Volume XI
Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath



Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath

Please read the selected documents below, from the internal deliberations of the administration during the crisis. These documents are from the Foreign Relations of the United States series, which I have recommended to many of you for your papers.

77. Paper Prepared by the Planning Subcommittee of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council

//Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, General. Secret. The source text is attached to a memorandum from Rostow to Bundy, October 25.

Washington, October 25, 1962.


Soviet reaction since the outbreak of the Cuban crisis indicates Soviet short run tactics are governed by the following considerations:

1. The USSR's first objective in the present stage of the crisis is to retain the bases in Cuba. The Soviets not only see considerable military value in these installations, but they regard them as a telling demonstration of the long-proclaimed shift in the "world relation of forces." Particularly now that the US has committed itself to their elimination, they believe that, if they can prevail, they will have scored a political victory of such proportions that opportunities for further advances will open up in all the areas of East-West contention.

2. Thus the immediate Soviet aim is to deter the US from more drastic action. At the same time, they wish to keep the risks under control.

3. Their diplomatic moves and conduct at sea to date suggest that they fear further US action may be imminent and wish not to have their prestige further engaged if this should occur. Thus they have turned back a number of ships, refrained from spelling out their commitment to Castro in as strong a fashion as previously, and tried to represent the crisis as primarily between Cuba and the US.

4. The primary Soviet tactic will be to draw the US into negotiations, meanwhile getting a standstill. The Soviets calculate that, if this can be done, they will have laid heavy inhibitions upon further US unilateral action and that, with the passage of time, the existing bases will become part of the status quo. They prefer, of course, that the lifting of the quarantine be made a precondition of negotiations, but they probably will not insist upon this. They will probably propose or accept any of several forms of negotiation in addition to their own proposal for US-Soviet-Cuban talks.

5. At the present juncture the Soviets probably view a summit meeting as an appealing proposal to keep open the line of negotiation, especially if a stalemate in the UN approaches which might free the US to take military action. With a summit in prospect they would estimate the pressures for the US to wait would be great. A summit therefore would buy the Soviets some additional time, offer a forum to make a reasonable case, confuse the issues, and raise the political costs of further US action. At the same time, they would not want to be faced at the summit with an ultimatum or an unyielding US position which if it resulted in further actions would redouble the humiliation to the USSR and Khrushchev personally. On balance they probably feel that as long as the US did not appear determined to take action the summit offers more advantages than drawbacks.

6. Although the Soviets would like to minimize the risks at the present juncture, they find it very difficult to acquiesce in the US quarantine. Their reported reaction to U Thant's appeal suggest that they could accept for some time a tacit agreement whereby they refrained from sending patently military cargoes into the quarantine area and the US allowed other vessels through upon a verbal declaration of cargo. It is unlikely that the Soviets will submit to boarding, since in doing so they would be accepting the quarantine. So long as they wish to avoid incidents, therefore, they will be extremely anxious to determine how the US intends to enforce the quarantine.

7. At some stage a quarantine incident would probably commend itself to the Soviets as one means of raising tensions and thereby multiplying international pressures upon the US. The best circumstance would be to lead the US into attacking a manifestly peaceful vessel. If the Soviets decide that such an incident is desirable, they would be primarily concerned with subsequent political exploitation and might not undertake an immediate equivalent reprisal against the US.

8. The time will probably come when the USSR decides that it would be useful to increase tensions by stepping up the element of threat in their pronouncements. Even in this circumstance, however, they are likely to continue avoiding any further commitment to Cuba so long as they remain uncertain about US intentions.

9. With respect to the missiles already in Cuba it seems highly improbable that the USSR will agree to withdraw in the absence of major US concessions elsewhere. There is one circumstance, however, in which a break in this Soviet position might occur. The USSR would regard a successful US military action against the bases, or against Cuba as a whole, as a very great defeat, which might substantially stiffen Western determination to resist Soviet demands in other confrontations, e.g. Berlin. If, therefore, they believed that US military action was all but imminent and unavoidable, they might make a last-minute offer to dismantle the bases in return for some Western concession which, while not offsetting their loss, offered some prospect of saving face. They might even attempt to dispose clandestinely of their missiles. It is difficult to conceive, however, how the Soviets could frame such moves or time them properly. Thus in this circumstance they might decide to let the US attack proceed and to recoup as much as possible thereafter through political exploitation and, perhaps, an off-setting injury to US interests elsewhere.

78. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State (Ball) and the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)

Washington, October 26, 1962, 9:25 a.m.

//Source: Department of State, Ball Papers: Lot 74 D 272, Telcons--Cuba. No classification marking.

Bundy--First two or three items; have you got a minute?

Ball--Oh, sure.

Bundy--We have boarded the Lebanese/1/ and care(?)/2/ wants to have it got out by Sylvester right away in order to restore our credibility before flag plot leaps.

/1/Bundy is referring to the boarding of the Marcular at 7:50 a.m. on October 26 by personnel from the destroyers Pierce and Joseph P. Kennedy about 180 miles northeast of Nassau. No prohibited cargo was found and the ship was subsequently allowed to continue to Havana. (Department of Defense news release 1745-62, October 26; Department of Defense, OSD Historical Office, SecDef Cable Files, Cuba)

/2/A blank at this point in the source text was filled in by hand with "care(?)."

Ball--I don't see any harm in that.

Bundy--I think that's dandy. It turns out to be Soviet charter, did you know that?

Ball--Yes, and reconditional.

Bundy--Yes, and it even had an unidentified cargo. Second, we have got this very neat point of how to organize the process of Stevenson's instructions today. My suggestion would be that we not have them at the 10:00.

Ball--Not have the instructions?

Bundy--No, not have the two of them--Stevenson and McCloy.

Ball--Well, the only advantage of having them is to get the flavor. Not go into the instructions necessarily.

Bundy--No, no. Well then let's do it that way. Let's have them at the meeting in order that they were at the meeting and then we better work out--Bob McNamara and the Attorney General are all steamed up about getting a think tank going like the ones we had last week. And I think they are right about that and they are going to want to borrow space in your Department to do it.


Bundy--Which I am all for. It seems to me that those two things--we will have to generate an instructions working party and maybe it's all one thing--maybe the instructions will lead to what the rest of the problems are.

Ball--I had McCloy in for breakfast this morning, with Cleveland, going over the instructions.

Bundy--How was he?

Ball--He is all heated up. He is a very good fellow.

Bundy--Is he clear and strong?

Ball--Yes, very clear and very strong. What I want the President to suggest when he talks to him is now--to say to Stevenson--"When you and McCloy talk to Thant" and "When you and McCloy do this . . ." And if necessary, if he raises any question then you can say "Well, look, from the bipartisan position of this thing, this is in election time, we have got to keep it bipartisan."

Bundy--You feel there has been some question of Jack's energy and clarity and . . .

Ball--No, no, no.

Bundy--That's nonsense.

Ball--He is very, very clear in what the objectives have to be and he is very firm and tough.

Bundy--OK, good news. I will feed that to the President ahead of the meeting.

Ball--I think it is very important that that point be made because what is happening right now is they haven't given him anything to do.

Bundy--Well then he certainly should say to them at each stage and you should emphasize and the President should and you should bring them both to the 10:00 o'clock.

Ball--Yes, that's right. I think the way to handle it is the President just takes it for granted that McCloy is in on all the talks, because he isn't in on anything at the moment. This has got to be made clear.

Bundy--Otherwise, you will lose him for one thing.

Ball--Knowing my old friend I can tell you that this has got to be made explicit and the bipartisan way is the way to play it.

Bundy--Right. I will pass that to the Boss and I will have a word with you before the meeting if there is any difficulty about it.

Ball--All right.

79. Summary Record of the Sixth Meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council

Washington, October 26, 1962, 10 a.m.

//Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Executive Committee, Vol. I, Meetings 6-10. Top Secret; Sensitive. McCone's account of this meeting is reproduced in CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, pp. 317-318. (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI/McCone Files, Job 80-B01285A, Meetings with the President) See the Supplement. The record of action of the meeting, prepared by McGeorge Bundy, is in the Supplement. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Executive Committee, Vol. I, Meetings 6-10) Gilpatric's 2-page handwritten notes for this meeting are in Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD(C) A Files: FRC 71 A 2896, RLG's Notes re Cuba.

Director McCone summarized the attached intelligence memorandum, including a statement on the current status of Soviet air readiness./1/

/1/The summary of this CIA memorandum, [document number not declassified] (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Executive Committee, Vol. I, Meetings 6-10) which recorded information available as of 6 a.m. October 26, is in the Supplement.

Mr. McCone described the celebration which took place in Havana following the arrival of the tanker Bucharest which had been allowed to pass the quarantine line because it was carrying only oil, which is not now contraband. He said non-Bloc ships could be used to carry military materials if they had been chartered on a bare boat basis by the Russians.

Mr. McCone reported that he had stood down a CIA operation which involved sending into Cuba by submarine ten teams involving fifty people. He said he did not believe this should be done by CIA unilaterally./2/

/2/The operation is described in an October 25 memorandum from Carter to McCone; for text, see CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, pp. 311-312.

The President agreed and asked that the proposal to put ashore the ten teams be discussed by the Special Group (NSC 5412) today. The President further suggested that the Mongoose operation be reconstituted, possibly as a subcommittee of the Executive Committee, and oriented toward post-Castro Cuban problems. The President stressed the importance of tying together all existing groups engaged in covert activities in order to integrate our planning.

Director McCone raised the question of the location of the SS Oxford, a communications [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] ship which is now standing some ten miles off Cuba. He expressed his concern that this very valuable ship might be destroyed by hostile action. The President said this was an operational problem, the Navy should have the authority to control this ship, but it should take into account CIA's concern.

Mr. Bundy reported that three subcommittees are at work--one on Berlin, chaired by Paul Nitze, one on forward planning, chaired by Walt Rostow, and one on worldwide communications problems, chaired by William Orrick, who is working closely with the Defense Communications Agency.

Mr. Bundy called attention to the civil defense problem and obtained agreement that no crash program would be undertaken now, although preliminary measures are to be initiated. He referred to the amount of sensitive information which has been leaking to the press and urged that information about future actions must be more carefully guarded.

Secretary McNamara reported on the status of the quarantine. The Defense Department was authorized to release information on the boarding of the Lebanese ship, the Marucla, the first dry cargo ship which had been loaded in a Soviet port. In the event that comparisons were made between stopping the Lebanese ship and permitting an East German ship to go through the quarantine line, the point will be made that the East German ship carried only passengers.

Secretary McNamara read a list of Bloc ships and their locations and noted that there would be no intercepts at sea today. The tanker Graznyy is apparently moving but will not cross the line today. He suggested that shortly we should embargo fuel used by bombers and substances from which airplane fuel is made, i.e. petroleum products.

The President suggested that if we decide to embargo bomber fuel, we should also mention the fact that we were embargoing fuel which was contributing to the operational capability of the strategic missiles.

Secretary Rusk asked that POL not be embargoed for at least twenty-four hours in order to avoid upsetting the U Thant talks now under way in New York.

Under Secretary Ball asked for agreement on the embargo of petroleum as the next step in the effort to increase pressures--the timing of the embargo to be decided later in relation to the New York talks.

Secretary Dillon stated his reservations concerning this course of action. He said it ended up in stopping Soviet ships. Thus, a confrontation with the Russians would not be over the missiles, but over Soviet ships. He believed we should go for the missiles rather than force a confrontation with the USSR at sea.

A decision on adding petroleum to the embargo list was delayed until the political path was decided upon.

Secretary McNamara pointed out that construction on the strategic missile sites in Cuba was continuing. He asked that public announcement be made of our continuation of air surveillance. He recommended that daylight reconnaissance measures be flown today and a night mission tonight, including the dropping of flares.

Secretary Rusk asked that the night mission not be flown because of the unfortunate effect which it might have on the U Thant negotiations in New York.

Secretary McNamara thought that one way of avoiding reaction to night reconnaissance was to inform the Cubans and the Russians in advance that we were initiating such flights.

Ambassador Stevenson opposed any public announcement of our surveillance activities.

The President directed that we dramatize the fact that the missile buildup in Cuba is continuing. He authorized daylight reconnaissance measures but decided to delay night flights.

Secretary Rusk praised Ambassador Stevenson's UN performance. He urged that USIA keep the pressure on the Cuban people and mentioned the dropping of leaflets over Cuba.

Acting Director Wilson requested that better aerial pictures be made available to USIA for distribution. The President authorized the use of any reconnaissance pictures, including those used by Ambassador Stevenson in his UN speech.

Secretary Rusk summarized political actions now under way. He said the object of the talks with U Thant today was to set up some form of negotiations with the Russians in New York. The objective would be to obtain a commitment from the Russians that there would be no further construction at the missile sites in Cuba, no further Soviet military shipments, the defusing of existing weapons in Cuba, UN inspection of all nuclear-capable missiles, and an observer corps on the ground in Cuba of 350 technically able inspectors. The U.S. quarantine would continue until a UN quarantine is in place. UN teams would be put into specified Cuban ports. U.S. Navy ships would stay close to all Cuban ports to ensure that there were no landings unknown to the UN inspectors and no cargoes anywhere which UN inspectors did not see.

Mr. McCloy stated that our quarantine was vital and should be kept in place until the Russians had accepted all of our conditions.

Secretary Rusk pointed out that we must make clear to U Thant that the quarantine is related to the Soviet missiles rather than to Soviet military shipments to Cuba.

With respect to the proposed atomic-free zone in Latin America, Secretary Rusk said that Puerto Rico and the Canal Zone would be exempted, but that possibly we might have to accept a ban on the storage of nuclear weapons in the Canal Zone. Conceivably, the proposal would hinder the transit by air of nuclear weapons in Latin America.

Secretary McNamara said the Joint Chiefs were very cool toward the proposal of a Latin American atomic-free zone, but, personally, he favored the idea if it was conditioned on the elimination of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

General Taylor said the Chiefs had no formal position on the proposal, but they were very sceptical as to its efficacy. He felt that discussion of this proposal would divert attention from the Soviet missile program. He was also concerned about its effect on the defense of Panama and on our submarine defense system. He added that, if, as a result, a proposal was made for an atomic-free zone in Africa, the French would have real problems in connection with their weapons testing program. Secretary Rusk said this last point could be met by telling the French they could use our nuclear weapons test sites if their African sites were put off bounds.

Mr. Sorensen pointed out that if the OAS would support the atomic-free zone proposal, Cuba would be in violation and action could be taken to remove nuclear weapons from Cuba.

Secretary Rusk felt that it was better for us not to participate in such action as would be necessary if it were done by an organization, i.e. the OAS, to which we belong.

The President noted that the plan proposed by Brazil not only calls for an atomic-free zone in Latin America,/3/ but it also encompasses a guarantee of the territorial integrity on all Latin American States. He asked whether we could commit ourselves not to invade Cuba. Secretary Rusk commented that we are committed not to invade Cuba, having signed the UN Charter and the Rio Treaty.

/3/This proposal was first made in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly by the Brazilian Representative on September 20. It was subsequently submitted to the First Committee as draft resolution A/C.1/L/312.

Secretary Rusk read a draft cable which he wished to send to the Brazilian Ambassador in Cuba outlining an approach to Castro,/4/ with a view to persuading him to break with the Russians. In commenting on the draft cable, Mr. Nitze called attention to the importance of getting Soviet missiles out urgently.

/4/The draft has not been identified, but see Document 81.

Mr. McCone expressed his dislike of a situation involving continued control of Cuba by Castro. Even if the Soviet missiles are removed, Castro, if he is left in control, will be in an excellent position to undertake the Communization of Latin America.

Secretary Rusk said the present position is that Cuba ties to the USSR are not negotiable. Mr. Bundy pointed out, and the President agreed, that our objective was to get the Soviet missiles out of Cuba.

The President said work on the missile sites has to cease and we have to verify what is going on at the sites every day during the talks in New York. As to the message to Castro, he agreed in general, but wanted to have another look at it. He doubted that it would do any good, but it might be undertaken if done now with the greatest urgency.

Ambassador Stevenson discussed the immediate negotiations now under way with U Thant and the longer talks which would follow if agreement can be reached with the Russians in New York. He said the immediate talks were aimed at getting a 24-48-hour standstill on the missile buildup in Cuba. He acknowledged that in these talks it would be impossible to obtain an agreement to make the weapons inoperable. He wanted to know whether he should seek a standstill on all Soviet arms or only offensive weapons. He would seek to get a commitment that there be no further construction, but it would not be possible to set up a system to ensure that the weapons were made inoperable and kept inoperable. In addition, he needed to know whether in return we would be prepared to suspend the quarantine.

Ambassador Stevenson said the aim of the longer term talks would be the withdrawal from this hemisphere of the strategic missiles and the dismantlement of existing sites. He predicted that the Russians would ask us for a new guarantee of the territorial integrity of Cuba and the dismantlement of U.S. strategic missiles in Turkey.

Mr. McCone disagreed with Ambassador Stevenson's linking of Soviet missiles in Cuba to U.S. missiles in Turkey. He said the Soviet weapons in Cuba were pointed at our heart and put us under great handicap in continuing to carry out our commitments to the free world. He urged that we do not drop the quarantine until the Soviet missiles are out of Cuba. He believed that we must keep up the momentum so far achieved by the quarantine.

The President said we will get the Soviet strategic missiles out of Cuba only by invading Cuba or by trading. He doubted that the quarantine alone would produce a withdrawal of the weapons. He said our objective should be to prevent further military shipments, further construction at missile sites, and to get some means of inspection.

Mr. McCone urged that any inspectors sent to Cuba be U.S. inspectors knowledgeable about strategic missiles.

The President said he understood Ambassador Stevenson to be asking for time during which he would try to negotiate the withdrawal of the missiles.

Secretary Rusk doubted that we could get any pre-conditions to negotiation.

Secretary Dillon agreed that the Soviets could not back down merely in return for dropping the quarantine.

Mr. Nitze called attention to the importance of obtaining a guarantee that the nuclear missiles would be disassembled from their launchers.

Mr. Bundy said negotiations for a standstill or a standdown were not enough for our security because we must press, in addition, for guaranteed inspection of Cuba.

Secretary Dillon said we could not negotiate for two weeks under the missile threat which now exists in Cuba.

The President noted that there appeared to be little support for Ambassador Stevenson's plan. If the quarantine would not result in the Soviets withdrawing the missiles, what will we do if negotiations break down?

Mr. Bundy said when the interim 24-48-hour talks fail, then our choice would be to expand the blockade or remove the missiles by air attack.

General Taylor urged that we increase our reconnaissance activity in order to keep informed as to what was happening in Cuba.

The President decided to delay night reconnaissance missions, at least until the Soviets turn down U Thant's proposal. He also agreed that we should announce publicly that construction work at the missile sites in Cuba was going on and that, therefore, we will continue our aerial reconnaissance flights. The President also wanted attention called by a White House spokesman to his earlier speech which insisted that work at the missile sites in Cuba cease. The President decided that a presentation of the current situation should be made to the Congressional Leaders.

Bromley Smith/5/

/5/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.