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Foreign Relations Series Volume Summary

1961-1963, Volume XI
Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath


Table of Contents:                                                                 Read the Volume Online
Foreword
Discovery of the Missiles
Initial Deliberations
The Quarantine
The Crisis Averted

Verification of Removal of the Missiles
The Bomber Crisis and the No Invasion Pledge
The "Understanding" on Cuba
Covert Operations against Cuba
Possible Rapprochement with Cuba
Soviet Troops in Cuba and Cuban Exiles

Foreword

(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of the volume.)

Since 1861, the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents comprising the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991. (22 USC 4351, et seq.) U.S. policies in the administration of President John F. Kennedy are the subject of 25 printed volumes and 5 microfiche supplements. Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.

Almost all of the documents printed here were originally classified. The former Division of Historical Documents Review of the Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies or governments, carried out the declassification of the selected documents.

This Foreign Relations volume contains documentation on the Cuban Missile Crisis, the subsequent "Soviet bomber crisis," and the failure of the United States and the Soviet Union to agree on a final resolution of what was the most dangerous U.S.-Soviet confrontation during the cold war. In addition, the volume presents documents on the complex and often seemingly contradictory U.S. policies toward Cuba during 1963. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.

Discovery of the Missiles

Before October 1, 1962, U.S. intelligence suspected a Soviet military buildup in Cuba, but it did not know definitively whether these arms included strategic weapons capable of threatening the United States. On October 5, Director of Central Intelligence John McCone predicted that the Soviet military buildup in Cuba "would end up with an established offensive capability in Cuba including MRBMs [Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles]." McCone stated this was more a "probability" than a "possibility." Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy disagreed, doubting that the Soviet Union would mount such a brazen challenge. (9) President Kennedy approved a U-2 reconnaissance flight over Cuba to obtain evidence about the development of MRBM sites on the island. The flight, which took place on October 14, provided the first proof of the existence of Soviet MRBM missiles in Cuba. (16) At 8:45 a.m. on October 16, McGeorge Bundy informed Kennedy of the photographs of the missile sites, and the President immediately called a meeting of his principal advisers for 11:45 that morning. At this meeting the administration began its response to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most dangerous U.S.-Soviet confrontation of the cold war.

Initial Deliberations

During that morning meeting, Secretary of State Dean Rusk suggested that there were two alternatives: a quick unilateral military strike at the missile sites or alerting U.S. allies and the Soviet Union to the fact that the placement of the missiles could lead to war. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara gave a preliminary estimate of the military options. At the conclusion of the meeting the President asked his advisers to meet with him again that evening, stressing that the missiles had to be taken out. Other related issues for decision were whether to strike targets other than the missile sites and whether to invade the island. (18)

At the evening meeting, Rusk, McNamara, and the President’s Special Military Representative General Maxwell Taylor raised doubts about the efficacy of strictly military actions, pointing to the political fallout in Latin America and noting that air strikes were unlikely to be completely effective. Despite these reservations, the discussion of the U.S. response still focused on a military riposte. (21)

Kennedy’s advisers met again on the morning and afternoon of October 17 and raised the possibility of warning both Castro and Khrushchev to remove the missiles. If the response was negative, then the United States would use the military air strike option. McNamara and Taylor both counseled against this idea since it would give time for the missiles to become operational. Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson seconded this view. By the evening of October 17, the military option still held sway, although Ambassador to France Charles Bohlen argued strongly for a diplomatic approach, while Ambassador at Large Llewellyn Thompson and Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Edwin Martin supported the idea of a blockade coupled with a declaration of war. (23)

By the morning of October 18, Kennedy and his advisers began to explore the idea of blockading Cuba because of the expected negative reaction by U.S. allies to a military solution. Still, the President remained noncommittal about the blockade. He constantly queried his advisers about allied reactions to air strikes. (28) Also on October 18, the Central Intelligence Agency reported sensitive intelligence, based on U-2 flights and its best Soviet source, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, that mobile medium-range ballistic missiles were already operational and fixed intermediate range missiles near Havana would be operational by December. (30)

U.S. policy remained far from finalized when Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko called at the White House at 5 p.m. on October 18. Gromyko defended the Soviet Union’s supplying arms to Cuba without mentioning the missiles and accused the United States of planning to invade the island. Kennedy responded that the arms supply had had a serious negative impact in the United States. The President pointedly told Gromyko that the United States was basing its policy on the Soviet assertion that the arms supplied to Castro were defensive (Kennedy did not inform Gromyko that he knew about the offensive weapons). Following the meeting, the President’s advisers met at the State Department and following that with the President at the White House to discuss options. Although they reached no decision, they were becoming increasingly interested in the blockade as the preferred option. (29)

Meetings on October 19 began at 11 a.m. and lasted until 7 p.m. Discussion centered on the legal aspects of a blockade, which most participants now agreed was a promising option, although for international legal reasons it was to be called a quarantine. Discussion of a military strike continued, however, with Taylor commenting that a blockade meant the abandonment of an air strike. Early in the afternoon, the participants formed two working groups to present alternatives to the President: a blockade scenario and a paper on the military option. Drafts of these reports were discussed at 4 p.m. meetings. McNamara now pointed out that the United States would probably have to give up its missile bases in Italy and Turkey in return for a negotiated removal of the Soviet MRBMs in Cuba. (31) When the meetings ended the two alternatives were still open.

The two options were submitted to the President at the 2:30 p.m. meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on October 20. McNamara pushed for the blockade, advising the President that to succeed they probably would have to accept withdrawal of U.S. missiles in southern Europe. The pros and cons of the blockade were discussed for 2 hours as were those of the air strike scenario, which at this point was still supported by Bundy, Taylor, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Attorney General noted that a blockade coupled with an air strike was very attractive to him. McCone opposed the air strikes, but admitted that a blockade did not seem to be a sufficient response. The President expressed his concern that whichever option was chosen, the Soviet Union would respond with a blockade of Berlin. After further discussion, Kennedy was prepared to go with the blockade, but wanted preparations for air strike completed for either October 21 or 22 just in case. At the close of the NSC meeting, the participants considered how the blockade plan could be incorporated into the President’s address to the nation. (34)

On October 21, the NSC thoroughly vetted the President’s speech, reviewed military contingency plans, and discussed diplomatic measures. The President rejected UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s suggestions for a proposed summit meeting and a neutralization of Cuba or return of Guantanamo as means of easing the Soviet decision to dismantle the missiles. (38)

The Quarantine

At 6 p.m. on October 22, U.S. representatives in Washington and Moscow delivered a letter from the President to Khrushchev stating that the Kennedy administration knew about the missiles and other offensive weapons introduced into Cuba by the Soviet Union and stating that the United States was determined to remove this threat to hemispheric security. (44) Attached to the letter was a copy of the President’s address to the nation, given 1 hour later, announcing the quarantine of Cuba and calling on the Soviet Union "to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace."

On the evening of October 23, Robert Kennedy met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin to open up an informal channel to the Russians. Although the Attorney General told the Soviet Ambassador that he was not operating on instructions from the President, Dobrynin could have only believed that the Attorney General spoke with the approval of his brother. Robert Kennedy emphasized the administration’s sense of betrayal at Soviet duplicity. (53) The next day, Khrushchev responded by accusing the United States of violating the UN Charter and all the norms of freedom of the seas. He reiterated the standard Soviet line that all the weapons being supplied to Cuba were defensive. (48) Ignoring this self-serving explanation, President Kennedy asked Khrushchev to instruct Soviet vessels headed to Havana to observe the terms of the quarantine, which would go into effect at 2 p.m. on October 24. (52) Khrushchev refused to comply, stating on October 24 that he considered the blockade "an act of aggression which pushes mankind toward the abyss of a world nuclear war." (61) As Soviet ships approached the quarantine line, the Kennedy administration had some sobering moments, but by the afternoon of October 24, the Soviet ships began to turn back. (58)

In a long letter of October 26, Khrushchev repeated that the missiles were strictly defensive and accused the United States of "proclaiming piratical measures" in establishing the blockade. Khrushchev suggested that if Washington would promise not to invade Cuba and remove the blockade, the Soviet Union would declare that its ships bound for the island were not carrying arms. (84) The letter bore Khrushchev’s personal style and the Kennedy administration was encouraged. In addition, there were hints from a Soviet intelligence official, Alexandr Fomin, to John Scali of ABC news that the Soviet Union would accept a public pledge not to invade in return for dismantling the missiles. (80, 85)

The Crisis Averted

On October 27, Khrushchev agreed to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba but only in return for the United States removing its MRBMs from Turkey. The letter from Khrushchev, which the Kennedy administration deemed to have been drafted by committee, also insisted upon mutual pledges by the United States and the Soviet Union to respect the inviolability of Cuban and Turkish borders. (91) Initial discussion by the Executive Committee suggested that the proposed trade was unacceptable. (92, 94) How far was the Kennedy administration prepared to go to remove the missiles from Cuba? There had been preliminary discussion about a possible trade of Italian and Turkish missiles. (56) Recent statements by former Soviet participants in the crisis suggest that Robert Kennedy planted the idea of a missile trade in Dobrynin’s mind at a meeting on the evening of October 26, but no first-hand record of this meeting has been found. Significantly, while most of the President’s advisers opposed a missile trade at an Executive Committee meeting on October 27, the President suggested that a trade, especially if the Turks took the initiative, would be better than an attack on Cuba. (90)

At the suggestion of Llewellyn Thompson, Ted Sorensen, and Robert Kennedy, the President deliberately ignored Khrushchev’s letter of October 27 on the Turkish MRBMs altogether and responded to the letter of October 26. Kennedy responded on October 27 that the first issue to be dealt with was the removal of Soviet missiles and offensive weapons systems from Cuba. If this was done and properly verified, he promised to lift the quarantine and pledged not to invade Cuba. (95) To make matters worse, a U.S. reconnaissance plane was shot down over Cuba and its pilot was killed. On the evening of October 27, Robert Kennedy informed Dobrynin that time was running out. If the Soviet Union did not remove the missiles, the United States would do it. Robert Kennedy stated there "would be dead Americans but their also would be dead Russians." Dobrynin asked what Kennedy was offering. The Attorney General mentioned the non-invasion pledge. When Dobrynin asked about the Turkish missiles, Robert Kennedy said there could be no quid pro quo¾no deal¾since it was a NATO question and NATO would not act under threat. The Attorney General added, at the President’s instruction, that the missiles would be removed within 4 or 5 months. In his report to Rusk, Robert Kennedy crossed out this passage, (96) but as he confirmed later in Thirteen Days, he did make the statement to Dobrynin. Rusk has subsequently suggested that, in the last resort, the Kennedy administration was prepared to trade missiles. In his memoir, As I Saw It, Rusk recalled that Kennedy approved a plan to have the UN arrange the missile trade, if necessary. (99)

However, these plans were not required. On October 28, Khrushchev replied positively to the President’s letter of October 27, saying that instructions had been given to Soviet officials in Cuba to dismantle and crate up for return to the Soviet Union the "arms which you described as offensive." (102) Khrushchev also informed Kennedy that First Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov would go to New York to negotiate a solution "aimed at eliminating the present dangerous situation." Kuznetsov arrived the following day and began negotiations with Stevenson, John J. McCloy, and Secretary General U Thant, to establish procedures to verify the removal of the missiles and to end the blockade. (112) There was a storm cloud, however: Fidel Castro insisted that he would never accept United Nations verification on Cuban soil. (123)

Verification of Removal of the Missiles

The Khrushchev letter of October 28 lightened the tension in Washington immensely, but there were still serious problems. Kennedy insisted on continuing low-level air reconnaissance over Cuba until the Soviet Union made good on its promise to allow UN verification. (130, 131) The President was adamant that the withdrawal of the missiles must be verified, a suspected Soviet submarine base eliminated, and Cuba "demilitarized." (138, 139)

Fomin asked Scali for patience and understanding from Kennedy. (137) Perhaps the missiles could be inspected at sea. McCloy and Stevenson received this same message from their Soviet counterparts at the United Nations. Stevenson informed Kennedy on November 3 that although the Russians might agree to ground inspection, the Cubans would not. Kennedy then insisted that Soviet IL-28 bombers in Cuba must also go. (138)

McCloy met Kuznetsov in Stamford, Connecticut, on November 4. The Soviet negotiator rejected the bombers as offensive weapons. He offered verification of all 42 Soviet missiles at sea but insisted upon a guarantee against a U.S. invasion of Cuba and a prohibition of U.S.-backed subversion against Castro in return. As for the submarine base, Kuznetsov stated it was only a fishing port. (142) In their correspondence on November 3 and 5, Kennedy and Khrushchev jousted over verification. Khrushchev argued that the bombers were not offensive, and furthermore they constituted a new demand. He challenged the President to get on with the deal. (140, 145)

Kennedy began to realize that ironclad verification in Cuba was impossible. John McCone sensed that the tide was running against full verification and submitted a strong dissent. He predicted that Castro would survive, and with bombers and Komars (Soviet missile boats), could threaten the rest of Latin America. To make matters worse according to McCone, the Soviet SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) in Cuba with their ability to shoot down U-2s could provide blanket cover for the reintroduction of offensive missiles. (146)

The dangers of verification became obvious on November 5 when during a meeting with Dobrynin, Robert Kennedy was interrupted by a call from his brother, the President, informing him that a U.S. plane flying reconnaissance over Cuba had been fired upon. Robert Kennedy stressed to Dobrynin that any "arrangements that were made were dependent upon there not being any incidents in the air above Cuba." (144)

In New York on November 6, Stevenson and McCloy learned that Soviet ships would be taking the missiles out of Cuba starting on November 6 and 7. Asked if they would also remove nuclear weapons as well, Kuznetsov replied that if there were nuclear weapons in Cuba they would be removed with the missiles. (151)

With Soviet ships departing with the missiles that day, the Kennedy administration had to work out an ad hoc means of verification. U.S. officials concluded that the best method was for U.S. Naval ships to pull along side departing Soviet ships to verify and take photographs. (152, 153) At the Executive Committee meeting on the evening of November 6, the participants dissuaded the President from taking too hard a line with Khrushchev. Instead they persuaded Kennedy to concentrate on the issue at hand, verification of the missiles’ removal, saving the bomber issue for later negotiations. (154) Kennedy’s letter to Khrushchev of November 6 nonetheless contained a strong objection to Khrushchev’s view that the bombers were not offensive weapons and therefore not subject to the understanding of October 27-28. (155)

At the next Executive Committee meeting, it was clear that the President had been won over. He agreed to delay action on the bombers until the missiles were out. (158) At the United Nations, Stevenson and McCloy received instructions outlining the minimum deal the United States would accept: MRBM, IRBMs, bombers, and nuclear weapons must leave. The United States was prepared to accept Soviet assurances that there would be no submarine base in Cuba. (159)

On November 8, Kuznetsov informed Stevenson and McCloy that the 42 missiles were out of Cuba completing the Soviet part of the understanding. The warheads would also go and the Soviets now expected the United States to fulfill its part of the bargain. (163) The next day Stevenson suggested to Washington a plan for settling outstanding issues, which included calling off the quarantine, a formal U.S. pledge in the UN Security Council against invasion of Cuba in return for Soviet removal of the bombers with verification at sea, and a formal Soviet assurance to the Security Council that there were no nuclear weapons in Cuba. Soviet compliance would be verified by Latin American diplomats in Cuba. The Soviet Union and Cuba would also agree not to reintroduce offensive weapons, and the United States would agree to call off subversion and sabotage against Cuba. Under Secretary of State George Ball did not like Stevenson’s plan, which he characterized as a "guarantee" for Castro with "no obligations," but he passed it to the President without written comment. (167, 168)

The Bomber Crisis and the Non-Invasion Pledge

Ball had his own plan for resolving the bomber crisis, which he recommended to the President. Earlier Ball had agreed with McGeorge Bundy that the bombers should be downgraded to a U.S.-Cuban problem, not a U.S.-Soviet issue. (164) Ball now suggested that the United States accept the Soviet Union’s contention that it could not control Castro and thus eliminate the issue of the IL-28s from the U.S.-U.S.S.R. dialogue. (169) Ball’s idea seemed the right course when Khrushchev gave his "gentleman’s word" in a letter of November 12 to Kennedy that the bombers would be removed, "not now but later." Khrushchev could not resist, however, pointing out that without air cover the bombers could be shot down by anti-aircraft artillery, regular artillery, or fighters. How could the President consider these defenseless planes as a threat? (171)

The Kennedy administration deliberated whether to accept Khrushchev’s "gentlemen’s agreement." The President leaned that way. Robert Kennedy informed Dobrynin that if the Soviet Union gave the order to remove the bombers and they were out within 30 days, the United States would immediately lift the quarantine. (172, 173) McCone objected and warned that even stripped of missiles and bombers Castro remained a serious threat. (174) Any chance that the issue would be resolved immediately was eliminated by Khrushchev’s letter of November 14 insisting that 30 days was not enough time for withdrawal of the IL-28s. Khrushchev suggested that if the United States stopped overflights of Cuba¾something Kennedy was unprepared to do¾he would announce the withdrawal of the bombers. (176) In a November 15 letter to Khrushchev, Kennedy admitted that the bombers deal was only a matter of timing, but the issue of verification remained unresolved, especially in light of unconfirmed reports of weapons stored in caves. Kennedy demanded safeguards against the reintroduction of strategic weapons and worried that "trouble" might spring from Cuban sources. (181)

At the Executive Committee meeting on November 16, Kennedy vowed that the United States would continue to overfly Cuba in the face of Cuban threats to shoot down reconnaissance planes. The President accepted in principle McCone’s warning that SAMs must not be allowed to shield a new Soviet military build up. McCloy then presented Stevenson’s assessment that the U.S.-Soviet negotiations at the United Nations were deadlocked. The Soviets could not deliver on-site inspections because of Castro’s insistence on receiving in return a non-invasion pledge. The President suggested that perhaps the deadlock could be resolved informally with a public statement promising no invasion of Cuba¾provided there was no military threat or civil war¾while the United States continued unobtrusive overflights. Kennedy envisioned a solution without a clear, formal agreement. (185)

The U.S. and Soviet negotiators met on the evening of November 19 at the Soviet compound in Locust Valley on Long Island for a discussion marked by recriminations and reproaches. McCloy stated that the President must say something about the bombers in his press conference of November 20. If there was no agreement on them, then there was no agreement on offensive weapons. The United States would not sign a non-invasion pledge¾that would make it a treaty requiring Senate confirmation¾but it would make a "solemn declaration" in the United Nations. Kuznetsov replied that the Soviet Union would remove the bombers, but only in conjunction with settlement of other issues including overflights. McCloy shot back that there was no stopping overflights until there was adequate verification. Furthermore, if U.S. reconnaissance planes were attacked, they would return fire. (191) At the Executive Committee meeting the morning of November 19, the same showdown state of mind prevailed. After the meeting, Ball informed McCloy that his Soviet counterparts should be informed that if there were no deal on the IL-28s the Soviet Union could expected a more drastic and extended quarantine. (192, 193)

Under this pressure the Soviet Union retreated. Fomin assured Scali that the procedure for verification of missiles could be used for bombers and that Soviet IL-28 technicians were returning to the Soviet Union. If the United States lifted the blockade and gave the Soviets a draft of a non-aggression pledge, the two-sides had a deal. (195) Fomin’s promises were followed by a November 20 letter from Khrushchev who agreed to remove the bombers with their technicians within a month or sooner. (196)

The United States then lifted the quarantine and the crisis that began on October 16, 1962, was finally over. There was general agreement on November 20 that since Khrushchev had not insisted on a formal non-invasion pledge, he should not be given one. (197) McCloy called Ball to register his belief that since the Soviet Union had come through for the United States, they should get a non-invasion declaration. (199). Ball discussed it with McGeorge Bundy who stated that 42 missiles and 30 bombers did not constitute much of a concession. When the United States got real verification, Cuba would get a non-invasion pledge. (200)

At the Executive Committee meeting on November 21, Kennedy agreed to abandon U.S. demands for ground inspection in Cuba, but he would not relinquish the right to invade Cuba in the event of civil war, in response to Cuban fostered guerrilla subversion directed against Latin American, or if offensive weapons were reintroduced into Cuba. Kennedy was not prepared to "build up Castro with a no invasion pledge." (201) Instead the President informed Khrushchev that he need have "no fear of invasion of Cuba while matters take their present favorable course." (202) Kennedy then drafted language with Ball for a very cautious and qualified pledge not to invade Cuba. (204)

The "Understanding" on Cuba

At this point the Kennedy administration faced a crossroads. Either it could extend negotiations with the Soviet Union on UN verification and the non-invasion pledge or it could move to rapidly conclude the matter. (205) Former President Eisenhower and McCloy favored a quick wrap up on Cuba, relying on overflights and other intelligence resources to verify. Neither man neither held out much hope for the effectiveness of UN inspection of Cuba. McCone remained opposed to any non-invasion pledge. (209)

The administration initially tried negotiations. McCloy and Stevenson met with Mikoyan, the "hardest bargainer in [the] Kremlin’s stable of tough negotiators." Mikoyan made the case for Castro’s role in the negotiations, insisted on reciprocity of inspections, and objected that the draft U.S. non-invasion pledge was only an intention, not a commitment. Clearly, Mikoyan was not considering a quick resolution. (213)

The President was unprepared to make concessions that would pave the way for a formal settlement. As he told the Executive Committee on November 29, he would rather have Soviet troops in Cuba than give Castro a non-invasion pledge. At this same meeting, the President authorized the continuation of Mongoose Operations (a special program of intelligence operations directed at Cuba), but restricted it to intelligence gathering. (216, 217) In his meeting with Mikoyan, who had just returned from a long and unpleasant visit to Cuba, Kennedy gave no ground. (218, 219)

At the Executive Committee meeting on December 3, Stevenson and Ball explained the three issues holding up negotiations in New York: the manner in which the United States expressed its intention to continue overflights, U.S. insistence on preservation of peace in the Caribbean, and the no-invasion undertaking. As the President put it, he was "not going to rat on an agreement with the Russians, but we are not going to tie on to a no-invasion pledge in a way which allowed Castro to operate from an invulnerable base." (222)

McCloy and Stevenson argued for concessions to allow them to conclude the negotiations. (227, 228) McCone spoke against such a course. (224, 229) It was generally agreed within the administration that the United States should not accept just any agreement, but should hold out for a good one. (230) The chances for a formal resolution dimmed. Nevertheless, the President authorized Stevenson and McCloy to seek an agreement with the Soviet Union on the basis of a joint report to the Security Council, but on terms that the Soviet Union was not likely to accept. (243) The Soviet negotiators rejected this last U.S. offer on December 14, stating that the non-invasion pledge was too qualified, that reference to overflights were included, and that there was no provision for Cuban participation. The Soviets countered with a plan to send the Kennedy and Khrushchev letters of October 27 and 28 to the Security Council. (253, 256) The Kennedy administration responded with a plan to send the letters plus the White House and Presidential press statements of October 27 and November 20. If the Soviets rejected this, then either a joint or separate letters to the Secretary General should be sent saying that despite progress made, the United States and Soviet Union could not resolve their differences. (257) There was no resolution. The United States and the Soviet Union decided on a joint letter to the Secretary General admitting their inability to agree. (259, 263) The long and drawn out negotiations for a mutually acceptable agreed resolution to the Cuban missile crisis ended in failure. There was no specific set of obligations and procedures, just Soviet removal of the missiles and the bombers and a promise of a gradual scaling down of Soviet military personnel in Cuba in return for a lifting of the quarantine, the indication that U.S. missiles would eventually be removed from Turkey, and limited assurances that the United States would not invade Cuba. In the end, there were no formal U.S.-Soviet understandings to end the Cuban missile crisis.

Covert Operations Against Cuba

The remainder of the volume covers 1963 in which U.S.-Soviet confrontation over Cuba is only one of a number of themes. Other major issues include increased covert operations against Cuba including more extensive and efficient use of refugees and exiles, tighter economic pressure against Cuba, and exploration of a possible rapprochement with Castro. The Kennedy administration used the natural breaking point of the end of the missile and bomber crises to reorganize its covert operations against Castro by disbanding Operation Mongoose and placing day-to-day responsibility for covert and overt operations under a Department of State Coordinator for Cuban Affairs. (261)

The Kennedy administration began 1963 with an internal debate over covert operations against Cuba. Should it try to isolate and then actively seek the overthrow of Castro or should it isolate Cuba and seek reduction of Soviet presence as a more limited goal? Debate also ranged over tactics. Should the United States apply increasing degrees of pressure or merely press Castro as opportunities presented themselves? (270, 272) In mid-April, the Cuban Coordinator, Sterling Cottrell, recommended a more intensified covert program against Cuba without resolving the broader questions. (318) McGeorge Bundy suggested that the United States faced three options: confrontation with Castro to force a non-Communist solution, gradual pressure to achieve limited ends, or accommodation. (320) The overriding problem, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, was that Castro was gaining strength within Cuba. As McCone saw it, present covert operations could slow Castro down, but would not hurt him critically. (323) On May 28, the issue came to a head at a meeting of the Standing Group of the NSC. McGeorge Bundy stated that the United States did not have the ability to overthrow Castro. McCone countered that increasing economic hardship on Cuba would cause the Cuban military to overthrow him. McNamara wondered just which economic denial and covert policies would accomplish Castro’s demise. Robert Kennedy suggested that the United States had to do something, even if it did not believe that it would cause Castro’s fall. (344)

On June 8, the Central Intelligence Agency submitted an intensified covert plan that assumed that the United States would not invade Cuba, but which was designed to apply maximum pressure to prevent Castro from consolidating his rule and to encourage dissident Cuban elements to eliminate his control and reduce Soviet influence. The President approved, but he had no illusions that Castro would soon be out of power. (346, 348)

Possible Rapprochement With Cuba

As the Kennedy administration was increasing covert operations against Castro, it was also considering the possibility of a rapprochement with him. McGeorge Bundy had tentatively raised the issue in early 1963 (261) McCone also suggested to the President in mid-April 1963 that better contacts with Castro could possibly turn him away from the Soviets. (315) Later in April 1963, Bundy raised the issue again and suggested that although it seemed contradictory, accommodation still was compatible with more anti-Castro options. (320) It was Kennedy’s two-track ploy.

One of the problems with the policy of accommodation was how to contact Castro. Lawyer James B. Donovan, who was negotiating the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners, was one channel, (310, 330) 238); journalists were another (332). Obviously the policy was extremely controversial and held very closely. Although he earlier raised it as a possibility, McCone came to believe it was a "bad idea" and "dangerous politically." McCone worried that Rusk favored it. (351) McGeorge Bundy agreed that the time was not yet right for détente with Castro, but he saw no harm in keeping channels open. (356)

The most definite attempt to contact Castro came at the initiative of former Ambassador to Guinea, William Attwood, who used his personal contacts with Cuban UN representative Carlos Lechuga to raise the issue. (367, 372, 374) On November 12, 1963, President Kennedy authorized Attwood’s tentative talks with Dr. René Vallejo, Castro’s aide and physician, but the two men did not get together. (377) Kennedy’s assassination delayed the process. White House officials suggested that the Attwood channel was now less promising since Lyndon Johnson probably ran a greater risk of appearing "soft" on Castro if the talks become known publicly. (378) Nevertheless, Castro was still interested and White House officials favored continuing the dialogue. (383, 384) When President Johnson learned of these talks in mid-December, apparently for the first time, he was "somewhere between lukewarm and cool" on the idea. (387, 388) The initiative lost momentum.

Soviet Troops in Cuba and Cuban Exiles

The major cause of U.S.-Soviet friction over Cuba in 1963 was U.S. concern with reducing the thousands of Soviet military personnel in Cuba. In January 1963, Kuznetsov promised Kennedy that they would be withdrawn in time. (266) In late February, Dobrynin told Thompson that "several thousand" troops would be withdrawn later in the month. (286, 287) McCone held that the Soviets were in Cuba to stay no matter how may incremental withdrawals they made. (299, 314) By mid-1963, the CIA reported that 12,000 to 13,000 Soviet troops were still in Cuba. Although there was no indication of reintroduction of Soviet strategic weapons, Castro was gaining political strength. (347) By October 1963, the Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that 5,000 to 8,000 Soviet military troops were in Cuba. (370) Gromyko assured a skeptical Kennedy that only specialists remained. (371) McCone assured the President in mid-November that the Soviets were gradually withdrawing but leaving their equipment for the Cubans. (375)

The use of Cuban exiles and refugees against Castro is the last principal theme of 1963. Rusk opposed the hit-and-run tactics of U.S.-sponsored exile groups as an unnecessary and complicating factor in U.S.-U.S.S.R. relations. Rusk wanted to control exile groups more effectively. Over McCone’s opposition, he convinced the President to do so. (302, 303, 304) The United States discouraged exile raids from U.S. territory, but was less able to control raids from outside the United States. (365, 366)

When he became President, Johnson did not reexamine U.S. policy toward Cuba. He remained committed to Kennedy’s concept of non-invasion as long as certain conditions were met. If anything, Johnson wanted a more effective covert and economic denial program against Cuba. (381, 388-390) While U.S.-Cuban relations would prove difficult and antagonistic during Johnson’s years, they never reached the drama and tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

[End of Document]


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