World marks half-century since Cuban missile crisis

World marks half-century since Cuban missile crisis

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
World marks half-century since Cuban missile crisis

Khrushchev (L) meets with Kennedy during missile crisis in this file photo. AP photo

Fifty years ago, the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba set off the most acute crisis of the Cold War, and possibly the most dangerous moment in human history.

The Cuban missile crisis unfolded like a life-and-death poker game pitting a young American president, John F. Kennedy, against the veteran Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Cuba’s fiery revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. Afterward, men on both sides of the drama came away believing only luck prevented the two superpowers from plunging the world into a nuclear conflagration.

Over the decades, the missile crisis has been portrayed as a masterful performance by Kennedy, with his admirers recounting how he kept his nerve and averted war. His example is often held up as a model of leadership under pressure, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has compared the current administration’s approach to Iran’s nuclear program as similar to Kennedy’s “high-stakes diplomacy.”

‘Extraordinary days’

Just as the crisis reached a crescendo, the two sides clinched a deal. Under a compromise, Washington pledged not to invade Cuba and secretly agreed to pull out its missiles from Turkey, while Moscow promised to withdraw its warheads from the island. “For many years, I considered the Cuban missile crisis to be the best managed foreign policy crisis of the last half-century...,” the then Pentagon chief McNamara told a conference in Havana in 2002. “However astutely the crisis may have been managed, by the end of those extraordinary 13 days, luck also played a significant role in the avoidance of a nuclear war by a hair’s breadth.” For the former head of the KGB’s Cuban department, Nikolai Leonov, the peaceful ending seemed like a miracle. “It is almost as if some divine intervention occurred to help us save ourselves.”