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Cuban missile crisis

Soviet missilesSoviet missilesThe Cold War entered its most dangerous phase when aerial reconnaissance revealed the secret deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles to its ally, Cuba, in September 1962.

The deployment was partly in response to the US decision to site similar rockets in Turkey, within striking range the southern flank of the USSR.

The Soviet medium range ballistic missiles were capable of hitting US targets within minutes and were viewed as first strike weapons that would disable a US retaliation and enable the USSR to win a nuclear war.

Crisis headlineCrisis headlineOn 22 October, President John F Kennedy ordered a naval cordon to be thrown around Cuba to prevent the further delivery of missiles and he publicly demanded the removal of the existing arsenal. The Soviets countered with a demand that the Americans remove their Turkish nuclear missiles.

In the face of intense diplomatic pressure and amid worldwide fear of imminent nuclear war, the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, pledged to evacuate the Cuban stockpile. This was only on condition that Kennedy lift the threat of a US invasion of Cuba and recall the Turkish arsenal.

The standoff was the closest that the world came to nuclear war but arguably it also showed the value of deterrents - both sides were willing to go the extra mile in negotiations because the risk of mutual annihilation was so great.

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