The missile crisis

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the event that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The so-called missile crisis was the diplomatic conflict between the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba in October 1962, and was generated as a result of the discovery by the United States of the existence of medium-range nuclear missile bases installed by the Soviet Army in Cuba. It was one of the biggest crises between the two powers during the Cold War and, in the opinion of many experts, when it came closest to a confrontation with atomic weapons. The presence of the bases was discovered thanks to the flights over Cuba of the famous U2 spy plane, which was able to photograph the installations of the Soviet bases on the island.

Between June 17 and October 22, in the framework of Operation Anadir, the Soviet Union sent Cuba 24 launch platforms, 42 R-12 rockets, some 45 nuclear warheads, 42 Ilyushin Il-28 bombers, a fighter aircraft regiment that included 40 MiG-21 aircraft, two Soviet air defense divisions, four mechanized infantry regiments, and other military units, totaling some 47,000 soldiers based in Cuba. Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet government, ordered that this military deployment be carried out in the most secret way possible, against the wishes of Fidel Castro, who had requested that it be made public for propaganda purposes. Castro’s victory in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba – carried out by paramilitaries of exiled Cubans and supported by the United States and liquidated in 72 hours – had reinforced Cuba’s bond with the Soviet Union and Fidel’s revolutionary pride.

It must all be said: in 1958 and 1959, in the midst of the Cold War and under the government of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States deployed ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads in Italy and Turkey, NATO member countries that sought to stop Soviet expansion. It was the SM-78 Jupiter missiles, with a range of 2,400 kilometers. The nuclear warhead that each projectile carried had a destructive power of 1.44 megatons, the equivalent of 100 “Little Boy”, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The Soviet response to that threat came three years later on the Caribbean island.

As a counterattack after the Bay of Pigs disaster, the United States had launched Operation Mongoose in October 1961, a secret plan for a military invasion of Cuba, but now carried out head-on and directly using the US army. The plan was to provoke the conflict through a false flag operation in the style of the USS Maine explosion, the incident in the port of Havana in 1898, which started the war with Spain. A similar event was searched for that took place at the Guantánamo Naval Base or in the jurisdictional waters of Cuba. But the intelligence services of the Soviet Union discovered the imminent military invasion plan and notified Cuba.

Ever since the United States learned of the Soviet bases on Cuban territory, installed just 90 miles from its shores, events have unfolded relentlessly and the entire world held its breath. The confrontation was personified by John Kennedy, the US president, and Nikita Khrushchev, the Russian premier. The third in contention was Fidel Castro, leader of the revolution that only three years before had been imposed in Cuba. This determined that the OAS also intervened in the conflict. At first, everyone played strong: mutual threats, more U2 flights over Cuba at the risk of being shot down by a missile, the US naval blockade around the island with ships from other Latin American countries, secret negotiations between the US and Russian leaders. without the participation of the Cuban who, with supreme unconsciousness, exposed Cuban soil to a foreign invasion or a nuclear attack.

For reasons of space, it is not possible for me to detail the process that culminated on October 29, when Nikita Khrushchev sent Fidel Castro a report communicating the terms of the protocol that the Soviets and the United States had already agreed on Cuba: Soviet nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. medium rangers would withdraw from the island. Some time later, two of the protagonists of the conflict disappeared from the scene: Kennedy, assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963; Khrushchev, removed from office by the politburo on October 14, 1964. Instead, Fidel Castro remained in power for another 54 years until his death in 2016.

Since the end of the crisis, the world was no longer the same. To begin with, the conflict set the direct line between Washington and Moscow, giving fame to the famous red telephone. The nuclear threat hovered over the rest of the prodigious decade, and the Cold War remained a constant part of the world’s political and military menu. The escalation of the missiles in Cuba was a symbol of the time, especially because Cuba was definitively incorporated into the Soviet orbit and the blockade, as a result of the Russian advance on the Caribbean, was no longer lifted. It was clear that in the resolution of the conflict, Russia did not consider Cuba’s position relevant and the solution excluded the opinion of its government. That demonstrated the foolishness of the Cuban regime by lending itself to an operation that took the tension between the two great powers of the moment to the limit. Che Guevara himself condemned this Russian contempt for his new satellite.

Today the world is so different that it amazes. The Soviet Union no longer exists and the Cold War – which was believed to have ended after the collapse of one of the contenders – seems to be reissuing between Russia, which has become a terrorist and invading country, and the entire West. Communism, as a political regime, is barely perpetuated in China, North Korea and what remains of the Cuban revolution. However, the nuclear danger has not disappeared. At some point after the missile crisis, weapons of mutual destruction became a deterrent for both blocs. Fear prevailed over the warlike delirium. The laborious policy of disarmament, which included more countries with agreements concluded in this regard, added to the Helsinski agreement of 1973, on the security of the borders of European countries, has been threatened by the hidden warnings of Vladimir Putin about the use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war.

Is the world on the verge of another crisis like the one in 1962? Is the nuclear arsenal available in the world capable of being controlled judiciously? Very recently Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe located in Ukraine, suffered a fire and is controlled by the invading Russian army, while also suffering from the nearby fall of missiles. If it were to suffer an accident or attack that would release its radioactive potential, the Chernobyl disaster would be fireworks compared to what could happen in Zaporizhia.

Six decades after what happened in Cuba, the nuclear threat has returned: one of the buttons is under the finger of a psychopath and the red telephone no longer exists.

The missile crisis