The Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis
Recollections of an African diplomat from Moscow’s vantage point
By: Ahmed Mohamed Adan (Qaybe)
10th August, 2010
Following the Second World War, there emerged in the world two Super Powers, the United States of America with a Capitalist system, and the former Soviet Union with a Communist system. Also the United States developed nuclear weapons which President Harry S. Truman of the U.S decided to use in 1945 on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thereby forcing the Japanese Government to surrender and seek peace! Hitler’s Germany had already been defeated and the War came to an end. Not to be left behind, the former Soviet Union exploded a nuclear bomb in 1949.
The Cold War
With the two antagonistic systems mentioned above, the Cold War between the West, led by the United States, and the East, led by the former Soviet Union, began in earnest. As the arms race escalated, the World became a dangerous place with the ever present fear of a nuclear war.
In September, 1960, most world leaders led the delegations of their countries to the U.N. General Assembly Session, among them President Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev. Also 16 newly independent African countries including Somalia, sent delegations in order to join the membership of the United Nations. Efforts by third World leaders to bring the opposing Western and Eastern sides, closer together proved unsuccessful.
Khrushchev banged his shoe on the desk of his seat, taunting Dag Hammarskjöld U.N. Secretary General as partial to the West, while the latter was speaking before the Assembly. Our delegation was seated directly below the Soviet delegation in the multi-level seating arrangements of the General Assembly Hall, as pictures taken clearly show.
In the afternoon o f the same day, Khrushchev invited the delegations of the new African nations to a tea party. I represented our delegation. One of us commented the shoe banging was an unsavory behavior in the eyes of the Africans. Khrushchev replied that he had first used both fists but they were hurting. He apologized.
Third World countries, hitherto known as the Afro-Asian group later in 1963, formed their own Non-aligned Organization headed by such leaders as Tito of Yugoslavia, Nehru of India, Abdelnassir of Egypt, Sukarno of Indonesia, Nkruma of Ghana, and others.
The Bay of Pigs Fiasco
The Bay of Pigs Fiasco i.e. the half-hearted attempt in April, 1961, by C.I.A. backed Cuban Exiles to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro, embarrassed Kennedy, who was derided as inexperienced. Khrushchev’s bold step in August 1961 of building the Berlin Wall to stop fleeing East Germans to West Berlin also angered him.
In February, 1962, the leaders of the two Super Powers, Khrushchev and Kennedy met in Vienna to review the state of World Affairs. Khrushchev had risen from the rank and file of the Working Class to join the leadership of his country, and later won the fierce power struggle to succeed Stalin in1953, against Bulganin and war hero Marshal Zukov. By contrast Kennedy was a tall, handsome young man from a rich, political family.
During their meeting, Khrushchev had seemingly the hidden agenda of testing Kennedy’s resolve to stand up to him, He returned to Moscow unimpressed with Kennedy, western media observed.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
As the confrontation between the two sides continued to worsen, things came to a head in the last ten days of October, 1962. Khrushchev was emboldened to place medium range nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from the U.S., thereby circumventing the U.S radar system. Clearly, he miscalculated !
The ensuing crisis was debated by the U.N Security Council. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, the U.S representative, angrily questioned Ambassador Valerian Zorin the Soviet representative: ” Are there Soviet nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba, yes or no?” To which Zorin tersely retorted “I am not standing before an American court to answer your question!” Tension at the Council and, indeed, throughout the World was extremely high.
Apparently Kennedy had no alternative but to send an ultimatum to Khrushchev to withdraw the missiles on pain of destroying them. Reportedly, the two leaders exchanged a number of communications during those fateful days. The world held its breath!!!
In the evening of October 27, a Concert was held in the prestigious Bolshoi theatre in Moscow. Beethoven’s The Triple Concerto was played. The performing artists were the well known Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the Pianist Sviatoslav Richter and the Violinist David Oistrakh. Heads of the Diplomatic Missions were invited (I was then Somalia’s Ambassador to Moscow). A somber looking Khrushchev and other members of the Politburo also attended the Concert.
Unknown to us, Khrushchev had apparently capitulated earlier that day to Kennedy’s demands to immediately remove the missiles. Kennedy further humiliated Khrushchev in insisting that the U.S Navy board the Soviet ships carrying the missiles home and inspect them. In exchange for accepting these demands Khrushchev asked for the removal of obsolete U.S nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey and the commitment by the U.S not to invade Cuba. Kennedy agreed. Thankfully, the missile crisis was over with a sigh of relief.
A few days later a formal reception was held in the Kremlin for a visiting foreign President. As usual on such occasions Heads of the Diplomatic Corps were present. Khrushchev, who looked tired and to have lost weight, spoke at length about the missile crisis and the affairs of the world at large. His speech included such words as “Some people say the Soviet Union has won, others say the U.S have won, I say mankind have won!” He seemed to be taking credit for averting a nuclear war.
On 14th October 1964 rumors were rife in Moscow that Khrushchev was overthrown. On the following morning Members of the Soviet Politburo and the Heads of the Diplomatic Corps went to Vonuccovo Airport near Moscow to receive a Foreign Dignitary
On such occasions the Portraits of Politburo Members were hung on the Wall of the Airport Terminal facing the Runway. Khrushchev’s Portrait was missing.
I was talking with Sir Humphreys Trevelyan, the British Ambassador. I mentioned the missing Portrait. He told me that Andrei Gromyko, the Veteran Soviet Foreign Minister, had confirmed to him a few minutes before, the ouster of Khrushchev the previous day.
Khrushchev was deposed by his ruthless Politburo Colleagues. The Cuban episode and the awarding of the Lenin Medal to a non-Communist Abdelnassir of Egypt were at the head of a published list (Pravda) of 29 “sins” he had allegedly committed.
I was reassigned to Washington in May, 1965, and I left Moscow with Leoneid Breszhnev, ever the Perfidious Albion, firmly in the saddle as the leader of his Country.