The Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13-day confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union in 1962, initiated by the discovery of ballistic missile deployment in Cuba. The bitter situation began after Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev fulfilled Cuba’s request to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter a future invasion, in response to the presence of US Jupiter ballistic missiles strategically placed in Italy and Turkey. Many historians believe the face-off was the closest the two superpowers came to World War 3, but documents obtained by Express.co.uk reveal just how close the world came to complete nuclear annihilation.
In a series of letters between Washington and London – including direct talks between US President John F Kennedy and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, lay bare the horrific details.
One letter, dated October 26, 1962, came from David Ormsby-Gore – the British ambassador in Washington to his peers in London, revealing discussions between JFK and the former Secretary General of the United Nations – U Thant.
He writes: “I have not been able to see the President, but he did, however, telephone this morning and I was able to ask him how long he felt they could give U Thant to try and produce a satisfactory and verified standstill.
“He said that the evidence was that the Soviets were pushing ahead preparing the missile sites and the United States could not therefore wait very much longer.
“It was not possible to carry the matter further on the telephone.
“But I have just come from seeing Dean Rusk (former Secretary of State for JFK), I could not disclose to him my knowledge of the exchange of messages last night and was not therefore able to get the texts.”
In the letters, Mr Ormsby-Gore reveals how Mr Rusk detailed a plea from the United Nations to JFK, to which he had reportedly agreed to.
He added: “However, he did tell me that U Thant had telephoned an hour earlier and asked whether, if he was able to obtain satisfactory assurance from the Soviet Union and Cuba involving effective United Nations verification of a standstill, the United States would be able to give assurance that they would cary out no armed attack on Cuba of two or three weeks while talks on substance went forward.
“The Americans had replied that they would be prepared in these circumstances to give such an assurance.
“The missiles capable of offensive action must remain inoperable.
“The Americans could not suspend their quarantine arrangement or give any undertaking to attack unless the Secretary-General could arrange for such a standstill including satisfactory verification of compliance with it.”
Had any of these requirements not been met, it is likely the US, with the backing of the west, would have launched a nuclear attack on Cuba.
In turn, thanks to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) the Soviets would have immediately fired back, promising to finally cause the complete annihilation of each other.
Thankfully, it took just two days for the stalemate to break after the letters.
On October 28, after much deliberation between the Soviet Union and Kennedy’s cabinet, the US President secretly agreed with Khrushchev to remove all missiles set in Turkey and possibly southern Italy.
When all offensive missiles and light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 21, 1962.
A series of agreements reduced US-Soviet tensions for several years until both parties began to build their nuclear arsenal even further.