American "espionage" against the Soviet Union.

Kennedy left Vienna privately denouncing Khrushchev as a "bastard" and a "son-of-a-bitch." The meeting had been the "roughest thing in my life." Why had Khrushchev been so brutal? "I think he did it because of the Bay of Pigs," he told the New York Times' James Reston. "I think he thought that anyone who was so young and inexperienced as to get into that mess could be taken. And anyone who got into it and didn't see it through had no guts. So he just beat hell out of me." Not only had the chairman reneged on the promised test ban, but now the president was faced with a full-fledged Berlin crisis. This was not mitigated by his agreement with Khrushchev not to extend the Cold War to Laos.

Ambassador W. Averell Harriman found Kennedy "shattered" by Vienna. The president's friend LeMoyne Billings felt that Kennedy had "never come face to face with such evil before." Scoffing at Kennedy's performance, Vice President Lyndon Johnson told cronies, "Khrushchev scared the poor little fellow dead." Later, as president, Johnson dropped to his knees in dramatic replication of what he thought to be Kennedy's begging of Khrushchev at Vienna, insisting that he would never behave that way on Vietnam. Kennedy told his aide David Powers, "What was I supposed to do to show how tough I was? Take my shoe off and pound it on the table?"

After Vienna, Georgi Bolshakov confided to an American that Khrushchev and other Soviets were "amazed" that the president had seemed so "affected and scared": "When you have your hand up a girl's dress, you expect her to scream, but you don't expect her to be scared."

There is no evidence that Bolshakov ever apologized to Robert Kennedy for the deception that helped to lure the president to Vienna. For the next 16 months, the two men continued to meet as often as once a week, Then in early October 1962, Bolshakov returned from Moscow with a new message from Khrushchev for Kennedy: The chairman wished the president to know that he would not dream of placing ground-to-ground missiles in Cuba.

One hopes that no historian in the year 2021 will have to write that the Bush-Gorbachev summit brought on a period so bleak as that after Vienna. But whatever happens in Moscow, and however much detail we hear about it, we should not presume that we know exactly what the two leaders said in private and we should not race to judge how well they performed. As with Vienna, that will depend on information -- and hindsight -- that we will not have for a very long time.

Michael Beschloss's newest book is "The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963" (HarperCollins), on which this article is based. For this week's Bush-Gorbachev summit, he will provide on-camera analysis from Moscow for CNN.


Jackie’s Russian Collusion

C hivalry in despair is the spirit of this letter written by Jackie Kennedy on one of her last nights in the White House, about a week after the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy. The president and his adversary, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, were opposites: Kennedy a handsome, cultured, millionaire Lothario Khrushchev a warty, brutal Communist peasant. They had had bruising negotiations—and only narrowly avoided launching the world into nuclear war. There were many in the C.I.A. who feared the Russians might have played a role in planning the assassination. Khrushchev, for his part, was terrified of being blamed for it. Perhaps the letter that follows is written to calm the Russian—it is certainly supremely elegant and touching in its literary simplicity, its presidential grandeur, and its theory of Big Men and Little Men.

Khrushchev getting the white-glove treatment from Jackie in Vienna, June 3, 1961.


Op-ed: As Biden prepares to meet Putin, he should learn from Kennedy's disastrous 1961 summit with Khrushchev

Do not expect President Biden to call attention to the fact that his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva coincides with the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's disastrous Vienna Summit with Kremlin leader Nikita Khrushchev in June 1961.

Yet nothing could provide Biden a more useful warning than the narrative of that two-day meeting, the first such superpower summit of the television era, which I recounted from oral histories and long-classified documents in my book, "Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth."

Kennedy's unwarranted confidence and inadequate preparations, coming to the meeting like Biden when he was just a few months into office, collided with Khrushchev's ideological determination and brutal rhetorical offensive. Moscow's leader hammered relentlessly at Kennedy's resolve to defend U.S. interests in Europe, and particularly Berlin, whose freedom had become the Cold War's defining issue.

Khrushchev came away with an increased conviction that Kennedy was fundamentally weak and indecisive, a view that had been fueled by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles just two months earlier, an operation that Kennedy had reluctantly backed and then half-heartedly supported.

Khrushchev also emerged from Vienna confident that he could move to permanently close the open border between East and West Berlin, through which his East German allies were bleeding refugees to the jobs and prosperity of the West. Two months later, East German forces would begin to construct the Berlin Wall with Soviet backing, and it would stand for the next 28 years as the symbol of what unfree systems can impose when free leaders fail to resist.

That, in turn, would be followed a little more than a year later in October 1962 by the Cuban Missile Crisis, perhaps the narrowest escape the United States had from a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Kennedy had hoped that by acquiescing to the Berlin Wall's construction that he could ease tensions with Moscow and advance nuclear weapons talks, but instead Khrushchev's perception of Kennedy's weakness convinced him that he could move nuclear weapons within 90 miles of the U.S. border without consequence.

After the Vienna meetings, Kennedy summoned the legendary New York Times journalist James "Scotty" Reston to a private room at the U.S. ambassador's residence to share with him "the grim picture" and the "seriousness of the situation."

"Worst thing in my life," Kennedy told Reston. "He savaged me."

Kennedy reflected on the resulting dangers. "If he thinks I'm inexperienced and have no guts, until we remove those ideas, we won't get anywhere with him."

In Reston's New York Times report, where he protected the confidentiality of his source, he wrote that the president "was astonished by the rigidity and toughness of the Soviet leader." He wrote that Kennedy left Vienna pessimistic on issues across the board and that he "definitely got the impression that the German question was going to be a very near thing."

On that, he turned out to be right.

Fast forward to today, and it would be naive to conclude that Biden's far shorter meeting with Putin on Wednesday, even following the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the Warsaw Pact military alliance, is without similar perils.

No doubt Biden's years of experience dealing with Moscow will help, alongside his sober acknowledgement that Putin is a "killer." Kennedy came to Vienna at 44 as the youngest president ever elected in the United States, and Biden comes to Geneva at age 78 as the oldest.

Yet the dangers rest in the Biden administration's understandable focus on China as the contest of our times and insufficient realization of the increased challenges Russia poses.

As Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Moscow during the Obama administration, recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, Russia is not "the weak and dilapidated state that it was in the 1990s. It has reemerged … with significantly more military, cyber, economic and ideological might than most Americans appreciate."

Wrote McFaul, "Putin has invested heavily in nuclear modernization, while the United States has not. He has also devoted vast resources to upgrading Russian conventional forces."

Those forces served to rescue the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, they are poised near the Ukrainian border to do further damage there, and they "pose a significant threat to Europe and even outmatch NATO by some measures, including the number of tanks, cruise missiles and troops on the NATO-Russian border." At the same time, Russian-backed cyber and influence operations on the United States and other Western democracies have escalated.

White House officials have gone to lengths to limit the time Biden and Putin will meet, and he will not engage Putin in a joint press conference afterward. They have lowered expectations about "deliverables," stressing that it is a leaders "meeting" and not a "summit." (One U.S. official has referred to it "more as a cavern," considering how far relations have sunk.)

President Biden, knowing strength is in numbers, has also been wise to precede the Putin meeting by rallying democratic allies, first in his meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and their signing of a new Atlantic Charter, then with G-7 partners this weekend, and finally with fellow NATO members and then European Union leaders.

In Geneva, Biden has a shot at triggering a strategic stability dialogue that he hopes would produce more predictability in the relationship with Moscow. Officials hope as well for the return to their posts of each country's ambassador, an easing of restrictions on each other's diplomatic and consular activities, and the release of one or more Americans being held in Russian prisons.

The most significant test, however, likely won't be reported until years later by historians studying declassified documents. What will Biden say or not say, do or not do, that will either restrain Putin's disruptive ambitions or encourage them further?

As Garry Kasparov, Russian chess grandmaster and political activist, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "History has demonstrated time and again that appeasing a dictator only convinces him you're too weak to oppose him, provoking further aggression."

Perhaps that fact, though so much else has changed, is the most powerful link from Vienna sixty years ago and Geneva this week.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States' most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper's European edition. His latest book – "Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth" – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week's top stories and trends.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated President Kennedy's age when he met Khrushchev in Vienna. He was 44.


Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis

On October 16, 1962 President John F. Kennedy received information from his National Security Advisor (NSA), McGeorge Bundy, regarding the Soviet MRBMs, or medium range ballistic missiles, placed in Cuba. The President instantly pulled together a group of 14-15 of his closest advisors known as the EXCOMM, or the Executive Committee of the National Security Council. What followed for the next thirteen days until October 28, 1962 was a series of intense discussions usually held in the Cabinet Room which centered on how to respond to this situation.[1]

The President’s primary response included a naval blockade or “defensive quarantine” put into effect on October 20, 1962. In addition to the naval blockade, preparations for an all-out military action, including a massive airstrike followed by an invasion of Cuba along with other “diplomatic initiatives” under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations (UN), and Rio Treaty were also approved by the President on October 20, 1962. The air strike was to be implemented following the blockade on October 23, 1962.[2] However, thanks to Kennedy’s firm resolve to pursue a more peaceful course, and a firm leash on the military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a full-fledged military strike was finally not undertaken.

The objective of this essay is to demonstrate that President Kennedy was completely in command of the US foreign policy process during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that there were several factors influencing Kennedy’s decisions during this process. The seven major factors identified here in order to explain the President’s firm grip on the foreign policy process during the Cuban Missile Crisis were: (1) the constant fear of escalation, (2) perception of Khrushchev as a rational decision maker, (3) the Berlin issue, (4) the Bay of Pigs, (5) Kennedy’s control over the continuous flow of information, (6) the notion of morality, and (7) credibility of the response. In addition, I argue that Kennedy’s foreign policy process reflected the small group model, meaning that the foreign policy was an outcome of a small group of people (the EXCOMM and the President) who were formulating the policy process. This model underlined the need for secrecy, decisiveness in policy making, speed and an extraordinary degree of liquidity in the flow of information to and from the White House. Hence, the small group model strongly explained the President’s decision making style during the crisis.

Overall, the foreign policy process was very complex, but I characterize it in terms of how President Kennedy headed the process and the various elements he factored in when formulating his response. Walt Rostow, Counselor and Chairman of Policy Planning Council at the State Department, recalled that “people’s views changed: Monday was different from Tuesday, which was different from Wednesday. It was a dynamic human process. People worried to different degrees, depending on how surprised they were that the Russians did it.”[3] In sum, this essay aims to prove that President Kennedy constructed the foreign policy response during the Cuban Missile Crisis in light of its complexity and his control over the foreign policy process mirrored the small group model.

Kennedy’s Control on the Foreign Policy Process

The Cuban Missile Crisis illustrated that President Kennedy was spearheading the foreign policy process through a constructive deployment of his advisors in the EXCOMM. The US response to the crisis was a product of the President using the EXCOMM as a “way of getting information and ideas out” as mentioned by Raymond Garthoff, Special Assistant for Soviet Bloc Political and Military Affairs, Department of State, who further noted that in addition to the “exchange and hashing out of ideas,” it was also a way of “giving everyone a chance to vent his ideas and to feel he was participating.”[4] President Kennedy initiated the EXCOMM to ensure secrecy and vitality in the decision making process. Pierre Saligner, White House press secretary, remarked that “President Kennedy created EXCOMM because he did not want the American people to know about the crisis until he has made a decision.”[5]

Also, in terms of maintaining momentum in the process, Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, mentioned that “the president thought that it was well to let his principal subordinates—the secretaries of State and Defense, his National Security Adviser, and so on—meet on their own without his presence and debate these things (e.g., blockade versus military action) among themselves as a matter of gaining a consensus among his chief advisers.”[6] This reflected how the President maneuvered the EXCOMM to synthesize a viable response during the crisis. Kennedy’s exercise of authority was further underlined by Roger Hilsman Jr, Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research, Department of State, who stated that “in the case of the Cuban missile crisis, it very quickly became clear to Kennedy that it was his baby, and he became the desk officer he could not delegate this one. So, boy, he was on top right from the beginning.”[7]

This implied that the OAS, NATO, UN, and allies such as France and Britain had no influence over the foreign policy process. We find President Kennedy agreeing with Vice President Lyndon Johnson and NSA McGeorge Bundy in the very first EXCOMM meeting on October 16, 1962 where he stated that “I don’t know how much use consulting with the British… I expect they’ll just object. Just have to do it. Probably ought to tell them, though, the night before [U.S. announces its policy response].”[8] Hence, it appears that none of these players had any impact whatsoever on Kennedy’s decision. For instance, Theodore Sorenson, Special Counsel to the President, in his “Summary of Agreed Facts and Premises of October 17, 1962,” stated that it was generally agreed that NATO and “certain Latin nations” would be “notified” but “not consulted immediately prior to any action by the United States” and he further observed that the President “would hold announcing the existence of the missiles and the justification of our action until that action has been completed.”[9] Hence, the OAS, NATO and the others alike had no impact whatsoever on Kennedy’s decision.

Furthermore, through a telephone conversation on October 28, 1962, McGeorge Bundy explained to Philip De Zulueta, Private Secretary to the British Premier Harold Macmillan that, although the placement of the missiles posed a much greater military threat and political challenge to the US interests in Berlin and Turkey than to the rest of the OAS and NATO members, the US saw itself obliged to inform the allies “so that they may not be caught with the feeling that we are acting in this area, a limited area, in a way which is going to harm them without them having a chance to both to be informed and to advise.”[10] In short, the nature and the direction of the policy response during the Cuban Missile Crisis was determined by the Kennedy Presidency while the allies, including the OAS and NATO, were only informed about the US policy. Hence, it was a gesture of diplomatic courtesy on the part of Kennedy Administration, nothing more.

Role of the Congress and Domestic Factors

Concerning the role of Congress in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Congress did not play any role in terms of participation/involvement in the foreign policy making. In actuality, the Congress was initially critical of the President’s approach in resolving the crisis. That is, Congress declared Kennedy’s response to be weak and called for a much more aggressive approach on the part of the US in dealing with the Soviets. This was evident from a congressional briefing on October 22, 1962 when the Republicans criticized the Kennedy Administration’s response to the Soviet build up in Cuba to be insufficient and advocated for immediate all-out military action against the missile sites. The most vigorous and aggressive proponent for military action was the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Richard Russell, who criticized President Kennedy by saying that “you have told them not to do this thing. They’ve done it. And I think that we should assemble as speedily as possible an adequate force and clean out that situation.”[11] Although President Kennedy held firmly to his ground and chose to proceed with a blockade, the manner in which congressmen such as Senator Russell perceived the US response to the missiles in Cuba mirrored the fact that the Congress viewed Kennedy’s response to the crisis through a very critical lens.

However, the role of the Congress in influencing the foreign policy process was limited. President Kennedy and his inner circle intended to keep the decision-making circle limited to very few members. That is, the information cycle was limited to only “those with an operational necessity to know” since the President and the EXCOMM believed they did not have “much time” and feared that the missiles would become operational if the US didn’t react fast and decisively.[12] In this light, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commented that “we should assume that this will become fairly widely known, if not in the newspapers, at least by political representatives of both parties within—I would…say a week…I doubt very much that we can keep this out of the hands of the members of Congress, for example, for more than a week.”[13] This need to conceal the information from the Congress meant that involving the Congress in the policy making process would prove to be detrimental to the US in light of the given volatility of the situation. Hence, due to such inherent deliberative functioning of the Congress (which make it less effective in responding to a crisis situation), due to Kennedy’s hands-on administrative style and time sensitivity, the Congress was simply ‘informed’ of the blockade on Cuba rather than be actively engaged in formulating that response.

Regarding domestic factors, we find they did not exert any explicit direct influence on the President’s decision-making process. This meant that there were no intermistic issues which would have influenced the President’s policy response during the Cuban Missile Crisis. By intermistic issues, we mean that a foreign policy rarely has a purely international focus since much of it will have an impact on domestic issues.[14] Members of the Senate have a well-defined constituency and are busy responding to domestic concerns, most of which are related to foreign policy issues such as bilateral trade relations between two countries and the like. As congressmen follow the interests of their constituents, they often come in conflict with other fellow congressmen.[15] Hence, since the members of Congress are responding to constituent concerns, within Congress we often see this conflict. But, this was not the case in the Cuban Missile Crisis because of the Kennedy’s extraordinary exercise of control on the foreign policy process. That is, there were no intermistic issues which could have influenced the policy process during the Cuban Missile Crisis in light of the discreet and intimate handling of the policy formulation by President Kennedy and the EXCOMM. For example, the Republicans and the congressional committees identified the rise of Castro (domestic scenario in Cuba) and the failure of President Kennedy in the Bay of Pigs (foreign scenario for the US) to be a vital political launch pad for undermining his leadership in the upcoming 1962 election and they were cashing in on to the Castro issue as an election card by pressuring Kennedy to “act militarily.”[16] But, the developments in Cuba that were brought up by the opposition in terms of a security concern for the US didn’t have any impact on the US policy process and the outcome of the blockading Cuba in the crisis. This was obvious in Kennedy’s response to Senator Russell’s questions in the Congressional briefing on October 22, 1962 (explained before). The reason for the exclusion of the Congress was due to its inherent deliberative functioning (which make it less effective in responding to a crisis situation) and due to Kennedy’s hands-on administrative style. Consequently, the Congress was simply informed of the blockade rather than be effectively engaged in formulating that response. Clearly, the domestic elements did not factor in the outcome of the policy process in the crisis.

Control on the Flow of Information and Agenda Setting

The President controlled the flow of information. President Kennedy determined the set of issues to be addressed and the issues he will focus on and how he would focus on them.[17] This was evident in the framing of the response. Kennedy explained to Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, and others in the National Security Council (NSC) meeting on October 22, 1962 that although the US had considered a combination of blockade-airstrike policy response, “we ought to scratch that [option of airstrike] from all our statements and conversations, and not ever indicate that that was a course of action open to us.”[18] The reason, he mentioned, was that “it may inhibit us in the future,” and secondly, “it will become a propaganda matter, that this was a matter seriously considered by the [U.S.] government.”[19] Hence, President Kennedy determined the set of issues to be addressed and the issues he would focus on and how he would focus on them.

In reality, Kennedy’s control on the information flow could be traced as back as far as September 1, 1962, in the Assistant to Deputy Director for Intelligence (Planning), CIA, William Tidwell’s Memorandum for the Record. In this Memorandum, Lt. General Marshall Carter, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, passed the President’s message to Ray Cline, Deputy Director for Intelligence, saying that “according to the President’s instructions the clamps were to remain on the release of certain information regarding Cuba except for the barest minimum access on a need-to-know basis.”[20] Once again, in the Memorandum for the Director by Lyman Kirkpatrick, Executive Director, CIA, we observe President Kennedy’s control both on the flow of information and on the people accessing that information when he ordered Gen. Carter to freeze the information concerning a “readout of U-2 flights showing SA-2 sites” on August 31 and “wished it put back in the box and nailed tight.”[21] Hence, this shows that the President ensured that he had absolute knowledge of the latest developments during the crisis and who was receiving the updates besides himself.[22]

President Kennedy not only dictated the process, but also crafted the foreign policy response. This was evident when President Kennedy, in response to Bundy’s question regarding how the EXCOMM would respond to the information gathered about the missiles on October 16, 1962 stressed that “We ought to stick with that [simply say there is no evidence] until we want to do something. Otherwise we give ourselves away.”[23] Another instance was when The New York Times’ Max Frankel and his boss, James Reston, penned a piece claiming that the Soviets had actually installed “offensive missiles” in Cuba and contacted Pierre Saligner with this information. “Within minutes” Kennedy was “on the line” asking them to withhold the story (which they did).[24] This not only reflected the level of control exerted by President Kennedy over media but also, shows the level of secrecy exercised by the Presidency on the information.

The President not only controlled the flow of information, but also exercised control over who participated in the foreign policy process. For instance, in responding to Bundy’s question regarding whether President Kennedy had “definitely decided against a political track,” the President responded by saying that “I don’t think we ought to do the OAS. I think that’s a waste of time. I don’t think we ought to do the NATO. We ought to decide how many people we talk to, and how long ahead, and how many people, really, in the government.”[25] Another example re-enforcing this point was when President Kennedy instructed Bundy by stating that “Nobody, it seems to me that there’s no one else in the State Department [except Charles E. Bohlen, Newly appointed Ambassador to France, and Llewellyn Thompson, former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, who were aware of the situation] that ought to be talked to about it [missiles in Cuba] in any level at all until we know a little more.”[26] We find that Kennedy determined who ought to be included in the process.

Also, President Kennedy exercised total command over the secrecy of the issue, which gained the EXCOMM more time and facilitated the formulation of the response. This was evident when President Kennedy passed instructions to Bundy stating that “in Defense we’ve got to keep it [information about the missile sites] as tight as possible, particularly what we’re going to do about it. Maybe a lot of people know what’s there. But what we’re going to do about it really ought to be, you know, the tightest of all.”[27] Furthermore, in his meeting with the Soviet Foreign Minister, Anderi Gromyko, President Kennedy’s application of secrecy was visible in the concealment of his strong intentions to confront Gromyko with the U-2 photographic evidences of the missiles. The President simply listened to Gromyko’s blunt lie about the “defensive” purpose of the soviet missiles deployed in Cuba and read out his September 4, 1962 statement of warning from the US against the Soviets “placing any weapons in Cuba.”[28] Robert Kennedy, Attorney General, stated that the President and his advisors worked “secretly, quietly” and “privately” which enabled the EXCOMM to decide an appropriate US response.[29] Hence, we observe that President Kennedy not only determined the players who ought to be a part of the “inner circle” but also, exercised enormous level of control in keeping the issue very quiet.

The President asserted himself as the Commander in Chief of the Military. This was seen when Kennedy on October 22, 1962 ordered that “special precautions be taken to be sure that, if the Soviets launched a reprisal attack at any point, the Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy would not be fired without express presidential authorization.”[30] Another event which demonstrated the level of control exercised by the President Kennedy on the Navy was when he himself “carefully and personally selected” the ship Marucla “to be the first ship stopped and boarded [for inspection]” on October 26, 1962.[31] Dino A. Brugioni, a former Imagery Analyst at the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) under the Kennedy Administration, recollects in his book, Eyeball to Eyeball, that President Kennedy reminded Admiral George Whelan Anderson Jr. that “only [he], the president would decide which ship or ships should be stopped and which ships should be boarded.”[32] President Kennedy was always closely monitoring the developments and did not allow any event go unsupervised by the President himself. In short, all decisions were made and transmitted from the White House alone.

Kennedy ensured that he had access to every pertinent detail and avoided being insulated from individuals because of their rank in the chain of military command and intelligence hierarchy. This meant that apart from controlling the information, Kennedy exercised a certain degree of caution in dealing with the crisis. To this end, the President initiated an “elaborate command and control network,” facilitating his direct communication with the officers on the front.[33] Kennedy’s command over the military as magnified when the situation was rapidly approaching war, with reports on the October 27, 1962 claiming that a U-2 reconnaissance plane maintaining surveillance over Cuba post blockade had been shot down. For instance, on October 27, when Robert McNamara proposed that “if our planes are fired on tomorrow, we ought to fire back,” President Kennedy responded saying that “I think we ought to wait till tomorrow afternoon, to see whether we get any answers if U Thant [Acting Secretary General of the United Nations] goes down there [to Havana].”[34] We observe the President refrained from decisively opting for a military retaliation on Cuba and Soviet Union. [35]

Factors Influencing the Process

There are several factors which explain why President Kennedy chose to proceed with a blockade over the other three potential policy options proposed by his advisors during the thirteen days.[36]

Fear of escalation of the crisis was the most dominant element influencing the foreign policy process. Robert Kennedy remarked that “what guided all his [President Kennedy] deliberations was an effort not to disgrace [Nikita S.] Khrushchev [First Secretary, Communist Party of the Soviet Union], not to humiliate the Soviet Union, not to have them feel they would have to escalate their response because their national security or national interests so committed them.”[37] The President’s remark that the US’s “basic objective should be the preservation of peace …if our countries should miscalculate they would lose for a long time to come” in the Vienna summit was concrete evidence to enormous weight that the fear of escalation had upon the President even some months prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis.[38] In short, the threat of US-Soviet relations going extremely bitter was haunting Kennedy months before the crisis of April, highlighting that the fear of escalation was irrevocably a dominant factor influencing Kennedy’s choice of a blockade over a surgical military attack and invasion. President Kennedy was worried about an unintended escalation of events which would result in a catastrophic nuclear exchange. He believed in “placing ourselves in the other country’s shoes” and feared that if the US proceeded on the path of a military strike, as strongly advocated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), then the Soviets “would have to react militarily to such actions on our part.”[39] The key reason why President Kennedy opted for the blockade over an air strike was simply because this unpredictability of events and a consequent chain reaction of nuclear exchange. Robert Kennedy attributes the President’s concern regarding “a miscalculation-a mistake in judgment” to the influence of Barbara Tuchman’s book, The Guns of August, which the President had read.[40] In explaining the reasons for World War I, the book argued that It was possible that “either side could take a step that –for reasons of security or pride or face” which in turn could very easily “bring about a counterresponse” from the other side for similar reasons and this would eventually end in a needless escalation towards armed confrontation.[41]

From Tuchman’s book, President Kennedy saw parallels between the “war over Cuba” and WWI. Hence, the President was “not going to misjudge, or miscalculate, or challenge the other side needlessly, or precipitously push our adversaries into a course of action that was not intended or anticipated.”[42] The impact of this book on President Kennedy was evident when he decided to permit the ship Bucharest to go to Cuba despite strong opposition from his advisors and the military. His explanation for doing so was that “we don’t want to push him [Khrushchev] to a precipitous action–give him time to consider. I don’t want to push him in a corner from which he cannot escape.”[43] In short, “every opportunity was to be given to the Russians to find a peaceful settlement” in order to eliminate every possibility of transforming the crisis into “a public humiliation” for the Soviets.[44] This fear of uncertainty forced the President to constantly place himself in the shoes of Khrushchev. As well, the constant fear of escalation forced the President to oversee nearly every pertinent detail. The fact that President Kennedy decided that the blockade on Cuba was strictly against “Soviet arms deliveries to that island [Cuba] rather the all shipments of vital supplies, such as oil” was evidence of President Kennedy’s exercise of maximum precaution towards preventing any further deterioration of the situation.[45]

President Kennedy’s decisions to implement a blockade, to allow Bucharest to pass, to resist the pressure from his advisors and from the Congress to bomb the missile sites were all taken in order to prevent any kind of public humiliation to Khrushchev and reduce uncertainty which could risk an unintended nuclear war between the US and USSR. This was evident in his letter to Khrushchev on October 23, 1962, in which Kennedy expressed his grave concern regarding the explosive and volatile nature of the situation by signifying that both the US and USSR must exercise “prudence and do nothing to allow events to make the situation more difficult to control than it already is.”[46] Even the CIA, in its Special National Intelligence Estimate 11-18-61, “Soviet Reaction to Certain US Courses of Action on Cuba,” of October 19, 1962 re-enforced the President’s concern by stating that “they would recognize that US military action posed a major challenge to the prestige of USSR. We [U.S.] must of course recognize the possibility that the Soviets, under pressure to respond, would again miscalculate and respond in a way which, through a series of actions and reactions, could escalate to general war.”[47]

The impact of this fear of escalation on the President can be seen from the exchange of letters between Kennedy and UN Secretary General U Thant.[48] In his letter to the President on October 25, 1962, U Thant expressed his concern for the adverse consequences which could potentially arise from this crisis by stating that the Soviet ships heading for Cuba “might challenge” the US blockade and “produce a confrontation” which “could lead to an aggravation of the situation.”[49] Hence, to prevent the occurrence of such a catastrophe, U Thant informed Kennedy about his request to Khrushchev that Soviet ships “be instructed to stay away from the interception area” to permit more time for the “discussions of the modalities of a possible agreement” along the lines of the UN Charter.[50] In response, on the very same day Kennedy assured U Thant that the US will “accept and abide by your request” and “do everything possible to avoid direct confrontation with the Soviet ships in the next few days,” avoiding the “risk of any untoward incident” that would exacerbate an already volatile situation. [51] In fact, it was this fear that led the President to respond to Khrushchev’s first letter which was privately transmitted on October 26, 1962 rather than responding to the second public one sent on the same day simply because, the first message, as Rusk acknowledges, “seemed to offer a possibility of a peaceful settlement.”[52] The second letter which was made public on the same day, recalled Pierre Salinger, “had all kinds of questions and conditions [referring to the Turkey-Cuba deal] which made Kennedy “uncomfortable” and hence, inclined him to respond to the first letter.[53]

Furthermore, in his telephone conversation with Philip De Zulueta, on October 28, 1962, Bundy underlined that the US intended to use the terms and conditions of Khrushchev’s second letter on October 26, 1962 as the “framework” and a “basis for negotiation” with USSR.[54] Thus, the U.S. response during the Cuban Missile Crisis was primarily a product of the President’s understanding that “this seemed to be the action we could take which would lessen the chance of an immediate escalation into war” as he explained to the British Prime Minister Macmillan in their conversation on October 22, 1962.[55]

Chairman Khrushchev: A Rational Policymaker

Complementing this fear of miscalculation was President Kennedy’s perception of Khrushchev as a sane and rational actor, which also explains why the former adopted a blockade and followed it with a practice of maximum restraint for the remaining eight days after the blockade. Robert Kennedy stated that the President “believed right from the start that the Soviet Chairman was a rational, intelligent man who, if given sufficient time and shown our determination, would alter his position” and the President was absolutely focused on eliminating the chances of “error, of mistake, miscalculation, or misunderstanding” on his side.[56] This understanding also had a tremendous amount of influence on President Kennedy’s decision to approve quarantine over military strike and is further underlined by Robert Kennedy, who asserted that every decision the President took was grounded on the question: “can we be sure that Khrushchev understands what we feel to be our vital national interest? Has the Soviet Union had sufficient time to react soberly to a particular step?”[57] Everything from issuing a public statement to selectively stopping a ship named Marcula was made based on this simple yet critical question.

As Dean Rusk pointed out, “the United States had overwhelming conventional superiority in the neighborhood of Cuba, and we could have gone in there and taken out those missiles almost with the snap of a finger. But, we knew that if we did that, this would force Khrushchev to take further steps, such as the seizure of Berlin or some other similar action that could have greatly enlarged the dangers of the crisis.”[58] In this light, we see that the President was right in perceiving the Chairman to be a rational decision maker (just like himself). For instance, in his letter to Kennedy on October 26, 1962, Khrushchev acknowledged that “we are of sound mind and understand perfectly well that if we attacked you, you will respond the same way,” implying that if the US and the USSR were to declare war over Cuba, then it would simply be unstoppable, “for such is the logic of war.”[59] In that same letter, the Soviet Chairman showed his understanding concerning the possibilities of the circumstances to lead to an all-out war by reminding Kennedy that “we [USSR] and you [US] ought not now to pull on the ends of a rope,” since, “the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied” and eventually, neither will have the strength to untie that knot, forcing it to be cut.[60] Hence, Kennedy’s anticipation of Khrushchev’s responses, which were grounded in the former’s understanding and perception of the latter to be rational, set the course of the outcome to be more diplomatic rather than a path of war.[61] This clearly shows how much the understanding and the perception of the Soviets to be just as rational as Kennedy’s EXCOMM in terms of formulating policy responses explained and influenced Kennedy’s decision to proceed with the blockade.

The Bay of Pigs was arguably another dominant influence on President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Bay of Pigs taught him to not to permit the CIA to act with complete independence and also to not to trust the Joint Chiefs. The Memorandum from the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Thomas Mann, to Dean Rusk on February 15, 1961 states that the intelligence community unanimously believed that “rifts between leaders in the Castro regime, mounting economic difficulties and rising resentment with terrorists methods will lead to the eventual overthrow of the Castro regime by the Cubans themselves aided only by conventional type of covert activities” from the US.[62] Assistant for Special Operations to the Secretary of Defense and Head of Operation Mongoose, Brigadier General. Lansdale’s conclusion in his “Review of Operation Mongoose” on July 25, 1962 was: “there is a widespread disaffection in Cuba” and that “firm U.S. intention to help free Cuba is the key factor in assessing the Cubans themselves [indicating at a possible support from ground resistance elements] as an operational assets for Operation Mongoose.”[63] But, this was false the reason being that “there was no [hard] intelligence evidence” of a potential rebel uprising against the Castro regime within Cuba.[64] This was unsupportive of the intelligence which the CIA transmitted to the White House, calling for some US assistance in support of the US-trained dissent groups, stated Brigadier General Andrew Goodpaster, Staff Secretary to President Dwight Eisenhower.[65] Bundy indicated that “there was a real breakdown in communication between the White House and the people at the CIA who were in charge.”[66] This, coupled with the understanding that “it would be easy” as remarked by Eugene McCarthy, US Senator (D., Minn.) highlighted that Operation Mongoose was a case-study mirroring intelligence failure.[67] The claim that “these plans of the CIA were militarily feasible” by Schlesinger Jr., Special Assistant to the President, made President Kennedy decide not to trust the military and the CIA just on face value.[68] Consequently, supervision and scrutiny were pivotal in the Cuban Missile Crisis. As Ralph Dungan, Special Assistant to the President, recalls, “the Bay of Pigs made the president goddamn skeptical of the intelligence community and the Joint Chiefs.”[69] There was no ground uprising as calculated, and this left President Kennedy “[disappointed] with himself for relying too much on the advice of others [Joint Chiefs and the CIA]” during the Bay of Pigs.[70]

The strategy of the intelligence community, as Manuel Ray, a member of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, argued, was “to tell Mr. Kennedy everything they needed to tell him so he would authorize the invasion.”[71] Rusk emphasized this point by stating that “there was almost complete misunderstanding and miscommunication between President Kennedy and the leadership of the brigade in Cuba and one must hold the CIA responsible for that.”[72] Such elements caused a tremendous distrust about the CIA and the military chiefs on the part of the President. President Kennedy was determined not to repeat it (trusting the CIA purely based on its word of mouth) again especially in light of the volatility of the situation. The fact that he had not forgotten the lessons learned from the Bay of Pigs is clearly evident in his conversation with General Curtis Le May, Air Force Chief of Staff, on October 19, 1962 in which President Kennedy countered the General’s conclusion that the Soviet are not going to retaliate if the US initiated military action on the missiles by stating that “they [Soviet Union] can’t let us just take out …their missiles, kill a lot of Russians, and not do anything.”[73] This not only illustrated the President’s distrust of the JCS, but also re-emphasized his belief that any application of military action by the US will inevitably escalate the crisis instead of resolving it.

More evidence of the impact of the Bay of Pigs on President Kennedy’s thinking can be seen in his instructions to the Joint Chiefs to communicate to the Turks that the Jupiter missiles in Turkey will not be fired without presidential consent. Kennedy asked Paul Nitze, Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs, Department of State, to confirm this by stating that “what we’ve got to do is make sure these fellows [Turks] do know, so that they don’t fire them [Jupiter missiles] off and think the United states is under attack. I don’t think we ought to accept the chiefs’ word on that one, Paul.”[74] George Ball, Under Secretary of State, underlined the incredible influence of the Bay of Pigs over President’s decision during the Cuban Missile Crisis by stating that “what happened in the Bay of Pigs had a certain psychological effect on the president’s response on the Cuban Missile Crisis, because he couldn’t stand being put down by Cuba in two situations.”[75] Here, we see a positive correlation between that the lack of trust on the CIA and the military from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs experience. In other words, Kennedy’s hands-on navigation of the EXCOMM and his approach towards dealing with the JCS and the flow of information was significantly a product of his experience in the Bay of Pigs. Hence, trusting the JCS blindly in the Bay of Pigs was a miscalculation which the President was not willing to risk during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

With respect to the issue of Berlin and Turkey, Kennedy also had to constantly factor in the implications of military action not only directly on the US itself rather on other key US interests abroad, especially on Berlin. The value of the consequences of a military action on the part of the US on Cuba and a retaliatory Soviet military move on Berlin and Turkey was central to adopting any course of action. In his meeting with the JCS on October 19, 1962, President Kennedy justified his stance for a blockade instead of a military strike by pointing out to General Taylor that if the US launched an airstrike on Cuba, then “it gives them a clear line to take Berlin” and “we would be regarded as trigger-happy Americans who lost Berlin.”[76] Further, he continued, “we would affect the West German’s attitude towards us” and also, “we would have no support from among our allies.”[77] Lastly, he emphasized that “what’s basic to them [Soviets] is Berlin” and “[I]n every conversation we’ve had with the Russians,” that is what “Khrushchev’s committed himself personally.”[78]

President Kennedy evaluated the consequences of individual actions prior to embarking on them. He underlined that whatever the US response was going to be, it had multilateral implications for both the US and its allies as well. In his meeting with the JCS on October 19, 1962 President Kennedy concluded that “when we balance off that our problem is not merely Cuba but it is also Berlin and when we recognize the importance of Berlin to Europe, and recognize the importance of our allies to us, that’s what made this thing to be a dilemma for three days. Otherwise, our answer would be quite easy.”[79] As Bundy put it, the President didn’t want to signal to the allies that “we were trying to sell our allies for our interests.”[80] The same can be said about the significance of Turkey. Robert Kennedy mentioned that the President was constantly contemplating “what was going to occur in Berlin, in Cuba? If we attacked Cuba, and the Russians reciprocated with an attack on Turkey, would or should the Turkish missiles be fired?”[81] Consequently, the President ordered the Jupiter missiles in Turkey to be diffused “so that he personally would have to give permission before they were used.”[82] The equation was: military action on Cuba will force a military action on Berlin and Turkey. Hence, Kennedy clearly evaluated the pro and con of a military strike on Cuba in light of a likewise retaliation from the Soviet Union on Turkey and Berlin and this would hurt the US interests in Europe tremendously. Hence, the Turkey and Berlin factors had to be weighed into the policy calculus before embarking on a definitive foreign policy response, explaining why a blockade was chosen over military attack.

Continuous Flow of Information

The constant flow of information also had an influence on how President Kennedy made the foreign policy decisions during the thirteen days in 1962. This flow of information during the missile crisis, as Richard Helms, Deputy to the Director for Plans, CIA, argued, “gave the President a few days to work out some kind of solution” and was a “very important turning point in the whole crisis.”[83] Theodore G. Schackley, a former CIA officer who was designated as a Station Chief in Miami during Operation Mongoose in the 1960s, mentioned in his memoir, Spymaster, that during his meeting with President Kennedy and DCI John McCone on August 1, 1962 at the Oval Office, the President had demanded a “clear, unambiguous U-2 photographs of SAM-2s or whatever was being deployed [in Cuba]. That, to him [President Kennedy], was hard intelligence.”[84] In response, a SW (secret writing) report which was communicated to Washington on September 18, 1962, cited that “all Cubans in the area had been moved out and that security was being enforced to prevent access to the area where very secret and important work, believed to be concerned with the missiles, was in progress.”[85] This report, coupled with the photos of the MRBMs shot by the U-2 reconnaissance on October 14, 1962 provided President Kennedy with the “hard intelligence” which he had asked from Ted Schackley, nearly a month earlier. Hence, the President’s need for hands-on intelligence evidence about the nature of the missile activities in Cuba prior to the setting up of the EXCOMM signifies not only the enormous amount of control Kennedy exercised on the intelligence community, but also his attempts to ensure the constant flow of information to the White House.[86]

Morality in Foreign Policy

President Kennedy’s personal beliefs also shaped his approach in the formulation of the policy process during the Cuban Missile Crisis under the enormous pressure from both the Joint Chiefs and the Republicans to conduct military strike on the missiles’ sites. President Kennedy believed that “military policy and power cannot and must not be separated from political and diplomatic decisions” which clearly proved that “the use of force always remained to him merely political tools” and not the final solution to any crisis.[87]

The argument was that if the US initiated any kind of military action against Cuba, it would be seen as an “attack by a very large nation against a very small one.”[88] George Ball was the first person in the EXCOMM to bring out this issue of morality on October 18, 1962. His argument was that a surprise military action is simply a US imitation of the Pearl Harbor and hence, he stated that “it’s the kind of conduct that one expects of the Soviet Union. It’s not conduct that one expects of the United States.”[89] This point was later re-enforced by Robert Kennedy when he concurred with Ball saying that “I think George Ball has a hell of a good point” and carrying out military strike which would kill a lot of Cubans and Russians who manned these missile sites would be “a hell of a burden to carry.”[90] This was chiefly why the President was reluctant to adopt the airstrike and instead chose to proceed with a blockade.

The argument that “a surprise air attack would erode if not destroy the moral position of the United States throughout the world” was further strengthened by General Taylor’s estimation that “we’re never sure of getting all the missiles and the offensive weapons if we fire a strike. Secondly, we see—all of us, all your advisors—that there would be a very damaging effect of this on our alliances.”[91] This made President Kennedy firmer in pursuing the course of blockade instead of a military action. Robert Kennedy mentioned that “it had worried him [President] that a blockade would not remove the missiles—now it was clear that an [air] attack could not accomplish that task completely, either.”[92] Hence, we observe that the blockade not only significantly reduced the unpredictability in crisis but also restored the US image in the world, and most importantly, preserved the unity of alliances which in turn lent credibility and legitimacy to the response itself. The Central Intelligence Agency Memorandum, “The Crisis, USSR/Cuba” of October 25, 1962 claimed that “Latin American countries are beginning to offer military units for quarantine, and there is generally little adverse reaction in the hemisphere.”[93] Another indication of the preservation of alliances was evident in the CIA Memorandum, “The Crisis, USSR/Cuba” of October 26, 1962, which noted that “most of the OAS nations have offered to participate in some form in the quarantine, and NATO members have agreed with some minor reservations to deny landing and overflight rights to Soviet planes bound for Cuba.”[94]

Further, concerning the question of morality of the decision, we find Robert Kennedy exclaiming that “I think the whole question of, you know, assuming that you survive this, the fact that we’re not…what kind of a country we are.”[95] In support, from the EXCOMM conversations on October 18, 1962 in the DVD Voices from the Brink, we hear Ball remarking that “this business of carrying that mark of Cain on your brow for the rest of your life is something…” Here, we observe that the quarantine provided a moral basis for the acceptance of the US response in the international community which the alternative options such as the surgical military strikes didn’t.

Credibility and International Legality

Turning our attention on the question of international legality, we find that one of the crucial elements influencing President Kennedy’s decision to follow through with the blockade was the issue of legality or legitimacy of the response. In addition to reducing the unpredictability in crisis, the blockade restored the US image in the world and, most importantly, preserved the unity of alliances which in turn lent credibility and legitimacy to the US response.

To begin, Kennedy perceived the placement of the missiles even after repeated warnings in his speeches on September 4 th and 13 th to be violating the ethics and the conventional etiquette of the international arena. In addition, the deployments of Soviet missiles in Cuba were seen as challenging the US willingness/firmness to enact its stated policies which signified the nature of the US response to such actions on the part of the Soviets. For instance, in his statement on September 4, 1962, Kennedy warned the Soviet Union that thus far, there is “no evidence of any organized combat force in Cuba from any Soviet bloc country” “were it to be otherwise, the gravest issues would arise.”[96] Again, in his personal telegram (T494162) to Macmillan on October 22, 1962, Kennedy declared the Soviet initiatives in Cuba to be a “breach in the conventions of the international stalemate” which, “if unchallenged,” would communicate to Khrushchev and the international community that “our determination is low, that we are unable to meet our commitments,” inviting a “further and still more dangerous moves [on Berlin or Turkey].”[97] Hence, there was this acknowledgment of illegality and threat of Soviet initiatives in the Hemisphere which demanded a credible and a strong response on the part of the US.

To this end, President Kennedy sought to base the US response on legal grounds, as demonstrated by his public address of October 22, 1962 in which he explicitly stated that the deployment of missiles in Cuba is a “deliberate defiance of the Rio Pact of 1947, the traditions of this nation and Hemisphere, the Joint Resolution of the 87 th Congress, [and] the Charter of the United Nations.”[98] Subsequently, he called for invoking the Articles Six and Eight of the Rio Pact under the OAS and also cited the U.N. charter “in support for all necessary action.”[99]

Hence, it was a question of the international or “hemispheric” legality and credibility of the response which President Kennedy and his advisors had to articulate, in order to maintain the unity within various alliances, including the NATO, UN, OAS, Britain, and France. When Robert McNamara emphasized the advantages and disadvantages of a blockade in the meeting on October 20, 1962, it explains why proceeding with the blockade, in Kennedy’s eyes, would be perceived as a legitimate and credible policy by the allies.[100] McNamara highlighted the pros of blockade over its cons citing that in addition to avoiding “a sudden military move which might provoke a response from the U.S.S.R which could result in escalating actions leading to general war,” the response “would cause us least trouble with our allies” since it “avoids any surprise air attack on Cuba, which is contrary to our tradition.”[101]

On the down-side, he argued that a blockade is time consuming and would portray the US’s “[world position] to be weakening.”[102] This cost-benefit analysis by the Secretary of Defense was again explicitly reflected in the President’s meeting with the JCS on October 19, 1962 during which President Kennedy explained his reasons for choosing the blockade over a military alternative. Another instance which reflected the significance of credibility was when Kennedy, underlining the significance of holding talks with NATO over Khrushchev’s proposed Cuba-Turkey deal on the October 26, 1962 said that “the advantage of the meeting [with NATO] is that, if we reject it [Khrushchev’s Cuba-Turkey deal], they participate in it. And, if we accept it, they participate in it.”[103] Also, Kennedy’s letter to Macmillan on October 22, 1962 in which he reached out to the latter, asking him to “speak forthrightly in support” of the blockade in the UN Security Council meeting, shows Kennedy’s aims to gain unanimity among his allies such as Britain for the quarantine.[104] In that, the President was successful. Macmillan replied in a telegram (7396) stating Britain’s support to the US response on Cuba in the Security Council meeting.[105] Here, we see that although President Kennedy did not engage the allies in the decision-making process, he definitely reached out to them for mustering international support for US response once the decision to employ a blockade was made. Clearly, President Kennedy was signifying that the perception of allies does matter towards implementing the US response which enjoyed international consensus.

The President was in full command of the foreign policy process during the Cuban Missile Crisis and there were a combination of fairly intertwined factors which influenced the decision making process. President Kennedy’s EXCOMM reflected the small group model towards formulating the policy response.

Kennedy and the Small Group Model

In a small group model, foreign policy is a product of small groups of people getting together often times during a crisis situation, such as the EXCOMM under President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is a need for secrecy, speed and rapid response in this model. A key flaw in this model is often the problem of group-think. This situation is characterized by policy makers coming together and acting together in the same way because it’s easy and they don’t have to run the risk of facing criticism for holding a particular viewpoint which in turn could alienate them from the group and the policy process. The hallmark of group-think is “close-mindedness or a collective reluctance to question basic assumptions about the problem at hand,” resulting in a “shared illusion” of consensus within the group.[106] Hence, the implication of group-think in the context of a foreign policy process includes “collaboration and compromise” among the players whose individual beliefs harmonize and align with other members involved in the decision making process.[107]

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the President and the EXCOMM overcame the problem of group-think. In order to eliminate the group-think effect, President Kennedy “decided not to attend all the [EXCOMM] meetings” since he knew very well that “personalities change when the President is present, and frequently even strong men make recommendations on the basis of what they believe the President wishes to hear.”[108] Roswell Gilpatric, Deputy Secretary of Defense, recalls that the President “not only allowed, he encouraged open discussion. There was never any attempt to cut off interventions.”[109] Hence, the meetings involved multiple viewpoints and insights which significantly eliminated the groupthink issue. As Richard Bissell, Deputy Director of Plans, CIA, remarked, “under Kennedy, there was more opportunity—and indeed, more incentive—for the individuals in the EXCOM[M] to say what they really thought, instead of trying to agree on a watered-down result.”[110] However, it was the President who had the final say as to how things were to proceed.

In conclusion, the small group model illustrates how President Kennedy delegated the policy response to the Soviet missiles placed in Cuba through the EXCOMM in those thirteen days between October 16, 1962 to October 28, 1962. This model showcases President Kennedy’s organization style as a “personal and intimate command” in delegating and constructing the US response to the crisis.[111] I reiterate that the key hallmarks of the US foreign policy process which one can take-away from the Kennedy and Cuban Missile Crisis case-study are as follows: personal involvement and hands-on control over the foreign policy process, confined delegation, high intelligence liquidity, acknowledgement and encouragement for the voicing of multiple perspectives, tolerance of strong counter views, and finally, Presidential role in agenda-setting and framing of the crisis and the response.[112] Thus, President Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis provides students of the US foreign policy process with a substantive insight into the central role and high effectiveness of the presidency towards shaping the US foreign policy.

Bibliography

British Archives on the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962. Great Britain: Archival Publications International Limited, 2001.

Brugioni, Dino A. Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1991.

Chang, Laurence and Peter Kornbluh. Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 a National Security Archive Documents Reader. New York: The New Press, 1998.

Giglio, James N. Presidency of John F. Kennedy. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2006.

Hastedt, Glenn P. American Foreign Policy (7th Edition). 7th ed. Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall, 2008.

Hook, Steven W. U.S. Foreign Policy: The Paradox of World Power, 2nd Edition. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C: CQ Press, 2007.

Kennedy, Robert F. Thirteen Days A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.

King Jr., John A. and John R. Vile. Presidents from Eisenhower through Johnson, 1953-1969: Debating the Issues in Pro and Con Primary Documents. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Larson, David L. The Cuban Crisis of 1962: Selected Documents, Chronology, and Bibliography. 2nd ed. New York: University Press of America, 1986.

Loviny, Christophe, and Vincent Touze. JFK Remembering Jack. Paris: Seuil, 2003.

McAuliffe, Mary S. CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962. New York: Government Reprints, 2001.

Preston, Thomas. The President and His Inner Circle. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Shackley, Ted. Spymaster: My Life in the CIA. 1st ed. Chicago: Potomac Books Inc., 2005.

Strober, Deborah H and Gerald H. Strober. Kennedy Presidency: An Oral History of the Era. Washington, D.C: Brassey’s, 2003.

The Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Documents. Washington DC: Brassey’s, 1994.

Voices from the brink. DVD. Produced by Stephen Phizicky. Perf. Terence McKenna. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2001.

Zelikow, Philip and Ernest May. The Kennedy Tapes Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Concise Edition. Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.

[1] The crisis did not end on October 28, 1962 with the confirmation of the withdrawal of missiles from Cuba in exchange for the US assurance against the invasion of Cuba. Instead, “weeks of secret, often tense, negotiations followed until a complete Soviet and US understanding and an accompanying end to the US blockade could be announced on November 20” The Kennedy Tapes, ed. Philip Zelikow and Ernest May (Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), 410. Also, in order to understand the several reasons that still precipitated tensions between the two sides and extended the crisis till November 20 , 1962, see Chang and Kornbluh, Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 a National Security Archive Documents Reader (New York: The New Press, 1998), 243-307.

[3] Deborah H. Strober and Gerald H. Strober. Kennedy Presidency: An Oral History of the Era. (Washington, D.C: Brassey’s, 2003), 379.

[10] British Archives on the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 (Great Britain: Archival Publications International Limited, 2001), 360.

[11] Voices from the brink. DVD. Produced by Stephen Phizicky (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2001).

[12] Thomas Preston. The President and His Inner Circle (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 117.

[14] Steven W. Hook. U.S. Foreign Policy: The Paradox of World Power, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C: CQ Press, 2007), 191.

[16] Glenn P. Hastedt. American Foreign Policy, 7th ed. (Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall, 2008), 284.

[17] Also, See the “Memorandum on Donovan Project” by John McCone, Director of Central Intelligence, on October 11, 1962 in The Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Documents (Washington DC: Brassey’s, 1994), 123-125.

[20] The Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Documents, 33.

[21] Mary S. McAuliffe. CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 (New York: Government Reprints, 2001), 39.

[28] James N. Giglio. Presidency of John F. Kennedy (Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2006), 214.

[29] Robert F. Kennedy. Thirteen Days A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), 85.

[31] Kennedy, 63. Furthermore, Marcula was basically an American built Liberty ship which was registered from Lebanon and was going to Cuba under the soviet charter. As we will later see, this specific event also illustrates Kennedy’s attempts to “give the Soviet leader sufficient time to make a responsible decision” and simultaneously, “enforce the quarantine.” Giglio, 222.

[35] President Kennedy himself expressed shock and complete disbelief to the U-2 report October 27, 1962 and remarked that “well now, this is much of an escalation by them [Soviets], isn’t it?” May and Zelikow, 356. Also, see Brugioni, 499.

[36] The three major competing foreign policy options were: one was a naval quarantine or blockade of Cuba which meant stopping and searching every Soviet ship believed to be carrying “offensive weapons” (and was later extended to POL or petrol, oil and lubricants) to the island. This was firmly advocated by Robert McNamara and Adlai Stevenson, the US Representative to the UN. Second, a surgical airstrike only on the Soviet missile sites and third, an invasion of Cuba. Both of these military proposals were firmly advocated by the military chiefs headed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor. Presidents from Eisenhower through Johnson, John King Jr. and John R.Vile (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006 ), 131-132.

[38] Christophe Loviny and Vincent Touze. JFK: Remembering Jack. (Paris: Seuil, 2003), 78.

[43] Kennedy, 59. Also, see British Archives, 71.

[45] May and Zelikow, 138. Furthermore, President Kennedy’s control over the military is evident in the Executive Committee Minutes document of October 23, 1962 which clearly mentions a list of plans authorized personally by the President. Chang and Kornbluh, 167.

[46]David L. Larson. The Cuban Crisis of 1962: Selected Documents, Chronology, and Bibliography. 2nd ed. (New York: University Press of America, 1986), 68-69.

[48] Also, see Kennedy’s telephone conversation with Macmillan on October 26, 1962 in which the two are talking about various ways of helping the Russians to “save face” such as proposing the immobilization of the Thor Missiles in England and the like in the British Archives on the Cuban Missile Crisis (254-256).

[52] Strober and Strober, 398.

[58] Strober and Strober, 383.

[59] British Archives, 295-301.

[61]Larson argues that Khruschev was a rational actor as seen by his repeated emphasis on the possibility of war if either side misunderstood the reason behind the actions of the other in such a volatile and uncertain circumstance in his letter to President J.F. Kennedy on October 28, 1962 in The Cuban Crisis (193-194).

[63] Chang and Kornbluh, 45. Also, see The Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Documents, 11.

[64] Strober and Strober, 331.

[71] Strober and Strober, 329.

[75] Strober and Strober, 350.

[83] Strober and Strober, 375.

[84] Ted Shackley. Spymaster: My Life in the CIA. 1st ed. (Chicago: Potomac Books Inc., 2005), 63.

[96] Larson, 17. Also, see Kennedy’s statement on September 13, 1962 in which, he repeated this cautioning tone towards USSR and Cuba in The Cuban Crisis (31-32).

[98] Chang and Kornbluh, 160.

[100] May and Zelikow, 128. Also, see the Memorandum to USIB (United States Intelligence Board) members by McCone on October 19, 1962 which summaries the arguments for and against the blockade. McAuliffe (New York: Government Reprints, 2001), 193-194.

[102] Ibid. Also, see President Kennedy’s personal telegram T488162 to Macmillan on October 21, 1962 in which he stressed on unity and resoluteness among the ally forces of Briton, NATO, OAS and France towards countering Khrushchev. British Archives (Great Britain: Archival Publications International Limited, 2001, 1962), 7-8.

[103] Ibid., 337. For further understanding of the US stance in this regard, see Zelikow and May, 178.

[104] British Archives, 11-13.

[108] Kennedy, 26-27. However, the groupthink problem was not completely obviated. Robert Kennedy pointed out an instance in the a preliminary meeting with the President where he was accompanied with a Cabinet officer who “vigorously and fervently expressed the opposite point of view, which, from the discussion, he [Cabinet officer] quite accurately learned would be more sympathetically received by the President.” Kennedy, 86.

[109] Strober and Strober, 382.

[112] For a detailed theoretical analysis of the Kennedy-Cuban crisis case-study in terms of the US foreign policy process, see Preston, 97-136.


Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy - History

My fellow citizens: let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can foresee precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead— months in which both our will and our patience will be tested— months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our danger. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.

--President John F. Kennedy, October 22, 1962

President Kennedy spoke these words during a televised address on October 22, 1962, as he informed American citizens of Soviet missile sites in Cuba. He didn’t know at the time that the months-long scare he was referring to would be over just six days later. Four days after JFK’s speech, two men sat down to lunch at the Occidental Restaurant located two blocks from the White House. One ordered a pork chop and the other crab cakes. Despite how it may seem, this was no ordinary lunch. In fact, it is considered to have played a major role in ending the Cuban Missile Crisis.


ABC News Correspondent John Scali. Scali received a call from an unidentified Russian man on the morning of October 26th, 1962 asking him to meet for lunch at the Occidental Restaurant. (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On Friday morning, October 26, 1962, ABC News Correspondent John Scali received a call from an unidentified Russian man whom Scali believed to be the chief of Soviet intelligence in the United States. This man, often referred to as “X,” was later identified as Aleksandr Fomin, the counselor of the Soviet Embassy. [1] In an urgent and insistence voice, Fomin asked Scali to have lunch. Although years later Scali admitted that he’d already eaten lunch that day, he agreed to meet because of the urgency in Fomin’s voice. [2] Scali and Fomin agreed on the Occidental Restaurant next to the Willard Hotel for the mysterious lunch.

The Occidental Restaurant enjoyed a rich history of its own and was no stranger to high profile diners. Henry Willard, founder of the historic Willard Hotel, opened the Occidental next to his hotel in 1906. [3] The restaurant was initially run by Gustav Buchholz, a German immigrant working as head waiter at the Willard. In 1912, Buchholz was made the owner of the restaurant and took to lining the walls with photographs of famous patrons, including presidents, senators, executive cabinet members, and sports and literary greats. [4] These high profile visitors helped the restaurant earn the reputation as the place “where statesmen dine.” [5]


Washington diners eating lunch at the Occidental Restaurant in 1942. Gustav Buchholz, owner of the Occidental, started the practice of lining the walls with photographs of famous people that had dined at the restaurant. Frequent high-profile diners included presidents, congressmen, and sports, and literary greats. (Photo Source: The Library of Congress)

At 1 p.m. on Oct. 26, Scali and Fomin arrived at the Occidental and sat at a “table on the left-hand side against the wall.” [6] When the waiter came to take their order, Scali ordered crab cakes, and Fomin ordered a pork chop. Once they placed their order, Fomin began talking about the urgent situation regarding Cuba. Scali later recounted the conversation on ABC News in 1964:

“[Fomin] came right to the point and said, ‘War seems about to break out something must be done to save the situation.’

And I said, ‘Well, you should have thought of that before you introduced the missiles.’

He then said, ‘There might be a way out what would you think of a proposition whereby we would promise to remove our missiles under United Nations inspection, where Mr. Khrushchev would promise never to introduce such offensive missiles into Cuba again? Would the President of the United States be willing to promise publicly not to invade Cuba?’

I said I didn’t know, but I would be willing to try and find out.” [7]


Aleksandr Fomin was the station chief of the KGB (Soviet security agency) in Washington D.C. from 1960-1964. He asked Scali to lunch to discuss potential solutions of avoiding potential nuclear war. Although he was thought to be working for the Kremlin directly, it was later discovered that he was working alone without official Soviet backing. (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Their food arrived following this exchange. By mistake, the waiter gave Scali’s crab cakes to Fomin, and Scali received the Russian counselor’s pork chop instead. Apparently, Fomin didn’t notice and kept the crab cakes without saying a word the rest of the meal was eaten in complete silence. [8]

At 6 p.m. the same day, before Scali was able to inform the administration about the lunch conversation, the U.S. State Department received a telegram from the U.S. embassy in Moscow that appeared to be written by Khrushchev himself. Interestingly, the letter contained that same settlement proposal that Fomin had suggested to Scali earlier in the day. Within the long, dramatic telegram, Khrushchev wrote:

“I propose: We, for our part, will declare that our ships, bound for Cuba, will not carry any kind of armaments. You would declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its forces and will not support any sort of forces which might intend to carry out an invasion of Cuba. Then the necessity for the presence of our military specialists in Cuba would disappear." [9]

Scali was able to tell Secretary of State Dean Rusk about the conversation he had with Fomin around 6:45 p.m. that evening, which led U.S. officials to assume that Fomin’s message was initiated by Khrushchev and that the lunch was supposed to be a “set-up” for the letter to come in the evening. In the aftermath of the crisis, however, this assumption was deemed to be incorrect, as officials concluded that Fomin was likely working without official backing from Khrushchev. Reflecting upon the incident years later, Fomin admitted as much, “The mistake the Americans made was to overestimate my own authority. I was speaking as a mere analyst while they saw me as a Kremlin spokesman.” [10]


President John F. Kennedy meeting with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on June 3, 1961 in Vienna, Austria (Photo Source: US Department of State Website)

The Kennedy Administration used Scali as a go-between with Fomin for the next few days, having Scali recite messages from Secretary Rusk, which Fomin claimed to be immediately relaying to high Soviet sources. [11] Finally, the immediate fears of the Cuban Missile Crisis were averted on October 28, 1962, when the Kennedy Administration, still assuming a set-up from the Kremlin, acted in accordance with Khrushchev’s wishes and agreed not to invade Cuba, and also secretly agreed to remove the U.S.’ missiles in Turkey. [12] In return, Khrushchev agreed to remove all nuclear missiles from Cuba, ultimately ending the scare of worldwide nuclear destruction.

Although the precise amount of weight that Scali and Fomin’s Occidental lunch had on ending the Cuban Missile Crisis is generally debated, their risky conversations are still considered to be crucial factors in helping control the crisis. In fact, if you go to the Occidental Restaurant today, despite their recent remodel, you can still see a brass plaque on the table commemorating the lunch:

“At this table during the tense moments of the Cuban missile crisis a Russian offer to withdraw missiles from Cuba was passed by the mysterious Russian ‘Mr. X’ to ABC-TV correspondent John Scali. On the basis of this meeting the threat of a possible nuclear war was avoided.” [13]


The Scali Booth at the Occidental Restuarant where Scali and Fomin met on October 26th, 1962. A photo of Scali hangs above a brass plaque that reads: "At this table during the tense moments of the Cuban missile crisis a Russian offer to withdraw missiles from Cuba was passed by the mysterious Russian ‘Mr. X’ to ABC-TV correspondent John Scali. On the basis of this meeting the threat of a possible nuclear war was avoided." (Photo Source: Occidental Grill & Seafood Website)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I congratulate you all - not merely on your electoral victory but on your selected role in history. For you and I are privileged to serve the great Republic in what could be the most decisive decade in its long history. The choices we make, for good or ill, may well shape the state of the Union for generations yet to come.

Little more than 100 weeks ago I assumed the office of President of the United States. In seeking the help of the Congress and our countrymen, I pledged no easy answers. I pledged - and asked - only toil and dedication. These the Congress and the people have given in good measure. And today, having witnessed in recent months a heightened respect for our national purpose and power - having seen the courageous calm of a united people in a perilous hour - and having observed a steady improvement in the opportunities and well-being of our citizens - I can report to you that the state of this old but youthful Union, in the 175th year of its life, is good.

In the world beyond our borders, steady progress has been made in building a world of order. The people of West Berlin remain both free and secure. A settlement, though still precarious, has been reached in Laos. The spear point of aggression has been blunted in Viet Nam. The end of agony may be in sight in the Congo. The doctrine of troika is dead. And, while danger continues, a deadly threat has been removed in Cuba.

At home, the recession is behind us. Well over a million more men and women are working today than were working 2 years ago. The average factory workweek is once again more than 40 hours our industries are turning out more goods than ever before and more than half of the manufacturing capacity that lay silent and wasted 100 weeks ago is humming with activity.

In short, both at home and abroad, there may now be a temptation to relax. For the road has been long, the burden heavy, and the pace consistently urgent.

But we cannot be satisfied to rest here. This is the side of the hill, not the top. The mere absence of war is not peace. The mere absence of recession is not growth. We have made a beginning - but we have only begun.

Now the time has come to make the most of our gains - to translate the renewal of our national strength into the achievement of our national purpose.

America has enjoyed 22 months of uninterrupted economic recovery. But recovery is not enough. If we are to prevail in the long run, we must expand the long-run strength of our economy. We must move along the path to a higher rate of growth and full employment.

For this would mean tens of billions of dollars more each year in production, profits, wages, and public revenues. It would mean an end to the persistent slack which has kept our unemployment at or above 5 percent for 61 out of the past 62 months - and an end to the growing pressures for such restrictive measures as the 35-hour week, which alone could increase hourly labor costs by as much as 14 percent, start a new wage-price spiral of inflation, and undercut our efforts to compete with other nations.

To achieve these greater gains, one step, above all, is essential - the enactment this year of a substantial reduction and revision in Federal income taxes.

For it is increasingly clear - to those in Government, business, and labor who are responsible for our economy's success - that our obsolete tax system exerts too heavy a drag on private purchasing power, profits, and employment. Designed to check inflation in earlier years, it now checks growth instead. It discourages extra effort and risk. It distorts the use of resources. It invites recurrent recessions, depresses our Federal revenues, and causes chronic budget deficits.

Now, when the inflationary pressures of the war and the post-war years no longer threaten, and the dollar commands new respect - now, when no military crisis strains our resources - now is the time to act. We cannot afford to be timid or slow. For this is the most urgent task confronting the Congress in 1963.

In an early message, I shall propose a permanent reduction in tax rates which will lower liabilities by $13.5 billion. Of this, $11 billion results from reducing individual tax rates, which now range between 20 and 91 percent, to a more sensible range of 14 to 65 percent, with a split in the present first bracket. Two and one-half billion dollars results from reducing corporate tax rates, from 52 percent - which gives the Government today a majority interest in profits - to the permanent pre-Korean level of 47 percent. This is in addition to the more than $2 billion cut in corporate tax liabilities resulting from last year's investment credit and depreciation reform.

To achieve this reduction within the limits of a manageable budgetary deficit, I urge: first, that these cuts be phased over 3 calendar years, beginning in 1963 with a cut of some $6 billion at annual rates second, that these reductions be coupled with selected structural changes, beginning in 1964, which will broaden the tax base, end unfair or unnecessary preferences, remove or lighten certain hardships, and in the net offset some $3.5 billion of the revenue loss and third, that budgetary receipts at the outset be increased by $1.5 billion a year, without any change in tax liabilities, by gradually shifting the tax payments of large corporations to a more current time schedule. This combined program, by increasing the amount of our national income, will in time result in still higher Federal revenues. It is a fiscally responsible program - the surest and the soundest way of achieving in time a balanced budget in a balanced full employment economy.

This net reduction in tax liabilities of $10 billion will increase the purchasing power of American families and business enterprises in every tax bracket, with greatest increase going to our low-income consumers. It will, in addition, encourage the initiative and risk-taking on which our free system depends - induce more investment, production, and capacity use - help provide the 2 million new jobs we need every year - and reinforce the American principle of additional reward for additional effort.

I do not say that a measure for tax reduction and reform is the only way to achieve these goals.

  1. No doubt a massive increase in Federal spending could also create jobs and growth - but, in today's setting, private consumers, employers, and investors should be given a full opportunity first.
  2. No doubt a temporary tax cut could provide a spur to our economy - but a long-run problem compels a long-run solution.
  3. No doubt a reduction in either individual or corporation taxes alone would be of great help - but corporations need customers and job seekers need jobs.
  4. No doubt tax reduction without reform would sound simpler and more attractive to many - but our growth is also hampered by a host of tax inequities and special preferences which have distorted the flow of investment.
  5. And, finally, there are no doubt some who would prefer to put off a tax cut in the hope that ultimately an end to the cold war would make possible an equivalent cut in expenditures - but that end is not in view and to wait for it would be costly and self-defeating.

In submitting a tax program which will, of course, temporarily increase the deficit but can ultimately end it - and in recognition of the need to control expenditures - I will shortly submit a fiscal 1964 administrative budget which, while allowing for needed rises in defense, space, and fixed interest charges, holds total expenditures for all other purposes below this year's level.

This requires the reduction or postponement of many desirable programs, the absorption of a large part of last year's Federal pay raise through personnel and other economies, the termination of certain installations and projects, and the substitution in several programs of private for public credit. But I am convinced that the enactment this year of tax reduction and tax reform overshadows all other domestic problems in this Congress. For we cannot for long lead the cause of peace and freedom, if we ever cease to set the pace here at home. Tax reduction alone, however, is not enough to strengthen our society, to provide opportunities for the four million Americans who are born every year, to improve the lives of 32 million Americans who live on the outskirts of poverty.

The quality of American life must keep pace with the quantity of American goods.

This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.

Therefore, by holding down the budgetary cost of existing programs to keep within the limitations I have set, it is both possible and imperative to adopt other new measures that we cannot afford to postpone.

  1. The future of any country which is dependent upon the will and wisdom of its citizens is damaged, and irreparably damaged, whenever any of its children is not educated to the full extent of his talent, from grade school through graduate school. Today, an estimated 4 out of every 10 students in the 5th grade will not even finish high school - and that is a waste we cannot afford.
  2. In addition, there is no reason why one million young Americans, out of school and out of work, should all remain unwanted and often untrained on our city streets when their energies can be put to good use.
  3. Finally, the overseas success of our Peace Corps volunteers, most of them young men and women carrying skills and ideas to needy people, suggests the merit of a similar corps serving our own community needs: in mental hospitals, on Indian reservations, in centers for the aged or for young delinquents, in schools for the illiterate or the handicapped. As the idealism of our youth has served world peace, so can it serve the domestic tranquility.
  1. Our working men and women, instead of being forced to beg for help from public charity once they are old and ill, should start contributing now to their own retirement health program through the Social Security System.
  2. Moreover, all our miracles of medical research will count for little if we cannot reverse the growing nationwide shortage of doctors, dentists, and nurses, and the widespread shortages of nursing homes and modern urban hospital facilities. Merely to keep the present ratio of doctors and dentists from declining any further, we must over the next 10 years increase the capacity of our medical schools by 50 percent and our dental schools by 100 percent.
  3. Finally, and of deep concern, I believe that the abandonment of the mentally ill and the mentally retarded to the grim mercy of custodial institutions too often inflicts on them and on their families a needless cruelty which this Nation should not endure. The incidence of mental retardation in this country is three times as high as that of Sweden, for example - and that figure can and must be reduced.
  1. The right to competent counsel must be assured to every man accused of crime in Federal court, regardless of his means.
  2. And the most precious and powerful right in the world, the right to vote in a free American election, must not be denied to any citizen on grounds of his race or color. I wish that all qualified Americans permitted to vote were willing to vote, but surely in this centennial year of Emancipation all those who are willing to vote should always be permitted.
  1. Our economic health depends on healthy transportation arteries and I believe the way to a more modern, economical choice of national transportation service is through increased competition and decreased regulation. Local mass transit, faring even worse, is as essential a community service as hospitals and highways. Nearly three-fourths of our citizens live in urban areas, which occupy only 2 percent of our land - and if local transit is to survive and relieve the congestion of these cities, it needs Federal stimulation and assistance.
  2. Next, this Government is in the storage and stockpile business to the melancholy tune of more than $16 billion. We must continue to support farm income, but we should not pile more farm surpluses on top of the $7.5 billion we already own. We must maintain a stockpile of strategic materials, but the $8.5 billion we have acquired - for reasons both good and bad - is much more than we need and we should be empowered to dispose of the excess in ways which will not cause market disruption.
  3. Finally, our already overcrowded national parks and recreation areas will have twice as many visitors 10 years from now as they do today. If we do not plan today for the future growth of these and other great natural assets - not only parks and forests but wildlife and wilderness preserves, and water projects of all kinds - our children and their children will be poorer in every sense of the word.

These are not domestic concerns alone. For upon our achievement of greater vitality and strength here at home hang our fate and future in the world: our ability to sustain and supply the security of free men and nations, our ability to command their respect for our leadership, our ability to expand our trade without threat to our balance of payments, and our ability to adjust to the changing demands of cold war competition and challenge.

We shall be judged more by what we do at home than by what we preach abroad. Nothing we could do to help the developing countries would help them half as much as a booming U.S. economy. And nothing our opponents could do to encourage their own ambitions would encourage them half as much as a chronic lagging U.S. economy. These domestic tasks do not divert energy from our security - they provide the very foundation for freedom's survival and success.

Turning to the world outside, it was only a few years ago - in Southeast Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, even outer space - that communism sought to convey the image of a unified, confident, and expanding empire, closing in on a sluggish America and a free world in disarray. But few people would hold to that picture today.

In these past months we have reaffirmed the scientific and military superiority of freedom. We have doubled our efforts in space, to assure us of being first in the future. We have undertaken the most far-reaching defense improvements in the peacetime history of this country. And we have maintained the frontiers of freedom from Viet Nam to West Berlin.

But complacency or self-congratulation can imperil our security as much as the weapons of tyranny. A moment of pause is not a promise of peace. Dangerous problems remain from Cuba to the South China Sea. The world's prognosis prescribes, in short, not a year's vacation for us, but a year of obligation and opportunity.

Four special avenues of opportunity stand out: the Atlantic Alliance, the developing nations, the new Sino-Soviet difficulties, and the search for worldwide peace. First, how fares the grand alliance? Free Europe is entering into a new phase of its long and brilliant history. The era of colonial expansion has passed the era of national rivalries is fading and a new era of interdependence and unity is taking shape. Defying the old prophecies of Marx, consenting to what no conqueror could ever compel, the free nations of Europe are moving toward a unity of purpose and power and policy in every sphere of activity.

For 17 years this movement has had our consistent support, both political and economic. Far from resenting the new Europe, we regard her as a welcome partner, not a rival. For the road to world peace and freedom is still long, and there are burdens which only full partners can share - in supporting the common defense, in expanding world trade, in aligning our balance of payments, in aiding the emergent nations, in concerting political and economic policies, and in welcoming to our common effort other industrialized nations, notably Japan, whose remarkable economic and political development of the 1950's permits it now to play on the world scene a major constructive role.

No doubt differences of opinion will continue to get more attention than agreements on action, as Europe moves from independence to more formal interdependence. But these are honest differences among honorable associates - more real and frequent, in fact, among our Western European allies than between them and the United States. For the unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion. But the basic agreement of this alliance on fundamental issues continues.

The first task of the alliance remains the common defense. Last month Prime Minister Macmillan and I laid plans for a new stage in our long cooperative effort, one which aims to assist in the wider task of framing a common nuclear defense for the whole alliance.

The Nassau agreement recognizes that the security of the West is indivisible, and so must be our defense. But it also recognizes that this is an alliance of proud and sovereign nations, and works best when we do not forget it. It recognizes further that the nuclear defense of the West is not a matter for the present nuclear powers alone - that France will be such a power in the future - and that ways must be found without increasing the hazards of nuclear diffusion, to increase the role of our other partners in planning, manning, and directing a truly multilateral nuclear force within an increasingly intimate NATO alliance. Finally, the Nassau agreement recognizes that nuclear defense is not enough, that the agreed NATO levels of conventional strength must be met, and that the alliance cannot afford to be in a position of having to answer every threat with nuclear weapons or nothing.

We remain too near the Nassau decisions, and too far from their full realization, to know their place in history. But I believe that, for the first time, the door is open for the nuclear defense of the alliance to become a source of confidence, instead of a cause of contention.

The next most pressing concern of the alliance is our common economic goals of trade and growth. This Nation continues to be concerned about its balance-of-payments deficit, which, despite its decline, remains a stubborn and troublesome problem. We believe, moreover, that closer economic ties among all free nations are essential to prosperity and peace. And neither we nor the members of the European Common Market are so affluent that we can long afford to shelter high cost farms or factories from the winds of foreign competition, or to restrict the channels of trade with other nations of the free world. If the Common Market should move toward protectionism and restrictionism, it would undermine its own basic principles. This Government means to use the authority conferred on it last year by the Congress to encourage trade expansion on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world. Second, what of the developing and non-aligned nations? They were shocked by the Soviets' sudden and secret attempt to transform Cuba into a nuclear striking base - and by Communist China's arrogant invasion of India. They have been reassured by our prompt assistance to India, by our support through the United Nations of the Congo's unification, by our patient search for disarmament, and by the improvement in our treatment of citizens and visitors whose skins do not happen to be white. And as the older colonialism recedes, and the neo-colonialism of the Communist powers stands out more starkly than ever, they realize more clearly that the issue in the world struggle is not communism versus capitalism, but coercion versus free choice.

They are beginning to realize that the longing for independence is the same the world over, whether it is the independence of West Berlin or Viet Nam. They are beginning to realize that such independence runs athwart all Communist ambitions but is in keeping with our own - and that our approach to their diverse needs is resilient and resourceful, while the Communists are still relying on ancient doctrines and dogmas.

Nevertheless it is hard for any nation to focus on an external or subversive threat to its independence when its energies are drained in daily combat with the forces of poverty and despair. It makes little sense for us to assail, in speeches and resolutions, the horrors of communism, to spend $50 billion a year to prevent its military advance - and then to begrudge spending, largely on American products, less than one-tenth of that amount to help other nations strengthen their independence and cure the social chaos in which communism always has thrived.

I am proud - and I think most Americans are proud - of a mutual defense and assistance program, evolved with bipartisan support in three administrations, which has, with all its recognized problems, contributed to the fact that not a single one of the nearly fifty U.N. members to gain independence since the Second World War has succumbed to Communist control.

I am proud of a program that has helped to arm and feed and clothe millions of people who live on the front lines of freedom.

I am especially proud that this country has put forward for the 60's a vast cooperative effort to achieve economic growth and social progress throughout the Americas - the Alliance for Progress.

I do not underestimate the difficulties that we face in this mutual effort among our close neighbors, but the free states of this hemisphere, working in close collaboration, have begun to make this alliance a living reality. Today it is feeding one out of every four school age children in Latin America an extra food ration from our farm surplus. It has distributed 1.5 million school books and is building 17,000 classrooms. It has helped resettle tens of thousands of farm families on land they can call their own. It is stimulating our good neighbors to more self-help and self-reform - fiscal, social, institutional, and land reforms. It is bringing new housing and hope, new health and dignity, to millions who were forgotten. The men and women of this hemisphere know that the alliance cannot succeed if it is only another name for United States handouts - that it can succeed only as the Latin American nations themselves devote their best effort to fulfilling its goals.

This story is the same in Africa, in the Middle East, and in Asia. Wherever nations are willing to help themselves, we stand ready to help them build new bulwarks of freedom. We are not purchasing votes for the cold war we have gone to the aid of imperiled nations, neutrals and allies alike. What we do ask - and all that we ask - is that our help be used to best advantage, and that their own efforts not be diverted by needless quarrels with other independent nations.

Despite all its past achievements, the continued progress of the mutual assistance program requires a persistent discontent with present performance. We have been reorganizing this program to make it a more effective, efficient instrument - and that process will continue this year.

But free world development will still be an uphill struggle. Government aid can only supplement the role of private investment, trade expansion, commodity stabilization, and, above all, internal self-improvement. The processes of growth are gradual - bearing fruit in a decade, not a day. Our successes will be neither quick nor dramatic. But if these programs were ever to be ended, our failures in a dozen countries would be sudden and certain.

Neither money nor technical assistance, however, can be our only weapon against poverty. In the end, the crucial effort is one of purpose, requiring the fuel of finance but also a torch of idealism. And nothing carries the spirit of this American idealism more effectively to the far corners of the earth than the American Peace Corps.

A year ago, less than 900 Peace Corps volunteers were on the job. A year from now they will number more than 9,000 - men and women, aged 18 to 79, willing to give 2 years of their lives to helping people in other lands.

There are, in fact, nearly a million Americans serving their country and the cause of freedom in overseas posts, a record no other people can match. Surely those of us who stay at home should be glad to help indirectly by supporting our aid programs by opening our doors to foreign visitors and diplomats and students and by proving, day by day, by deed as well as word, that we are a just and generous people. Third, what comfort can we take from the increasing strains and tensions within the Communist bloc? Here hope must be tempered with caution. For the Soviet-Chinese disagreement is over means, not ends. A dispute over how best to bury the free world is no grounds for Western rejoicing.

Nevertheless, while a strain is not a fracture, it is clear that the forces of diversity are at work inside the Communist camp, despite all the iron disciplines of regimentation and all the iron dogmatisms of ideology. Marx is proven wrong once again: for it is the closed Communist societies, not the free and open societies which carry within themselves the seeds of internal disintegration.

The disarray of the Communist empire has been heightened by two other formidable forces. One is the historical force of nationalism - and the yearning of all men to be free. The other is the gross inefficiency of their economies. For a closed society is not open to ideas of progress - and a police state finds that it cannot command the grain to grow.

New nations asked to choose between two competing systems need only compare conditions in East and West Germany, Eastern and Western Europe, North and South Viet Nam. They need only compare the disillusionment of Communist Cuba with the promise of the Alliance for Progress. And all the world knows that no successful system builds a wall to keep its people in and freedom out - and the wall of shame dividing Berlin is a symbol of Communist failure. Finally, what can we do to move from the present pause toward enduring peace? Again I would counsel caution. I foresee no spectacular reversal in Communist methods or goals. But if all these trends and developments can persuade the Soviet Union to walk the path of peace, then let her know that all free nations will journey with her. But until that choice is made, and until the world can develop a reliable system of international security, the free peoples have no choice but to keep their arms nearby.

This country, therefore, continues to require the best defense in the world - a defense which is suited to the sixties. This means, unfortunately, a rising defense budget - for there is no substitute for adequate defense, and no "bargain basement" way of achieving it. It means the expenditure of more than $15 billion this year on nuclear weapons systems alone, a sum which is about equal to the combined defense budgets of our European Allies.

But it also means improved air and missile defenses, improved civil defense, a strengthened anti-guerrilla capacity and, of prime importance, more powerful and flexible non-nuclear forces. For threats of massive retaliation may not deter piecemeal aggression - and a line of destroyers in a quarantine, or a division of well-equipped men on a border, may be more useful to our real security than the multiplication of awesome weapons beyond all rational need. But our commitment to national safety is not a commitment to expand our military establishment indefinitely. We do not dismiss disarmament as merely an idle dream. For we believe that, in the end, it is the only way to assure the security of all without impairing the interests of any. Nor do we mistake honorable negotiation for appeasement. While we shall never weary in the defense of freedom, neither shall we ever abandon the pursuit of peace.

In this quest, the United Nations requires our full and continued support. Its value in serving the cause of peace has been shown anew in its role in the West New Guinea settlement, in its use as a forum for the Cuban crisis, and in its task of unification in the Congo. Today the United Nations is primarily the protector of the small and the weak, and a safety valve for the strong. Tomorrow it can form the framework for a world of law - a world in which no nation dictates the destiny of another, and in which the vast resources now devoted to destructive means will serve constructive ends.

In short, let our adversaries choose. If they choose peaceful competition, they shall have it. If they come to realize that their ambitions cannot succeed - if they see their "wars of liberation" and subversion will ultimately fail - if they recognize that there is more security in accepting inspection than in permitting new nations to master the black arts of nuclear war - and if they are willing to turn their energies, as we are, to the great unfinished tasks of our own peoples - then, surely, the areas of agreement can be very wide indeed: a clear understanding about Berlin, stability in Southeast Asia, an end to nuclear testing, new checks on surprise or accidental attack, and, ultimately, general and complete disarmament. For we seek not the worldwide victory of one nation or system but a worldwide victory of man. The modern globe is too small, its weapons are too destructive, and its disorders are too contagious to permit any other kind of victory.

To achieve this end, the United States will continue to spend a greater portion of its national production than any other people in the free world. For 15 years no other free nation has demanded so much of itself. Through hot wars and cold, through recession and prosperity, through the ages of the atom and outer space, the American people have never faltered and their faith has never flagged. If at times our actions seem to make life difficult for others, it is only because history has made life difficult for us all.

But difficult days need not be dark. I think these are proud and memorable days in the cause of peace and freedom. We are proud, for example, of Major Rudolf Anderson who gave his life over the island of Cuba. We salute Specialist James Allen Johnson who died on the border of South Korea. We pay honor to Sergeant Gerald Pendell who was killed in Viet Nam. They are among the many who in this century, far from home, have died for our country. Our task now, and the task of all Americans is to live up to their commitment.

My friends: I close on a note of hope. We are not lulled by the momentary calm of the sea or the somewhat clearer skies above. We know the turbulence that lies below, and the storms that are beyond the horizon this year. But now the winds of change appear to be blowing more strongly than ever, in the world of communism as well as our own. For 175 years we have sailed with those winds at our back, and with the tides of human freedom in our favor. We steer our ship with hope, as Thomas Jefferson said, "leaving Fear astern. "

Today we still welcome those winds of change - and we have every reason to believe that our tide is running strong. With thanks to Almighty God for seeing us through a perilous passage, we ask His help anew in guiding the "Good Ship Union."


Watch the video: Khruschev- We will bury you (May 2022).