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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cuban Missile Crisis: October 17, 1962

The Nuclear Files offers a chronology:

Morning: Adlai Stevenson writes to President Kennedy that world opinion would equate the U.S. missiles stationed in Turkey with Soviet bases in Cuba. Warning that U.S. officials could not "negotiate with a gun at our head," he states, "I feel you should have made it clear that the existence of nuclear missile bases anywhere is negotiable before we start anything. "Stevenson suggests that personal emissaries should be sent to both Fidel Castro and Premier Khrushchev to discuss the situation.
Morning: Further debate on the Cuban situation takes place at the State Department. Dean Acheson and John McCone attend discussions for the first time, though President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson are absent. By this time, Robert McNamara has become the strongest proponent of the blockade option. McNamara reports that a "surgical" airstrike option is militarily impractical in the view of the JCS and that any military action would have to include attacks on all military installations in Cuba, eventually leading to an invasion. McNamara urges seeking alternative means of removing the missiles from Cuba before embarking on such a drastic course of action. However, critics of the blockade, led primarily by Dean Acheson, argue that a blockade would have no effect on the missiles already in Cuba. Airstrike proponents also express concern that a U.S. blockade would shift the confrontation from Cuba to the Soviet Union and that Soviet counteractions, including a Berlin blockade, might result. 
 Around this time, Georgi Bolshakov, a Soviet embassy official who served as an authoritative back channel for communications between Soviet and U.S. leaders, relays a message from Premier Khrushchev to Attorney General Robert Kennedy that the arms being sent to Cuba are intended only for defensive purposes. Bolshakov had not been told by Khrushchev that the Soviet Union is actually in the process of installing MRBMs and IRBMs in Cuba. By the time Bolshakov's message reaches President Kennedy , he has been fully briefed on the Soviet missile deployment. 
An SS-5 IRBM site, the first of three to be identified, is detected in Cuba. The SS-5s have ranges of up to 2,200 nautical miles, more than twice the range of the SS-4 MRBMs . The GMAIC estimates that the IRBM sites would not become operational before December but that sixteen and possibly as many as thirty-two MRBMs would be operational in about a week. No SS-5 missiles actually reach Cuba at any time, although this is not completely confirmed by U.S. officials during the crisis.  

To avoid tipping off the Soviets that the United States had discovered their missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy kept to his schedule, campaigning for Democrats in Connecticut.  To the outside world, he did not look like a leader who was staring at potential nuclear war: