This Sunday is 60 years since the Cuban missile crisis broke out with the diplomatic confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, which put humanity on the brink of a global nuclear disaster.
The acute phase of that confrontation took place between the 13 and the 28 October 1962, which is why in Cuba it is known as the Crisis of October.
Now, for the first time since then, many international politicians and analysts have spoken again of a nuclear conflict as a real possibility in the framework of the current tensions between Russia and the West because of the situation in Ukraine. Even the president of the United States, Joe Biden, referred to it on October 6, recalling the historic confrontation.
“We have not faced the prospect of an armageddon fromKennedy and the Cuban missile crisis […] For the first time since the Cuban missile crisis, we have a direct threat of the use of nuclear weapons if, in fact, things continue the way they have been” , warned the tenant of the White House.
Biden blamed Russia and its president of the aggravated tension, although Vladimir Putin never spoke of a direct threat involving the Russian nuclear arsenal.The phrase that alarmed many in the West was the promise, in the televised message on 21 of September, to use “all means” at the disposal of the nation to defend the territorial integrity and the Russian people.
On the other hand, several Russian politicians did address The possibility of the use of tactical nuclear weapons was commented on, with the former president and deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, writing that the country could use them, but only “if necessary” and in cases stipulated by the Russian nuclear doctrine. On October 1, one of the regional leaders, Ramzán Kadýrov, who heads the Chechen Republic, proposed to use “small-power nuclear weapons”
On Putin’s warning, the professor of Political Science at the University of Virginia ( USA) and author of the book ‘Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy’, Todd Sechser, analyzed highlighted that the Russian president “did not say explicitly” that he could use nuclear weapons. “At the same time, there is no doubt what Putin wants the world to think when he uses phrases like ‘all media to our disposition.” What the president is seeking in this way —according to Sechser— is to intimidate Ukraine and the West “so that they are more cautious.”
However, the analyst believes that Russia effectively “could attack Ukrainian leadership targets, military targets, or even conduct a so-called ‘demonstration’ attack in an uninhabited area.” The author goes on to state that a single tactical nuclear warhead used against a military target would accomplish little, noting that “Russia would likely have to use several to achieve significant results on the battlefield.”
Sechser’s analysis also does not rule out possible retaliation by the US and NATO with “conventional strikes against Russian military targets, either inside Russia or in Ukraine.”
More dangerous than the missile crisis?
In this sense, the researcher addresses the historical lesson that should be drawn from the decades that have passed since the crisis of 1962. Thus, he stressed that “time and time again, leaders from Nikita Khrushchev to Donald Trump have discovered that it is not so simple” to get “what they want” by threatening to resort to nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, the chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed, also echoed Biden’s words. “We are in a situation that we have not seen since the Cuban [de los misiles] crisis,” he told Politico this week. For his part, former US Undersecretary of Defense Andy Weber believes that the current confrontation “is more dangerous than the Cuban crisis”, because the tensions of 980 were not accompanied by a “hot war “.
In the opinion of former Bolivian Foreign Minister Fernando Huanacuni Mamani, Washington’s hegemony is what caused both the crisis of 1962, as the current one. “The US is trying, with the arms support it is giving to Ukraine, to escalate the situation to the same level as it was during the missile crisis,” he said.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Riabkov also compared the current situation with the scenario over the years 59, noting that Washington does not want to take into account the concerns of the Russian state about threats to its security.
“Today, just like six decades ago, nuclear risks have arisen,” he said, and then warned that “the more the US is getting involved in supporting the kyiv regime on the battlefield, the more it becomes part of the military confrontation with Russia, and therefore risks provoking an armed conflict between the main nuclear powers with catastrophic consequences”.
Similarities and differences
He will say Director of the Center for International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (Russia), Alexei Arbatov, listed in an interview with the Kommersant newspaper the similarities and differences between the current situation in Ukraine and the missile crisis in Cuba. In his opinion, the first similarity is precisely the danger of the use of nuclear weapons.
“I would not say that we are now so close” to the edge of a nuclear conflict, said expert, but, “unfortunately, there is still there is no movement in the opposite direction” like the one that ended the crisis of 2022 between Moscow and Washington.
“At the last moment, the USSR and the US managed to move away from the dangerous line. What will happen now is not clear,” adds Arbatov. Likewise, he mentioned that the second similar trait would be the fight for the areas of influence.
However, the academic assures that the differences between 1962 Y 2022 are much older. In the first place, he mentions, at that time the USSR deployed nuclear weapons in Cuba and in greater quantities than initially estimated by the Americans. “Today there are no nuclear weapons on the territory of Ukraine”, he emphasized.
Secondly, remember that the acute phase of the crisis lasted 13 days and only one person died: the pilot of a US U-2 reconnaissance plane, Rudolf Anderson, shot down over the Caribbean island on 09 October. Meanwhile, the current conflict has lasted more than seven months and has involved the death of tens of thousands of people.
A third factor, according to Arbatov, is that Washington had in the decade of 1962 one significant nuclear superiority over the USSR . “That is, the US could win a nuclear war, although with great losses for all the countries of Eurasia and, probably, for humanity as a whole,” the expert details. “Now the situation is different” because at the strategic level a firm parity has been established between the two countries, while at the operational tactical level Russia is credited with a significant advantage.
Fourth, there was no arms control regime in the past. The beginning of the process of developing bilateral and multilateral agreements in this area was one of the results of the crisis at that time. Despite the “erosion of a series of agreements” in recent years, adds the expert, the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty (START-3) is maintained and the two parties are willing to resume negotiations on an extension and the strategic stability in general.