Lt Col JS Sodhi (Retd)
The lyrics of Bon Jovi’s super hit song which he sung in 2010 “The more things change the more they stay the same” are based on the same phrase given by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French journalist and novelist who lived in the 19th century. It brings to fore an uncanny similarity between the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war in 2022.
Cuba is a small island country located at the junction where the northern Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Its capital is Havana and it has an area of 109,884 square kilometres and a population of 11 million.
Since the 15th century Cuba was a colony of Spain until 1898 when USA occupied it after it emerged victorious in the Spanish-American War.
In 1902 Cuba declared its independence from USA. In 1952 Fulgencio Batista usurped power in a coup. He was overthrown in 1959 by a public uprising called as the “26th of July Movement” which led to the communist rule under the leadership of Fidel Castro.
This raised hackles in USA as Cuba is just 90 miles from the US state of Florida. Relations between both the countries started getting strained.
Between 17-20 April 1961 few Cuban exiles who were opposed to Fidel Castro tried landing at Playa Giron which is on the southwestern coast of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs,with an aim to overthrow Castro. Heavy military equipment was used by these exiles who numbered 1500 supported by artillery, mortars, tanks aircrafts and naval ships, all of which was provided and financed by USA. This incident came to be known as the Bay of Pigs invasion.
This invasion was foiled by Cuba which left 176 personnel of the Cuban Armed Forces dead and 118 invaders were killed.
The Bay of Pigs invasion made Cuba lean closer to the erstwhile USSR.
Early 1961 saw the American Jupiter missiles being deployed in Turkey and mid April saw the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. This had USSR worried as it smelt something sinister being planned by USA.
In a secret meeting held between Nikita Khrushchev of Russia and Fidel Castro of Cuba in July 1962, USSR agreed to deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba and accordingly construction started in Cuba for the deployment of the Russian nuclear warheads.
As soon as the news of this construction was brought to the notice of the US President John F. Kennedy, the US President immediately convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He was advised to carry out an air strike on Cuba followed by an invasion by the ground forces.
However, Kennedy over ruled the advice and maturely handled the situation which led to USSR shelving its plans to deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba in exchange for an American assurance that Cuba will not be invaded. This came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis or the October Crisis of 1962. This Crisis occurred between 16 October-20 November 1962.
Now let us fast forward to 1990 with the intervening period of 1962-1989 seeing intense Cold war between USA and USSR. With the backdrop of the Cold War ending on 03 December 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev the president of USSR was assured by USA in 1990 that NATO will not expand further east. This led to the Warsaw Pact being dissolved in July 1991 and USSR breaking up into 15 countries on 26 December 1991.
1992 onwards should ideally have been the beginning of an era for world peace. But it didn’t happen as USA vigorously started a membership drive to increase the membership of NATO. Russia, the newly carved nation from the former super power felt threatened and despite best efforts through dialogue and diplomacy to convince USA to stick on to its assurances given in 1990 to Mikhail Gorbachev, NATO kept on adding new members.
On 27 February 2022, three days after Russia invaded Ukraine in a response to Ukraine’s imminent membership to NATO, it put its ‘deterrent forces’ on high alert. On 01 March 2022 the Russian nuclear submarines sailed into the Barents Sea and the same day its Inter Continental Ballistic Missile were deployed in the Irkutsk region of Russia.
Clearly deterred USA and NATO have refused to send their military to Ukraine as nuclear strikes by the Russians on any country helping Ukraine militarily looms large.
It will now require the same tactic shown by John F. Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 in the present American leadership in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War 2022 to avert a nuclear catastrophe.
One hopes that Lydia Millet’s quote “Beneath the violet pillar, in the vacuum before the roar of the cloud, there came a soft sound that might have been heard by those who listened closely: the gentle sigh of an idea unbound” echoes in the super powers of the world and humanity is spared of a nuclear disaster.