13 Days, 50 years Later

On the radar: Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Crisis in photos; Gen. Habiger on the nuclear enterprise; Gen. Taylor’s memo; Nitze’s notes; Five facts about the crisis; Moving FMCT; Nunn-Lugar efficiency; and Smartening up on CTBT.

October 16, 2012 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Marianne Nari Fisher

Not eyeball-to-eyeball - One of the most memorable lines of the Cuban Missile Crisis turns out to be an exaggeration. During the crisis, Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.” Actually, notes Michael Dobbs at The New York Times, the lead soviet ship was 750 miles from the naval blockade and steaming back to the Soviet Union when the eyeball-to-eyeball moment occurred.

--Dobbs analyzes several myths about the crisis, including the perception that Kennedy’s steely resolve, not his caution and compromise, averted nuclear annihilation. http://nyti.ms/RxV3Ij

Tweet - Live tweeting the @MissileCrisis62: Mac Bundy informs #JFK that Soviets have deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba. First reaction: Khrushchev "can't do this to me."

Photoset - Alan Taylor at The Altantic’s “In Focus” has a set of 26 photos from the Cuban Missile Crisis. Included photos: Kennedy’s televised speech, LeMay briefing in the Oval office, Adlai Stevenson at the UN, anti-aircraft rockets on the Florida coast, and plenty of low-level recon photos from those fateful days in October. http://bit.ly/WhVWuM

Nuclear enterprise - In 2007, a B-52 unknowingly flew six nuclear-armed cruise missiles from Minot AFB to Barksdale AFB, with the mistake not discovered until 30 hours after the flight. Former Commander in Chief of USSTRATCOM Gen. Eugene Habiger notes this was a pivotal moment for the nuclear enterprise.

--Gen. Habiger describes the organizational problems leading to the security breakdown and the corrective actions taken since in “Nuclear Stewardship Requires a Special Trust” for the San Antonio Express-News. http://bit.ly/Wu0Ymh

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Tweet - @Wellerstein: Did you know that nukes can create their own local weather? Lightning induced by the Ivy Mike detonation, 1952. http://bit.ly/SY5YOS

Memo to Kennedy - “We must accept the possibility that the enemy may use nuclear weapons to repel invasion,” wrote Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Maxwell Taylor in a memo to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The National Security Archive recently uncovered the top secret memo. NYT has the story. http://nyti.ms/RPxg7z

”We will all fry.” - Paul Nitze was the only authorized note-taker for meetings of the Excomm during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His grandson, New Yorker journalist Nicholas Thompson, found Nitze’s handwritten notes in a basement at SAIS. Thompson published photos of Nitze’s notes online today, including a memorable quote from an Oct. 26th meeting where Nitze quotes Undersecretary of State George Ball as saying “Unless we return to political arrangement we will all fry. Need a bridge back.” http://nyr.kr/Wi1i9m

Crisis trivia - ”On October 27, American destroyers forced a Soviet submarine to surface near the quarantine line using depth charges. Unbeknownst to the Americans, the sub was carrying a nuclear-tipped torpedo. The Soviet commander believed that war had started and prepared to fire. Fortunately, authorization from three other officers was needed. Two were in favor. One was not.” “Cuban Missile Crisis: Five Things You Didn’t Know” from the Ploughshares Fund blog. http://bit.ly/Wu3UPX

--Test your knowledge of the Cuban Missile Crisis with Ploughshares’ online quiz http://bit.ly/Qmw21Y

EU Iran sanctions statement - “The restrictive measures agreed today are aimed at affecting Iran's nuclear programme and revenues of the Iranian regime used to fund the programme and are not aimed at the Iranian people. The Iranian regime itself can act responsibly and bring these sanctions to an end. As long as it does not do so, the Council remains determined to increase, in close coordination with international partners, pressure on Iran in the context of the dual track approach.” Statement text at the Iran Primer. http://bit.ly/Xixszt

FMCT - Efforts to negotiate a fissile materials cutoff treaty (FMCT) have been stalled in the UN Conference on Disarmament, with a few countries blocking negotiations in the consensus-based body for 17 years. Given the lack of progress, it may be time to pursue discussions outside of the CD.

--”Instead, selective and frank discussions that seek to resolve major issues, such as verification and existing stocks, are a better alternative. The ongoing ‘P5-plus’ discussions among the five recognized nuclear-weapon states and select nuclear-armed countries outside the NPT are most suited to this task and could later be widened to states that do not have nuclear weapons,” argues argues Andrea Berger in Arms Control Today. http://bit.ly/QpHk7y

CTR budgets - With the fate of Nunn-Lugar unclear, Stimson’s “The Will and the Wallet” looks at the economy and efficiency that the lauded nuclear security program has achieved since the 1990s. The program deactivated more than 7,600 nuclear warheads and hundreds of delivery systems for in the neighborhood of $500 million a year. Graph of the Cooperative Threat Reduction budget from ‘94-present here. http://bit.ly/RBsv4c

Science and the CTBT - The CTBTO is holding an advanced course on “Around the Globe and Around the Clock: The Science and Technology of the CTBT” from November 12-23 in Vienna. Speakers include Amb. Linton Brooks, Paul Richards, Pierce Corden and Andreas Persbo. Can’t make it to Vienna? Complete the course online. Arms Control Wonk has the details.

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One More Thing You May Not Know About the Crisis

Just over fifty years ago, on the 1st October 1962, four long range diesel-powered Russian submarines departed from the Soviet Northern Fleet port of Sayda Bay and sailed southwards as an advance reconnaissance party to establish a naval base for Soviet ballistic missile submarines at Mariel on the island of Cuba in the Caribbean.

There were four unique things about this little fleet.

• Firstly they would be sailing further than most Russian submarines of that time had ever sailed.

• Secondly, each submarine was equipped with a nuclear-tipped torpedo each with an explosive power equal to fifteen thousand tonnes of TNT

• Thirdly, the commander of each submarine had the authority to fire his torpedo on his own initiative without permission from the Kremlin and lastly . . .

• They were sailing directly into what has become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The submarines B-4 (Captain Ryurik Ketov), B-36 (Captain Alexsei Dubivko), B-59 (Captain Vitali Savitsky) and B-130 (Captain Nickolai Shumkov), arrived at a quarantine line 500 miles north of Cuba at almost exactly the same time as the American surface fleet centred around the anti-submarine aircraft carrier the USS Essex and a number of Soviet merchant ships, some of which were carrying medium range ballistic missiles bound for launching sites in Cuba.

The submarines were detected by the destroyer USS Blandy and mistakenly believed to be escorting the Soviet surface vessels through the blockade.

What followed was a crisis closer to nuclear war than almost any other incident during that nerve-wracking 13 days fifty years ago this week.

It's a story that is little known by the general public and only emerged in 2001 with the discovery of top secret Kremlin documents. A story which I researched myself during the writing of my latest novel Fire & Ice and which forms the basis of the fictional plot of the book.

You can read more about Fire & Ice and follow my Cuban Missile Timeline blog on www.spindriftpress.com

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