Caution called lesson of Cuban missile crisis
By Marion Lloyd, Globe Correspondent
HAVANA - Forty years after the United States and Cuba came to the brink
of nuclear war, key players in the Cuban missile crisis gathered here
yesterday to share secrets they hope will help avert another showdown with
potentially catastrophic results.
''There's a lot of concern about avoiding a World War III,'' said David
associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto and a specialist
on the missile crisis.
Participants in the three-day conference - organized by the Cuban government,
National Security Archive in Washington, D.C., and Brown University - include
former Kennedy administration officials and former Soviet military officers and their
Cuban counterparts. Fidel Castro, president of Cuba, who in October 1962 asked
the Soviet Union to protect his communist country against an expected US
invasion, is participating.
While the meeting is focusing on the 13-day drama, which ended when the
Union agreed to pull the missiles from Cuba, the parallels with a possible US war
on Iraq were hard to ignore.
''Let's hope our leaders have learned their history and see how this was
and show caution in responding to today's crisis,'' said Wayne Smith, director of
the Washington-based Center for International Policy and a longtime US
government adviser on Cuba.
On Monday, President Bush justified proposed military action in Iraq by
from a speech by President Kennedy in which Kennedy spelled out his reasons for
a naval quarantine of Cuba and announced the possibility of a US military attack.
However, former Kennedy aides said Bush had taken his predecessor's words out
of context by suggesting that he intended to order a preemptive strike against
''This was not preemption. This was the reverse of preemption,'' said Robert
McNamara, Kennedy's defense secretary and a key participant in the conference.
He said that by using the word ''quarantine'' rather than ''blockade'' to describe the
US-imposed ban on Soviet ships headed for Cuba, Kennedy was deliberately
trying to emphasize the defensive nature of US policy.
Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, is also attending. She said
Thursday night that any unilateral attack on Iraq would run counter to US
''It's not in our nature,'' Kennedy said. ''It's not in our history. It's
not in our national
McNamara led the afternoon discussion, which was closed to the media, by
13 questions to Russian and Cuban participants in an effort to flesh out the missing
pieces of the standoff, according to participants.
This is the sixth time officials and historians from the three countries
have met to
discuss the missile crisis.
During the previous conference, in 1992, US officials discovered that the
already had put tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba before the US quarantine. If
Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier during the crisis, had not backed down and
agreed to remove the missiles, Kennedy would have been forced to attack, almost
certainly unleashing a full-scale nuclear war.
Although there have been no such bombshells at the current conference,
Soviet military official surprised participants by describing how Castro had urged
the Soviets to come clean on their plans to install missiles in Cuba. Castro even
dispatched Che Guevara, a fellow revolutionary leader, to Moscow to lobby
''The Cubans said the mistake was installing missiles secretly,'' the military
was quoted as saying in a press briefing during yesterday's sessions.
''That would have tied our hands,'' said Theodore Sorensen, a key policy
and speechwriter for President Kennedy. He said the Soviet Union could have
justified the move by arguing that it was responding to Washington's decision to put
missiles in Turkey, within striking range of the Soviet Union.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.