Khruschev Speaks on Cuban Missle Crisis

Dr. Sergei N. Khrushchev, son of the late Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, provided the Russian perspective on the Cuban Missile Crisis when he spoke at Andover last Monday. He called the Crisis the “most significant and most dangerous event of the Cold War.” The Cuban Missile Crisis was the seminal event of the Cold War. The Democratic US and communist Russia battled for world supremacy. Dr. Khrushchev, a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, discussed the facts and myths of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It began with the 1959 communist revolution in Cuba, during which Fidel Castro seized power. Dr. Khrushchev said his father, Secretary General of the Russian Communist Party from 1955 to 1964 and consequently lead policy maker for the USSR, knew nothing of Castro or the revolution; he did not even know whether Castro favored the Americans or the Soviets, until Castro, fearing US invasion, asked the Soviet Union for protection. In his late 20s Dr. Khrushchev lived and worked with his father, observing first-hand his father’s thought process as the Soviet premier decided how to protect Cuba without antagonizing the United States. Cuba declared itself a formal ally of the Soviet Union, and Khrushchev feared that if the USSR showed itself unable to protect its ally, other potential allies would flock to the proven protection of the United Sates. Khrushchev eventually decided to station nuclear missiles in Cuba, saying, “we will support [the Cubans], but we will distance ourselves from them.” The United States was outraged at the presence of Soviet missiles so near its own coast, and demanded that the Soviets remove them. Both sides threatened each other with nuclear war, but neither would yield. The tension reached its peak in October 1962. According to Dr. Khrushchev, the Soviets had no intention to begin a nuclear war. The USSR did not have an adequate military to defend Cuba and the United States refused to listen to their diplomatic appeals, leaving empty threats as their only recourse. These threats sent the United States into an unprecedented hysteria, while the Russians remained relatively unfazed. Russia, as Dr. Khrushchev described it, has always harbored an “enemy at the gates” mentality. The Russians did not consider their new enemies, the Americans, any more menacing than the ones they had defeated in the past. The Cuban Missile Crisis was, in Dr. Khrushchev’s words, “a headache to the politicians, not the people.” After 13 days of tense negotiations, the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba and the United States agreed to remove their own missiles from Turkey and Italy. Both President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev concluded that in nuclear war “you will lose more than you will gain.” Yet several misunderstandings nearly prevented this peaceful conclusion to hostilities. A Russian telegram proposing the compromise was stalled in London for six hours. A compromise was reached before a serious conflict developed. In contrast with American folklore, Dr. Khrushchev stated it was both leaders’ responsible leadership that prevented war, not simply Kennedy’s diplomatic panache. The peaceful resolution of the Crisis was the result, Dr. Khrushchev said, of both Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy realizing that it is “much better to be balanced than brave.”