271. Notes of President Kennedy’s Remarks at the 508th Meeting of the National Security Council0

Notes on Remarks by President Kennedy before the National Security Council Tuesday, January 22, 1963

I will start by reviewing areas of policy which will be before us in the coming months and indicate the general attitude which I have toward [Page 669] them and to emphasize where we might put our emphasis in the next few months.

The responsibilities of the United States are worldwide and the U.S. is the only country which is recognizing its wide responsibilities. We are part of NATO, SEATO, etc. and support other pacts even though we are not a part of them. Other nations are not doing their share.

Would like to say a word first about Cuba.

The indications are that the importance of timing is of paramount importance in reaching judgments—both by the USSR and the US. Our big problem is to protect our interests and prevent a nuclear war. It was a very close thing whether we would engage in a quarantine or an air strike. In looking back, it was really that it presented us with an immediate crisis and the USSR had to make their judgment and come to a decision to act in twelve hours. In looking back over that four or five day period, we all changed our views somewhat, or at least appreciated the advantages and disadvantages of alternate courses of action. That is what we should do in any other struggle with the Soviet Union—and I believe we will be in one in the future. We should have sufficient time to consider the alternatives. You could see that the Russians had a good deal of debate in a 48 hour period. If they had only to act in an hour or two, their actions would have been spasmodic and might have resulted in nuclear war. It is important that we have time to study their reaction. We should continue our policy even though we do not get Europe to go along with us.

The time will probably come when we will have to act again on Cuba. Cuba might be our response in some future situation—the same way the Russians have used Berlin. We may decide that Cuba might be a more satisfactory response than a nuclear response. We must be ready—although this might not come. We should be prepared to move on Cuba if it should be in our national interest. The planning by the US, by the Military, in the direction of our effort should be advanced always keeping Cuba in mind in the coming months and to be ready to move with all possible speed. We can use Cuba to limit their actions just as they have had Berlin to limit our actions.

[Here follows discussion of other subjects.]

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSC Meetings, 1963, No. 508, 1/22/63. No classification marking. A note at the top of the memorandum indicated it was drafted by a “CIA Reporter.”McGeorge Bundy prepared a briefing memorandum, January 21, for the President for this meeting. (Ibid.) The portion of Bundy’s memorandum on Cuba is in the Supplement.

    Other memoranda of this meeting exist. One apparently by Bromley Smith, January 22, is ibid; another by Maxwell Taylor, January 22, is in National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Taylor’s Memos for Record; a third, apparently by a Department of State official, is in Department of State, Central Files, 711.5/1-2263.