38. Minutes of the 506th Meeting of the National Security Council0


  • The President
  • Attorney General
    • Robert F. Kennedy
  • CIA
    • John A. McCone, Director
    • Mr. Ray Cline
    • Mr. Whelan
    • Mr. Arthur Lundahl
  • Defense
    • Robert S. McNamara, Secretary
    • Roswell Gilpatric, Deputy Secretary
    • Paul Nitze, Assistant Secretary (ISA)
  • JCS
    • General Maxwell D. Taylor
    • Admiral George W. Anderson, Jr., USN, Chief of Naval Operations
  • OEP
    • Edward A. McDermott, Director
  • State
    • Dean Rusk, Secretary
    • George Ball, Under Secretary
    • U. Alexis Johnson, Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs
    • Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Representative to the UN
    • Edwin Martin, Assistant Secretary, Inter-American Affairs
    • Llewellyn E. Thompson, Ambassador-at-Large
  • Treasury
    • Douglas Dillon, Secretary
  • USIA
    • Donald Wilson, Acting Director
  • White House
    • McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Theodore Sorensen, Special Counsel
    • Bromley Smith, Executive Secretary, National Security Council
  • Others:
    • Mr. Robert Lovett

(There is attached a tentative agenda for today’s meeting, which was followed in large part.)1


Intelligence officers summarized new information which had become available since yesterday’s meeting.2 Attached is a page highlighting the new facts presented to the Council.3

Substantial Issues in a Draft Presidential Speech

The Council members read the third draft of the President’s speech. (Copy attached.)4 There was some discussion of the date when positive information as to the existence of strategic missiles in Cuba became available. The draft was revised to state that such information became available Tuesday morning, October 16th.

The draft speech summarized the number of missiles and the number of sites known to exist in Cuba. Secretary McNamara recommended, and the President agreed, that specific numbers of missiles and sites be deleted.

The question was raised as to whether the speech should emphasize Soviet responsibility for the missile deployment or Castro’s irresponsibility in accepting them. Secretary Rusk argued that we must hold the USSR responsible because it is important to emphasize the extra-hemispheric aspect of the missile deployment in order to increase support for our contemplated actions.

The President referred to the sentence mentioning the deployment of missiles by the Soviet Union and called attention to our deployment of missiles to Italy. Secretary Rusk pointed out that our missiles were deployed to NATO countriesonly after those countries were threatened by deployed Soviet missiles. Hence, our deployment was part of the confrontation [Page 143] of Soviet power, and, therefore, unrelated to the Cuban deployment by the USSR.

The President pointed out that Soviet missiles were in place, aimed at European countries, before we deployed United States missiles to Europe.

Secretary Dillon recalled that we sent United States missiles to Europe because we had so many of them we did not know where to put them.

The President referred to the sentence in the draft speech which states that the USSR secretly transferred weapons to Cuba. He said we should emphasize the clandestine manner in which the USSR had acted in Cuba.

The Attorney General wanted to be certain that the text as drafted did not preclude us from giving nuclear weapons to Western Germany, West Berlin, and France in the event we decided to do so.

It was agreed that no message would be sent to President Dorticos of Cuba at the present time and the draft speech was so revised.

The question of whether our actions should be described as a blockade or a quarantine was debated. Although the legal meaning of the two words is identical, Secretary Rusk said he preferred “quarantine” for political reasons in that it avoids comparison with the Berlin blockade. The President agreed to use “quarantine” and pointed out that if we so desired we could later institute a total blockade.

Both Secretary Dillon and Director McCone urged that the speech state that we were seeking to prevent all military equipment from reaching Cuba. They argued that later we might act to prevent all equipment from reaching Cuba even though at present our objective was to block offensive missile equipment.

The President preferred the phrase “offensive missile equipment” on the grounds that within forty-eight hours we will know the Soviet reaction. At such time we will know whether, as is expected, the Soviets turn back their ships rather than submit to inspection. Secretary McNamara agreed we should proceed in two stages. Initially our objective is to block offensive weapons and later we can extend our blockade to all weapons, if we so decide.

The President parenthetically pointed out that we were not taking action under the Monroe Doctrine.

General Taylor returned to a sentence in the earlier part of the draft (bottom of page 4) and asked whether we were firm on the phrase “whatever steps are necessary.” The President agreed that these words should remain so that he would not be hindered from taking additional meas-ures if we so decide at a later date.

[Page 144]

(The President asked Under Secretary Ball to obtain assurances that Dakar would not be used by the Soviets for air shipments to Cuba.)

Secretary Rusk commented that our objective was to “put out the fire” in Cuba and get United Nations teams to inspect all missile activity in Cuba. The President felt that a better tactic was for us initially to frighten the United Nations representatives with the prospect of all kinds of actions and then, when a resolution calling for the withdrawal of missiles from Cuba, Turkey and Italy was proposed, we could consider supporting such a resolution.

Ambassador Stevenson said we should take the initiative by calling a U.N. Security Council meeting to demand an immediate missile standstill in Cuba. Secretary Rusk pointed out that following the President’s speech we would either be in the posture of a complainant or of a defendant.

Mr. Sorensen said our posture should be to accuse the Soviets of being the aggressors and seek to persuade others to agree with us. He foresaw that some nations in the United Nations would immediately try to label us as the aggressors because of the actions which we had taken.

Secretary Rusk raised the question of whether we should move first in the United Nations or first in the OAS. He said our United Nations action should be aimed at removing the missile threat while our objective on the OAS would be to persuade other Latin American countries to act with us under the Rio Treaty.

In response to the President’s question, Assistant Secretary Martin said that if there were a United Nations action before the OAS acted, the usefulness of the OAS would be seriously affected. Secretary Rusk felt we should act first in the OAS, then in the United Nations where our action program could be more flexible.

The President agreed that a reference in the draft speech to a Caribbean security force should be dropped.

The President said we should pin the responsibility for the developments in Cuba directly on Khrushchev. In response to the President’s question, Ambassador Thompson agreed—naming Khrushchev would make it harder for him to reverse his actions in Cuba, but such reference to him would be more effective in producing favorable actions.

The President asked that the phrases describing the horrors of war should be deleted.

Ambassador Thompson urged, and the President agreed, that we should use the part of the TASS statement on Cuba which flatly states that the Russians have all the weapons they need and require no more for their defense. Therefore, the only reason for Soviet deployment of weapons to Cuba is the aim of dominating the Western hemisphere.

[Page 145]

The President agreed that the invitation to a summit meeting should be deleted.

Ambassador Stevenson repeated that he favored an early conference with the Russians on terms acceptable to us, to be held in an atmos-phere free of threat. The President responded that he did not want to appear to be seeking a summit meeting as a result of Khrushchev’s actions. Ambassador Thompson agreed. The President added that we should not look toward holding a meeting until it is clear to us what Khrushchev really thinks he will obtain worldwide as a result of his actions in Cuba.

Secretary Rusk said our first objective was to get a fully inspected missile standstill in Cuba before we sit down to talk with the Russians. Mr. McCone was concerned that if we let it be known that we are prepared to talk to the Russians now, it would appear to outsiders that our only response to Khrushchev’s challenge was to negotiate.

The Attorney General said that in his view we should anticipate a Soviet reaction involving a movement in Berlin. Secretary Dillon felt that the Soviet reaction in Berlin would be governed by the actions we would take in response to the Russian missile deployment in Cuba.

Following a discussion of ways in which we could reach the Cuban people through television despite Cuban jamming efforts, the President told Mr. Wilson that we should go ahead with the television project involving the relay of signals via instruments aboard a ship at sea for use anywhere.

The Attorney General felt that the paragraphs in the President’s draft speech addressed to the Cuban people were not personal enough. The President asked that these paragraphs be rewritten.

Following discussion of the pressure by the press for information, the President decided that no information on the missile deployment would be given out today.

In response to a Presidential question, General Taylor said an invasion of Cuba could be carried out seven days after the decision to invade had been taken. Secretary McNamara said the President had asked a question which was difficult to answer precisely. Present plans called for invasion to follow seven days after an initial air strike. The timing could be reduced, depending upon whether certain decisions were taken now. Some actions which were irreversible would have to be taken now in order to reduce the time when forces could be landed. He promised the President a breakdown of the decisions which he would have to take immediately in order to reduce the seven-day period.

The President said that in three or four days we might have to decide to act in order that we would not have to wait so long prior to the landing of our forces. As he understood the situation, a decision taken today [Page 146] would mean that an air strike could not be undertaken before seven days, and then seven days later the first forces could be ashore.

General Taylor explained that air action would be necessary to bring the situation under control prior to the dropping of paratroopers. He added that 90,000 men could be landed within an eleven-day period.

Secretary McNamara said that planning was being done under two assumptions. The first called for an air strike, and seven days later, landings would begin. Twenty-five thousand men would be put ashore the first day, and on the eighteenth day, 90,000 would be ashore. The second plan provided for the landing of 90,000 men in a twenty-three day period. The President told General Taylor that he wanted to do those things which would reduce the length of time between a decision to invade and the landing of the first troops.

The President said he believed that as soon as he had finished his speech, the Russians would: (a) hasten the construction and the development of their missile capability in Cuba, (b) announce that if we attack Cuba, Soviet rockets will fly, and (c) possibly make a move to squeeze us out of Berlin.

Secretary Dillon said that in his view a blockade would either inevitably lead to an invasion of Cuba or would result in negotiations, which he believes the Soviets would want very much. To agree to negotiations now would be a disaster for us. We would break up our alliances and convey to the world that we were impotent in the face of a Soviet challenge. Unless the Russians stop their missile buildup at once, we will have to invade Cuba in the next week, no matter what they say, if we are to save our world position. We cannot convey firm intentions to the Russians otherwise and we must not look to the world as if we were backing down.

Secretary McNamara expressed his doubt that an air strike would be necessary within the next week.

Admiral Anderson described, in response to the President’s question, the way the blockade would be instituted. He added that the Navy did not need to call up reserves now to meet the immediate situation. He said that forty Navy ships were already in position. The Navy knew the positions of twenty-seven to thirty ships en route to Cuba. Eighteen ships were in Cuban ports, and fifteen were on their way home.

Admiral Anderson described the method to be used in the first interception of a Soviet ship. It was hoped that a cruiser rather than a destroyer would make this interception. It would follow accepted international rules. He favored a twenty-four hour grace period, beginning with the President’s speech, during which the Russians could communicate with their ships, giving them instructions as to what to do in the event they were stopped by United States ships.

[Page 147]

Secretary McNamara said he would recommend to the President later today which kinds of reserve forces should be called up. He felt that air reserves would be necessary if it were decided to make an air strike, but probably would not be needed if our action was limited to a blockade.

Admiral Anderson said we had a capability to protect United States ships in the Caribbean. If the Komar ships took any hostile action, they could be destroyed, thereby creating a new situation. If a MIG plane takes hostile action, he would like to be in a position to shoot it down, thereby creating again a new situation. He estimated that the Soviets could not get naval surface ships to the area in less than ten days and Soviet submarines could not get to the area in less than ten to fourteen days.

In response to a question, Admiral Anderson said that if the Navy received information that a Soviet submarine was en route to Havana, he would ask higher authority for permission to attack it.

Secretary McNamara said he favored rules of engagement which would permit responses to hostile actions, including attacks to destroy the source of the hostile action.

The President answered a question as to whether we were to stop all ships, including allied ships by saying that he favored stopping all ships in the expectation that allied ships would soon become discouraged and drop out of the Cuban trade.

Diplomatic Measures

Under Secretary Ball summarized a scenario (copy attached)5 providing for consultation with our allies. He said Dean Acheson would brief De Gaulle and the NATO Council, Ambassador Dowling would brief Adenauer, and Ambassador Bruce would brief Macmillan. Present at such briefings would be technical experts from CIA who could answer questions concerning the photographic intelligence which reveals the missile sites.

The President said we must assume that Khrushchev knows that we know of his missile deployments, and, therefore, he will be ready with a planned response. He asked that the draft speech emphasize his belief that the greatest danger to the United States in the present situation is doing nothing but acknowledging that in days to come we would be seriously threatened.

Ambassador Stevenson read from a list of problems which he foresaw in the United Nations. Secretary Rusk said we must decide on tactics for the Security Council meeting. He repeated his view that the aim of all our actions is to get a standstill of the missile development in Cuba to be [Page 148] inspected by United Nations observers and then be prepared to negotiate other issues.

The President asked Assistant Secretary of Defense Nitze to study the problem of withdrawing United States missiles from Turkey and Italy. Mr. Nitze said such a withdrawal was complicated because we must avoid giving the Europeans the impression that we are prepared to take nuclear weapons of all kinds out of Europe.

Secretary McNamara stated his firm view that the United States could not lift its blockade as long as the Soviet weapons remained in Cuba.

The President asked why we could not start with a demand for the removal or the withdrawal of the missiles and if at a later time we wanted to negotiate for a less favorable settlement, we could then decide to do so. The Attorney General said we should take the offensive in our presentation to the United Nations. Our attitude should not be defensive, especially in view of the fact that Soviet leaders had lied to us about the deployment of strategic missiles to Cuba.

The President interjected a directive that we reverse our policy on nuclear assistance to France in the light of the present situation.

Ambassador Stevenson repeated his view that the United States would be forced into a summit meeting and preferred to propose such a meeting.

The President disagreed, saying that we could not accept a neutral Cuba and the withdrawal from Guantanamo without indicating to Khrushchev that we were in a state of panic. An offer to accept Castro and give up Guantanamo must not be made because it would appear to be completely defensive. He said we should be clear that we would accept nothing less than the ending of the missile capability now in Cuba, no reinforcement of that capability, and no further construction of missile sites.

Secretary McNamara stated his view that in order to achieve such a result we would have to invade Cuba.

The President said what he was talking about was the dismantlement of missiles now in Cuba.

Ambassador Stevenson thought that we should institute a blockade, and when the Russians rejected our demand for a missile standstill in Cuba, we should defer any air strike until after we had talked to Khrushchev.

There followed a discussion as to whether we wanted to rely primarily on the United Nations or primarily on the OAS. Assistant Secretary of State Martin indicated that if we did not use the OAS in preference to the United Nations, we would jeopardize the entire hemispheric alliance. Under Secretary Ball agreed that we should put primary [Page 149] emphasis on the OAS and he preferred that any inspectors going to Cuba should be OAS inspectorsrather than United Nations inspectors.

The President indicated a need for further discussion of this matter and suggested that Secretary Rusk speak to him later about it.

As the meeting concluded, the President asked that the word “miscalculate” be taken out of the draft letter prepared for him to send to Khrushchev.6 He recalled that in Vienna Khrushchev had revealed a misunderstanding of this word when translated into Russian. He also requested that reference to a meeting with Khrushchev be deleted from the draft letter.7

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meetings. Top Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text. The meeting was held in the Oval Room.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See Document 34.
  4. Apparent reference to a revised and retyped version of a Deputy Director of Intelligence briefing, which is reproduced in CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, pp. 221-265.
  5. Attached but not printed
  6. Attached, but not printed.
  7. A copy of this 3-page draft, dated October 20, is in Department of State, Central Files, 373.56361/10-2062. The letter as sent is printed in vol. VI, pages 165-166.
  8. NSC Record of Action No. 2458 for this meeting reads:

    “Soviet Strategic Missiles in Cuba

    “a. Noted briefing by the Director of Central Intelligence on the latest information about the Soviet strategic missile build-up in Cuba.

    “b. Discussed and revised a draft Presidential speech to be made on October 22, 1962.

    “c. Reviewed military plans to be implemented following the President’s speech.

    “d. Reviewed diplomatic measures already under way, including consultation with allies and tactics in the UN and the OAS.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meetings)