Washington, Oct. 14: Only the caution of a Soviet naval officer saved the world from a nuclear fight to the death during the Cuban missile crisis, an unprecedented meeting hosted by Fidel Castro was told this weekend.
Robert McNamara, who was the American defence secretary when the confrontation took place 40 years ago, said it could “easily” have become a full-scale conflict.
The world has long known that it came to the brink of war during the 13-day crisis after American spy planes confirmed that Moscow had deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba, only 100 miles from Florida. Only later did the West discover how close it came during a naval skirmish between an American destroyer and a Soviet B-59 submarine off Cuba on October 27, 1962.
The destroyer dropped depth charges near the submarine to try to force it to surface, not knowing it had a nuclear-tipped torpedo. Vadim Orlov, a member of the submarine crew, told the conference in Havana that the submarine was authorised to fire it if three officers agreed. The officers began a fierce, shouting debate over whether to sink the ship. Two of them said yes and the other said no.
“A guy named Arkhipov saved the world,” one of the conference co-hosts, Thomas Blanton, of George Washington University, told the Washington Post.
The conference studied thousands of newly declassified intelligence documents and photographs from American archives. Guests included many who were in leading positions. Besides McNamara, there were other aides to President J F Kennedy: Arthur Schlesinger Jr and Theodore Sorensen. Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert Kennedy, also attended.
Despite the atmosphere of reconciliation, fostered in part by Mr
Castro's public condemnation of the Soviet leader, Nikita
Khrushchev, for "misleading" Mr Kennedy over the presence of the
missiles, old tensions still surfaced.
Dino Brugioni, a CIA analyst who interpreted the first U2 spy
plane photographs of the missiles, argued fiercely with Russian
delegates who said the Soviet Union never intended to fire them.
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