Reasons behind the Cuban Missile Crisis
THE FIRST THING IS, WHAT
DO YOU THINK MOTIVATED KHRUSHCHEV IN PUTTING THE MISSILES IN CUBA?
There were two causes.
The first was connected with the defense of Cuba, and the second Khrushchev wanted a balance of
power between the U.S. and USSR. This was the first move towards parity, the first exploration
in this direction.
WAS HE IN ANY WAY
MOTIVATED BY CHINESE PRESSURE TO SHOW THAT HE IS ON THE FOREFRONT OF THE SOCIALIST
No, I don't think it
was connected to the Chinese problem. At that time, the Chinese leadership was against any steps
in that direction. They criticized Khrushchev because he put the missiles in, because he took
the missiles out... So I think that it was a Soviet-American problem, not Sino-Soviet.
TO WHAT EXTENT WAS
KHRUSHCHEV MOTIVATED BY WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN BERLIN? WAS BERLIN RELATED TO CUBA, AND
I don't think there
was a direct link between Berlin and Cuba. One can think of a link only in one context of
relations and power struggles between the U.S. and USSR But the Cuban story had its own
specifics. Foremost, it related to a desire to protect Cuba after aggressive acts, and as I said
before, to Khrushchev's desire for a show of power.
SURPRISED BY THE AMERICAN RESPONSE?
Of course. He didn't
expect such a reaction.
START FROM THE
BEGINNING OF THE SENTENCE. "KHRUSHCHEV WAS..."
...didn't expect. I
think, since I know Khrushchev personally, that he wasn't counting on that. That, in general, he
had no idea what would happen after he'd taken the first step. How would the Americans reply,
how would the Soviets reply, and what would occur afterwards? Therefore, John Kennedy's reaction
was a surprise.
DO YOU KNOW THE
STORY THAT MCNAMARA TELLS ABOUT THIS LONG TELEX THAT KENNEDY GOT FROM KHRUSHCHEV? CAN YOU
DESCRIBE TO ME THE MOOD? HOW DID KHRUSHCHEV FEEL, AND HOW DID THE TELEX COME ABOUT? DO YOU
REMEMBER THE TELEX? THE SECOND TELEX, VERY LONG TELEX... SAYING "WE SHOULDN'T PULL TOO HARD,
BECAUSE IT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE TO UNDO..."
This was during the
culmination of the crisis, and Khrushchev really began to feel the threat of the two-sided
nuclear attack. He wanted to avert this threat at any cost. This Telex was designed to produce
the same feelings in John Kennedy, the urgency of preventing the crisis at any cost.
BEFORE THAT, I'M GOING
A LITTLE BIT BACK... IS THERE NOW GOOD INFORMATION ABOUT WHETHER TOGETHER WITH THE MISSILES
THERE WERE WARHEADS?
We discussed that
issue during the meeting at Harvard and all Soviet and American participants came to the
conclusion that there were no nuclear warheads in Cuba.
DO YOU KNOW WHERE
WERE THEY, THE WARHEADS INTENDED FOR THE MISSILES IN CUBA?
I heard from American
colleagues that some warheads were being sent, they were on a boat going from the USSR towards
the U.S., but I never heard such information from Soviet authorities.
WHO HAS THAT
INFORMATION NOW? WHO CAN WE ASK?
ALONG THE SAME
LINE, THE DAWNING OF THE U-2. WHO SHOT -- IT WAS SOME MISSILE -- BUT, WHO SHOT DOWN THE
I heard two versions
about that. One, that the Soviet military did it, in spite of strict orders from Khrushchev not
to provoke the Americans. Two, that the Cubans did it. As far as my point of view, I'm convinced
that the Soviet military didn't do it, because of strict orders from Khrushchev. But I can't
prove the Cubans did it. To this day the episode remains a riddle.
IT'S HARD FOR ME TO
BELIEVE THAT A CUBAN INFANTRY UNIT ATTACKS SAM-2 MISSILES, TAKES IT OVER AND RIGHT AWAY SHOOTS A
PLANE, IT'S A COMPLICATED PIECE OF MACHINERY...
Yes, what you're
saying is logical. Really, its hard to believe that the Cubans could get a missile installment
and assimilate the technology to shoot down an airplane. But on the other hand, we have no
information that the Soviet military did it.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN --
CAN YOU TELL ME THE FIRST STORY, BUT AS A FULL SENTENCE?
I know for a fact
that Khrushchev gave the order to our military to in no case do anything that would provoke
American sensitivities during the crisis. Besides, it's hard for me to believe that our
commanding general would go against such a strict order from Khrushchev. On the other hand, it's
hard to believe that the Cubans seized a missile installment and were in command of the
technology to shoot down a plane. I'm putting forth that, for the time being, this remain a
riddle. New information is needed in order to answer that question.
THE MOOD IN MOSCOW
DURING...SUNDAY. YOU TOLD ME A GOOD STORY LAST TIME IN ENGLISH ABOUT SATURDAY AND THE TENSION
HERE. CAN YOU REPEAT IT? THE MOOD IN MOSCOW THAT SATURDAY...
About Black Saturday?
I recollect a Black Saturday, October 27, 1962. A colleague and I worked with in the Central Committee
were leaving the building together, and he asked me: "Did you send your family to the country?"
I asked why I should send my family to the country. "Because there could be a surprise nuclear
attack by the Americans," he said. Later, when I was at Harvard I learned that the Americans had
the same feeling, that John Kennedy gave the same order to his people that they send their families to
CAN YOU TELL ME
ABOUT THE MOOD OF KHRUSHCHEV WHEN -- UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES DID KHRUSHCHEV DECIDE TO WITHDRAW
I think that was
after Robert Kennedy's visit to Dobrynin, when they concluded a secret agreement on the Turkish
bases. That made the cup overflow, and Khrushchev seized the opportunity to arrive at a
compromise. He got a guarantee, not to attack Cuba, and an American promise to remove the
missiles in Cuba.
IN RETROSPECT, WHAT
DID YOU LEARN FROM THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS? WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO
World Leaders on Nuclear Weapons
WHAT IS THE BASIC
LESSON THAT YOU THINK SHOULD BE REMEMBERED FROM THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS?
...Oh yes, I
understood. First, from what I learned from Kennedy's books (the ones he wrote or owned,
unclear), nuclear weapons are a club one can't use. Americans had six times more bombs, and yet
they couldn't use them against us. The second thing I understood is that both sides have plenty
of weapons for a counter attack, and so the weapons race is ridiculous from the security
standpoint. Third, what I understood from our meetings with McNamara and other representatives
of the American administration is that it is impossible to control the nuclear crisis. Here
there are so many competing factors, political and psychological, that it is impossible to come
to a decision that would be adequate to the situation. This is probably the most important,
that... were against the arms race and against the use if nuclear weapons at all.
OKAY. WE'LL MOVE TO
PRESENT DAY... WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES AMONG SOVIET LEADERS TOWARD THE NOTION OF NUCLEAR ARMS?
TRY TO MAKE IT CONCISE, AND TRY TO MAKE THE DIFFERENCES -- I KNOW THAT "EVERYBODY WANTS PEACE,
EVERYBODY WANTS PEACE," BUT THERE ARE VARIANTS...
I think that huge
changes took place from Stalin to Gorbachev in our leadership's attitude towards nuclear
weapons. For Stalin, it was a problem of getting even with the... Americans, because they
invented the atom bomb. Stalin was shocked that they had acquired superiority, and wanted to
catch up at any price. For Khrushchev, nuclear weapons were a problem of achieving parity with
the U.S. Stalin couldn't even dream of that. He just wanted to create nuclear weapons. And
Khrushchev was already beginning to dream of parity. I remember, during the 22nd Party Congress,
we were testing some of the biggest nuclear bombs in the world. But, after the Cuban Missile
Crisis, he felt something new—that no one can use nuclear weapons, and that the process had to
be stopped. Unhappily, John Kennedy and Khrushchev disappeared from the political arena, and at that
time, we lost a wonderful chance to stop nuclear weapons. For Brezhnev, who was a conservative
by nature, this was.... The problem of nuclear weapons was, so to say, a... one. He took the
track that was prepared for him, and traveled that way. Military buildup continued. And he knew
that, with military buildup, we could maintain parity with the United States. He did so perhaps without
thinking much about the future. Under Brezhnev, the SS-20 missile was developed. To a certain
degree, this created to new situation in Europe. Andropov looked at the nuclear weapons
situation in a completely new way. Foremost, it was a security issue for him; also, a problem of
parity and of his relationship to the West. He accomplished very little, but managed to announce
the necessity of sharp cutbacks of nuclear weapons in the face of military opposition, cutbacks
foremost in Europe, on the whole between the U.S. and USSR, and East and West... Well, Chernenko
didn't succeed in defining his views on nuclear weapons. And Gorbachev...
A BIT LONGER
SENTENCE ABOUT CHERNENKO.
But he told nothing
HE DIDN'T WRITE
ABOUT IT, DIDN'T THINK ABOUT IT?
He didn't have
time... I don't know what to say about him... I think that if Chernenko had remained in power
for a while, this is my personal supposition—that he would have returned to Brezhnev's policy in
the military sphere. But that's my own opinion. Gorbachev came with a completely new
attitude--the attitudes of post-war... The leader of a new... It became clarified with words
known to all: new thinking. He realized that the continuation of military competition,
especially, in nuclear arms, is absolutely without perspective. It is an investment of money,
time, and minds into something that could destroy Russians, Americans, and everyone on the
planet. The idea of complete elimination of nuclear weapons interests him; that idea seems
illusory to many, but precisely this idea became a base for, the grounding of social opinion in
the U.S. and, if you like, in the Soviet Union, as a first step in getting an agreement on
medium- and close-range missiles. So I think that a new principle in our attitude towards
nuclear weapons was born. It gives cause for hope if it becomes generalized, that is, if the
West will think and do the same thing that Gorbachev wants.
LET ME ASK YOU TWO
SETS OF QUESTIONS. ONE ABOUT THE EUROPEAN MISSILE CRISIS... DO YOU THINK THAT THE SOVIET
LEADERSHIP WAS AWARE THAT THE SS-20 MIGHT BE USED, OR WOULD PROVOKE, OR WOULD START THE KIND OF
CRISIS THAT WAS STARTED?
Installing the SS-20 in Western Europe
I don't think that
our leaders really understood the consequences of installing the SS-20. I don't know if I will
be believed in the West, but I have the feeling that the installment of these missiles was the
result of long-standing military confrontation. Nobody planned it specially, the installment of
the SS-20. A new missile appeared, we had SS-4 and others for a long time, why not put in a new
missile? I offer that no one for real, no one weighed the political and military consequences.
But later, when Pershing II and cruise missiles appeared, we were forced to compete. Who wins,
who loses? Our leaders knew that no one could win, and both sides would lose. Us too, in that
the installment of these missiles was a strategic problem for us, and the installment of the
SS-20 was a tactical problem for the Americans, since these missiles can't reach the United States. So I
think that it is one of the examples, in the West there were the same examples, of mutual
misunderstanding of our problems.
WERE YOU SURPRISED
BY THE ATTITUDE THAT THE EUROPEAN GOVERNMENT TOOK? BY THE FEELINGS OF THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT, THE
FRENCH, THE DUTCH, THE BELGIANS, AND SO ON? WAS... DO YOU THINK THAT WAS CORRECTLY ESTIMATED BY
THE SOVIET LEADERSHIP...AT THAT TIME?
I think that the
European reaction was a surprise for our government. They even suspected that through the
Europeans, the U.S. was trying to install Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe, that it
wasn't a European idea. Only later we began to understand that it is, although to this day some
people think that it isn't the Western Europeans, but Americans who want to strengthen their
power in the Western European theater and defray the threat, insofar as just at this time, the
American military conception arose about the possibility of a contained nuclear war. Therefore I
think that Western Europe's position to this day surprises many in the USSR.
BUT THERE WAS, I
THINK, FOR A VERY LONG TIME THAT IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE THAT THE PEACE MOVEMENT WOULD TURN THE
Of course, maybe some
of our leaders hoped that the Western European anti-nuclear movement was directed against the
Pershing II and cruise missiles, or it could have exerted influence against them. But no one had
illusions and didn't think it would really change the situation or avert the installment of the
American missiles in Western Europe. I think so because in the beginning of the installment
phase of these missiles, Andropov put forth an offer, if you remember, straight in line with
American and West European wishes.
DO YOU THINK IN
THIS CONTEXT, IN THE CONTEXT OF THE EUROPEAN MISSILE CRISIS, THERE WAS A GREAT DEAL OF
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BREZHNEV AND ANDROPOV? CAN YOU TELL ME HOW IT SHIFTED WHEN THE POWER SHIFTED?
I think that in some
sense, there really were different approaches, because Brezhnev didn't imagine genuine results
from the installment of the SS-20. And Andropov saw these results. That's in the first place.
And in the second place, because Andropov had a sharp political mind and could think several
moves in advance, he understood that he had to decide to reduce SS-20 missiles with reciprocal
reductions In West Europe. For him, the only problem was the character of the
WOULD YOU TALK IN
THIS CONTEXT ABOUT LEAVING THE GENEVA TALKS AND THEN COMING BACK? WHAT KIND OF THINKING DOES
THAT REFLECT? BOTH THE LEAVING AND THE COMING BACK... WHAT SHIFT IN THINKING, WHAT DIFFERENCE IN
THINKING DOES THAT REPRESENT ON THE SOVIET PART?
There was a fairly
sharp discussion. Two points of view emerged. One was that, in all circumstances, we should
maintain superiority in nuclear weapons in the European theater, and the other point of view was
that this superiority will give us absolutely nothing. Contrary to and dependent on the
interrelationship of our missiles and bombs in the European theater, the increased danger will
be a threat. And because of this, the Soviet side wavered. On the other hand, we saw the same
wavering in West Europe and the United States. They were also having a battle of differing opinions and
approaches to this problem.
YOU CAN CUT, I NEED
THE TRANSLATION... COMING BACK FROM GENEVA, WHAT MOTIVATED IT?
The reasons for our
return were what I said, the second viewpoint won. It proceeded from the idea that military
competition with the Americans in Europe will inflict a loss—to our security, and to the
security of Europe.
ALL OF THIS WAS
HAPPENING AT SORT OF THE LOW OF AMERICAN...
Soviet-American Relations under Gorbachev and Reagan
...HOW DID YOU FEEL
AT THAT TIME, WHEN THERE WAS A LOW PERIOD OF AMERICAN-SOVIET RELATIONS ABOUT THE PRONOUNCEMENT
OF REAGAN ON THE LEGITIMACY OF THE SOVIET UNION?
Reagan's saying that
the Soviet Union was an "Evil Empire" would shock any Soviet citizen. As for me personally, I
was rather calm. I was convinced, without any satisfaction on my part, that all kinds of
conservative, dogmatic thought are to be found on both sides of the ocean. We also have people
who think there can be no agreement with America, because they want to destroy our system and
their capitalist system is in opposition to ours. I remember summit meetings, starting with
Khrushchev and Eisenhower, and looked at Reagan's pronouncements, if you like, as at the words
of an expert politician. I knew that, sooner or later, the governmental interests of the U.S.
would supersede political rhetoric.
WHAT DID YOU THINK
WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT THE SDI SPEECH FOR THE FIRST TIME? AGAIN, NOT NECESSARILY AS AN EXPERT, BUT
AS A SOVIET JOURNALIST. WHAT DID YOU UNDERSTAND FROM IT? WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS THE INTENTION OF
When I first heard about SDI, my
first feeling was surprise. Even now, there are naive politicians who believe that it is
possible to defend oneself against nuclear attack. My second feeling was that Reagan had other
objectives, more political than military. I never heard that SDI could be effective, that one
could really ward off a nuclear attack. If some new system were created,
it would be followed by a new offensive system, and the balance would always be maintained.
These are political goals to put pressure in the Soviet Union, not to give us a chance to reach
parity in industrial/technological development. Now I think that this goal is gradually evolving
in the consciousness of the United States political leaders. We'll see what happens.
DID YOU BELIEVE
ABOUT THE IDEAS OF SHARING TECHNOLOGY... HE SAID THAT ONCE IT EXISTED IT COULD BE OFFERED TO THE
SOVIET UNION. DID YOU BELIEVE IN THE NOTION THAT SUCH A TECHNOLOGY IF IT COMES INTO BEING WOULD
I think the very idea
of cooperation in new technology, including military technology, and especially verification, is
a good idea. We should try it, in spite of our mutual secretiveness. As far as cooperation in
implementing the SDI program, I don't think it will be effective. Why spend insane amounts of
money and effort on a program which, in my opinion, is ineffective and only stimulates a new
round of escalation?
LET'S GO THROUGH
THE SUMMITS... GENEVA, WHERE YOU PARTICIPATED. TWO THINGS, SOME SENSE OF PERSONAL PARTICIPATION
- WHAT YOU FOUND IMPRESSIVE, WHAT YOU FOUND INTERESTING BEING THERE... AND WHAT DO YOU THINK WAS
THE ACHIEVEMENT, OR THE FAILURE, OF GENEVA, WHAT EVER IT MAY BE?
The main thing I felt
in Geneva was deep satisfaction that two such unalike leaders could find a common language, they
sat facing each other, touched each other, compared...
answer)...The second feeling was about the agreement. Each side admitted that nuclear war is
unthinkable, that there can be no winner, and based their decisions on long-range perspective,
precisely, on medium-range missiles, 50 percent reductions, and the elimination of chemical
warfare, and other issues. I felt that we were at the brink of some kind of fundamental
breakthrough in Soviet-American relations, and East-West relations in general. That we were at a
historical moment of the 20th century. I felt that way in Reykjavik and in Washington.
THE SAME ABOUT
We waited during the
press conference. We waited for an hour, then another hour, and learned that the conference was
still in session between Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Reagan. I remember the mood among the Soviet and American
journalists. At first, there was great optimism. Everyone thought that there would be a real
agreement, American and Soviet specialists thought alike. It was like a bomb exploded when,
Gorbachev, coming to the press conference, told us an agreement had not been reached. That
evening, I wrote an article for Literaturnaia Gazeta entitled "We'll Remain Confident Anyway."
It sharply differed from what was being written on the subject both here and in the United States. Others
were bowled over by the meeting and considered it a failure. My colleagues reproached me for
joking about it. I looked at that meeting in the context of all the summit meetings and the
development of Soviet-American relations and understood that this was just a stage.
AGAIN THE SAME KIND...
Before I went to
Washington, I published an article called "Optimism without Illusions." ...there, Reagan and
Gorbachev discussed practical questions. This was a practical stage in Soviet-American
relations. It allowed them to come to an agreement, but both sides knew there were still many
problems, and there were obstacles to further development. As far as my personal feelings, I got
more satisfaction out of the change in American public opinion. I had been there before. I was
there in October, and I saw new attitudes among simple people, experts, members of the
conservative and liberal parties, toward the Soviets and Gorbachev. In other words, a new
perception, no longer through black or red glasses, that we're the Reds and you're the Whites. A
new understanding that you and I share the same fate and must take steps to insure that our
grandchildrens' fate isn't tragic.
LAST QUESTION. WHAT
DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE?
I call myself a
biological optimist. Some are born happy, other are born pessimistic, but in politics, this
isn't enough. Nonetheless, I keep guarded optimism about the future. In spite of the problems
along the way, Reagan will come to Moscow soon. I think we can get an agreement for a 50 percent
reduction in nuclear arms during his visit. This is very important, but not the most important.
The most important thing is a change in the psychological climate between East and West. Now we
are in the first stages of a new relationship. I hope that, in the course of five or ten years,
or at least by the end of the century, we will see each other in a new light.
ONE MORE THING. CAN
YOU GIVE ME SOME GOSSIP FROM THE SOVIET SIDE OF THE NEGOTIATIONS? HOW DID THEY FIND GOING
THROUGH THE MOTIONS, I'M TALKING ABOUT THE INF AGREEMENT. DO YOU HAVE A SENSE OF HOW THEY FELT
GOING THROUGH THAT? WAS IT MORE DIFFICULT THAN OTHER TIMES, WAS IT EASIER? IF YOU HAVE A SENSE
We came to the
agreement with a lot of hard work. We had to overcome the traditional, conservative attitudes,
not only among the military or political spheres, but throughout our society. To this day, the
Russians have a complex because of Nazi Germany's surprise attack on the USSR. Maybe this
complex is exaggerated, but it's the same thing Americans had with Pearl Harbor. You have the
same complex—you feel you have to guard against surprise attacks from real or imagined enemies.
Of course, the Russian/Soviet people, in the course of 100 years before the Revolution and 70
years afterwards, want to be strong, well-defended. In that respect, we are like Americans. They
also want a strong government, not a weak one. The elimination of such a large number of
missiles took so much work, so many sleepless night, such a straining of effort. It wasn't a
popular idea here. We had to explain to the simple people why this was necessary. It's necessary
from the standpoint of our security and that of others. It's necessary for our perspective for
the direction we're fighting for—in other words, for elimination of all nuclear weapons and the
of the threat that has been hanging over all mankind.
GENERAL THINKING ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE NUCLEAR AGE.
The most important
thing is that no one was prepared for the nuclear age. Not only the military and the
politicians, but everyone on Earth. No one wants to die, but few understand how to avoid it.
Avoid it, not for some time, but for always and everyone. Here's what we need to search for: a
completely new way of thinking. For us, the Americans, and for all the peoples of the Earth.
This is a very difficult job, but I hope it's the path we will all take.
Origins of the Soviet-American Conflict
WHAT IS THE
AMERICAN-SOVIET CONFLICT ABOUT?
I have a particular
opinion about the origins of the Soviet-American conflict. I don't think that the basis for it
is two contradictory systems. I don't think so. Because we and the Americans have existed for
the course of decades without excuses for war, conflicts, or even... I think that messianic
ideas lie at the foundation, which for a long time have been nurtured on both sides of the
ocean. Our belief that our system is the best example for others, the American belief that their
system is the best example for the world.... From this, we have false steps and mutual
misunderstanding, which the Chinese call "hegemonism." The U.S. was in the center, in my
opinion. They made a serious mistake after World War II in opting for nuclear weapons, which
were opposed by Einstein and other scientists. We accepted the challenge, and the Cold War
began. It became a traditional policy for both sides. And only now we are crawling out of the
pit that this policy dragged us into.
WHAT WAS THE MAIN
REASON FOR THE COLD WAR?
I think it was the
complex of fear which appeared in the Americans because we had superiority in conventional
forces in Europe, and for us because the Americans created nuclear forces, which we didn't. This
complex was fortified because both sides were the victims of a surprise attack, us, by Nazi
Germany, and you, by Japan. Out of this arose a mistaken view that the other side was a brigand,
waiting for the right moment to inflict a blow. For forty years maybe, the Americans believed
that the USSR wanted to take Europe. And for a long time, we believed that we were threatened by
a surprise nuclear attack by the U.S. Therefore, a false understanding of the genuine aims of
the other side, traditional thinking, that strength necessarily gives rise to war, this was the
foundation of the Cold War.