71. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy 0

Dear Mr. President, I want to convey to you confidentially some considerations which, if you agree with them, could serve, in my opinion, our common cause, that is, prompt elimination of the remnants of the dangerous crisis which you and we have in the main liquidated. This would help to finalize the settlement more quickly so that life would resume its normal pace.

First of all, I would like to express a wish that you already now remove the quarantine without waiting for the procedure for the inspection of ships on which an agreement has been reached to be put into effect. It would be very reasonable on your part. You yourself realize that the quarantine will in fact accomplish nothing since those ships that are now heading for Cuba naturally, after we have agreed on the removal of our missiles from Cuba, do not carry not only any offensive weapons, but as I have already stated it publicly and informed you confidentially, any [Page 191] weapons at all. Immediate lift of the quarantine would be a good gesture. It would be appreciated both by us and world public opinion as a major step to speed up liquidation of the aftereffects of the crisis. For all practical purposes the quarantine is of no use to you, but being a manifestation of the crisis, it continues to poison relations among states, relations between you and us and Cuba and produces a depressing effect on world public which would like to see a complete relaxation. You would lose nothing but you would score a gain as far as public opinion is concerned.

On the other hand, immediate lift of the quarantine would give us an opportunity to use our ships that are approaching Cuba to take out the weapons which are being dismantled now and, I think, have been already dismantled. After the ships are unloaded the dismantled weapons could be loaded on them and shipped to the Soviet Union.

Naturally, after the elimination of the crisis it is impossible to continue the blockade and discrimination in trade and communications. All this must be done away with. But you, as we know, undertook measures and put pressure on your allies and other countries so that even flights of civilian passenger planes be not permitted. Do you really think that IL-28 carries any means of destruction? This is laughable.

All this is being done not to ensure security, but as pinpricks and cannot but cause irritation and worsening of our relations. Why should it be done? Who needs it? It serves only the aggressive forces to strain nerves and thus to reach their goal which is to push the world into the abyss of a thermonuclear war.

Therefore I believe that you, Mr. President, will understand me correctly and will draw appropriate conclusions aimed at clearing the way for bettering the relations between our states.

Next question. I do not know what you will think about it but if you were prepared already now to proclaim the liquidation of your base in Guantanamo, this would be an act which would give world public opinion real satisfaction and would contribute to the easing of tension. I think that you yourself realize what significance the base in Guantanamo may have now after your statement that you do not pursue the aim of invading Cuba. Then the question arises: at whom this base is aimed, what purposes does it serve, from whom can it guard the approaches to America? I do not see forces that can threaten America from that direction. Therefore the base in Guantanamo is only a burden for your budget, and what is the main thing, it is a great burden of a moral nature for political leaders in the USA. And everybody realizes that the functions of the base in Guantanamo—and this is in fact the case—are aggressive, not defensive.

You know our position with regard to the bases. We are against military bases in general and that’s why we liquidated those our bases that we had in Finland and China and we think that we acted rightly. That [Page 192] was an act that manifested our good intentions in ensuring peaceful coexistence. By that we did not diminish our defensive capability but raised our moral prestige among the peoples of all the world. The more true it is now when there are perfect means of war, the range and destructive power of which are so great that no bases could in any degree replace them.

This would be a good preparation to an agreement between you and us on the liquidation of all military bases in general since military bases have lost now their importance. Those are not my words. I think, you yourself said and even stated it publicly that you want to reduce the number of your military bases. Of this spoke Bowles and others, and they spoke correctly.

Such your step would be highly appreciated by world public.

I would like also to tell you my following consideration.

My colleagues and I consider that both sides have displayed restraint and wisdom in liquidating the military conflict which might have resulted in a world thermonuclear war. I take the liberty to think that you evidently held to a restraining position with regard to those forces which suffered from militaristic itching. And we take a notice of that. I don’t know, perhaps I am wrong, but in this letter I am making the conclusion on the basis that in your country the situation is such that the decisive word rests with the President and if he took an extreme stand there would be no one to restrain him and war would be unleashed. But as this did not happen and we found a reasonable compromise having made mutual concessions to each other and on this basis eliminated the crisis which could explode in the catastrophe of a thermonuclear war, then, evidently, your role here was restraining. We so believe, and we note and appreciate it.

Our systems are different and my role was simpler than yours because there were no people around me who wanted to unleash war. My efforts aimed at eliminating the conflict were supported by both our military men and my colleagues in the leadership of the party and government.

Mr. President, we have now conditions ripe for finalizing the agreement on signing a treaty on cessation of tests of thermonuclear weapons. We fully agree with regard to three types of tests or, so to say, tests in three environments. This is banning of tests in atmosphere, in outer space and under water. In this respect we are of the same opinion and we are ready to sign an agreement.

But there are still some differences with regard to underground explosions. Therefore it would be good if you gave instructions to find a compromise in the decision on the underground test ban, but without inspection. We shall not accept inspection, this I say to you unequivocally and frankly. Of course, if one aims at delaying or torpedoing an agreement [Page 193] then there is sense in insisting on the inspection of underground explosions.

We do not carry on underground tests, we did it but once and we are not going to do it anymore. Maybe such a necessity will arise sometime in future, but in any case I do not envisage it.

It would be very useful to agree on ending tests after such strain when people lived through great anxiety. It would be a great reward for the nervous strain suffered by the peoples of all countries. I think that your people felt as much anxiety as all other peoples expecting that thermonuclear war would break out any moment. And we were very close to such war indeed. That is why it would be good to give satisfaction to the public opinion. This would contribute to easing the tension.

We appreciate it very much that you took the initiative and in such a moment of crisis stated your readiness to conduct negotiations with the purpose of signing a non-aggression treaty between the two military blocs. We responded and supported it. We are prepared to come to an agreement on this question confidentially or through diplomatic channels and then make it public and start negotiations. This also would contribute to lessening tension. The world public would learn with satisfaction that in the moment of crisis not only declarative statements were made but certain commitments with signatures affixed were taken as well.

But the best thing to do would be—I do not know how you will look upon it—to disband all military blocs. We are not coming up with this now though we spoke of this before; however we believe now too that this would be most reasonable. But if you and your allies are not ready yet for that we are not pressing. However I must say that in the interests of the same elimination of tension this would be greatly useful.

We have eliminated a serious crisis. But in order to forsee and forestall appearance of a new crisis in future which might be impossible to cope with everything in our relations capable of generating a new crisis should be erased now. It would seem that now when we possess thermonuclear weapons, rocket weapons, submarine fleet and other means the situation obliges all states, every state to adhere to such norms of conduct which would not generate conflicts, to say nothing of wars. From our point of view, this is quite obtainable. This would be a big step forward at a time when we in effect have not yet disarmed. I think that this would be not a loss but a gain for the supporters of peaceful coexistence, a mutual benefit which the peoples of the U.S. and other countries participating in military blocs would enjoy. It can also be said with confidence that this would be highly appreciated by all peoples and would give great reassurance and satisfaction to people interested in securing peace. More efforts should be made already now to solve the problem of disarmament. [Page 194] To do it with regard not to one stage but to a real solution of the whole problem.

In our proposals on general and complete disarmament which we have made we have taken into consideration your wishes as well. Our recent proposals on this point were expressed by the USSR Foreign Minister A.A.Gromyko at the XVII session of the U.N. General Assembly. In those proposals of ours adjustments we made to take into account your wishes. What we considered to be reasonable we took into consideration.

And of course, Mr. President, I am again reminding you of the necessity to solve the German question because next crisis, possibly of no lesser danger, can be caused by the German question. And the main thing is that that crisis will be foolish as all crises are.

There was war, two German states emerged, or actually three states, which are in existence since the end of World War II. Specific relations among them have already developed. But these relations—economic and political—exist because the German Democratic Republic regulates traffic through its territory on the basis of some substitutes for treaties though in reality, daily life, in practice such treaties are already operative.

Besides, we and you, our Foreign Minister and your Secretary of State, have agreed on all questions. And the only question which remains unsolved is that the presence of troops in West Berlin and in effect not even of the troops but under what flag those troops will be and of what states, naturally within certain period of time.

Could not we both understand it? And who needs that the present unsolved situation continue? Not you and not your people. This is not in our or your interests, and not in the interests of our or your allies. This is only—and I repeat again—in the interests of revanchist forces who do not want to recognize the borders and conditions emerged as a result of the defeat of the Hitlerite Germany. Only they benefit from that. Nobody else.

Who expresses such policy now—Adenauer or somebody else—that is of no particular importance to me or to you. But if one takes a realistic view, if you, Mr. President, analyze the situation then you in your heart will undoubtedly agree with me. What you say publicly is another matter. But that comes not from how you personally understand the situation but, so to say, from political expedience, from desire “not to offend” your ally. However it would be better to be guided by a desire not to offend the public opinion and to give satisfaction to it, to give satisfaction to all peoples, the American people included—to eliminate the hotbed of international tension in the center of Europe. And we would be able to eliminate it. If you and we come to an agreement on this question—and we do want it—this would be a great joy for all peoples because this would mean consolidation of peace.

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There would remain many unsettled matters in the world but the main thing after that—and I would like to tell you about it—is the question of China. It is anomalous that China is not having her seat in the U.N. Similar anomalies already existed in history and were overwhelmed by life. When the Revolution broke out and won in America and Russian Emperor showed stubbornness and did not recognize America for 26 years. But America did not cease to exist because of that. So, that was a foolish policy. The United States answered with the same lack of cleverness. But that happened, however, in different times. Therefore the U.S. acted unreasonably for roughly half that time: the Russian Emperor—for 26 years, you—for 16 years. But then the U.S. realized that it was unwise, and your great President Roosevelt took the courage and responsibility and displayed wisdom.

You would greatly raise your prestige, personal and that of your country, in the eyes of the peoples if you take an attitude facilitating China taking its lawful seat in the U.N. This is possible only if it is understood that there cannot be two Chinas. No state which respects itself can agree to a part of its territory, a part of its population being cut off, it applies even more strongly to a great power. This is an internal question of China and let the Chinese decide it among themselves. When China participated in the creation of the U.N. and when it was made a permanent member of the Security Council, then it was one China. And that one China exists now. If China occupies again its lawful seat in the U.N., if you understand the necessity of it—and I think that you do understand it—then it would be good, it would be a great contribution to the cause of peace.

It is impossible to come to an agreement on disarmament without China. There are countries with population of half a million and even less which are members of the U.N. and have voice in this international organization. Iceland, for instance has the population of 180 thousand people. China has 650 million people and does not have such voice. We have respect for the people of Iceland and their will as well as for all peoples. But from the point of view of ensuring peace—even if there seems to be a contradiction here—the contribution of a given people and that of another people, the real contribution to the cause of ensuring peace may be different.

Therefore it would be proper to solve the question of the restoration of China’s rights in the U.N.; the peoples are waiting for it. And this will happen, it is only a matter of time. Therefore in order not to prolong this time, if you understood now the necessity for such a step, then, it would in effect be possible to solve this problem at the present session of General Assembly. What satisfaction it would give to the world public opinion, you would see from the expression of feelings of all peoples because it would be a real step, indeed, towards stabilization and strengthening of peace all over the world.

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We, the Soviet people and the peoples of Asian and Europe countries, saw war. War often rolled through our territory. America participated in the two wars but it suffered very small losses in those wars. While huge profits were accumulated as result of the wars. Of course, it was monopolists who benefited but workers, working people got something out of it, too. War did not touch the soil of the United States. The American people did not experience destruction, sufferings, they only received notifications about deaths of their kin. Now during this crisis war was knocking at the gates of America.

These, in effect, are my considerations after the crisis situation. I want to tell you that in this crisis, as our saying goes, there is no evil without good. Evil has brought some good. The good is that now people have felt more tangibly the breathing of the burning flames of thermonuclear war and have a more clear realization of the threat looming over them if arms race is not stopped. And I would say that what has just happened will serve especially good the American people.

Mr. President, I believe that you as a military man, and your military people understand that we were not preparing for war when we delivered means of defense to Cuba. Those means were not meant against the U.S., but were the means to ensure the security of Cuba. Do you really think that we are so narrow-minded in our understanding of military matters that in preparing for war against the U.S. we picked up Cuba as a bridgehead for such a war? And the means there—a certain number of missiles. This is foolish. For Cuba is no good as a bridgehead for a big war and it cannot be used for those purposes and, of course, nobody ever contemplated that. Those were the means for deterring aggressor, to use the language of the late Dulles.

It is our opinion that the crisis has been eliminated on the compromise basis through reciprocal concessions. We are satisfied with it. We also appreciate your cooperation in the elimination of the crisis and your understanding of the necessity for reciprocal concessions and compromise so that the conflict be prevented from going beyond the limits that might really break into a thermonuclear war. All the peoples of the world, the peoples of the United States and the Soviet Union as well as the peoples of all countries, are interested in eliminating this conflict. In particular, I think, it will be highly appreciated by the people of Cuba who have now been assured that their borders will be respected and there will be no threat of invasion of their land on the part of stronger states. In other words, the Cuban people will have the long-awaited opportunity to enjoy the benefits of their labor and they will have the guarantee of their independence on the basis of the U.N. Charter which provides for non-interference into internal affairs of other states and respect for sovereignty and integrity of state.

These are the considerations, Mr. President, which I wanted to express to you. I understand that I listed a great number of questions. [Page 197] Therefore, if we started after breakfast we would not have finished solving them before dinner. It would require more time but they have to be solved. They face the world. And the more we delay the solution of these questions, the more of unknown will appear which can prove to be fatal in a future crisis. Therefore, the sooner we clear away the roadblock, the windfallen wood, which has piled up in the international relations, and make clear the roads to correct mutual understanding the better it would be.

Mr. President, you lived through this crisis yourself. For us too, it presented the Rubicon: whether to agree to a compromise, whether to make concessions. Indeed, from the point of view of the legal standards your claims had no grounds whatsoever. Therefore there was a great trial and there were hesitations. We still believed, however, that you might have difficulties too since how could it be that you could not know that the unjustified demands of the USA exposed the world to the hazards of catastrophe. However, we decided to make a compromise proposal which would suit both you and us. We received your assurances that you would not invade Cuba and would not permit others to do it and on this condition we withdrew the weapons which you called offensive. As a result, there has been practically achieved the purpose which had been intended to be achieved through the shipments of means of defense. Now this question is solved on these compromise and reciprocal concessions.

And we consider it to be reasonable. Having eliminated this crisis we gave each other mutual satisfaction: you promised not to attack and not to permit attack against Cuba on the part of others, and we moved forward to make the USA feel confident that we do not contemplate anything bad against it and that there is no threat against the USA on our part. You certainly possess means of destruction. But you know that we also have these means and they are of a different nature than those that were in Cuba. Those were trifles there. Our means were brought to the state of combat readiness, they were of a more serious nature and they were pointed at the USA and your allies.

To our mutual satisfaction we maybe even sacrificed self-esteem. Apparently, there will be such scribblers who will engage in hair-splitting over our agreement, will be digging as to who made greater concessions to whom. As for me, I would say that we both made a concession to reason and found a reasonable solution which enabled us to ensure peace for all including those who will be trying to dig up something.

Such is our understanding of this whole question.

I would like to sum up the above said and express in conclusion the following considerations on the questions touched upon in this letter.

I think it would be possible to pick up from the questions listed by me those which are more ripe and which should, perhaps, be prepared for taking decisions on them. Then it would be possible to meet, maybe, [Page 198] at the U.N. or may be at a specially arranged meeting. I repeat, I have in mind a meeting in case questions are prepared for taking decisions on them so that the appropriate agreements could be signed during the meeting. It would be a good gift for the peoples of the whole world.

We have a different understanding of the mentioned questions. Therefore I would like to know your considerations as to whether you believe that some or other of the questions raised by me are ripe for decision. If you do not consider them ripe, then there should be no meeting because a meeting in such conditions would not only fail to justify hopes of the peoples, but would distress them.


N. Khrushchev
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. Confidential. Another copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence. The source text appears to be a translation by the Soviet Embassy in Washington.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.