Thirteen Months: Cuba’s Perspective on the Missile Crisis

  • Philip Brenner


The Cuban missile crisis may be the most studied confrontation in our history. Yet until recently, Cuba has been left out of the Cuban missile crisis.1 The traditional view focused attention on the fabled 13 days in October 1962, from the time President John F. Kennedy learned that the Soviets were constructing sites for intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba, until Chairman Nikita Khrushchev ordered the sites dismantled and the missiles removed. From this perspective, the crisis was a showdown between the two superpowers, and Cuba was merely the location where the confrontation occurred.


Ballistic Missile Soviet Leader Cuban Revolution Offensive Weapon Cuban Government 
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  1. 1.
    See, for example, Graham T. Allison, Essence of Decision (Boston, 1971); Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston, 1965), chaps. 30–31; Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation (New York, 1967); Lester H. Brune, The Missile Crisis of October 1962 (Claremont, CA, 1985); Herbert S. Dinerstein, The Making of a Missile Crisis: October 1962 (Baltimore, MD, 1976); T. Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait (New York, 1986); Herbert L. Matthews, Revolution in Cuba (New York, 1975).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For example, James G. Blight and David A. Welch, On the Brink (New York, 1989); Raymond L. Garthoff, Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, rev. ed., (Washington, D.C., 1989); Jorge I. Dominguez, To Make the World Safe for Revolution: Cuba’s Foreign Policy (Cambridge, 1989); Thomas G. Paterson, “Fixation with Cuba: The Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, and Covert War Against Castro,” in Thomas G. Paterson, ed., Kennedy’s Quest for Victory (New York, 1989), pp. 136–41. Much new data has become available because of five major conferences on the missile crisis. Edited transcripts and analyses of the first two conferences can be found in Blight and Welch, On the Brink. The first included nearly all of the living members of the ExComm (Executive Committee of the National Security Council, formed by President Kennedy on 16 October 1962), and the second included many of these men and three Soviet experts. A transcript of the third conference—held in Moscow in January 1989, with participation by U.S., Soviet, and Cuban delegates—is available in Bruce J. Allyn, James G. Blight and David A. Welch, eds., Back to the Brink: Proceedings of the Moscow Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis, January 27–28, 1989, Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1992). The transcript from the fourth conference, “Cuba Between the Superpowers”—held in Antigua in January 1991 with U.S., Soviet, and Cuban participants—is available from the Brown University Center for Foreign Policy Development. It is edited by James G. Blight, David Lewis, and David A. Welch. The fifth conference was held in Havana, Cuba in January 1992 and was attended by former policymakers from the United States and the former Soviet Union, and former and current policymakers from Cuba, including President Fidel Castro. A transcript will be available from the Brown University Center for Foreign Policy Development.Google Scholar
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    Sergo Mikoyan, “La Crisis del Caribe, en retrospectiva,” America Latina, no. 4 (April 1988), p. 45; also comments made by Jorge Risquet, head of the Cuban delegation at the Moscow conference, 27 January 1989 (during the conference). Certainly, Soviet leaders relied on several sources of intelligence to develop their analysis of an impending U.S. invasion. While the Soviet conclusion seems to have coincided with the Cuban assessment, it is not clear how much influence the Cuban view had. See Soviet comments in Blight and Welch, On the Brink, pp. 238, 249, 258. On the expulsion, see W. Smith, The Closest of Enemies (New York, 1987), p. 80; M. H. Morley, Imperial State and Revolution: The United States and Cuba, 1952–1986 (New York, 1987), pp. 155–8.Google Scholar
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    In a statement on 4 September he cautioned against the introduction of “offensive ground-to-ground missiles in Cuba.” On the 13th he warned against Cuba becoming “an offensive military base of significant capacity for the Soviet Union.” See Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 171; “The President’s News Conference of September 13,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy 1962 (Washington, D.C., 1963), pp. 674–5. One authoritative Soviet view of President Kennedy’s statements—by Anatoly Gromyko, the son of the Soviet foreign minister at the time—focused only on the aspects of bellicosity in what Kennedy said, and ignored any mention of the implicit warning against placing ballistic missiles or combat troops in Cuba. See Anatoly Gromyko, “The Caribbean Crisis, Part 1,” in Ronald R. Pope, ed., Soviet Views on the Cuban Missile Crisis (Lanham, MD, 1982), pp. 165–7.Google Scholar
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    This was how Aleksandr Alekseev, who was soon to become the Soviet ambassador to Cuba, claims to have understood Castro. See Aleksandr Alekseev, “Karibskii Krizis: kak eto bylo [The Caribbean Crisis: As It Really Was],” Ekho Planety, no. 33 (Moscow, November 1988).Google Scholar
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    Blight and Welch, On the Brink, p. 281. Also see Davis S. Bobrow, “Stories Remembered and Forgotten,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 33, no. 2 (June 1989), pp. 197–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Philip Brenner 1992

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  • Philip Brenner

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