Played to win, international relations is a very dangerous game. The Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, now back in the news with the release of top secret documents about the Kennedy assassination, reminds us of that; in particular those of us who lived through it and at the time doubted they would survive. But were the lessons ever properly learned on both sides? (History is so easily rendered useless by ignorance and prejudice.) Certainly on the Russian side, the answer among the diehards within the military is no. General Fyodor Ladygin, who was head of military intelligence (GRU) from 1992-1997, believes that Khrushchev’s emplacement of intermediate and medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba, outflanking the US early warning systems and capable, in principle, of reaching Washington DC well within the hour on firing, was perfectly justifiable because the Americans were still intending to overturn Fidel Castro.
But the evidence is there – as illustrated in my Russia’s Cold War – that Khrushchev had no interest in defending Cuba. There were many more practicable ways of doing so with conventional forces as the Americans had in West Berlin, than with ballistic missiles. And the Cubans were not consulted beforehand and when they were told they were furious at being used in this manner; and even more livid when Khrushchev wisely backed down and removed them to end the crisis without a by your leave. I would be happy to send General Ladygin a copy showing the evidence for these conclusions.
But it was not the missiles themselves that caused the crisis. The missiles themselves were innocent. It was Nikita Khrushchev who made the foolhardy decision and then forced it on the rest of the leadership, despite the misgivings of Mikoyan and Gromyko. The high-minded, drawing false analogies with relations between individual citizens living within the confines of a society shielded from anarchy and war, view weapons as a key cause of war and nuclear weapons as the likely cause of a future war. Is the issue not like that of gun control? Actually, no.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which opened for signature at the United Nations in September is unlikely to attract much support from those countries possessing them not least because other countries acquiring them and the ability to fire them are the least likely to give them up: not least North Korea and, coming up to the plate, Iran. And how probable is it that Israel would sign when even its winner of an international judo competition cannot receive a medal to the rousing sounds of his own national anthem if the event occurs in an Arab country?
For all their differences, and these seem to be continuously accentuated in every other sphere of relations, Washington and Moscow find common cause on this issue, as Nezavisimaya gazeta noted, apparently with some relief, yesterday – ‘U Rossii i NATO poyavilsya obshchii interes’. At least the two agree on something.