Sixty years ago with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world was on the brink

In October 1962, after fifteen years of the Cold War, the discovery of the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba put the world on the brink of nuclear conflict.

According to CIA analysts, they have the capability to launch SS-4 medium-range missiles. Nerve centers in the northeastern United States may be targeted.

“These bases can have no other purpose than to provide the capability for a nuclear strike against the Western Hemisphere”, declared Kennedy on October 22 in an address to the Nation. The images provide evidence that Khrushchev was lying when he promised that the USSR would not deploy missiles in Cuba. Khrushchev thought the American president would bow to a fait accompli.

The strategic forces are placed on a state of maximum alert, the level preceding

just the outbreak of nuclear war

Eighteen months earlier, in April 1961, American-backed anti-Castroites had failed in an attempted landing at the Bay of Pigs. On October 30, 1961, Moscow tested the H-bomb “Tsar Bomba” (“Empress of Bombs”) over the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Russian Arctic. In August, a wall had been erected to divide Berlin.

Maximum alert

In front of the photos of the Soviet ramps in Cuba, American advisers considered preventive air strikes but, finally, the option of the maritime blockade prevailed and, on October 22, Kennedy announced the implementation ” quarantine “ from Cuba.

Nearly a hundred American naval units are deployed around the island as well as dozens of combat air squadrons, with the order to intercept the eighteen approaching Soviet freighters. On October 24, 1962, the confrontation reached its climax: the strategic forces were placed on a state of maximum alert, a level just before the outbreak of nuclear war. Hundreds of atomic bombers patrol the skies and intercontinental missiles are armed. Finally, the Soviet ships turned around and, behind the scenes, an agreement was being prepared: the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles against a withdrawal of the equivalent American missiles from Turkey and the assurance that the United States would renounce invading Cuba.

But on October 27, “Black Saturday”, a new twist: a U-2 was shot down over Cuba and its pilot killed. Fearing that the crisis would degenerate, John Kennedy sent his brother Robert, Minister of Justice but also a key figure in the American government, to negotiate with Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynine.

The next day, Khrushchev finally agrees to dismantle the launching bases and withdraw his missiles. The worst is avoided.


This way out of the crisis constitutes a great success of announcement for Washington but the settlement of the conflict is in reality balanced by mutual concessions, known later.

In June 1963, a “red telephone” (a telex line) will directly link the White House and the Kremlin whereas, until then, communications passed through the ambassadors.

It was not until December 2014, more than half a century after Kennedy established an economic and financial embargo against Cuba, which is still in effect, that US President Barack Obama decided on a historic policy of openness. with the island. His successor Donald Trump, however, reversed this policy and toughened the sanctions. The administration of Joe Biden announced in May 2022 the lifting of some of them.

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