Case Study

The Cuban Missile Crisis – 1962

Dean Rusk, as Secretary of State to the then US President (John F. Kennedy), played a central role during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a period of 13 days during October 1962 when, following the discovery of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba, Kennedy decided that he would do all he could to force the USSR to withdraw its arsenal. In 1962 the Soviet Union still lagged behind the US in terms of missile technology and as a result Nikita Khrushchev (the Soviet Premier) decided that placing shorter range missiles on the US’s doorstep in Cuba would redress the balance and strengthen its deterrent. Once intelligence reconnaissance of Cuba had confirmed that the missiles were being placed, Kennedy formed EXCOM – a group of twelve of Kennedy’s closest advisors which included Dean Rusk. Their task was to find a solution to the crisis and after seven days of intense debate, the President took the decision to impose a naval blockade around Cuba. Consequently, Khrushchev ordered his commanders to launch tactical nuclear weapons against the US if Cuba came under US attack, but by 28 October he decided against prolonging what had become a major crisis. Consequently, he decided to withdraw all missiles from Cuba on condition that the US refrain from invading the island.