Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Ended 50 Years Ago Today

Nuclear Proliferation

An article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has a collection of essays on what the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 16 to 28, 1962) meant to them and the nations in which they resided. I was born in 1957, to young to remember its significance, but do have vague memories of President Kennedy speaking on black & white TV.
Over the past 50 years, dozens of articles have appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on the Cuban Missile Crisis. And with each passing year, new and relevant information has been reported -- which, for better or worse, has taught readers that the world was closer to full-scale nuclear war than was originally thought. Yet in October 1962, the Bulletin's Doomsday Clock remained unchanged: It stood at 7 minutes to midnight and the following year, in 1963, the clock's hands moved to 12 minutes to midnight, when the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty went into effect.
But how did the Doomsday Clock -- the very existence of which indicated how close the world was to nuclear catastrophe -- stand still? The answers to this seeming anomaly are that the Doomsday Clock captures trends and takes into account the capacity of leaders and societies to respond to crises with reasoned actions to prevent nuclear holocaust. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for all its potential and ultimate destruction, only lasted a few weeks; however, the lessons were quickly apparent when the United States and the Soviet Union installed the first hotline between the two capitals to improve communications, and, of course, negotiated the 1963 test ban treaty, ending all atmospheric nuclear testing. Others have suggested that the gravity of the Cuban Missile Crisis has been defined by decades of scholarship but that, in 1962, the world population, to a large degree, was unaware of what exactly had just happened. Or, more precisely, what hadn't happened.

The Bulletin turned to a few of its current Science and Security Board and Board of Sponsors members -- those who together decide the time of the Doomsday Clock -- to ask them to share their personal memories or personal reflections of the Cuban Missile Crisis
The articles are worth reading, notably for someone like myself who was too young to remember the implications.  For example, not well-remembered is that the only conflict-related military death was that of 35-year-old Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr., USAF, who was shot down over Cuba, while on a reconnaissance mission, USA Today reports:
Armed only with a camera, Anderson flew an unescorted U-2 spy plane over the island more times in the crisis than any other pilot. He and his comrades took the photos that the U.S. used to show the world the Soviets had nuclear missiles 90 miles from Florida.
After Anderson was shot down by a Soviet missile — without permission from leaders in the Kremlin — President Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev realized they had to end the crisis before their underlings pushed them into war. Within 24 hours, they did.
On October 28th, 1962, the crisis ended, when, as the Harvard Kennedy School for Science and International Affairs says,  "The Soviet government announced they had accepted the American offer to never invade Cuba in exchange for removing the nuclear weapons from Cuba. The Soviets did not mention the secret deal that the Americans would also remove their missiles from Turkey." That also shows the private deals, away from public and media scrutiny, can often resolve many crises. Would that be possible today?

You can read the rest of the article at [Bulletin]