Thursday, October 23, 2014



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-two years ago tonight, October 23, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed Proclamation 3504 authorizing a naval quarantine or blockade of Cuba to take effect at 10 a.m. the following day.

The President's decision for a blockade came in the face of universal advice from his military advisers to launch an armed invasion of the island.

JFK waited to sign the proclamation until the Organization of American States approved a resolution to "impose the quarantine of Cuba."  The resolution was passed earlier in the day by a vote of 19-0.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Ambassador Adlai Stevenson made the case for a naval blockade.  Stevenson called Cuba "an accomplice in the communist enterprise of world domination."

Later in the evening, the White House received a letter from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in which he did not admit the presence of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba or offer any concessions to the United States.

 JFK Signs Quarantine Proclamation
 October 23, 1962
 Photo by Abbie Rowe
 JFK Library Image

Of the array of possibilities, mostly bad, that might come from any decision in this matter, President Kennedy needed to know if the nuclear missiles placed in Cuba by the Soviet Union were armed with nuclear warheads.

If the answer had been in the affirmative, an armed invasion would have proved catastrophic.

Michael Dobbs writes:

"A week after the discovery of the Soviet missiles, CIA analysts were still unable to answer the president's most urgent question: where are the nuclear warheads?"

The Soviet nuclear arsenal...far exceeded the worst nightmares of anyone in Washington.  It included....(not only) the ballistic missiles...but (also) an array of smaller weapons that could wipe out an invading army..."

Mr. Dobbs also lists the nuclear warheads that were in Cuba:

36 one megaton for medium range R-12 missiles
36 fourteen kilaton for cruise missiles
12 two kilaton for Lunas
6 twelve kilaton for IL28s

*note: 1 megaton - 1 million tons of TNT, 1 kilaton - 1000 tons of TNT
            the a-bomb dropped on Hiroshima = 15 kilatons

According to the Arms Control Association, confirmation came in 1992 that Soviet forces in Cuba had received tactical nuclear warheads for their artillery rockets and IL-28 bombers by October 1962.

ACA also stated that Fidel Castro said that he would have recommended the use of these weapons had the United States launched an invasion of Cuba.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said that President Kennedy went around the room asking EXCOM members which alternative they would recommend.  Then, he asked a question of General Walter Sweeney, USAF Tactical Air Command.  JFK wanted to know if every single Soviet missile would be taken out by our airstrikes.

General Sweeney answered...

"We have the finest air force in the world.  If we can't do the job, nobody can.  But (can I) say there is no chance that one or two missiles and nuclear warheads might be operational....after the attack?

No, Mr. President, I can't say that."

McNamara was convinced by this exchange that JFK's first option would be for a blockade because the President would not risk having even one atomic weapon explode over an American city.


"Arms Control Today," Arms Control Association,

"One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War," by Michael Dobbs, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2008.

"TWE Remembers: The OAS Endorses a Quarantine of Cuba (Cuban Missile Crisis, Day 8)," by James M. Lindsay,

Soviet R-12 Nuclear Missile
Red Square, Moscow, USSR
CIA Photo