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
1,000 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 area.
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
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 antiaircraft missiles, the Soviet Government publicly stated
on September 11, 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 the purpose of contributing to the 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 a sufficient 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
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
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 entrusted 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 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 1948.
Second: I have directed the continued and increased close surveillance
of Cuba and its military buildup. The foreign ministers of the OAS, in
their communique of October 6, rejected secrecy in 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 in continuing this threat will
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
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 possibility 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
other threat which is made 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
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 free--free 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 associations 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 see 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 our
patience and our will 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--and 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.
President John F. Kennedy - October 22, 1962