608. Memorandum of Discussion at the 466th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, November 7, 1960, 8:30–10:14 a.m.1

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

2. U.S. Policy Toward Cuba (NSC Action No. 2166–b–(l); NSC 5902/1; NSC Actions Nos. 2177, 2191, 2195, 2201, 2206, 2213, 2217, 2228, 2239, 2259, 2261, 2269 and 2273; Memo for NSC from Acting Executive Secretary, same subject, dated August 5, 1960; NSC Actions Nos. 2283, 2309 and 2322)

Mr. Gray explained why he had placed U.S. Policy toward Cuba on the Council agenda. He asked whether, in what now appeared to be the unlikely event of a military move by Castro against Guantanamo, the U.S. was wholly prepared with respect to policy and with respect to the coordination of political and military planning. He cited two extremes of possible U.S. reactions in the event of an attack on Guantanamo: “(a) use of only such military forces as might be necessary to protect the Guantanamo Base itself, and (b) a decision that such an attack was an act of war by the Castro Government against the U.S. and that military power should be applied accordingly.” In the latter case the obligations of the military would be different from what they [Page 1119] would be in the former case. He assumed that in the latter case, we would pursue hostilities to a successful conclusion. He went on to say it was not clear whether military contingency planning was being done in close coordination with political planning and took full account of the actions that we might take in the UN or in the OAS. He concluded by stating that his reason for raising the issue was to make sure that the responsible departments had the benefit of the President’s views so that, in the event an attack did occur, at least their planning would be complete.

Secretary Gates indicated that military plans were flexible and could deal with a variety of possible political situations. He also noted that the President had been briefed on these plans. The President stated that he was not sure that we could say we would engage in all-out war against Cuba merely because Cuba attacked Guantanamo. Such an action by Cuba could be an adventurist action. We could not make a decision in advance on such a matter. We were going to assure the integrity of the Guantanamo Base but, on the other hand, we did not want to destroy the Cuban people whom, we believe, are friendly to the U.S.

Mr. Gray asked what our reaction would be in a situation in which an overt move against the Base was accompanied by harassment of American citizens. This would be more than an attack on the Base. The President said that in such a case, we would have to decide whether the government itself was responsible or whether action by so-called volunteers was involved. He observed that it would be hopeless for the Cubans to attack Guantanamo with volunteers. If we did more than we had to in reaction to an attack, we would create a bad political situation, but if we did not do what we had to do in order to defend Guantanamo, we would also create a very bad reaction.

Secretary Anderson inquired as to whether any arms were being shipped to Cuba by other than Russian ships. Secretary Gates said that some satellite vessels were involved. Secretary Anderson then went on to state that at the time of the crisis in Guatemala, some British ships were going into Guatemala. We had told the British that we would board and search their vessels if they continued to go in. As a result of our action, no more British vessels went into Guatemala. He wondered whether, if everything was going into Cuba in Russian vessels, we could not get the OAS to take notice of the fact that Cuba was being armed by the Communists and get the OAS to intercept such shipments. Secretary Merchant pointed out that the British and our other allies had cooperated 100 per cent in actions with respect to Cuba. However, it was questionable whether the OAS would support a naval blockade of Cuba.

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Secretary Gates observed that what worried him was the possibility that if Castro did not like something we did, he might execute 100 Americans in a public square in Havana. What would we do in such a situation? The President stated that this was a different show. If groups of Americans were shot without trial, that was war; we could not run away from that. In such circumstances we would try to keep the OAS on our side, but we would come to a point where any other action would mean abandoning our self-respect.

General Lemnitzer briefly outlined to the Council the type of military contingency plans that had been prepared. One group of plans provides for military support of an effort to re-establish a Cuban Government friendly to the U.S. A second group provides for protection of U.S. lives and interests, including evacuation if necessary. A final group of plans was designed to re-establish peace in the event of armed attack on Guantanamo. These last-named plans covered a wide range of possibilities. He recognized that the nature of our response could not be decided in advance.

The National Security Council:2

Discussed the subject, with particular reference to possible U.S. actions in the event of a Cuban attack on the U.S. base at Guantanomo or on U.S. citizens in Cuba.
Noted a summary by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, of the types of contingencies which might arise with respect to Cuba for which military contingency plans have been prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and a statement by the Secretary of Defense that military contingency planning with respect to Cuba is so varied and flexible that the plans can be adapted to any political situation that might arise.
Noted the President’s statement that the United States should maintain the integrity of the Guantanamo base in the event of a Cuban attack; and that the precise nature of the U.S. response to such an attack could not be determined in advance, but that the U.S. response should be of a degree and kind appropriate to the character of the attack.

Note: The actions in b and c above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretaries of State and Defense.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

Marion W. Boggs
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Prepared by Boggs on November 8. The time of the meeting is taken from the President’s Daily Appointment Book. (ibid., President’s Daily Appointments)
  2. Paragraphs a–c and Note that follow constitute NSC Action No. 2329. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)