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Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

Donald T. Critchlow

It seems that everyone in Hollywood is on the political Left. “Seems” is the operative word here, because there are actually Republicans in pictures, at least according to this website. (NB: I have no idea whether the folks who created this list know what they’re talking about, so beware.) Nonetheless, it’s pretty certain that most–the vast majority?– of Hollywood-types are on the Left.

But it wasn’t always so, as Donald T. Critchlow shows in his fascinating book When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2013). There was a time–the 1940s and 1950s–when Conservatives were an important and very vocal faction in Hollywood. This group emerged out of opposition to the New Deal and found their issue in anti-Communism. They were, truth be told, never terribly numerous. But they made up for their small numbers by their political savvy and, ultimately, their ability to produce skillful, viable political candidates. One of them, of course, was Ronald Reagan, who proved to be very skillful and very viable indeed. It’s a remarkable and largely forgotten story. Listen in.

This interview is brought to you by Cambridge University Press.

Listen here.

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(Image: Library of Congress)

Obama: Ike Redivivus?

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online March 11, 2014
In critique of the George W. Bush administration, and in praise of the perceived foreign-policy restraint of Obama’s first five years in the White House, a persistent myth has arisen that Obama is reminiscent of Eisenhower — in the sense of being a president who kept America out of other nations’ affairs and did not waste blood and treasure chasing imaginary enemies.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Andrew Bacevich, Fareed Zakaria (“Why Barack Is like Ike”), and a host of others have made such romantic, but quite misleading, arguments about the good old days under the man they consider the last good Republican president.

Ike was no doubt a superb president. Yet while he could be sober and judicious in deploying American forces abroad, he was hardly the non-interventionist of our present fantasies, who is so frequently used and abused to score partisan political points.

There is a strange disconnect about Eisenhower’s supposed policy of restraint, especially in reference to the Middle East, and his liberal use of the CIA in covert operations. While romanticizing Ike, we often deplore the 1953 coup in Iran and the role of the CIA, but seem to forget that it was Ike who ordered the CIA intervention that helped to lead to the ouster of Mossadegh and to bring the Shah to absolute power. Ike thought that he saw threats to Western oil supplies, believed that Mossadegh was both unstable and a closet Communist, sensed the covert hand of the Soviet Union at work, was won over by the arguments of British oil politics, and therefore simply decided Mossadegh should go — and he did.

Ike likewise ordered the CIA-orchestrated removal of the leaders of Guatemala and the Congo. He bequeathed to JFK the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion, which had been born on the former’s watch. His bare-faced lie that a U-2 spy plane had not been shot down in Russia did terrible damage to U.S. credibility at the time.

The Eisenhower administration formulated the domino theory, and Ike was quite logically the first U.S. president to insert American advisers into Southeast Asia, a move followed by a formal SEATO defense treaty to protect most of Southeast Asia from Communist aggression — one of the most interventionist commitments of the entire Cold War, which ended with over 58,000 Americans dead in Vietnam and helicopters fleeing from the rooftop of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

Eisenhower’s “New Look” foreign policy of placing greater reliance on threats to use nuclear weapons, unleashing the CIA, and crafting new entangling alliances may have fulfilled its short-term aims of curbing the politically unpopular and costly use of conventional American troops overseas. Its long-term ramifications, however, became all too clear in the 1960s and 1970s. Mostly, Ike turned to reliance on nuke-rattling because of campaign promises to curb spending and balance the budget by cutting conventional defense forces — which earned him the furor of Generals Omar Bradley, Douglas MacArthur, and Matthew Ridgway.

In many ways, Eisenhower’s Mideast policy lapsed into incoherency, notably in the loud condemnation of the 1956 British-French operations in Suez (after Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal), which otherwise might have weakened or toppled Nasser. This stance of Eisenhower’s (who was up for reelection) may have also contradicted prior tacit assurances to the British that the U.S. would in fact look the other way.

The unexpected American opposition eroded transatlantic relations for years as well as helped to topple the Eden government in Britain. Somehow all at once the U.S. found itself humiliating its two closest allies, empowering Nasser, and throwing its lot in with the Soviet Union and the oil blackmailers of Saudi Arabia — with ramifications for the ensuing decades.

Yet just two years later, Ike ordered 15,000 troops into Lebanon to prevent a coup and the establishment of an anti-Western government — precisely those anti-American forces that had been emboldened by the recent Suez victory of the pan-Arabist Nasser. We forget that Ike was nominated not just in opposition to the non-interventionist policies of Robert Taft, but also as an antidote to the purportedly milk-toast Truman administration, which had supposedly failed to confront global Communism and thereby “lost” much of Asia.

Eisenhower gave wonderful speeches about the need to curtail costly conventional forces and to avoid overseas commitments, but much of his defense strategy was predicated on a certain inflexible and dangerous reliance on nuclear brinksmanship. In 1952 he ran to the right of the departing Harry Truman on the Korean War, and unleashed Nixon to make the argument of Democratic neo-appeasement in failing to get China out of Korea. Yet when he assumed office, Eisenhower soon learned that hinting at the use of nuclear weapons did not change the deadlock near the 38th Parallel. Over 3,400 casualties (including perhaps over 800 dead) were incurred during the Eisenhower administration’s first six months. Yet the July 1953 ceasefire ended the war with roughly the same battlefield positions as when Ike entered office. Pork Chop Hill — long before John Kerry’s baleful notion about the last man to die in Vietnam — became emblematic of a futile battle on the eve of a negotiated stalemate.

Ike’s occasional opportunism certainly turned off more gifted field generals like Matthew Ridgway, who found it ironic that candidate Ike had cited a lack of American resolve to finish the Korean War with an American victory, only to institutionalize Ridgway’s much-criticized but understandable restraint after his near-miraculous restoration of South Korea. In addition, Ridgway deplored the dangerous false economy of believing that postwar conventional forces could be pruned while the U.S. could rely instead on threatening the use of nuclear weapons. He almost alone foresaw rightly that an emerging concept of mutually assured destruction would make the conventional Army and Marines as essential as ever.

As a footnote, Eisenhower helped to marginalize the career of Ridgway, the most gifted U.S. battlefield commander of his era. Ike bore grudges and was petty enough to write, quite untruthfully, that General James Van Fleet, not Ridgway, had recaptured Seoul — even though the former had not even yet arrived in the Korean theater. That unnecessary snub was reminiscent of another to his former patron George Marshall during the campaign of 1952. Ridgway, remember, would later talk Eisenhower out of putting more advisers into Vietnam.

The problem with the Obama administration is not that it does or does not intervene, given the differing contours of each crisis, but rather that it persists in giving loud sermons that bear no relationship to the actions that do or do not follow: red lines in Syria followed by Hamlet-like deliberations and acceptance of Putin’s bogus WMD removal plan; flip-flop-flip in Egypt; in Libya, lead from behind followed by Benghazi and chaos; deadlines and sanctions to no deadlines and no sanctions with Iran; reset reset with Russia; constant public scapegoating of his predecessors, especially Bush; missile defense and then no missile defense in Eastern Europe; Guantanamo, renditions, drones, and preventive detentions all bad in 2008 and apparently essential in 2009; civilian trials for terrorists and then not; and Orwellian new terms like overseas contingency operations, workplace violence, man-caused disasters, a secular Muslim Brotherhood, jihad as a personal journey, and a chief NASA mission being outreach to Muslims. We forget that the non-interventionist policies of Jimmy Carter abruptly ended with his bellicose “Carter Doctrine” — birthed after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, American hostages were taken in Tehran and Khomeinists had taken power, China went into Vietnam, and Communist insurgencies swept Central America.

As for Dwight Eisenhower, of course he was an admirable and successful president who squared the circle of trying to contain expansionary Soviet and Chinese Communism at a time when the postwar American public was rightly tired of war, while balancing three budgets, building infrastructure, attempting to deal with civil rights, and promoting economic growth. Yet the Republican Ike continued for six months the identical Korean War policies of his unpopular Democratic predecessor Harry Truman, and helped to lay the foundation for the Vietnam interventions of his successors, Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. That the initial blow-ups in Korea and Vietnam bookended his own administration may have been a matter of luck, given his own similar interventionist Cold War policies.

Bush was probably no Ike (few are), and certainly Obama is not either. But to score contemporary political points against one and for the other by reinventing Eisenhower into a model non-interventionist is a complete distortion of history. So should we laugh or cry at the fantasies offered by Andrew Bacevich? He writes: “Remember the disorder that followed the Korean War? It was called the Eisenhower era, when budgets balanced, jobs were plentiful and no American soldiers died in needless wars.”

In fact, the post–Korean War “Eisenhower era” was characterized by only three balanced budgets (in at least one case with some budget gimmickry) out of the remaining seven Eisenhower years. In 1958 the unemployment rate spiked at over 7 percent for a steady six months. Bacevich’s simplistic notion that “jobs were plentiful” best applies to the first six months of 1953, when Ike entered office and, for the only time during his entire tenure, the jobless rate was below 3 percent — coinciding roughly with the last six months of fighting the Korean War. This was an age, remember, when we had not yet seen the West German, South Korean, and Japanese democratic and economic miracles (all eventually due to U.S. interventions and occupations), China and Russia were in ruins, Western Europe was still recovering from the war, Britain had gone on a nationalizing binge, and for a brief time the U.S. was largely resupplying the world, and mostly alone — almost entirely with its own oil, gas, and coal. Eisenhower’s term was characterized by intervention in Lebanon, fighting for stalemate in Korea, CIA-led coups and assassinations, the insertion of military advisers into Vietnam, new anti-Communist treaty entanglements to protect Southeast Asian countries, a complete falling out with our European allies, abject lies about spy flights over the Soviet Union, serial nuclear saber-rattling, and Curtis LeMay’s nuclear-armed overflights of the Soviet Union — in other words, the not-so-abnormal stuff of a Cold War presidency.

And the idea that, to quote from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Eisenhower “could then take enormous pride in the fact that not a single soldier had died in combat during his time” is, well, unhinged.

National Review Online contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals

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The New Yorker    JANUARY 23, 2014

dr-strangelove-still-580.jpg

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Released on January 29, 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” Another compared it to Soviet propaganda. Although “Strangelove” was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” (See a compendium of clips from the film.) When “Fail-Safe”—a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet—opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth—and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATOofficers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?

With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. But the alternative—allowing an attack on the United States to go unanswered or NATO forces to be overrun—seemed a lot worse. Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being “very fearful of having written papers on this matter.”

President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn, just a few weeks after taking office, about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them. And there was little to prevent NATO officers from Turkey, Holland, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany from using them without the approval of the United States.

In December, 1960, fifteen members of Congress serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had toured NATO bases to investigate how American nuclear weapons were being deployed. They found that the weapons—some of them about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel. American control of the weapons was practically nonexistent. Harold Agnew, a Los Alamos physicist who accompanied the group, was especially concerned to see German pilots sitting in German planes that were decorated with Iron Crosses—and carrying American atomic bombs. Agnew, in his own words, “nearly wet his pants” when he realized that a lone American sentry with a rifle was all that prevented someone from taking off in one of those planes and bombing the Soviet Union.

* * *

The Kennedy Administration soon decided to put locking devices inside NATO’s nuclear weapons. The coded electromechanical switches, known as “permissive action links” (PALs), would be placed on the arming lines. The weapons would be inoperable without the proper code—and that code would be shared with NATO allies only when the White House was prepared to fight the Soviets. The American military didn’t like the idea of these coded switches, fearing that mechanical devices installed to improve weapon safety would diminish weapon reliability. A top-secret State Department memo summarized the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1961: “all is well with the atomic stockpile program and there is no need for any changes.”

After a crash program to develop the new control technology, during the mid-nineteen-sixties, permissive action links were finally placed inside most of the nuclear weapons deployed by NATO forces. But Kennedy’s directive applied only to the NATO arsenal. For years, the Air Force and the Navy blocked attempts to add coded switches to the weapons solely in their custody. During a national emergency, they argued, the consequences of not receiving the proper code from the White House might be disastrous. And locked weapons might play into the hands of Communist saboteurs. “The very existence of the lock capability,” a top Air Force general claimed, “would create a fail-disable potential for knowledgeable agents to ‘dud’ the entire Minuteman [missile] force.” The Joint Chiefs thought that strict military discipline was the best safeguard against an unauthorized nuclear strike. A two-man rule was instituted to make it more difficult for someone to use a nuclear weapon without permission. And a new screening program, the Human Reliability Program, was created to stop people with emotional, psychological, and substance-abuse problems from gaining access to nuclear weapons.

Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove” ’s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war.

Coded switches to prevent the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons were finally added to the control systems of American missiles and bombers in the early nineteen-seventies. The Air Force was not pleased, and considered the new security measures to be an insult, a lack of confidence in its personnel. Although the Air Force now denies this claim, according to more than one source I contacted, the code necessary to launch a missile was set to be the same at every Minuteman site: 00000000.

* * *

The early permissive action links were rudimentary. Placed in NATO weapons during the nineteen-sixties and known as Category A PALs, the switches relied on a split four-digit code, with ten thousand possible combinations. If the United States went to war, two people would be necessary to unlock a nuclear weapon, each of them provided with half the code. Category A PALs were useful mainly to delay unauthorized use, to buy time after a weapon had been taken or to thwart an individual psychotic hoping to cause a large explosion. A skilled technician could open a stolen weapon and unlock it within a few hours. Today’s Category D PALs, installed in the Air Force’s hydrogen bombs, are more sophisticated. They require a six-digit code, with a million possible combinations, and have a limited-try feature that disables a weapon when the wrong code is repeatedly entered.

The Air Force’s land-based Minuteman III missiles and the Navy’s submarine-based Trident II missiles now require an eight-digit code—which is no longer 00000000—in order to be launched. The Minuteman crews receive the code via underground cables or an aboveground radio antenna. Sending the launch code to submarines deep underwater presents a greater challenge. Trident submarines contain two safes. One holds the keys necessary to launch a missile; the other holds the combination to the safe with the keys; and the combination to the safe holding the combination must be transmitted to the sub by very-low-frequency or extremely-low-frequency radio. In a pinch, if Washington, D.C., has been destroyed and the launch code doesn’t arrive, the sub’s crew can open the safes with a blowtorch.

The security measures now used to control America’s nuclear weapons are a vast improvement over those of 1964. But, like all human endeavors, they are inherently flawed. The Department of Defense’s Personnel Reliability Program is supposed to keep people with serious emotional or psychological issues away from nuclear weapons—and yet two of the nation’s top nuclear commanders were recently removed from their posts. Neither appears to be the sort of calm, stable person you want with a finger on the button. In fact, their misbehavior seems straight out of “Strangelove.”

Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, the second-highest-ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command—the organization responsible for all of America’s nuclear forces—-was investigated last summer for allegedly using counterfeit gambling chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, “a significant monetary amount” of counterfeit chips was involved. Giardina was relieved of his command on October 3, 2013. A few days later, Major General Michael Carey, the Air Force commander in charge of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, was fired for conduct “unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” According to a report by the Inspector General of the Air Force, Carey had consumed too much alcohol during an official trip to Russia, behaved rudely toward Russian officers, spent time with “suspect” young foreign women in Moscow, loudly discussed sensitive information in a public hotel lounge there, and drunkenly pleaded to get onstage and sing with a Beatles cover band at La Cantina, a Mexican restaurant near Red Square. Despite his requests, the band wouldn’t let Carey onstage to sing or to play the guitar.

While drinking beer in the executive lounge at Moscow’s Marriott Aurora during that visit, General Carey made an admission with serious public-policy implications. He off-handedly told a delegation of U.S. national-security officials that his missile-launch officers have the “worst morale in the Air Force.” Recent events suggest that may be true. In the spring of 2013, nineteen launch officers at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota were decertified for violating safety rules and poor discipline. In August, 2013, the entire missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana failed its safety inspection. Last week, the Air Force revealed that thirty-four launch officers at Malmstrom had been decertified for cheating on proficiency exams—and that at least three launch officers are being investigated for illegal drug use. The findings of a report by the RAND Corporation, leaked to the A.P., were equally disturbing. The study found that the rates of spousal abuse and court martials among Air Force personnel with nuclear responsibilities are much higher than those among people with other jobs in the Air Force. “We don’t care if things go properly,” a launch officer told RAND. “We just don’t want to get in trouble.”

The most unlikely and absurd plot element in “Strangelove” is the existence of a Soviet “Doomsday Machine.” The device would trigger itself, automatically, if the Soviet Union were attacked with nuclear weapons. It was meant to be the ultimate deterrent, a threat to destroy the world in order to prevent an American nuclear strike. But the failure of the Soviets to tell the United States about the contraption defeats its purpose and, at the end of the film, inadvertently causes a nuclear Armageddon. “The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost,” Dr. Strangelove, the President’s science adviser, explains to the Soviet Ambassador, “if you keep it a secret!”

A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.

In retrospect, Kubrick’s black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media.

“This is absolute madness, Ambassador,” President Merkin Muffley says in the film, after being told about the Soviets’ automated retaliatory system. “Why should you build such a thing?” Fifty years later, that question remains unanswered, and “Strangelove” seems all the more brilliant, bleak, and terrifyingly on the mark.

You can read Eric Schlosser’s guide to the long-secret documents that help explain the risks America took with its nuclear arsenal, and watch and read his deconstruction of clips from “Dr. Strangelove” and from a little-seen film about permissive action links.

Eric Schlosser is the author of “Command and Control.”

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The Last Nuclear Weapons Left Cuba in December 1962

Soviet Military Documents Provide Detailed Account of Cuban Missile Crisis Deployment and Withdrawal

New Evidence on Tactical Nuclear Weapons – 59 Days in Cuba

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 449
Posted December 11, 2013

Edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton
With Anna Melyakova

http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB449/1b%20beloborodov%20indigirka.jpg

Col. Beloborodov on board the Indigirka bound for Cuba, 1962 (photo courtesy of Beloborodov family and Michael Dobbs)

Washington, DC, December 11, 2013 – The last Soviet nuclear warheads in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis did not leave the island until December 1, 1962, according to Soviet military documents published today for the first time in English by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org).

At 9 o’clock in the morning on December 1, 1962, the large Soviet cargo ship Arkhangelsk quietly left the Cuban port of Mariel and headed east across the Atlantic to its home port of Severomorsk near Murmansk. This inconspicuous departure in fact signified the end of the most dangerous crisis of the Cold War. What was called «the Beloborodov cargo» in the Soviet top secret cables — the nuclear warheads that the Soviet armed forces had deployed in Cuba in October 1962 — was shipped back to the Soviet Union on Arkhangelsk.

According to the documents, Soviet nuclear warheads stayed on the Cuban territory for 59 days — from the arrival of the ship Indigirka on October 4 to the departure of Arkhangelsk on December 1. U.S. intelligence at the time had no idea about the nature of the Arkhangelsk cargo. Arkhangelsk carried 80 warheads for the land-based cruise missile FKR-1, 12 warheads for the dual-use Luna (Frog) launcher, and 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers — in total, 98 tactical nuclear warheads. Four other nuclear warheads, for torpedoes on the Foxtrot submarines, had already returned to the Soviet Union, as well as 24 warheads for the R-14 missiles, which arrived in Cuba on October 25 on the ship Aleksandrovsk, but were never unloaded. The available evidence suggests that the 36 warheads for the R-12 missiles that came to Cuba on the Indigirka also left on Aleksandrovsk, being loaded at Mariel between October 30 and November 3.

The question of tactical nuclear weapons — their number, their intended use, command and control procedures, and even the dates of their arrival and departure — has created many puzzles for students of the Cuban Missile Crisis for years since the planner of Operation Anadyr, General Anatoly Ivanovich Gribkov, revealed their presence in Cuba in 1962 at a critical oral history conference of American, Soviet and Cuban policymakers and scholars in Havana in January 1992, co-organized by the National Security Archive. In the last twenty years, numerous scholars have published on the issue, each introducing additional evidence and moving the debate forward step by step.[1]

Today’s posting brings together the most important pieces of evidence documenting the presence of tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba during the Missile Crisis — the most authoritative story so far based on documents. Although many of the documents included here were previously published in English by the Archive and by the Cold War International History Project, this posting includes three newly translated documents, never available before in English, which provide detailed accounts of the Soviet deployment of missile forces and nuclear warheads and the exact chronology of the deployment.

One of the new documents, a contemporaneous after-action report written in December 1962 by Major General Igor Statsenko, provides details of the deployment and withdrawal of the Missile Division (the R-12 and R-14 regiments and supporting personnel) under Statsenko’s command (Document 1). A second new document is the report written by Lieutenant General Nikolai Beloborodov (commander of the Soviet nuclear arsenal in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis) in the 1990s, most likely on the basis of his own contemporaneous documents, which describes the delivery, deployment and withdrawal of all nuclear warheads, which were under his command (Document 2).

Former CIA photointerpreter Dino Brugioni takes pictures of FKR and Luna missiles in Cuba, 2002 (photo by Svetlana Savranskaya)

Former CIA photointerpreter Dino Brugioni takes pictures of FKR and Luna missiles in Cuba, 2002 (photo by Svetlana Savranskaya)

Both reports read as understated but pointed condemnation of the Soviet General Staff’s planning of the Cuban operation. Statsenko’s report describes shortcomings in initial reconnaissance and camouflage and ignorance of local conditions on the part of the Operation Anadyr planners. Beloborodov’s report points to difficulties with storing nuclear warheads in the tropical conditions, unanticipated transportation problems, and the camouflage issues. His report also reveals the fact that even as the Soviet Presidium was deciding to pull back the strategic missiles (ships carrying parts of Statsenko’s division turned around on October 25 rather than challenge the U.S. quarantine of Cuba), the Soviet support troops in Cuba were given orders to unload the tactical warheads from Aleksandrovsk, and did that during the nights of October 26, 27 and 28-because at that moment, the Soviets were planning to leave tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. On the basis of these two reports and all other Soviet documents available today, the following chronology outlines the Soviet decisions relating to the tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba.

Brief chronology of Soviet tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba:

  • May 24, 1962 -original plan for Operation Anadyr included deployment of 80 FKR cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.
  • June 10-Operation Anadyr approved by the Soviet Presidium.
  • September 7-the «Pitsunda decision.» Khrushchev augmented the original plan by adding 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers and 12 short-range nuclear missiles for the dual-use system Luna/Frog.
  • October 4-Indigirka arrived in Mariel with 36 warheads for R-12, 36 warheads for FKR, 12 warheads for Lunas, and 6 nuclear bombs for Il-28s.
  • October 22-Presidium discussed the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons in the event of an American invasion of Cuba.
  • October 23-Aleksandrovsk arrived in La Isabella with 24 warheads for R-14 and 44 warheads for FKRs.
  • October 26-28-Aleksandrovsk «partially» unloaded-warheads for FKRs were unloaded and sent to units.
  • October 30-Aleksandrovsk ordered back to Severomorsk still carrying the 24 warheads for R-14s, after probably loading the 36 R-12 warheads at Mariel harbor and departing November 3.[2]
  • November 2-Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Cuba as Khrushchev’s special envoy.
  • November 8-Mikoyan suggested transferring «all remaining weapons» to the Cubans after special training.
  • Nov 12-Khrushchev decided to remove the IL-28 bombers.
  • November 22-Mikoyan informed the Cuban leadership that all nuclear weapons would be removed from Cuba.[3]
  • December 1-all tactical nuclear warheads left Cuba on Arkhangelsk.
  • December 20-Arkhangelsk arrived in Severomorsk.

The original Soviet plan for Operation Anadyr, presented to the Presidium on May 24, 1962 and finally approved on June 10, in addition to the deployment of the R-12 and R-14 missiles, provided for the inclusion in the Soviet Group of Forces in Cuba of 80 land-based front cruise missiles (FKR) with the range of 111 miles (Document 3). In September, Khrushchev decided to strengthen the Group of Soviet forces in Cuba and augment the nuclear portion of the deployment with additional 12 tactical dual-use Luna (Frog) launchers with 12 nuclear warheads for them, and 6 nuclear bombs for specially fitted IL-28 bombers, although he rejected a Defense Ministry proposal also to add 18 nuclear-armed R-11 short-range SCUD missiles (Document 5).

The strategic missiles, R-12 and R-14, could only be used by direct orders from Moscow. To the best of our knowledge, Soviet commanders in Cuba did not have the physical capability to use them without the codes sent from the Center. However, there is considerable debate as to whether commanders of tactical weapons units had authority to launch their own nuclear warheads (Document 7). They certainly had the capability.

Initially, at the Havana conference in 1992, General Gribkov stated that such authorization was given by the central command in the event of a U.S. airborne landing in Cuba. He presented a draft order providing for such pre-authorization, but that order was not signed by Defense Minister Malinovsky. According to Gribkov and other Soviet participants of the crisis, such authorization was given by Malinovsky orally to commanders before their departure for Cuba. The cable sent later, on October 27, categorically forbidding Soviet military to use tactical nuclear weapons without an order from Moscow, shows that the Soviet Presidium was very concerned about an unauthorized use of tactical weapons (Document 11). This provides indirect support to the argument that it was the understanding of the field commanders that tactical nuclear weapons would be used to repel a U.S. attack on Cuba. Even if the official pre-authorization order was not signed by the Defense Minister, we can conclude that in all likelihood, tactical nuclear weapons would most definitely be used in a first salvo if U.S. forces had landed in Cuba. The Presidium discussion of October 22 shows that the Soviet top leadership envisioned this scenario as well.

After the most dangerous phase of the crisis was resolved on October 28, and Khrushchev promised to withdraw «the weapons you call offensive» from Cuba, the world rejoiced. However, the Soviet leadership knew better-almost 43,000 troops and all the nuclear warheads were still in Cuba. Now they had to negotiate their own Soviet-Cuban missile crisis. Khrushchev sent his right-hand man, Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan, to Cuba to oversee the removal of the missiles, salvage the Soviet-Cuban friendship, and negotiate the future Soviet-Cuban military agreement.

U.S. low-level reconnaissance photo of Luna/Frog short-range missiles in Cuba, November 1962 (photo from Dino Brugioni Collection, National Security Archive)"

U.S. low-level reconnaissance photo of Luna/Frog short-range missiles in Cuba, November 1962 (photo from Dino Brugioni Collection, National Security Archive)»

When Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Cuba, in the course of his extensive conversations over three days, he informed the Cubans that all the weapons other than those specifically mentioned in the Khrushchev-Kennedy statements would be left in Cuba: «you know that not only in these letters but today also, we hold to the position that you will keep all the weapons with the exception of the ‘offensive’ weapons and associated service personnel, which were promised to be withdrawn in Khrushchev’s letter.»[4] The documents suggest, as of early November 1962, that the Soviet intention was to withdraw the offensive weapons (the strategic missiles), but keep a massive military base in Cuba and make no more concessions to the United States. All tactical nuclear weapons, IL-28s and the combat troops except missile support personnel would remain on the island. This position, however, evolved significantly in the dynamic days of the November crisis.

In his talks with the Cubans, Mikoyan gradually realized that this would not be an easy relationship. He was taken aback by the Cuban romanticism and their professed willingness to «die beautifully.» But at the same time, his priority was to keep Cuba as a Soviet ally. He thought perhaps the best solution could be to strengthen the Cuban defenses but not to keep a large Soviet base. On November 8, he proposed to the Presidium to gradually transfer all the remaining weapons to the Cuban armed forces after a period of training by Soviet military specialists (Document 13). Because none of the these tactical weapons were mentioned in the Kennedy-Khrushchev correspondence and because the Americans were essentially oblivious to their delivery to the island, at the time it seemed to him that it would have been the most natural and logical way to resolve the Soviet-Cuban crisis. He requested permission from the Central Committee to tell Castro regarding the future military agreement that rather than maintaining a Soviet military base, «the Cuban personnel with the assistance of our specialists will gradually start to operate all Soviet weapons remaining in Cuba. […] As these personnel become prepared, gradually the Soviet people will be replaced with the Cubans. Upon completion of a certain time period necessary [to master] the military technology, all Soviet personnel will be replaced by the Cuban personnel, and those Soviet experts in special areas, without whom it would be difficult for the Cuban army [to function] will stay with you and work here as advisers in such number and for such a period of time as necessary.» On November 9, Presidium member Gromyko in a cable approved Mikoyan’s new line for negotiations with the Cubans.

Just as soon as Mikoyan presented the idea to his Cuban hosts, Khrushchev decided to agree to the U.S. demand to withdraw IL-28 bombers, which created a new crisis with the Cubans, who now had good grounds to expect further Soviet concessions and unleashed their fury on Mikoyan. Trying to mend relations once again, the Soviet envoy repeated to his Cuban hosts that although IL-28s would be withdrawn, all other weapons would stay, that «Cuba’s fire power is very strong.[…] not a single other socialist country, if we leave out the Soviet Union, possesses such modern powerful combat weapons as you have.» In his conversation with Castro on November 13, speaking about the military agreement, Mikoyan stated: «I want to reiterate that very powerful defensive weapons remain in Cuba. We will be able to transfer them to you when the Cuban military officials become familiar with them. This military equipment is incomparably more powerful than any equipment that Cuba currently has. These are the most advanced weapons comrade Pavlov [Gen. Issa Pliyev, commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba] currently has. The CC CPSU’s resolution is to transfer them to you over the course of time.» Mikoyan added that «even with ground inspections, it is practically impossible to find the warheads.» (Document 14).

Over the next several days, the Cubans, from the Soviet point of view, started behaving even more erratically, making the situation more dangerous and unpredictable. Castro ordered the Cuban air defenses to shoot at low-flying U.S. aircraft and sent a message to the Cuban representative at the United Nations, Carlos Lechuga, that «we possess tactical nuclear weapons, which we should keep.» What became clear to Mikoyan during numerous conversations with the Cuban leadership is that the Soviets could not really control their Cuban ally, and that if they were going to maintain Cuba as an ally, they would need to accept the fact that the Cubans would not always follow the Soviet script and that in fact they would develop quite an independent foreign policy. In these circumstances, transferring nuclear weapons to such an ally would be too risky. The Soviets had to pull them back.

Mikoyan understood that it would be his task to reconcile his hosts to the loss of all the nuclear weapons which they were promised. He suggested this course of action to the Presidium in a cable written right after midnight on November 22. In that cable, he also proposed that as an explanation, he could tell the Cubans that the Soviet Union had an «unpublished law» that prohibited the transfer of nuclear weapons to other countries (Document 16). In the morning on November 22, Mikoyan received a cable with the Presidium’s approval of his proposal (Document 17). Mikoyan met with the top Cuban leadership to explain this decision during the long late night conversation on November 22. Castro tried to persuade Mikoyan to leave the tactical weapons in Cuba. The Cuban leader pointed out that the Americans were not aware of the presence of these weapons on the island, and that the Soviets did not have to keep a military base in Cuba but could train the Cuban military, as the initial agreement had stipulated. He said these weapons could be hidden in caves. He begged the Soviet representative to leave him the weapons that meant so much to the Cubans. But Mikoyan was not swayed by his arguments. The tactical warheads had to go home (Document 18).

On November 25, the Soviet support troops started pulling the warheads from the storage facilities to the port of Mariel and loading them on the Arkhangelsk. The loading was completed and the ship departed Cuba on December 1, 1962.

Previously declassified U.S. documents published by the National Security Archive show that U.S. intelligence did not detect any of the nuclear warheads in Cuba during the crisis — either for the strategic missiles or for the tactical delivery systems — and close examination of U.S. overhead photography by author Michael Dobbs established that U.S. intelligence never located the actual storage bunkers for the warheads. U.S. planners assumed the missile warheads were present in Cuba, but discounted the possibility — even after seeing the dual-capable Luna/Frog in reconnaissance photographs as early as October 25 — that tactical warheads were on the island or might ever be used. U.S. analysts completely mistook the FKR cruise missiles for the conventionally-armed Sopka coastal defense missiles, and never understood the likelihood that the U.S. base at Guantanamo would be smoking radiating ruin from an FKR nuclear warhead if the U.S. invaded. Thus the shock to former officials such as Robert McNamara when they heard from Soviet veterans during the historic 1992 Cuban Missile Crisis conference in Havana that tactical nuclear weapons had been part of the operation from the beginning.[5]

The National Security Archive has worked since 1986 to open Cuban Missile Crisis files in the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and Cuba, including the successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that forced release of the famous Kennedy-Khrushchev letters. The Archive’s publications on the Missile Crisis include two massive indexed collections of thousands of pages of declassified U.S. documents, two editions of a one-volume documents reader, the multi-volume briefing book for the landmark 2002 Havana conference organized by the Archive on the Missile Crisis, the 50th anniversary collection from dozens of overseas archives co-published with the Cold War International History Project, and most recently the inside account from the Soviet side by Sergo Mikoyan and Svetlana Savranskaya, which published the transcripts of the contentious Soviet-Cuban talks over withdrawal of Soviet weapons after most of the world thought the missile crisis was over.


THE DOCUMENTS

Document 1: Report of Major-General Igor Demyanovich Statsenko, Commander of the 51st Missile Division, about the Actions of the Division from 07.12.62 through 12.01.1962. Circa December 1962.

This contemporaneous after-action report, published here for the first time in English, provides invaluable detailed information on the deployment of the 51st missile division as part of the Soviet Group of Forces in Cuba. While the report describes the difficulties of the deployment, it also points to shortcomings of the General Staff planning for the deployment. The report shows how even in adverse circumstances, with part of the shipment of missiles and missile support troops interrupted by the U.S. quarantine, the 51st division deployed and assumed battle readiness ahead of schedule, and as the Cuban Missile Crisis reached its peak «on October 27th, 1962, the division was able to deliver a strike from all 24 launchers.»

Document 2: The War was Averted (Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba, 1962). Memoir of Lieutenant General Nikolai Beloborodov, head of the Soviet nuclear arsenal in Cuba. Circa early 1990s.

This memoir-report was written by Nikolai Beloborodov in the 1990s, most likely on the basis of his own contemporaneous after-action report. It provides details of transportation, deployment and removal of nuclear warheads from Cuba. His report also reveals the fact that even as the Soviet Presidium was deciding to pull back the strategic missiles (ships with missiles started turning around on October 25 so as not to challenge the U.S. quarantine line), the Soviet support troops were given orders to unload the tactical warheads from Aleksandrovsk, and did so during the nights of October 26, 27 and 28 — because at that moment, the Soviets were planning to leave tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. It is not clear from this report whether the warheads for R-12 missiles were loaded back on Aleksandrovsk before it sailed back to Moscow on November 3 but other evidence suggests that was the case.

Document 3: Memorandum from Malinovsky and Zakharov on deployment of Soviet Forces to Cuba, 24 May 1962. Translated by Raymond L. Garthoff for CWHIP.[6]

This is the original General Staff plan of Operation Anadyr presented to the Soviet Presidium on May 24 and finally approved by the Soviet leadership on June 10, 1962. As part of a large-scale deployment of the Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba, this plan provided for 16 ground-based front cruise missile launchers and five «special» nuclear warheads for each launcher — 80 in total — with a range up to 180 kilometers (111 miles).

Document 4: Memorandum from R. Malinovsky to N.S. Khrushchev. On the Possibility of Reinforcing Cuba by Air. 6 September 1962. Translated by Raymond L. Garthoff for CWHIP.

Defense Minister Malinovsky presented these proposals on expediting the shipments of weapons to Cuba and augmenting the deployment with additional tactical nuclear weapons. His proposal included adding 12 Luna/Frog launchers with nuclear warheads, 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 planes, and 18 nuclear-armed R-11M missiles [Scud A with a range of 150 kilometers].

Document 5: Memorandum from R. Malinovsky and M. Zakharov to Commander of Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba, 8 September 1962. Translated by Raymond L. Garthoff for CWHIP.

After Khrushchev’s decision on September 7, Malinovsky and Zakharov sent a revised deployment plan to the Commander of the Soviet Group of Forces. The addition of Lunas and bombs for Il-28s was approved by the top leadership, but Khrushchev canceled the deployment of R-11s.

Document 6: Memorandum from R. Malinovsky and M. Zakharov to the Chief of the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense.

Orders to the 12th Main Directorate-the unit of the Defense Ministry responsible for nuclear warheads-confirm the addition of 12 Luna warheads and 6 bombs for Il-28s to be shipped to Cuba.

Document 7: [Draft] Memorandum from R. Malinovsky and M. Zakharov to Commander of Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba on Pre-delegation of launch authority, 8 September 1962.

This memorandum, which was prepared but never signed by Defense Minister Malinovsky authorized local commanders in Cuba to make a decision to use tactical nuclear weapons in the event of a U.S. attack on Cuba if they could not establish contact with Moscow (a very similar pre-delegation policy was followed by the U.S. at the time). General Anatoly Gribkov, one of the principal planners of Operation Anadyr stated in 1992 that the memo reflected the oral instructions that commanders received in Moscow before their deployment to Cuba. The existence of this draft suggests that it was Malinovsky’s preferred option but Khrushchev probably had not approved it-therefore the memo was never signed. However, it is clear that Soviet commanders in Cuba had the capability to launch tactical nuclear weapons, and many of them subsequently stated that they had received pre-delegation instructions orally.

Document 8: Malinovsky Report on Special Ammunition for Operation Anadyr, 5 October 1962.

The Defense Minister’s report to Khrushchev about the progress of shipping of Soviet armaments to Cuba specifically states that Aleksandrovsk was fully loaded and ready to sail.

Document 9: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, 22 October 1962.

On the day that President Kennedy publicly announced the U.S. discovery of the missiles in Cuba and the U.S. quarantine, the Soviet Defense Minister orders the Commander of the Soviet Group of Forces to raise the level of combat readiness and prepare to repel a possible U.S. invasion with combined Soviet and Cuban forces but specifically excluding the missile forces (Statsenko) and all nuclear warheads («Beloborodov Cargo»).

Document 10: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, 25 October 1962.

Malinovsky orders Pliyev not to unload the warheads for R-14s from the Aleksandrovsk and get the ship ready to sail back to the USSR. The telegram does not include any instructions regarding either the FKR warheads (they were unloaded and transferred to storage) or R-12 warheads (most likely they were returned to the Soviet Union on Aleksandrovsk).

Document 11: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, 27 October 1962.

Moscow issues strict orders prohibiting local commanders from using tactical nuclear weapons. This concern on the part of the central leadership gives indirect support to Gribkov’s argument that local commanders were instructed in the spirit of the September 8 memo-that in case of an American attack, they had the authority to use tactical nuclear weapons. Now Khrushchev wanted to make it very clear that under no condition were tactical nuclear weapons to be used.

Document 12: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, circa 5 November 1962.

The telegram instructs Pliyev that tactical nuclear warheads would most likely be left in Cuba under his control.

Document 13: Telegram from Mikoyan to CC CPSU and Gromyko’s response, 8-9 November 1962.

Anastas Mikoyan, who was negotiating the resolution of the Soviet-Cuban Missile crisis with the Cuban leadership, came to the conclusion that it would be inexpedient to keep a full-scale Soviet military base in Cuba. He proposed to the Soviet Presidium to gradually transfer all the remaining weapons to the Cuban armed forces after a period of training by Soviet military specialists–«the Cuban personnel with the assistance of our specialists will gradually start to operate all Soviet weapons remaining in Cuba.» He requested Presidium approval for him to present this idea to the Cubans. The proposal was approved in the telegram signed by Gromyko on the next day.

Document 14: Record of Conversation between A. I. Mikoyan and F. Castro, 13 November 1962.

In this conversation, the first one after Khrushchev decided to remove Il-28s from Cuba, Mikoyan was trying to assure Fidel Castro that the Soviet Union was not abandoning its Latin American ally and would make no further concessions to the United States. He informed Castro that the CC CPSU passed a resolution to leave all the remaining weapons in Cuba and to transfer them to the Cuban Army over time. The Cuban firepower would not diminish and it will retain powerful defensive weapons: «These are the most advanced weapons comrade Pavlov [Gen. Pliyev, commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba] currently has. The CC CPSU’s resolution is to transfer them to you over the course of time.» Mikoyan added that «even with ground inspections, it is practically impossible to find the warheads.»

Document 15: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, 20 November 1962.

This telegram orders Pliyev to load all tactical warheads on steamship Atkarsk and send them back to the Soviet Union. This might have been a draft cable, anticipating an imminent policy change, or there might be a mistake in the date, which was transcribed from an original that is not available. We know from Beloborodov that on November 22 all tactical nuclear weapons were still in Cuba, that they only started to be pulled to the Mariel pier on November 25 and that loading lasted till November 30. Also, they were loaded and shipped back to the Soviet Union on Arkhangelsk, not Atkarsk. This telegram was probably the basis of General Gribkov’s oft-cited assertion that all Soviet tactical weapons left Cuba on November 20, 1962.

Document 16: Telegram from Mikoyan to CC CPSU, 22 November 1962.

This telegram was sent by Mikoyan either right after midnight on November 22, or late in the evening on November 21 but put into his logbook as of November 22. Mikoyan was scheduled to have a meeting with the entire top Cuban leadership to discuss the future of the Soviet-Cuban military agreement. By this time, Mikoyan came to the conclusion that leaving tactical nuclear weapons in the hands of the Cubans was dangerous, so he requested from the Central Committee to approve his suggestion-to tell the Cubans that the Soviet Union had an «unpublished law» prohibiting transfer of nuclear weapons to third parties. Most likely, Mikoyan made up this «law» for the occasion, but it seems to have stuck as a precedent for future Soviet policy. The Presidium gave its approval next morning.

Document 17: CC CPSU additional instructions to Mikoyan, 22 November 1962.

This cable signed by Gromyko approves Mikoyan’s suggestion from the previous night and categorically states that he was to tell Castro and the top Cuban leadership that all tactical nuclear weapons would be removed from Cuba.

Document 18: Record of Conversation between A.I. Mikoyan and F. Castro, 22 November 1962.

This crucial conversation, which lasted over four hours in the evening of November 22 settled all the main remaining issues of the Cuban Missile Crisis-most importantly the fate of the remaining tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. Mikoyan admitted that they were still in Cuba and that the Americans indeed had no idea that they were deployed, but that the Soviet Union decided to pull them back due to the «unpublished law» prohibiting the transfer. This memcon provides an extraordinary glimpse into the microcosm of the Soviet-Cuban relations and helps one understand the depth of Castro’s humiliation at the Soviet hands during the Cuban missile crisis. For him, the resolution of the crisis meant that he was abandoned by his Soviet ally and left to the mercy of the American imperialists-because the Cuban security now depended not on the powerful Soviet weapons but on the U.S. non-invasion assurances, which the Cubans were not inclined to trust.


NOTES

[1] See especially Raymond L. Garthoff, «New Evidence on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Khrushchev, Nuclear Weapons, and the Cuban Missile Crisis,» CWIHP Bulletin 11, pp. 251-262; Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali , «The Pitsunda Decision,» CWIHP Bulletin 10, pp. 223-227; and Svetlana Savranskaya, «Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Cuba: New Evidence,» CWIHP Bulletin 14/15, pp. 385-398. The question of tactical nuclear weapons also gets detailed treatment in Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev: Rozhdenie Superderzhavy (Moscow: Vremya, 2010).

[2] There is a Malinovsky cable dated October 30 ordering the commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba to load the R-12 warheads on the Aleksandrovsk and send to Severomorsk; and the CIA retrospective in January 1963 of overhead photography of the Aleksandrovsk‘s movements placed the ship at Mariel on November 3, at sea on November 10, and back at Severomorsk on November 23 with «missile nose cone vans» on deck. (See Dwayne Anderson, «On the Trail of the Alexandrovsk,» Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 10, Winter 1966, declassified 1995, available at www.foia.cia.gov). Beloborodov’s account has Aleksandrovsk leaving Havana on October 30, but it is likely that he is referring to the order from Malinovsky.  Less likely is the possibility that the R-12 warheads may have remained for the Arkhangelsk to carry.

[3] In the Defense Ministry cables that were transcribed by Russian veterans for publication in 1998, one dated November 20 orders the commander of the Group of Soviet Forces to load all tactical warheads on «steamship Atkarsk«; but Beloborodov’s account specifically cites the Arkangelsk, not the Atkarsk, and the cables between Mikoyan and Moscow place the decision to withdraw the tacticals only on November 21 and 22. The Defense Ministry transcription may be misdated, or if the date is correct, perhaps the Ministry was already anticipating the political decision.

[4] Telegram from Mikoyan to CC CPSU, November 6, 1962 in Sergo Mikoyan, edited by Svetlana Savranskaya, The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Missiles of November (Washington and Stanford: Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 344.

[5] See Raymond L. Garthoff, «The Havana Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Tactical Weapons Disclosure Stuns Gathering,» CWIHP Bulletin 1, Spring 1992, pp. 2-4.

[6] In this document, the number of the missile division is given as the 43rd missile division, but in the military documents from the fall of 1962, the number of the division is consistently the 51st missile division.  Most likely, the number was changed when the division was reorganized in the summer, according to the General Staff directive of June 13.  Statsenko describes the radical reorganization of the division, which resulted in the situation where he only knew one regiment commander out of five, and 500 officers and 1000 sergeants and soldiers were replaced.

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TomDispatch

Naming Our Nameless War 

How Many Years Will It Be?
By Andrew J. Bacevich

For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name?

It did at the outset.  After 9/11, George W. Bush’s administration wasted no time in announcing that the U.S. was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT.  With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age. In neoconservative circles, it was known as World War IV.

Upon succeeding to the presidency in 2009, however, Barack Obama without fanfare junked Bush’s formulation (as he did again in a speech at the National Defense University last week).  Yet if the appellation went away, the conflict itself, shorn of identifying marks, continued.

Does it matter that ours has become and remains a nameless war? Very much so.

Names bestow meaning.  When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about.  To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others. Let me provide a few illustrations.

With rare exceptions, Americans today characterize the horrendous fraternal bloodletting of 1861-1865 as the Civil War.  Yet not many decades ago, diehard supporters of the Lost Cause insisted on referring to that conflict as the War Between the States or the War for Southern Independence (or even the War of Northern Aggression).  The South may have gone down in defeat, but the purposes for which Southerners had fought — preserving a distinctive way of life and the principle of states’ rights — had been worthy, even noble.  So at least they professed to believe, with their preferred names for the war reflecting that belief.

Schoolbooks tell us that the Spanish-American War began in April 1898 and ended in August of that same year.  The name and dates fit nicely with a widespread inclination from President William McKinley’s day to our own to frame U.S. intervention in Cuba as an altruistic effort to liberate that island from Spanish oppression.

Yet the Cubans were not exactly bystanders in that drama.  By 1898, they had been fighting for years to oust their colonial overlords.  And although hostilities in Cuba itself ended on August 12th, they dragged on in the Philippines, another Spanish colony that the United States had seized for reasons only remotely related to liberating Cubans.  Notably, U.S. troops occupying the Philippines waged a brutal war not against Spaniards but against Filipino nationalists no more inclined to accept colonial rule by Washington than by Madrid.  So widen the aperture to include this Cuban prelude and the Filipino postlude and you end up with something like this:  The Spanish-American-Cuban-Philippines War of 1895-1902.  Too clunky?  How about the War for the American Empire?  This much is for sure: rather than illuminating, the commonplace textbook descriptor serves chiefly to conceal.

Strange as it may seem, Europeans once referred to the calamitous events of 1914-1918 as the Great War.  When Woodrow Wilson decided in 1917 to send an army of doughboys to fight alongside the Allies, he went beyond Great.  According to the president, the Great War was going to be the War To End All Wars.  Alas, things did not pan out as he expected.  Perhaps anticipating the demise of his vision of permanent peace, War Department General Order 115, issued on October 7, 1919, formally declared that, at least as far as the United States was concerned, the recently concluded hostilities would be known simply as the World War.

In September 1939 — presto chango! — the World Warsuddenly became the First World War, the Nazi invasion of Poland having inaugurated a Second World War, also known asWorld War II or more cryptically WWII.  To be sure, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin preferred the Great Patriotic War. Although this found instant — almost unanimous — favor among Soviet citizens, it did not catch on elsewhere.

Does World War II accurately capture the events it purports to encompass?  With the crusade against the Axis now ranking alongside the crusade against slavery as a myth-enshrouded chapter in U.S. history to which all must pay homage, Americans are no more inclined to consider that question than to consider why a playoff to determine the professional baseball championship of North America constitutes a “World Series.”

In fact, however convenient and familiar, World War II is misleading and not especially useful.  The period in question saw at least two wars, each only tenuously connected to the other, each having distinctive origins, each yielding a different outcome.  To separate them is to transform the historical landscape.

On the one hand, there was the Pacific War, pitting the United States against Japan.  Formally initiated by the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, it had in fact begun a decade earlier when Japan embarked upon a policy of armed conquest in Manchuria.  At stake was the question of who would dominate East Asia.  Japan’s crushing defeat at the hands of the United States, sealed by two atomic bombs in 1945, answered that question (at least for a time).

Then there was the European War, pitting Nazi Germany first against Great Britain and France, but ultimately against a grand alliance led by the United States, the Soviet Union, and a fast fading British Empire.  At stake was the question of who would dominate Europe.  Germany’s defeat resolved that issue (at least for a time): no one would.  To prevent any single power from controlling Europe, two outside powers divided it.

This division served as the basis for the ensuing Cold War,which wasn’t actually cold, but also (thankfully) wasn’t World War III, the retrospective insistence of bellicose neoconservatives notwithstanding.  But when did the Cold Warbegin?  Was it in early 1947, when President Harry Truman decided that Stalin’s Russia posed a looming threat and committed the United States to a strategy of containment?  Or was it in 1919, when Vladimir Lenin decided that Winston Churchill’s vow to “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle” posed a looming threat to the Russian Revolution, with an ongoing Anglo-American military intervention evincing a determination to make good on that vow?

Separating the war against Nazi Germany from the war against Imperial Japan opens up another interpretive possibility.  If you incorporate the European conflict of 1914-1918 and the European conflict of 1939-1945 into a single narrative, you get a Second Thirty Years War (the first having occurred from 1618-1648) — not so much a contest of good against evil, as a mindless exercise in self-destruction that represented the ultimate expression of European folly.

So, yes, it matters what we choose to call the military enterprise we’ve been waging not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in any number of other countries scattered hither and yon across the Islamic world.  Although the Obama administration appears no more interested than the Bush administration in saying when that enterprise will actually end, the date we choose as its starting point also matters.

Although Washington seems in no hurry to name its nameless war — and will no doubt settle on something self-serving or anodyne if it ever finally addresses the issue — perhaps we should jump-start the process.  Let’s consider some possible options, names that might actually explain what’s going on.

The Long War: Coined not long after 9/11 by senior officers in the Pentagon, this formulation never gained traction with either civilian officials or the general public.  Yet the Long War deserves consideration, even though — or perhaps because — it has lost its luster with the passage of time.

At the outset, it connoted grand ambitions buoyed by extreme confidence in the efficacy of American military might.  This was going to be one for the ages, a multi-generational conflict yielding sweeping results.

The Long War did begin on a hopeful note.  The initial entry into Afghanistan and then into Iraq seemed to herald “home by Christmas” triumphal parades.  Yet this soon proved an illusion as victory slipped from Washington’s grasp.  By 2005 at the latest, events in the field had dashed the neo-Wilsonian expectations nurtured back home.

With the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan dragging on, “long” lost its original connotation.  Instead of “really important,» it became a synonym for “interminable.”  Today, the Long Wardoes succinctly capture the experience of American soldiers who have endured multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Long War combatants, the object of the exercise has become to persist.  As for winning, it’s not in the cards. TheLong War just might conclude by the end of 2014 if President Obama keeps his pledge to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan and if he avoids getting sucked into Syria’s civil war.  So the troops may hope.

The War Against Al-Qaeda: It began in August 1996 when Osama bin Laden issued a «Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” i.e., Saudi Arabia.  In February 1998, a second bin Laden manifesto announced that killing Americans, military and civilian alike, had become “an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”

Although President Bill Clinton took notice, the U.S. response to bin Laden’s provocations was limited and ineffectual.  Only after 9/11 did Washington take this threat seriously.  Since then, apart from a pointless excursion into Iraq (where, in Saddam Hussein’s day, al-Qaeda did not exist), U.S. attention has been focused on Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have waged the longest war in American history, and on Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, where a CIA drone campaign is ongoing.  By the end of President Obama’s first term, U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting that a combined CIA/military campaign had largely destroyed bin Laden’s organization.  Bin Laden himself, of course, was dead.

Could the United States have declared victory in its unnamed war at this point?  Perhaps, but it gave little thought to doing so.  Instead, the national security apparatus had already trained its sights on various al-Qaeda “franchises” and wannabes, militant groups claiming the bin Laden brand and waging their own version of jihad.  These offshoots emerged in the Maghreb, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, and — wouldn’t you know it — post-Saddam Iraq, among other places.  The question as to whether they actually posed a danger to the United States got, at best, passing attention — the label “al-Qaeda” eliciting the same sort of Pavlovian response that the word “communist” once did.

Americans should not expect this war to end anytime soon.  Indeed, the Pentagon’s impresario of special operations recently speculated — by no means unhappily — that it would continue globally for “at least 10 to 20 years.”   Freely translated, his statement undoubtedly means: “No one really knows, but we’re planning to keep at it for one helluva long time.”

The War For/Against/About Israel: It began in 1948.  For many Jews, the founding of the state of Israel signified an ancient hope fulfilled.  For many Christians, conscious of the sin of anti-Semitism that had culminated in the Holocaust, it offered a way to ease guilty consciences, albeit mostly at others’ expense.  For many Muslims, especially Arabs, and most acutely Arabs who had been living in Palestine, the founding of the Jewish state represented a grave injustice.  It was yet another unwelcome intrusion engineered by the West — colonialism by another name.

Recounting the ensuing struggle without appearing to take sides is almost impossible.  Yet one thing seems clear: in terms of military involvement, the United States attempted in the late 1940s and 1950s to keep its distance.  Over the course of the 1960s, this changed.  The U.S. became Israel’s principal patron, committed to maintaining (and indeed increasing) its military superiority over its neighbors.

In the decades that followed, the two countries forged a multifaceted “strategic relationship.”  A compliant Congress provided Israel with weapons and other assistance worth many billions of dollars, testifying to what has become an unambiguous and irrevocable U.S. commitment to the safety and well-being of the Jewish state.  The two countries share technology and intelligence.  Meanwhile, just as Israel had disregarded U.S. concerns when it came to developing nuclear weapons, it ignored persistent U.S. requests that it refrain from colonizing territory that it has conquered.

When it comes to identifying the minimal essential requirements of Israeli security and the terms that will define any Palestinian-Israeli peace deal, the United States defers to Israel.  That may qualify as an overstatement, but only slightly.  Given the Israeli perspective on those requirements and those terms — permanent military supremacy and a permanently demilitarized Palestine allowed limited sovereignty — the War For/Against/About Israel is unlikely to end anytime soon either.  Whether the United States benefits from the perpetuation of this war is difficult to say, but we are in it for the long haul.

The War for the Greater Middle East: I confess that this is the name I would choose for Washington’s unnamed war and is, in fact, the title of a course I teach.  (A tempting alternative is the Second Hundred Years War, the «first» having begun in 1337 and ended in 1453.)

This war is about to hit the century mark, its opening chapter coinciding with the onset of World War I.  Not long after the fighting on the Western Front in Europe had settled into a stalemate, the British government, looking for ways to gain the upper hand, set out to dismantle the Ottoman Empire whose rulers had foolishly thrown in their lot with the German Reich against the Allies.

By the time the war ended with Germany and the Turks on the losing side, Great Britain had already begun to draw up new boundaries, invent states, and install rulers to suit its predilections, while also issuing mutually contradictory promises to groups inhabiting these new precincts of its empire.  Toward what end?  Simply put, the British were intent on calling the shots from Egypt to India, whether by governing through intermediaries or ruling directly.  The result was a new Middle East and a total mess.

London presided over this mess, albeit with considerable difficulty, until the end of World War II.  At this point, by abandoning efforts to keep Arabs and Zionists from one another’s throats in Palestine and by accepting the partition of India, they signaled their intention to throw in the towel. Alas, Washington proved more than willing to assume Britain’s role.  The lure of oil was strong.  So too were the fears, however overwrought, of the Soviets extending their influence into the region.

Unfortunately, the Americans enjoyed no more success in promoting long-term, pro-Western stability than had the British.  In some respects, they only made things worse, with the joint CIA-MI6 overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 offering a prime example of a “success” that, to this day, has never stopped breeding disaster.

Only after 1980 did things get really interesting, however.  The Carter Doctrine promulgated that year designated the Persian Gulf a vital national security interest and opened the door to greatly increased U.S. military activity not just in the Gulf, but also throughout the Greater Middle East (GME).  Between 1945 and 1980, considerable numbers of American soldiers lost their lives fighting in Asia and elsewhere.  During that period, virtually none were killed fighting in the GME.  Since 1990, in contrast, virtually none have been killed fighting anywhere except in the GME.

What does the United States hope to achieve in its inherited and unending War for the Greater Middle East?  To pacify the region?  To remake it in our image?  To drain its stocks of petroleum?  Or just keeping the lid on?  However you define the war’s aims, things have not gone well, which once again suggests that, in some form, it will continue for some time to come.  If there’s any good news here, it’s the prospect of having ever more material for my seminar, which may soon expand into a two-semester course.

The War Against Islam: This war began nearly 1,000 years ago and continued for centuries, a storied collision between Christendom and the Muslim ummah.  For a couple of hundred years, periodic eruptions of large-scale violence occurred until the conflict finally petered out with the last crusade sometime in the fourteenth century.

In those days, many people had deemed religion something worth fighting for, a proposition to which the more sophisticated present-day inhabitants of Christendom no longer subscribe.  Yet could that religious war have resumed in our own day?  Professor Samuel Huntington thought so, although he styled the conflict a “clash of civilizations.”  Some militant radical Islamists agree with Professor Huntington, citing as evidence the unwelcome meddling of “infidels,” mostly wearing American uniforms, in various parts of the Muslim world.  Some militant evangelical Christians endorse this proposition, even if they take a more favorable view of U.S. troops occupying and drones targeting Muslim countries.

In explaining the position of the United States government, religious scholars like George W. Bush and Barack (Hussein!) Obama have consistently expressed a contrary view.  Islam is a religion of peace, they declare, part of the great Abrahamic triad.  That the other elements of that triad are likewise committed to peace is a proposition that Bush, Obama, and most Americans take for granted, evidence not required.  There should be no reason why Christians, Jews, and Muslims can’t live together in harmony.

Still, remember back in 2001 when, in an unscripted moment, President Bush described the war barely begun as a “crusade”?  That was just a slip of the tongue, right?  If not, we just might end up calling this one the Eternal War.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University and a TomDispatch regular. His next book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Countrywill appear in September.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook orTumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’sThe Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

View this story online at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175704/

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