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The Cuban Missile Crisis

On October 16, 1962, The Cuban Missile Crisis, a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union initiated by Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba began and lasted 13 days until October 28. The confrontation is often considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.


In response to the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 and the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Cuba's request to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter a future invasion. An agreement was reached during a secret meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro in July 1962, and construction of a number of missile launch facilities started later that summer.



Meanwhile, the 1962 United States elections were under way, and the White House had denied charges for months that it was ignoring dangerous Soviet missiles 90 miles (140 km) from Florida. The missile preparations were confirmed when an Air Force U-2 spy plane produced clear photographic evidence of medium-range (SS-4) and intermediate-range (R-14) ballistic missile facilities.


When this was reported to President John F. Kennedy he then convened a meeting of the nine members of the National Security Council and five other key advisers in a group that became known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM). After consultation with them, Kennedy ordered a naval blockade on October 22 to prevent further missiles from reaching Cuba. The US announced it would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba be dismantled and returned to the Soviet Union. On October 22 at 7:00 pm EDT, Kennedy delivered a nationwide televised address on all of the major networks announcing the discovery of the missiles:



The CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) reviewed the U-2 photographs and identified objects that they interpreted as medium range ballistic missiles. This identification was made, in part, on the strength of reporting provided by Oleg Penkovsky, a double agent in the GRU working for CIA and MI6. Although he provided no direct reports of the Soviet missile deployments to Cuba, technical and doctrinal details of Soviet missile regiments that had been provided by Penkovsky in the months and years prior to the Crisis helped NPIC analysts correctly identify the missiles on U-2 imagery:



After several days of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement to avoid invading Cuba again. Secretly, the United States agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter MRBMs, which had been deployed in Turkey against the Soviet Union. Much of the historical artifacts from the crisis have been preserved at the Kennedy Library:



When all offensive missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 21, 1962. The negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear, and direct communication line between the two Superpowers. As a result, the Moscow–Washington hotline was established. A series of agreements later reduced US–Soviet tensions for several years until both parties began to build their nuclear arsenals even further.


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