Today in History: December 3, 1989 – Cold War’s End Is Near
Sort of seems appropriate. 29 years ago today, as we all know, the Cold War was finally coming to an end after 42 years. We’d had many close calls, but thanks to Reagan’s peace through strength policies, the end was in sight.
On December 3, 1989, during a meeting off the coast of Malta, President George Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev both issued statements that suggested that the Cold War may just be officially coming to an end.
In office for less than a year, this was President Bush’s first summit with the Russian leader. He was “eager to follow up on the steps toward arms control taken by the preceding Reagan administration” (History). Even Gorbachev was vocal about wanting better relations with the U.S. That was quite a change from what it had been earlier. Gorbachev promised that these “talks marked in important first step toward ending the Cold War” (History). He went on to suggest that the very ideology of The Cold War needed to come to an end – all of the mistrust between the two countries, the arms race, and everything else The Cold War entailed.
Unfortunately, despite their positive attitudes, the summit wasn’t overly successful. They walked away agree that both countries would work harder towards a “treaty dealing with long-range nuclear weapons and conventional arms in 1990” (History). Before leaving, they agreed to meet again in June of 1990, this time in Washington, D.C.
But you didn’t see this post coming, did you? Because everyone knows that the crisis only lasted for thirteen days. After all, there is a book and a movie that tell us so.
But truthfully, the crisis didn’t end on Sunday, October 28, 1962. Nor did it end on Monday, October 29. In fact, the crisis was far from over. For one, negotiations still needed to be settled. Negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Between Khrushchev and Castro. And, well, more or less between Kennedy and Castro.
In fact, “low-level reconnaissance on October 29 appeared to detect continuing construction” (May 411). Truth was, Kennedy had nothing to go on other than Khrushchev’s word that construction on the missiles in Cuba would cease. Just like Khrushchev had nothing to go on but Kennedy’s word that once the Soviet missiles in Cuba were removed, the US missiles in Turkey would follow suit.
October 29th also saw Ambassador Dobrynin deliver a letter to Attorney General Kennedy. “The next day, Robert Kennedy called in Dobrynin and gave the letter back, refusing to accept it. Robert Kennedy’s handwritten notes for this meeting say: ‘No quid pro quo as I told you. The letter makes it appear that there was.’ The missiles would leave Turkey; ‘you have my word on that & this is sufficient . . . ; if you should publish any document indicating a deal then it is off.’” Dobrynin promised nothing would be published. But, then again, as Kennedy reminded him, he’d also promised that the Soviet Union would never put missiles on Cuba.
And look how that turned out. It’s also important to remember that these deals were made through, well, back channels. It’s also important to note that the Kennedys (but mostly the CIA) continued secret invasion plans. You just never knew with Castro, after all. Low-level reconnaissance over Cuba also continued.
And, as President Kennedy’s brother points out in Thirteen Days (published posthumously, by the way), there was still the problem of the Cold War. That was far from over.
“Exasperation over our struggle in Vietnam,” he wrote at the closing of his penultimate chapter, where he reviewed the thoughts and emotions of the past thirteen days, “should not close our eyes to the fact that we could have other missile crisis in the future–different kinds, no doubt, and under different circumstances. But if we are to be successful then, if we are going to preserve our own national security, we will need friends, we will need supporters, we will need countries that believe and respect us and will follow our leadership” (94).
He did point out, however, that they’d all learned something from this horrifying experience. And that, too, could be taken into the next crisis.
Back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, though. Kennedy was finally able to announce that the issue had been resolved on November 20, 1962. Almost a month later. it had taken many more letters back and forth between him and Khrushchev. But it had been worked out.
“The IL-28s would come out of Cuba within 30 days. Though there would be no UN inspection, US forces would be allowed to observe departing Soviet ships. Their cargos of departing missiles would be on deck and could be observed by passing US ships or aircraft. The United States would keep flying reconnaissance planes over Cuba. When the offensive weapons were gone, the quarantine would finally be lifted. The US forces would return to normal peacetime deployments and readiness levels. The Strategic Air Command would stand down its airborne alert” (May 412-413).
Kennedy, Robert F. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Norton, 1971.
May, Ernest R, and Philip D Zelikow, editors. The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Norton, 2002.
Sunday, October 28, 1962: The thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis came to an end. In the late hours of October 27, Robert Kennedy secretly met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, and the two reached a basic understanding:
The Soviet Union would withdraw the missiles from Cuba under United Nations supervision in exchange for an American pledge not to invade Cuba. In an additional secret understanding, the United States agreed to eventually remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey, provided that Castro agreed to their terms. Which he never did.
“Thus began the most difficult twenty-four hours of the missile crisis” (71).
Saturday, October 27, 1962: A second letter from Moscow arrived, demanding tougher terms, including the removal of obsolete Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Over Cuba, An American U-2 plane was shot down by a Soviet-supplied surface-to-air missile (SAM) and the, killing pilot Major Rudolph Anderson. President Kennedy wrote a letter to the widow of USAF Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr., offering condolences, and informing her that he was awarding Anderson the Distinguished Service Medal, posthumously.
During a tense meeting of the Executive Committee, President Kennedy resisted pressure for immediate military action against the SAM sites. At several points in the discussion, also insisted that removal of the American missiles in Turkey would have to be part of an overall negotiated settlement. The Committee ultimately decided to ignore the Saturday letter from Moscow and respond favorably to the more conciliatory Friday message. Air Force troop carrier squadrons were ordered to active duty in case an invasion was required.
Later that night, Robert Kennedy agreed to meet secretly with Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin again. They reached a basic understanding: the Soviet Union would withdraw the missiles from Cuba under United Nations supervision in exchange for an American pledge not to invade Cuba. In an additional secret understanding, the United States agreed to eventually remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
“We had to be aware of this responsibility, the President was deciding, for the U.S., the Soviet Union, Turkey, NATO, and really for all mankind… .” (75).
Friday, October 26, 1962: A Soviet-chartered freighter was stopped at the quarantine line and searched for contraband military supplies. None were found and the ship was allowed to proceed to Cuba. Photographic evidence showed accelerated construction of the missile sites and the uncrating of Soviet IL-28 bombers at Cuban airfields.
In a private letter, Fidel Castro urged Nikita Khrushchev to initiate a nuclear first strike against the United States in the event of an American invasion of Cuba.
John Scali, ABC News reporter, was approached by Aleksander Fomin of the Soviet embassy staff with a proposal for a solution to the crisis.
Later, a long, rambling letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy made a similar offer: removal of the missiles in exchange for lifting the quarantine and a pledge that the U.S. will not invade Cuba.
Additionally, a surprise came to Kennedy at 7 that morning when the first vessel, the Marucla (an American-built Liberty ship) was officially stopped and boarded: One of the two ships to to follow it was the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (the other being the John Pierce), the ship named for Kennedy’s older brother, a Navy pilot who died during WWII. This is the same ship that brother, Bobby, would serve on shortly after WWII.
“The Soviet Union had been adamant in its refusal to recognize the quarantine. At the same time, it was obviously preparing its missiles in Cuba for possible use. The President in response ordered a gradual increase in pressure, still attempting to avid the alternative of direct military action… . [P]rivately the President was not sanguine about the results of even these efforts. Each hour the situation grew steadily more serious. The feeling grew that this cup was not going to pass and that a direct military confrontation between the two great nuclear powers was inevitable” (64).
Thursday, October 25, 1962: Knowing that some missiles in Cuba were now operational, the president personally drafts a letter to Premier Khrushchev, again urging him to change the course of events. Meanwhile, Soviet freighters turn and head back to Europe. The Bucharest, carrying only petroleum products, is allowed through the quarantine line. U.N. Secretary General U Thant calls for a cooling off period, which is rejected by Kennedy because it would leave the missiles in place.
“On the night of Thursday, October 25, our aerial photography revealed that work on the missile sites was proceeding at an extraordinarily rapid pace” (59).
Wednesday, October 24, 1962: The ExComm met as the quarantine went into effect. By a little after 10, they received word that Russian ships were approaching the quarantine line, the Gagarin and the Komiles. “This was the moment we had prepared for, which we hoped would never come. The danger and concern that we all felt hung like a cloud over us all and particularly over the President” (53).
Then, the really disturbing news came. A Russian submarine. They debated whether it was in America’s best interest for the first stopped Russian ship to actually be a sub.
“I think these few minutes were the time of gravest concern for the President. Was the world on the brink of a holocaust? Was it our error? Was there something further that should have been done? Or not done? His hand went up to his face and covered his mouth. He opened and closed his fist. His face seemed drawn, his eyes pained, almost gray. We stared at each other across the table. For a few fleeting seconds, it was almost as though no one else was there and he was no longer the President”
Meanwhile, Chairman Khrushchev replied indignantly to President Kennedy’s October 23 letter.
“You, Mr. President, are not declaring a quarantine, but rather are setting forth an ultimatum and threatening that if we do not give in to your demands you will use force. Consider what you are saying! And you want to persuade me to agree to this! What would it mean to agree to these demands? It would mean guiding oneself in one’s relations with other countries not by reason, but by submitting to arbitrariness. You are no longer appealing to reason, but wish to intimidate us.”
Tuesday, October 23, 1962: The ships of the naval quarantine fleet moved into place around Cuba. Soviet submarines threatened the quarantine by moving into the Caribbean area. Soviet freighters bound for Cuba with military supplies stopped dead in the water, but the oil tanker Bucharest continued towards Cuba. After spending another day talking to his ExComm committee (in their first official meeting), President Kennedy signed Proclamation 3504, authorizing the naval quarantine of Cuba. The four-page proclamation included this statement in the second paragraph:
“The United States is determined to prevent by whatever means may be necessary, including the use of arms, the Marxist-Leninist regime in Cuba from extending, by force or the threat of force, its aggressive or subversive activities to any part of this hemisphere, and to prevent in Cuba the creation or use of an externally supported military capability endangering the security of the United States.”
Additionally, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Edwin Martin sought a resolution of support from the (OAS) Organization of American States. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, brought the matter before the U.N. Security Council. In the evening Robert Kennedy meet with Ambassador Dobrynin at the Soviet Embassy, per his brother’s request. Afterwards, he relayed the conversation to President Kennedy and Britain Ambassador, David Ormsby-Gore at the White House.
Monday, October 22, 1962: That morning, President Kennedy spoke to all three living former presidents (Hoover, Truman & Eisenhower), seeking their advice. He then spent the day with his advisors and the ExComm members, working out details for his address to the nation.
Then, at 7:00 p.m., he made a televised address, revealing the evidence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. He called for their immediate removal and announced the establishment of a naval quarantine around Cuba until the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle the missile sites. He also made it clear that no and to make additional missiles should be shipped to Cuba. Near the conclusion of his speech, JFK stated:
“My fellow citizens: let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can see precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead–months in which our patience and our will will be tested–months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.”
Sunday, October 21, 1962: After attending Mass at St. Stephen’s Church with Mrs. Kennedy, the President meets with General Walter Sweeney of the Tactical Air Command who tells him that an air strike could not guarantee 100% destruction of the missiles.
“Secretary Dillon recalled that we sent United States missiles to Europe because we had so many of them we did not know where to put them” (National Security Council Minutes).
“And in the present days of strain, it is well to remember that no country’s leader supported the U.S. more forcefully than did France. General de Gaulle said, ‘It is exactly what I would have done,’ adding that it was not necessary to see the photographs, as ‘a great government such as yours does not act without evidence.’ Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany voiced his support as well, and the Soviet Union was prevented from separating the U.S. from Europe. (John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister of Canada, was greatly concerned with how to convince the rest of the world” (40-41).