On the 60th anniversary of the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the National Security Archive has published five previously confidential government documents relating to the immediate postmortems about the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Those documents are (1) a Soviet summary of a meeting between Nikita Khrushchev and Czechoslovakian Communist Party leader, Antonín Novotný; (2) correspondence from Khrushchev to Fidel Castro; (3) Castro’s own lengthy reflections on the missile crisis; (4) a perceptive aftermath report from the British Ambassador to Cuba; and (5) a lengthy analysis by the U.S. Defense Department on “Some Lessons from Cuba.”
The Archive’s Summary of Those Documents.
Here is the just published Archive’s summary of those documents.
“In the immediate aftermath of the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, [in October 1962], Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev met with the Czechoslovakian Communist Party leader, Antonín Novotný, and told him that ‘this time we really were on the verge of war . . . ‘ Khrushchev repeated [this phrase] later in the meeting, during which he explained how and why the Kremlin ‘had to act very quickly’ to resolve the crisis as the U.S. threatened to invade Cuba. ‘How should one assess the result of these six days that shook the world?’ he pointedly asked, referring to the period between October 22, when President Kennedy announced the discovery of the missiles in Cuba, and October 28, when Khrushchev announced their withdrawal. ‘Who won?’ he wondered.”
“The missile crisis abated on October 28, 1962, when Nikita Khrushchev announced he was ordering a withdrawal of the just-installed nuclear missiles in Cuba in return for a U.S. guarantee not to invade Cuba. His decision came only hours after a secret meeting between Robert Kennedy and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin during which the two agreed to swap U.S. missiles in Turkey for the Soviet missiles in Cuba—a part of the resolution of the crisis that remained secret for almost three decades.”
“But the crisis did not actually conclude. Cut out of the deal to resolve the crisis, a furious Fidel Castro issued his own ‘five point’ demands to end the crisis and refused to allow UN inspectors on the island to monitor the dismantling of the missiles unless the Kennedy administration allowed UN inspectors to monitor dismantling of the violent exile training bases in the United States. In addition to the missiles, the United States demanded that the USSR repatriate the IL-28 bombers it had brought to Cuba, which the Soviets had already promised Castro they would leave behind.”
“The Soviets had also promised to turn over the nearly 100 tactical nuclear weapons they had secretly brought to the island—a commitment that Khrushchev’s special envoy to Havana, Anastas Mikoyan, determined was a dangerous mistake that should be reversed. In November 1962 ‘the Soviets realized that they faced their own ‘Cuban’ missile crisis,’ observed Svetlana Savranskaya, co-author, with Sergo Mikoyan, of The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Missiles of November. ‘The Soviets sent Anastas Mikoyan to Cuba with an almost impossible mission: persuade Castro to give up the weapons, allow inspections and, above all, keep Cuba as an ally,’ she noted. ‘Nobody knew that Cuba almost became a nuclear power in 1962.’”
“From the Cuban perspective, the outcome of the Crisis de Octubre was the worst of all worlds: a victory for the enemy and a betrayal by the ally that had installed the missiles to defend Cuba. Instead of relief that a massive U.S. invasion had been avoided, along with nuclear war, the Cubans felt ‘a great indignation’ and ‘the humiliation’ of being treated as ‘some type of game token,’ as Castro recounted at a conference in Havana 30 years later. But in his long report to London, drafted only two weeks after the Soviets began dismantling the missiles, British Ambassador Herbert Marchant perceptively noted that it was ‘better to be humiliated than to be wiped out.’”
“At the time, Ambassador Marchant presciently predicted ‘a sequence of events’ from which the Cuban revolution would emerge empowered and stronger from the crisis: ‘A U.S. guarantee not to invade seems certain; a Soviet promise to increase aid seems likely; a Soviet plan to underwrite Cuba economically and build it into a Caribbean show-piece instead of a military base is a possibility,’ he notes. ‘In these circumstances, it is difficult to foresee what forces would unseat the present regime.’ His prediction would soon be validated by Khrushchev’s January 31, 1963, letter inviting Castro to come to the Soviet Union for May Day and to discuss Soviet assistance that would help develop his country into what Khrushchev called ‘a brilliant star’ that ‘attracts the working class, the peasants, the working intellectuals of Latin American, African and Asian countries.’”
“In his conversation with Novotný, the Soviet premier declared victory. ‘I am of the opinion that we won,’ he said. ‘We achieved our objective—we wrenched the promise out of the Americans that they would not attack Cuba’ and showed the U.S. that the Soviets had missiles ‘as strong as theirs.’ The Soviet Union had also learned lessons, he added. ‘Imperialism, as can be seen, is no paper tiger; it is a tiger that can give you a nice bite in the backside.’ Both sides had made concessions, he admitted, in an oblique reference to the missile swap. ‘It was one concession after another … But this mutual concession brought us victory.’”
“In their postmortems on the missile crisis, the U.S. national security agencies arrived at the opposite conclusions: the U.S. had relied on an ‘integrated use of national power’ to force the Soviets to back down. Since knowledge of the missile swap agreement was held to just a few White House aides, the lessons learned from the crisis were evaluated on significantly incomplete information, leading to flawed perceptions of the misjudgments, miscalculations, miscommunications, and mistakes that took world to the brink of Armageddon. The Pentagon’s initial study on ‘Lessons from Cuba’ was based on the premise that the Soviet Union’s intent was first and foremost ‘to display to the world, and especially our allies, that the U.S. is too indecisive or too terrified of war to respond effectively to major Soviet provocation.’ The decisive, forceful, U.S. response threatening ‘serious military action’ against Cuba was responsible for the successful outcome. For the powers that be in the United States, that conclusion became the leading lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
“But none of the contemporaneous evaluations of the crisis, whether U.S., Soviet or Cuban, attempted to address what is perhaps the ultimate lesson of the events of 1962—the existential threat of nuclear weapons as a military and political tool. In his famous missile crisis memoir, Thirteen Days, published posthumously after his assassination, Robert Kennedy posed a ‘basic ethical question: What, if any, circumstances or justification gives this government or any government the moral right to bring its people and possibly all peoples under the shadow of nuclear destruction?’ Sixty years later, as the world still faces the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, that question remains to be answered.”
This blog has published two posts about the Cuba Missile Crisis.
 The Cuban Missile Crisis @ 60, National Security Archive. The National Security Archive is a nongovernmental organization that was “founded in 1985 by journalists and scholars to check rising government secrecy. [This Archive] combines a unique range of functions: investigative journalism center, research institute on international affairs, library and archive of declassified U.S. documents . . ., the leading non-profit user of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, [a] public interest law firm defending and expanding public access to government information, [a] global advocate of open government, and indexer and publisher of former secrets.” (About the National Security Archive.)
 Fidel Castro-Nikita Khrushchev Messages During the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1962, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 5, 2016); Conflicting Opinions Regarding the Relative Strength of U.S. and Soviet Missiles, 1960-1962, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 2, 2016).
One thought on “The Cuban Missile Crisis: Immediate Postmortems”
I was an Aviation Ordnanceman with VA-196 aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard, CVA-31 on deployment in the Pacific when this took place. We listened to President Kennedy speak on the intercom and when he finished the Captain came over the intercom and told us a little of what we would experiencing in the next few hours with the ship. When he finished speaking the ship went dark, silent, and set course for places unknown at a very rapid pace, we assumed we were headed North towards the Eastern Coast of the USSR, and we started loading Nuclear Weapons on our Aircraft. All we knew at the time was that we could very well be in the middle of a Nuclear War in a very short period of time if the Russians did not turn their ships around. Thank you Duane, for this telling of in the shadow things we knew nothing about. There are so many, especially today, that have/had no clue as to how close we came during that standoff.