- “The Americans knew that if Russian blood were shed in Cuba, American blood would surely be shed in Germany. The American government was anxious to avoid such a development. It had been, to say the least, an interesting and challenging situation. The two most powerful nations of the world had been squared off against each other, each with its finger on the button. You’d have thought that war was inevitable. But both sides showed that if the desire to avoid war is strong enough, even the most pressing dispute can be solved by compromise. And a compromise over Cuba was indeed found. The episode ended in a triumph of common sense. I’ll always remember the late President with deep respect because, in the final analysis, he showed himself to be sober-minded and determined to avoid war. He didn’t let himself become frightened, nor did he become reckless. He didn’t overestimate America’s might, and he left himself a way out of the crisis. He showed real wisdom and statesmanship when he turned his back on right wing forces in the United States who were trying to goad him into taking military action against Cuba. It was a great victory for us though, that we had been able to extract from Kennedy a promise that neither America nor any of her allies would invade Cuba.” (500)
Lesson: If countries desire to avoid war enough, they can find a compromise to avoid it.
- “We behaved with dignity and forced the US to demobilize and to recognize Cuba – not de jure, but de facto. Cuba still exists today as a result of the correct policy conducted by the Soviet Union when it rebuffed the United States.” (512)
Lesson: The Cuban Missile Crisis was worth it because it prevented the US from invading Cuba.
- “The experience of the Caribbean crisis also convinced us that we were right to concentrate on the manufacture of nuclear missiles rather than on the expansion of our surface navy, as Kuznetsov had recommended and which he admitted would have cost billions and taken at least ten years… When we created missiles which America and the whole world knew could deliver a crushing blow anywhere on the globe – that represented a triumph in the battle of wits over how best to expend the resources of our people in defending the security of our homeland.” (512-513)
Lesson: The Cuban Missile Crisis illustrates that nuclear capabilities are more important than conventional capabilities.
- “In some situations, one cannot be afraid of conflict, but at the same time one must keep one’s wits and not allow the conflict to turn into war. In other words, one must have an intelligent, sober-minded counterpart with whom to deal. At that point in my political career, my partner was Kennedy, the head of the mightiest capitalist country in the world. I believe he was a man who understood the situation correctly and who genuinely did not want war. He realized that the time had passed when such disputes could be decided by force… Kennedy was also someone we could trust. When he gave us public assurances that the US would not organize an invasion of Cuba, either on its own or through its allies, we trusted him.” (513-514)
Lesson: To resolve a crisis, both leaders must be sober-minded and trustworthy.
Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament. Trans. Strobe Talbott (Boston: Brown and Little, 1974).
- “I repeat that it was a correct move on our part. We did the right thing by installing missiles, and then again we did the right thing by not falling into a trap when the crisis came to head and our ‘friends’ [the Maoist Chinese] began to denounce us as cowards for withdrawing our missiles….The United States and we would have mutually exterminated each other and destroyed our economies.” (p. 349)
Lesson: Even rational world leaders can destroy each other in nuclear war.
- “We also made an agreement with Kennedy to establish direct telephone communication, so that there would be a “hot line” in the event that an emergency situation arose and personal talks between the president and the head of the Soviet government were necessary….This detail gave us some reassurance that at a critical movement there could be direct talks, direct talks that wouldn’t have to go through the diplomatic labyrinth.
Lesson: Direct communication between adversaries is necessary during a crisis.
Memoirs: Statesman, 1953-1964, edited by Sergey Khrushchev (University Park: Penn State University, 2007).
- “Could we avoid withdrawing? Yes, we could, but, comrades, let me put it the following way: ‘A player should play, but he should never chase losses.’ It is best shown in The “Queen of Ace” opera where officer Hermann dies not because he is a gambler, but because he wanted to chase losses.”
Lesson: Having lost in a nuclear stand-off, do not try to recoup your losses: you may end losing even more.
- “If we had not conceded, would America have conceded more? Maybe so. But it could be like a fairy tale when the two met a goat on the bar over an abyss. Both display goats’ ‘wisdom’ (by refusing to give way) and end up falling into the abyss….‘What worm would have to inhibit a man and in what part of his body to make him say that it is time for Soviet Union to unleash a nuclear war?’”
Lesson: In international crises, both sides need to concede to resolve a crisis, especially if alternative is a destructive, nuclear war.
Nikita Khrushchev’s speech at the November 1962 Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (November 23, 1962), RGANI, fond 2, Opis 1, Delo 603. L. 149-165. Cited in “Ya vam ekspromtom dolozhil (I reported to you offhand),” Ogonyok, Issue No 42, October 22, 2012.