JOHN F. KENNEDY
October 22, 1962
Good evening, my fellow citizens:
This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest
surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island
of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has
established the fact that a series of offensive Missile
sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island.
The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide
a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.
Upon receiving the first preliminary hard information
of this nature last Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., I directed
that our surveillance be stepped up. And having now confirmed
and completed our evaluation of the evidence and our decision
on a course of action, this Government feels obliged to
report this new crisis to you in fullest detail.
The characteristics of these new missile sites indicate
two distinct types of installations. Several of them include
medium range ballistic missiles, capable of carrying a
nuclear warhead for a distance of more than 1000 nautical
miles. Each of these missiles, in short, is capable of
striking Washington, D.C., the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral,
Mexico City, or any other city in the southeastern part
of the United States, in Central America, or in the Caribbean
Additional sites not yet completed appear to be designed
for intermediate range ballistic missiles capable of traveling
more than twice as far-and thus capable of striking most
of the major cities in the Western Hemisphere, ranging
as far north as Hudson Bay, Canada, and as far south as
Lima, Peru. In addition, jet bombers, capable of carrying
nuclear weapons, are now being uncrated and assembled in
Cuba, while the necessary air bases are being prepared.
This urgent transformation of Cuba into an important strategic
base- by the presence of these large, long-range, and clearly
offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction constitutes
an explicit threat to the peace and security of all the
Americas, in flagrant and deliberate defiance of the Rio
Pact of 1947, the traditions of this Nation and hemisphere,
the joint resolution of the 87th Congress, the Charter
of the United Nations, and my own public warnings to the
Soviets on September 4 and 13. This action also contradicts
the repeated assurances of Soviet spokesmen, both publicly
and privately delivered, that the arms buildup in Cuba
would retain its original defensive character, and that
the Soviet Union had no need or desire to station strategic
missiles on the territory of any other nation.
The size of this undertaking
makes clear that it has been planned for some months.
Yet only last month, after I had made clear the distinction
between any introduction of ground-to- ground missiles
and the existence of defensive anti-aircraft missiles,
the Soviet Government publicly stated on September 11th
that, and I quote, "the armaments
and military equipment sent to Cuba are designed exclusively
for defensive purposes," that, and I quote the Soviet
Government, "there is no need for the Soviet Government
to shift its weapons. . . for a retaliatory blow to any
other country, for instance Cuba," and that, and I
quote their government, "the Soviet Union has so powerful
rockets to carry these nuclear warheads that there is no
need to search for sites for them beyond the boundaries
of the Soviet Union." That statement was false. Only
last Thursday, as evidence of this rapid offensive buildup
was already in my hand, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko
told me in my office that he was instructed to make it
clear once again, as he said his government had already
done, that Soviet assistance to Cuba, and I quote, "pursued
solely for the purpose of contributing to the defense capabilities
of Cuba," that, and I quote him, "training by
Soviet specialists of Cuban nationals in handling defensive
armaments was by no means offensive, and if it were otherwise," Mr.
Gromyko went on, "the Soviet Government would never
become involved in rendering such assistance." That
statement also was false.
Neither the United States of America nor the world community
of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive
threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no
longer live in a world where only the actual firing of
weapons represents an efficient challenge to a nation's
security to constitute maximum peril. Nuclear weapons are
so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift, that
any substantially increased possibility of their use or
any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded
as a definite threat to peace.
For many years, both the Soviet Union and the United States,
recognizing this fact, have deployed strategic nuclear
weapons with great care, never upsetting the precarious
status quo which insured that these weapons would not be
used in the absence of some vital challenge. Our own strategic
missiles have never been transferred to the territory of
any other nation under a cloak of secrecy and deception;
and our history - unlike that of the Soviets since the
end of World War II - demonstrates that we have no desire
to dominate or conquer any other nation or impose our system
upon its people. Nevertheless, American citizens have become
adjusted to living daily on the bull's-eye of Soviet missiles
located inside the U.S.S.R. or in submarines.
In that sense, missiles in Cuba add to an already clear
and present danger - although it should be noted the nations
of Latin America have never previously been subjected to
a potential nuclear threat.
But this secret, swift, and extraordinary buildup of Communist
missiles-in an area well known to have a special and historical
relationship to the United States and the nations of the
Western Hemisphere, in violation of Soviet assurances,
and in defiance of American and hemispheric policy - this
sudden, clandestine decision to station strategic weapons
for the first time outside of Soviet soil - is a deliberately
provocative and unjustified change in the status quo which
cannot be accepted by this country, if our courage and
our commitments are ever to be trusted again by either
friend or foe.
The 1930's taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct,
if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately
leads to war. This nation is opposed to war. We are also
true to our word. Our unswerving objective, therefore,
must be to prevent the use of these missiles against this
or any other country, and to secure their withdrawal or
elimination from the Western Hemisphere.
Our policy has been one of patience and restraint, as
befits a peaceful and powerful nation, which leads a worldwide
alliance. We have been determined not to be diverted from
our central concerns by mere irritants and fanatics. But
now further action is required - and it is under way; and
these actions may only be the beginning. We will not prematurely
or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war
in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our
mouth - but neither will we shrink from that risk at any
time it must be faced.
Acting, therefore, in the defense of our own security
and of the entire Western Hemisphere, and under the authority
end trusted to me by the Constitution as endorsed by the
resolution of the Congress, I have directed that the following
initial steps be taken immediately:
First: To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine
on all offensive military in equipment under shipment to
Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for
Cuba from whatever nation or port will, if found to contain
cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. This quarantine
will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and
carriers. We are not at this time, however, denying the
necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their
Berlin blockade of I948-
Second: I have directed
the continued and increased close surveillance of Cuba
and its military buildup. The foreign ministers of the
OAS, in their communiqué of October
6th, rejected secrecy on such matters in this hemisphere.
Should these offensive military preparations continue,
thus increasing the threat to the hemisphere, further action
will be justified. I have directed the Armed Forces to
prepare for any eventualities; and I trust that in the
interest of both the Cuban people and the Soviet technicians
at the sites, the hazards to all concerned of continuing
this threat will be recognized.
Third: It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard
any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation
in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union
on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response
upon the Soviet Union.
Fourth: As a necessary military precaution., I have reinforced
our base at Guantanamo, evacuated today the dependents
of our personnel there, and ordered additional military
units to be on a standby alert basis.
Fifth: We are calling tonight for an immediate meeting
of the Organ of Consultation under the Organization of
American States, to consider this threat to hemispheric
security and to invoke articles 6 and 8 of the Rio Treaty
in support of all necessary action. The United Nations
Charter allows for regional security arrangements - and
the nations of this hemisphere decided long ago against
the military presence of outside powers. Our other allies
around the world have also been alerted.
Sixth: Under the Charter of the United Nations, we are
asking tonight that an emergency meeting of the Security
Council be convoked without delay to take action against
this latest Soviet threat to world peace. Our resolution
will call for the prompt dismantling and withdrawal of
all offensive weapons in Cuba, under the supervision of
U.N. observers, before the quarantine can be lifted.
Seventh and finally: I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to
halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative
threat to world peace and to stable relations between our
two nations. I call upon him further to abandon this course
of world domination, and to join in an historic effort
to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history
of man. He has an opportunity now to move the world back
from the abyss of destruction - by returning to his government's
own words that it had no need to station missiles outside
its own territory, and withdrawing these weapons from Cuba
- by refraining from any action which will widen or deepen
the present crisis - and then by participating in a search
for peaceful and permanent solutions.
This Nation is prepared to present its case against the
Soviet threat to peace, and our own proposals for a peaceful
world, at any time and in any forum - in the OAS, in the
United Nations, or in any other meeting that could be useful
- without limiting our freedom of action. We have in the
past made strenuous efforts to limit the spread of nuclear
weapons. We have proposed the elimination of all arms and
military bases in a fair and effective disarmament treaty.
We are prepared to discuss new proposals for the removal
of tensions on both sides - including the possibilities
of a genuinely independent Cuba, free to determine its
own destiny. We have no wish to war with the Soviet Union
- for we are a peaceful people who desire to live in peace
with all other peoples. But it is difficult to settle or
even discuss these problems in an atmosphere of intimidation.
That is why this latest Soviet threat - or any oilier threat
which is made either independently or in response to our
actions this week - must and will be met with determination.
Any hostile move anywhere in the world against the safety
and freedom of peoples to whom we are committed - including
in particular the brave people of West Berlin - will be
met by whatever action is needed.
Finally, I want to say a few words to the captive people
of Cuba, to whom this speech is being directly carried
by special radio facilities. I speak to you as a friend,
as one who knows of your deep attachment to your fatherland,
as one who shares your aspirations for liberty and justice
for all. And I have watched and the American people have
watched with deep sorrow how your nationalist revolution
was betrayed - and how your fatherland fell under foreign
domination. Now your leaders are no longer Cuban leaders
inspired by Cuban ideals.
They are puppets and agents of an international conspiracy
which has turned Cuba against your friends and neighbors
in the Americas - and turned it into the first Latin American
country to become a target for nuclear war - the first
Latin American country to have these weapons on its soil.
These new weapons are not in your interest. They contribute
nothing to your peace and well-being. They can only undermine
it. But this country has no wish to cause you to suffer
or to impose any system upon you. We know that your lives
and land are being used as pawns by those who deny your
Many times in the past, the Cuban people have risen to
throw out tyrants who destroyed their liberty. And I have
no doubt that most Cubans today look forward to the time
when they will be truly from foreign domination, free to
choose their own leaders, free to select their own system,
free to own their own land, free to speak and write and
worship without fear or degradation. And then shall Cuba
be welcomed back to the society of free nations and to
the association of nations of this hemisphere.
My fellow citizens: let no one doubt that this is a difficult
and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can
foresee precisely what course it will take or what costs
or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice
and self-discipline lie ahead - months in which both our
patience and our will be tested - months in which many
threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers.
But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.
The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards,
as all paths are - but it is the one most consistent with
our character and courage as a nation and our commitments
around the world. The cost of freedom is always high -
but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall
never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.
Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication
of right-not peace at the expense of freedom, but both
peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope,
around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.
Thank you and good night.