John Diefenbaker with John Kennedy


Following the Second World War, suspicions of growing Soviet influence engulfed the Western world.  Winston Churchill famously declared that an “iron curtain” had descended and the world had been divided between two ideologies. An ideological battle between democracy and communism ensued while the world was both captivated and terrified by the new nuclear age.

The ideological threat of communism became a reality when Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista and declared Cuba – located a mere 90 miles from American soil – a revolutionary socialist nation.

John Diefenbaker and John KennedyThe Cuban Missile Crisis began 14 October, 1962, when an American U2 spy plane flying over Cuba photographed the construction of several missile deployment sites.  Kennedy did not begin consulting with world leaders until a few days into the crisis, and when Diefenbaker was informed about the situation he initially doubted the intelligence that he was provided - asking for more photographs of the missile sites in Cuba. Diefenbaker was supportive of American action during the crisis, but did not give them the unequivocal support that Kennedy had expected.

Much to Kennedy’s annoyance, Diefenbaker recommended that independent United Nations inspectors should go into Cuba and survey the nuclear sites.

John G. Diefenbaker and Olive Diefenbaker with the KennedysDiefenbaker refused to put Canadian troops on alert,  and deliberated for several days over raising the military awareness level to DEFCON 3 as Kennedy had requested.  Personal animosity may have influenced Diefenbaker’s delay during the crisis, as relations between the Canadian leader and American President were particularly uneasy. Listen to a conversation between Kennedy and Diefenbaker  here

Following a meeting with Kennedy in May 1961, the Prime Minister discovered a paper left behind by an American advisor.  The infamous “Rostow Memo” outlined several desired results that the United States hoped to “push” Canada toward during the meeting.  Diefenbaker was livid, as this incident reaffirmed his nagging belief that the United States wished to dominate Canada.  The Kennedy camp was equally enraged: Diefenbaker refused to return the memo even though proper diplomatic decorum required him to do so. Their relationship would never fully recover from this incident. 

John Diefenbaker with John KennedyEventually Diefenbaker did agree to put Canadian troops on alert, as all other NATO members supported a proposed blockade and agreed to aid the United States if an attack occurred.  However, due to his reluctance to respond to the situation, Diefenbaker acted only after the crisis’ climax had passed. Also, under the guidance of the Department of Defence, the Canadian military had taken informal steps to put itself on alert. Ultimately, Diefenbaker believed that Kennedy’s “arrogance” had endangered North America and could have resulted in nuclear war.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was the most heated moment of the Cold War.  As these two hegemonic superpowers struggled for ideological dominance, the world lived in fear of nuclear annihilation.  International alliances were challenged, great leaders arose and were broken, and life-threatening decisions were made during thirteen uneasy days in October. The Crisis was the crux of nuclear terror and continues to be referenced as nuclear questions are once again at the forefront of international debates over North Korea, Israel, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent today.

Documents Related to the Cuban Missile Crisis



I called Finlayson after receiving the attached and informed him that it meant that there was some kind of a condition of mind in British Columbia that was forever bellyaching.


October 26th, 1962 

[page break]

October 25th, 1962

Stamped: “Seen by John G. Diefenbaker”

Prime Minister:

Deane Finlayson phoned from Vancouver last night and asked me to give you the following message (as dictated by him): -

"In my opinion it is extremely important that in this crisis there be absolutely no doubt whatever that the Government of Canada will stand beside the President of the United States and the people of that country in their decision to resist the hostile penetration of Russian Communism in this hemisphere."

One hour after President Kennedy made his TV appearance on October 22nd I wired President Kennedy as follows:

"I feel sure that most Canadian citizens support you in your decision to challenge now (repeat now) the hostile penetration of this hemisphere.

Having done this may health and strength sustain you and all of us in our stand against the menace of Communism.”

“I feel that the people of British Columbia are overwhelmingly behind President Kennedy in the stand that he has taken in this matter, and that it would be disastrous for the Prime Minister personally and the Party generally to appear in any way to have reservations about supporting Kennedy.

“The question is peace and war, life and death. President Kennedy and his spokesmen in the leading nation of the Free World in the face of Russian aggression has challenged them on this and asked them to desist. The threat of the cold war is being extended to take in the whole world. Kennedy has taken the initiative. Khruschov [sic] says we have gone too far.

“A lot of nations will say – where were you in the moment of decision, Since the 22nd when Kennedy made his statement all the countries in the O.A.S. have supported him and offered to send aid to support them.

“Why haven’t we told the people where we stand? Pearson waited for two days and then made a decision sympathetic to the American decision. We should have done this and should do this, and should make this clear. If not, you can write off British Columbia. If the Government won’t stand up then somebody has to take the position in common with others.”

M. Pound

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada 

Ottawa, Canada

December 12, 1960


The Right Hon. John G. Diefenbaker, P.C., Q.C, M.P., Prime Minister of Canada,


Dear Prime Minister, -

I am sending you herewith for you information certain extracts from the October 1960 report of the R.C.M. Police.

Yours sincerely,

Davie Fulton

Handwritten note: “Cuba, communist”

Certain General Views of the Government 
  1. Presence of the bases for intermediate ballistic missiles on Cuba is a direct and immediate threat to the security of North America and that Canada is in a position of being directly threatened as a result.
  2. Our position is I think Canadians as a whole feel as does the Government that the United States has taken the necessary action.
  3. We now have Soviet Russia reaching out across the Atlantic to challenge the right of free men to live on this Continent.
  4. The United States could do no other than take action. Khrushchev can end his threat by simply discontinuing the shipment of nuclear weapons to Cuba and by removing the launching pads and such nuclear weapons as are in place.
  5. Canada is in a position of danger.
  6. We have taken immediate action –
  7. We have joined the United States in alerting NORAD.
  8. We have notified the USSR that we will not have her flying her aircraft over Canada.
  9. We have notified Czechoslovakia and Poland that their aircraft, if they landed, will be searched to prevent nuclear deliveries.
  10. We have taken necessary measures of organization and for Government should there be dire consequences if the USSR act in an aggressive manner.
  11. This is a question of the USSR having challenged the right of people in the Americas to live their own lives.

Stamped: “Seen by John G. Diefenbaker”

Office of the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom

31st October, 1962


My dear [name illegible]

As the High Commissioner is at present away from Ottawa I have been asked to forward the enclosed message, dated 30th October but received here this morning, from the Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillan to the Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker about the situation in Cuba. I would be grateful if you could arrange for this to be given to your Prime Minister.

Yours ever,

Bill Greenhill

(B.J. Greenhill)

O.W. Dier, Esq.,

Prime Minister’s Office,



[page break]

Message from the Rt. Hon. Harold MacMillan, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to the Right Hon. John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister of Canada

30th October, 1962

Thank you so much for your message of yesterday’s date about Cuba. I am glad to know that we are of one mind on this issue.

I know you share our relief that American firmness has induced Khrushchev to undertake under United Nations verification the dismantling of missile bases in Cuba.

If we can surmount the immediate problem I hope we can look forward to progress on wider issues such as disarmament. But any forward step would clearly have to be based on verification under United Nations auspices. The proof of Russian duplicity furnished by events in Cuba makes it to my mind inevitable that verification and inspection by teams in whom the free world can have confidence will be essential before we can accept any further Sino-Soviet undertakings.

It is still far from clear what the Russian motives may have been in taking this dangerous and provocative step in Cuba and we cannot tell what they may have in mind for the future, but at least I hope they have learnt that the free world will respond with firmness to threats that disturb the peace.

We shall, of course, continue to keep in touch with you and should welcome any thoughts you may have as developments unfold.



31st October, 1962


Text of Khrushchev Message to Kennedy 

Moscow Domestic Service In Russian 1400 27 Oct 62 L

(Text) Esteemed Mr. President: I have acquainted myself with much satisfaction with your reply to U Thant to the effect that steps will be taken to exclude contact between our ships and thus avoid irremedable fateful consequences. This reasonable step on your part strengthens my (belief) that you are showing concern to safeguard peace, and I note this with satisfaction.

I have already said that our people and government and I personally, as chairman of the council of ministers, are concerned solely that our countries should develop and occupy a worthy place among people of the world in economic competition, the development of culture and arts, and the raising of the well-being of people. This is the most noble and necessary field for competition, and victors and vanquished will only (word indistinct) from it, because this means peace and increased commodities for the life and enjoyment of man.

In your statement, you supported the opinion that the main aim was not only to come to an agreement and take measures to prevent contact between our ships – and therefore the deepening of the crisis which may as a result of such a contact strike the fire of a military conflict after which all talks would be superfluous, because other forces and laws would come into force – the laws of war. I agree with you that this is only the first step. The main thing that must be done is to normalize and stabilize the state of peace among states and people.

I understand your concern for the security of the United States, Mr. President, because this is the first duty of a president. However, we are worried about the same questions, and I bear the same obligations as Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers.

You have been worried concerning the fact that we have helped Cuba with weapons with the aim of strengthening its defensive capacity – yes, precisely its “defensive capacity” – because no matter what weapons it possesses, Cuba cannot equal you. These are different quantities, all the more so if one takes into consideration the modern means of extermination.

Our aim has been and still is to help Cuba. And no one can deny the humaneness of our motives, which are to enable Cuba to live in peace and develop in the way its people desire.


27 OCT 1103A MLH/HM

First Add 29 (Text Khrushchev message to Kennedy)

Its people desire

(Continuing text) You want to make your country safe. This is understandable, but Cuba, too, wants the same thing. All countries want to make themselves safe.

But how are we, the Soviet Union and our government, to assess your actions which are expressed in the fact that you have surrounded the Soviet Union with military bases, surrounded our allies with military bases, literally disposed military bases around our country, and stationed your rocket armaments there? This is not a secret. American officials are demonstratively saying this. Your rockets are situated in Britain and Italy and aimed against us. Your rockets are situated in Turkey.

You are worried by Cuba. You say that it worries you because it is a distance of 90 miles by sea from the American coast. However, Turkey is next to us. Your sentries walk up and down and look at each other. What do you consider then – that you have the right to demand security for your own country and the removal of those weapons which you call offensive and do not acknowledge the same right for us?

You have placed destructive rocket weapons, which you call offensive, in Turkey, literally at our elbow. How then does admission of our equal military capacities tally with such unequal relations between our great states? This cannot be made to agree in any way.

It is well, Mr. President, that you have agreed to our representatives meeting and beginning talks, apparently through the intermediary of U.N. Acting Secretary General U Thant.  Hence he, to some degree, assumes the role of a mediator, and we consider that he is able to cope with this responsible mission if, of course, each side which is drawn into this conflict shows good will. I think that it would be possible to end the conflict quickly and normalize the situation, and then people would breathe more easily, considering that the statesmen who are vested with responsibility, have good sense, an awareness of their responsibility, and the ability to solve complex questions and not bring things to the catastrophe of war.

I therefore make this proposal. We agree to remove from Cuba those means which you regard as offensive means. We agree to carry this out and declare this pledge in the United Nations. Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the United States on its part, considering the uneasiness and anxiety of the Soviet state, will remove its analogous means from Turkey.

Let us reach agreement as to the span of time needed for your and us to achieve this. After this, persons enjoying the confidence of the U.N. Security Council might check on-the-spot fulfillment of the pledges assumed. Of course, the authorization of the governments of Cuba and Turkey are necessary for entry into those countries of these plenipotentiaries and for inspection of fulfillment of the pledge assumed by either side.

It would evidently be better if these plenipotentiaries would have the trust of the security council and your trust and mine—of the United States and the Soviet Union – as well as of Turkey and Cuba. I think it will not be difficult to pick such people who would enjoy the trust and respect of all parties concerned.


27 Oct 1119 A MLH/HM



Second and last add 49 (Text of Khrushchev message to Kennedy)

All parties concerned.

(Concluding Text) Having taken upon ourselves a pledge to give satisfaction to the hopes of the peoples of Cuba and Turkey and strengthen their confidence in their security. We will make a statement within the framework of the security council to the effect that the Soviet government makes a solemn promise to respect the inviolability of the frontiers and sovereignty of Turkey, not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade Turkey, not to make its territory available as a bridgehead for such an invasion, and will also restrain those who contemplate perpetrating aggression against Turkey both from the territory of the Soviet Union and from the territory of other neighbor states of Turkey.

The U.S. government will make a similar statement within the framework of the security council in respect to Cuba. It will declare that the United States will respect the inviolability of the frontiers of Cuba and its sovereignty, undertakes not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade, and not to make its territory available as a bridgehead for such an invasion of Cuba, and will also restrain those who might contemplate perpetrating aggression against Cuba, both from the territory of the United States and from the territory of other neighboring states of Cuba.

Of course, for this we would have to agree to some kind of time limit. Let us agree to some period of time, but not to delay – two or three weeks; not more than a month.

The means situated in Cuba which you have stated are perturbing you are in the hands of Soviet officers. Therefore, any accidental use of them to the detriment of the United States is excluded. These means are situated in Cuba at the request of the Cuban government and are only for defensive purposes. Therefore if there is no invasion of Cuba or attack on the Soviet Union or any other of our allies, then of course these means are not and will not be a threat to anyone, for they are not there for the purposes of attack.

If you are agreeable, Mr. President, to my proposal, then we would send our representatives to New York, to the United Nations, and would give them exhaustive instructions in order to come to an agreement quickly. If you also choose your men and give them the corresponding instructions, then this questions can be solved quickly.

Why should I want this? Because the whole world is now perturbed and expects sensible action from us.

The greatest joy for all peoples would be announcement of our agreement on the radical liquidation of the conflict that has arisen. I ascribe great importance to this agreement insofar as it could serve as a good beginning and would, in particular, make it easier to reach agreement on banning of tests of nuclear weapons. The question of tests could be solved in parallel, without connection one with the other, because they are different issues.

However, it is important that agreement be reached on both these issues to present the people a good gift, to please them also with the news that agreement has been reached on the discontinuation of nuclear tests and that consequently the atmosphere will no longer be polluted. Our and your positions on this issue are very close.

All this could possibly serve as a good impetus toward seeking mutually acceptable agreements also on other controversial issues on which we are exchanging views. These issues have not so far been solved, but they are awaiting urgent solution which would clear the international atmosphere. We are ready for this.

These, then, are my proposals, Mr. President.

Respectfully yours, Khrushchev.

To Acting U.N. Secretary General U Thant:

To make it easier for you to carry out your mission regarding negotiations with the interested countries on elimination of the dangerous situation created by the piratical actions of the U.S. government vis-à-vis Cuba and the Soviet Union, the Soviet government has come out with proposals which in our opinion can become the basis for settlement of the conflict which has arisen. These proposals of the Soviet government have been sent to President Kennedy and a copy of them is attached for you.

Respectfully, Khrushchev.


27 Oct 1143a MLH/RRR

House of Commons, Canada

Ottawa, February 8th, 1962

Stamped: “Seen by John G. Diefenbaker”

Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, P.C., Q.C., M.P.,
Prime Minister of Canada,
House of Commons,

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Attached is copy of the text of statement by United States Senator Kenneth Keating as broadcast on C.B.C. Newsmagazine, Wednesday, February 7th.

Yours respectfully,

J.W. Murphy, M.P.,

Lambton West.




Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition called me a few moments ago and suggested that it might be appropriate if something were said at this time with regard to the speech just delivered on television by the President of the United States. Naturally it is impossible to say much. The speech was a sombre and challenging one.

The president pointed out that on the island of Cuba preparations were being made, and had already been advanced, for the construction of bases for the launching of offensive weapons in the form of I.R.B.M.'s and that this constitutes a threat to most of the cities of North America .including our major cities in Canada. The reason that I agreed to the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition was to ask Canadians as well as free men everywhere in the world not to panic at this time. This is a time for calmness. It is a time for the banishment of those things that sometimes separate us. Above all, it is a time when each of us must endeavour to do his part to assure the preservation of peace not only in this hemisphere but everywhere in the world. The existence of these bases or launching pads is not defensive but offensive. The determination of Canadians will be that the United Nations should be charged at the earliest possible moment with this serious problem.

The president has stated that the matter will be brought before the security council at once and, whatever the reactions of the U.S.S.R. are to the statements made, by President Kennedy,

I think what people all over the world want tonight and will want is a full and complete understanding of what is taking place in Cuba. What can be done? Naturally, there has been little time to give consideration to positive action that might be taken. But I suggest that if there is a desire on the part of the U.S.S.R. to have the facts, if a group of nations, perhaps the eight nations comprising the unaligned members of the 18 nation disarmament committee, be given the opportunity of making an on-site inspection in Cuba to ascertain what the facts are, a major step forward would
be taken.

This is the only suggestion I have at this moment; but it would provide an objective answer to what is going on in Cuba. As late as a week ago, the U.S.S.R. contended that its activities in Cuba were entirely of a defensive nature, and that the hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens of the U.S.S.R., mechanics, technicians and the like, were simply in Cuba for defensive purposes. As to the presence of these offensive weapons, the only sure way that the world can secure the facts would be through an independent inspection.

I should like to hear the views of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Pearson) on this, and the leaders of the other parties, for in times like these the divisions between us always diminish. Any suggestion that can be made that will bring about an alleviation or a diminution of the obvious tensions that must grip men and women all over the world tonight, will be helpful.

Our duty, as I see it, is not to fan the flames of fear but to do our part to bring about relief from the tensions, the great tensions, of the hour.

Canada has taken a strong stand throughout the years on behalf of peace Canada knows the meaning of war. Canadians want peace as do all free men in all parts of the world. My prayer this evening is that those who have the responsibility of statesmanship will always have in mind the need for doing everything that can be done to assure peace.




Mankind will breathe more hopefully now that there is an early prospect that the threat to the Western Hemisphere from long-range Soviet missiles in Cuba will be removed. This prospect has resulted from the high degree of unity, understanding and cooperation among the Western allies.

In this the Canadian Government has played its full part. Indeed Canada was the first nation to stop overflights of Soviet aircraft so as to prevent war material being carried to Cuba and as well to that end instituted a full search of all Cuban and Czech planes which are entitled under international agreement to use Canadian airport facilities. The introduction of missiles into the Western Hemisphere has brought the world too close to disaster for anyone to indulge -in either self congratulations or complacency at this time. I know there will be universal relief that in the last two days the outlook for the peaceful solution of the Cuban problem has greatly improved but there is a continuing need for negotiation on this and other potential sources of threats to world peace.

The United Nations deserves special mention for the worthy and constructive role it has played in this crisis. It has provided a forum in which the issues could-be discussed, and the good offices of the Acting Secretary-General brought into effective action. In the days ahead the United Nations will have further heavy responsibilities in verification of the carrying out of the undertakings which have been given by Chairman Khrushchev.

Now what of the future? Some days ago I expressed the hope that out of this critical situation good might ultimately come. I believe that in the negotiations which will follow the immediate settlement of the Cuban crisis there lie broad possibilities for progress in the settlement of other issues between East and West. If the present settlement is fully accepted this will be the first time that agreed measures of disarmament are to be carried out under international inspection.

This gives hope for the future in the general field of disarmament for up to the present the Soviet have demanded that international agreement for disarmament should be free from inspection – a course which would be dangerous in the utmost to the free world.

Extract from Hansard, October 25, 1962: 

Cuba – Statement by Prime Minister

Right Hon. J.G. Diefenbaker (Prime Minister):

Mr. Speaker:

I should like to make a short statement in regard to the Cuban situation. I do not intend to recapitulate the events of the last few days, all of which are known to hon. Members. However, I think I should refer to President Kennedy’s statement on Monday night that Russian action in placing missiles and bombers in Cuba threatens this continent and Central and South America. Indeed, the Soviet Union by its action has reached out across the Atlantic to challenge the right of free men to live in peace in this hemisphere.

I think Canadians are in general agreement that these offensive weapons, located so contiguously to our continent are a direct and immediate menace to Canada. Furthermore, they are a serious menace to the deterrent strategic strength of the whole western alliance on which our security is founded. The result is that a threat is posed not only to this continent but to the NATO alliance as a whole, and indeed to all the free world, whose security depends to such an extent upon the strategic strength of the United States.

The United States government, as I have said on an earlier occasion, informed us of the facts of the situation and of the course of action proposed to be taken some few hours before President Kennedy made his announcement.

The government commenced immediately to consider the measures that the Canadian government and Canadian forces should take in order to be ready to deal with whatever eventualities would arise from this action. So that the attitude of the government will be clearly understood – and again I am asking for the support of the house as a whole in this connection – we intend to support the United States and our other allies in this situation.

It is a serious one. It has been necessary and will always remain necessary to weigh the risks both of action and inaction in such circumstances. I need not refer to the record of Canada in two world wars, in the NATO alliance and in Korea and demonstrating the fact that Canadians stand by their allies and their undertakings, and we intend in the present crisis to do the same. On the other hand, we shall not fail to do everything possible to seek solutions to these problems without war. We shall seek to avoid provocative action. Our purpose will be to do everything to reduce tension.

I think I should summarize some of the principal actions which have been taken by the government to date to deal with the question. The first, which was referred to by the Secretary of State for External Affairs, was to exercise a control over Soviet bloc aircraft bound for Cuba. He has explained these measures to the house in some detail; I would add simply that commencing even before the president’s speech we had acted to ensure that Canadian air space and Canadian air transport facilities were not being used to carry arms to the Soviet bases in Cuba.

Second, all Canadian military forces have taken necessary precautionary measures to improve their readiness to meet any serious developments. The Canadian component of the NORAD forces has been placed upon the same level of readiness as the United States forces under NORAD operational control. Furthermore, as was stated by the Minister of National Defence, we have deferred any further movement of dependants of armed service personnel overseas. We have held up the authorization of any long leave for armed services personnel. The government today approved the measures which the forces would have to take in the event that the present crisis led to a more serious situation. Our civilian departments have been instructed as a matter of urgency to bring up to date the measures which they would need to take in any emergency. They are doing so. The ministers and key civilian officials have been asked to remain available during this period of crisis.

On other occasions I have informed the house of preparations for carrying on government should the worst occur. These preparations cover not only the public service but also provincial governments and municipalities which we have been financing and assisting with information and advice. I do not think I should go any further into detail in dealing with the measures which we have taken or would be prepared to take should circumstances require us to do so.

I wish the house and the Canadian people to know that the government has taken such precautions as are necessary at this stage to co-operate with our allies, and to be prepared for contingencies that might arise. As I said a moment ago, the government is seeking to find means by which the dangerous, threatening situation can be settled without recourse to arms. On the other hand, we recognize the fact that the free world as a whole cannot afford to permit its essential security to be endangered by offensive weapons mounted on bases adjacent to North America. As the Secretary of State for External Affairs said last evening during the course of his interview on the television facilities of the nation, we shall continue to do everything we can to avert the dangers to which we are exposed.

As far as the last twenty four hours are concerned, the main facts are well known to members of the house. Some Soviet ships have altered course away from Cuba. One Soviet tanker, after having been intercepted by a United States naval ship, was allowed to proceed on its way since it had been satisfactorily established that the cargo was petroleum. 
I think we may take encouragement from the restraint being exercised at the moment. However, it would be dangerously premature to assume that the critical phase of the current situation has passed. There are two pressing needs to be met, namely not only to avoid conflict but to find a peaceful solution to this new Soviet challenge.

I think members of the house are in agreement that the greatest hope of finding such a solution lies in the United Nations. The acting secretary general is to be commended for the speed with which he has acted to discharge the heavy responsibility he bears as the executive head of the U.N. His proposal for a standstill is designed to gain the time that is so urgently needed while the search goes forward for some formula which will provide an acceptable solution. His offer of his personal good offices is in the best tradition of his predecessors in that office.

Meanwhile the security council is to meet again at four o’clock. There the formal discussions will be resumed. Perhaps by that time the replies of President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev will have been received.

There is a debate going on throughout the world regarding the legality of the quarantine measures which the United States has imposed. To my mind such arguments are largely sterile and irrelevant. We have a situation to face. Legalistic arguments, whatever they may be, cannot erase the fact that the Soviet Union has posed a new and immediate threat to the security not only of the United States but of Canada as well.

Chairman Khrushchev’s apologists say “What is the difference between Soviet missile bases in Cuba and United States bases on the periphery of the Soviet Union?” The United States bases abroad have been installed only in response to the threatening pressures from the Soviet union, and have never been concealed from the public. The west, moreover, has refrained in recent years from any move to upset the world balance. There are countries in all parts of the world in which nuclear weapons could have been installed by the west. A deliberate decision was made not to do so. We in Canada have shown responsibility in this connection in order to avoid the proliferation of these dangerous weapons throughout the world. Sir, to compare the western activities with the provocative, clandestine arming of Cuba is to ignore the calculated restraint which has characterized western policy. In this light the call for the dismantling of these new, threatening facilities in Cuba is not unreasonable. It is the Soviet Union itself which has disturbed the balance, and it is for it and Cuba to restore that balance.

The fact that we find ourselves in this dire situation may well have some salutary effect. Surely it is not too much to hope that some good will come out of the present dangerous situation. If these facilities were dismantled this would represent a first practical step on the road to disarmament, and if some such suggestion as I made a few days ago were coupled with international inspection of the process then we might well find ourselves taking the first steps away from the dangerous abyss that we have faced for so long in the world.


October 26, 1962

Soviet Intentions and Reactions in the Cuban Situation

Information available to us gives no grounds for putting in question American intelligence about the buildup of Soviet missile sites in Cuba with a significant offensive potential directed against the Western Hemisphere. President Kennedy is therefore correct in speaking of a serious threat to the national security of the U.S.A. This paper will attempt to analyze the possible Soviet intentions in setting up MRBM and IRBM sites in Cuba; their reactions to date to the American action in imposing a quarantine and calling for the dismantlement of offensive weapons sites; and possible Soviet courses of action.

2. We can assume that the Soviet Union knew that their build-up in Cuba would be discovered quickly by the U.S.A., though they may have hoped to get close to completion of the build-up before having the facts exposed by the U.S.A. This would have presented the U.S.A. and the world in general with a fait accompli which would have raised tensions but would in the end be accepted, as American foreign bases are accepted.

3. There are, in broad terms, two possible reasons. for the Soviet action, each with variants.

  1. The strategic reason. The U.S.S.R. suffers from a deficiency in long-range strike capability against the U.S.A. in relation to the American strike capability, both long-range and from peripheral bases, against the U.S.S.R. The U.S.S.R. seems to have yielded to the temptation of taking a short-cut towards reducing the imbalance. The net effect of the installation of medium - and intermediate -range strike capacity up close to the U.S.A. is to increase the Soviet nuclear strike capability against North America and to circumvent the North American early warning network. The U.S.S.R. can now inflict approximately double the damage it could inflict before, but the U.S.A. still has superiority over the U.S.S.R. in strategic striking power. Increased production of Soviet-based ICBM’s will in time increase the Soviet strategic striking force but, barring an unforeseen technical break-through by the Russians, the Minuteman missiles will cancel out this increase and prolong the present imbalance of military power favouring the U.S.A. Nevertheless, the Cuban bases have added considerably to the credibility of Soviet ability to launch a nuclear attack on U.S. targets.
  2. The political reason. The Soviet Union may have intended to build up an offensive potential in Cuba
    1. as proof of its determination to back Castro to the hilt and maintain its Cuban beachhead in Latin America though of course the installation of offensive missile sites has
      increased the temptation on the U.S.A. to knock out the Soviet beachhead in Cuba and Castro at one and the same time;
    2. as an extra form of pressure which could be used after four years of frustrating postponements since their original ultimatum of November 1958 in order to force Western
      abandonment of its stand on Berlin;
    3. as a means of creating disunity in the Western alliance and of isolating the U.S.A. from its allies, and from the other countries of the free world in general;
    4. as a lever to mount propaganda attacks on American bases around the periphery of the U.S.S.R. and in the disarmament context, to press for non-dissemination of nuclear weapons and elimination of foreign bases in return for Soviet abandonment of the Cuban base;
    5. as a means of forcing a Kennedy-Khrushchev meeting in order to attempt to resolve a clearly critical situation, and at the same time, probably, to attempt a broader solution on Germany-Berlin and possibly on nuclear tests. These two general reasons are not mutually exclusive, and the Soviet purpose may have been a combination of the several strategic and political variants.

4. From the hesitation and the relative moderation evident in the initial Soviet reaction to President Kennedy's statement, it would appear that the U.S. action probably did not come at the time nor in the way expected by the U.S.S.R. The Soviet Union may have expected, at one extreme, a new U.S. armed attack on Cuba or at least a total blockade; or at the other extreme they may have expected that the U.S.A. would either raise the matter in private discussion with the Soviet leaders or refer it to the U.N. before taking any other unilateral action. Armed attack or total blockade would have incurred heavy opprobrium for the U.S.A., regardless of the degree of provocation for the action. A straight reference to the U.N. would have given the Russians more time to complete their installations and would have allowed them to work on anti-Western and anti-U.S. sentiments in the U.N. (The latter they will no doubt still pursue). Simultaneous reference to the U.N. and the quarantine have probably caught the Russians off-stride, for a quarantine designed to prevent only offensive military equipment reaching Cuba is per se less objectionable than a total blockade; and the demand for dismantling of bases already prepared can be fitted into the fairly widespread desire to avoid further proliferation of nuclear weapons sites.

5. The Soviet reaction to President Kennedy’s announcement has, on the whole and given the extent of the challenge to Soviet prestige, demonstrated comparative moderation and an evident desire to buy time rather than precipitate a more severe crisis immediately.

  1. The Soviet Union has said that it will not allow its ships to be subject to American search, but a number of Soviet ships en route to Cuba have been turned back while one has been intercepted and allowed to proceed. In the Security Council, the Soviet delegate has predictably called for a "cease and desist" order on the American quarantine action, but has avoided any such belligerent statement as a Soviet intention to shoot its way through the American naval cordon. It has emphasized the “piratical" rather than the "belligerent” nature of the quarantine and has harped on the illegal nature of this interference with the freedom of the seas.
  2. The Soviet Union has maintained that equipment delivered to the Cubans is of a defensive nature and has insisted that it will not take the initiative in a nuclear conflict; but it has not explicitly denied that MRBM and IRBM sites are being installed, thereby perhaps hiding behind a semantic veil of what is “defensive” and what is “offensive” and also of what has been actually delivered to the Cubans and what has been retained in Soviet hands.
  3. The Soviet Union has predictably used the tu quoque argument of U.S. bases surrounding the U.S.S.R., but has not attempted to link the Berlin situation with the Cuban crisis in any way, despite what it could have considered a provocation by Kennedy in this regard.
  4. Khrushchev has, in his message to Lord Russel expressed willingness to consider a meeting at the highest level to attempt to resolve the crisis and has said the Soviet Union will avoid
    any reckless action, thereby attempting to give the impression that he is moderate and reasonable in contrast with a hasty, belligerent and unreasonable Kennedy.
  5. Khrushchev has agreed to U Thant's proposal for a temporary halt to the quarantine and a temporary halt to Soviet shipments to Cuba, but presumably in the knowledge that the U.S.A. would reject it and also in the knowledge that agreement did not prevent the continued construction of the missile bases. He has also agreed, as has Kennedy, to preliminary talks among U Thant, Stevenson and Zorin.

From these first Soviet reactions, it would appear that the Soviet Union is anxious to avoid a further heightening of tensions and presumably, therefore, while buying time and attempting to get world public opinion of its side, wants at least to look at the possibility of a compromise solution. It has been singularly imprecise in stating what it is going to do in response to the American challenge.

6. From this brief analysis of possible Soviet motivations and of Soviet reactions to date, we may conclude the following:

  1. The strategic reason is not sufficient in itself to explain the Soviet action, for the short-cut of establishing MRBM and IRBM sites in Cuba, while it reduces the imbalance in strategic striking force, nevertheless leaves the balance still strongly in the American favour. Therefore there must have been political considerations as well.
  2. The major political consideration was probably to improve the Soviet Union's bargaining capacity in future talks with the U.S.A., particularly with respect to Berlin but also perhaps, in the disarmament context, with respect to non-dissemination of nuclear weapons and elimination of foreign bases.
  3. The ancillary political considerations, or the side-benefits, were probably to create disunity in the Western alliance, to attempt to isolate the U.S.A. from its allies and from the neutrals and to provide the basis for propaganda attacks on American bases around the periphery of the U.S.S.R.
  4. The Soviet Union has acted daringly and provocatively in setting up missile-launching sites in Cuba; but in reaction to a vigorous American response it has displayed comparative moderation and has been anxious to give the public impression of a willingness to talk and negotiate, even though it has not yet indicated a line of possible compromise.

Dec. 23/60 

Canadian Trade with Cuba

The policy in effect is as follows:

  1. No shipment of arms, ammunition, military and related equipment, or materials of a clearly strategic nature will be or has been licensed for export from Canada to Cuba for more than a year. This course is based on the Government’s general policy of refraining from exporting such goods or commodities to areas of tension anywhere in the world.
  2. A tight control is exercised on the export of goods such as aircraft engines which many in certain circumstances have strategic significance. Individual export permits are required in each case and, as applications are received, the circumstances determine whether the export of the goods concerned has a strategic significance, and if not a permit is issued.
  3. As to Canadian goods of a non-strategic nature, there are no limitations on such trade with Cuba.

In answer to those well-intentioned people who feel that Canada should follow the course taken by the United states, I would emphasize that no other country, including each and all of the NATO allies of the United States, such as the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, Belgium, Norway and other member nations, has taken any action to impose a similar trade embargo to that of the United States.

For Canada to restrict exports of non-strategic Canadian goods to Cuba in conformity with the United States embargo would be to impose a stricter control on trade with Cuba than we have with the countries of the Sino-Soviet bloc. Indeed, Cuba has been a traditional market for certain Canadian food products – notably fish and potatoes – and the United States itself is continuing to ship food and drug products to Cuba.

Embargoes and trade controls are powerful and sometimes double-edged weapons. If we use them towards Cuba we may be under pressure to use them elsewhere and unnecessary damage will be done to Canadian trade, present or prospective. As a country which lives by international trade, Canada cannot lightly resort to the weapons of a trade war.

As to goods of United States origin, there is no basis for the fears which have been voiced that such goods, which can be exported to Canada without control, can be trans-shipped from Canada to Cuba, thus evading the provisions of the United States embargo. Under existing regulations, no commodity of United States origin may be re-exported from Canada to Cuba without an individual export permit, and no permit will be issued for the re-export of United States origin goods to Cuba. In short, any possibility of back-door evasion has been blocked.

Apart from these purely commercial and economic considerations there are, of course, important political factors to be taken into account. The Canadian Government is by no means complacent about the situation in the Caribbean, and the operation of military and strategic material controls is clear evidence that the Canadian Government considers it to be a sensitive area.

We do not minimize American concern, but it is the Government’s view that to maintain mutually beneficial economic relations with Cuba may help and contribute to the restoration of traditional relationships between Cuba and the Western world.

Canada respects the right of every country to determine its own policy towards Cuba; we naturally expect others to respect our right to do likewise. United States authorities have explained that the “arbitrary, illegal and discriminatory” economic measures taken by the Cuban Government against United States citizens and United States interests made their embargo necessary. Canada could not justify an embargo or measures similar to those taken in the United States on this basis, for the treatment accorded Canadians and Canadian interests in Cuba has not been of a similar nature.

Canadian-Cuba trade must be seen in perspective, and there is no evidence at the present time that there is likely to be any dramatic or sustained increase in the volume of such trade, even in the peaceful items of Canadian origin in which trade with Cuba is permissible.


The Foreign Service of the United States of America
United States Embassy,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
October 24, 1962

Dear Mr. Minister:

In pursuance of instructions from the Department of State, I transmit the complete text of the President’s Proclamation on “Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba”.

An advance copy of the operative portion of the text of the Proclamation was transmitted to Under Secretary Robertson by the Embassy yesterday evening.


Ivan B. White

Charge d’Affaires ad interim


Text of Proclamation
The Honorable
Howard C. Green,
P.C., Q.C., M.P.,
Secretary of State for External Affairs,
East Block,

Text of Proclamation on
"Interdiction of the Delivery of
Offensive Weapons to Cuba"

Signed by President Kennedy at 7:06 p.m., Tuesday, October 23

Whereas the peace of the world and the security of the United States and of all American states are endangered by reason of the establishment by the Sino-Soviet powers of an offensive military capability in Cuba, including bases for ballistic missiles with a potential range covering most of North and South America;

Whereas by a joint resolution passed by the Congress of the United States and approved on October 3, 1962, it was declared that the United States is determined to prevent by whatever means may be necessary, including the use of arms, the Marxist-Leninist regime in Cuba from extending, by force or the threat of force, its aggressive or subversive activities to any part of this hemisphere, and to prevent in Cuba the creation or use of an externally supported military capability endangering the security of the United States; and

Whereas the organ of consultation of the American Republics meeting in Washington on October 23, 1962, recommended that the member states, in accordance with Articles 6 and 8 of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, take all measures, which they may deem necessary to ensure that the Government of Cuba cannot continue to receive from the Sino-Soviet powers military material and related supplies which may threaten the peace and security of the continent and to prevent the missiles in Cuba with offensive capability from ever becoming an active threat to the peace and security of the continent:

How, therefore, I, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America, acting under and by virtue of the authority conferred upon me by the Constitution and Statutes of the United
States, in accordance with the aforementioned resolutions of the United States Congress and of the Organ of Consultation of the American Republics, and to defend the security of the United
States, do hereby proclaim that the forces under my command are ordered, beginning at 2:00 p.m. Greenwich Time October 24, 1962, to interdict, subject to the instructions herein contained, the delivery of offensive weapons and associated materiel to Cuba. For the purposes of this proclamation, the following are declared to be prohibited materiel:

Surface-to-surface missiles; bomber aircraft; bombs; air-to-surface rockets and guided missiles; warheads for any of the above weapons; mechanical or electronic equipment to support or operate the above items; and any other classes of materiel hereafter designated by the Secretary of Defense for the purpose of effectuating this proclamation.

To enforce this order, the Secretary of Defense shall take appropriate measures to prevent the delivery of prohibited material to Cuba, employing the land, sea and air forces of the United States in cooperation with any forces that may be made available by other American states.

The Secretary of Defense may make such regulations and issue such directives as he deems necessary to ensure the effectiveness of this order, including the designation within a reasonable distance of Cuba, of prohibited or restricted zones and of prescribed routes. Any vessel or craft which may be proceeding toward Cuba may be intercepted and may be directed to identify itself, its cargo, equipment and stores and its ports of call, to stop, to lie to, to submit to visit and search, or to proceed as directed. Any vessel or craft which fails or refuses to respond to or comply with directions shall be subject to being taken into custody. Any vessel or craft which it is believed is en route to Cuba and may be carrying prohibited material or may itself constitute such material shall, wherever possible, be directed to proceed to another destination of its own choice and shall be taken into custody if it fails or refuses to obey such directions. All vessels or craft taken into custody shall be sent into a port of the United States for appropriate disposition.

In carrying out this order, force shall not be used except in case of failure or refusal to comply with Secretary of Defense issued hereunder, after reasonable efforts have been made to communicate them to the vessel or craft, or in case of self-defense. In any case, force shall be used only to the extent necessary.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
Done in the City of Washington this twenty-third day of October in the Year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States
of America the one hundred and eighty-seventh.

John F. Kennedy
By the President:
Dean Rusk
Secretary of State