October 11, 2012

DODGED A BIG ONE: Cuba Almost Became a Nuclear Power in 1962: The scariest moment in history was even scarier than we thought.

Long after the world thought the Cuban Missile Crisis had ended, with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s withdrawal of his medium-range nuclear missiles announced on October 28 — and two days after President John F. Kennedy announced the lifting of the quarantine around Cuba — the secret crisis still simmered. Unknown to the Americans, the Soviets had brought some 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba — 80 nuclear-armed front cruise missiles (FKRs), 12 nuclear warheads for dual-use Luna short-range rockets, and 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers. Even with the pullout of the strategic missiles, the tacticals would stay, and Soviet documentation reveals the intention of training the Cubans to use them.

But Fidel Castro was livid. Khrushchev had not consulted or even informed Castro about any deals with the Americans — Fidel heard about the missile withdrawal from the radio. The Cuban leader refused to go along with any onsite inspections in Cuba, and raised further demands. The Soviets had their own Cuban crisis: They had to take back what the Americans called the “offensive weapons,” get the U.S. to confirm its non-invasion pledge, and most importantly, keep Cuba as an ally.

A mess that could have become a much bigger mess.

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