The Cuban Missile Crisis: Forty-Five Years in the Balance

Article excerpt

DURING OCTOBER 1962, the world was riveted by the events of the Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war. The crisis could have ended in Armageddon since US forces were preparing two operation plans (OPLAN) that would have pitted the superpowers against each other in direct combat. The United States averted disaster, however, when the Kennedy administration imposed a naval "quarantine" (blockade) on Cuba and negotiated a quid pro quo with the Soviets that removed their missiles from Cuba and ours from Turkey.

Why should we have any interest in plans we never executed 45 years ago? The answer is balance. For a country like ours, with global responsibilities, the next enemy may prove as deadly as the current one-or worse. A sense of balance and perspective to see the long view is just as necessary as correct analysis of today's fight. In the Cuban missile crisis, Près. John F. Kennedy had inherited a military optimized for the nuclear mission to the detriment of other capabilities. We found ourselves playing catch-up.

OPLAN 316 envisioned a full invasion of Cuba by Army and Marine units supported by the Navy after Air Force and naval air strikes. The ability to mount such an operation came at some cost. At the low end of the normal priority chain, Army units in the United States lacked everything from major end items to personnel. Similarly embarrassing, the Navy could not supply sufficient amphibious shipping to transport even a modest armored contingent from the Army.

Planners designed OPLAN 312, primarily an Air Force and a Navy carrier operation, with enough flexibility to do anything from engaging individual missile sites to providing air support for OPLAN 316's ground forces. That, of course, was only part of the Air Force mission. In line with overall priorities, defense and counterstrike against the Soviet Union were paramount. …