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October 11, 2006

Comments

EB Christen

Great article. One suggested correction - for the sake of objectivity. Castro had no intention of launching nukes at the United States - at least none that could ever be proven. His aim was to achieve strategic parity in union with the Russians in order to secure Cuba against the ever expected American invasion. While I agree that the US was absolutely correct in preventing this development, it is inflammatory to suggest that Castro had a desire to 'launch' his bombs against the United States in an unprovoked attack. Castro may be many things, but it is precisely his communism and his 'rational' approach to power that differentiates the 'threat' he represented from the threat that regimes like North Korea, Iran and nuclear non-state actors represent. It is a very important distinction to maintain. Our greatest threat lies in the smuggling of a bomb into a major port of the western world by non-state enemy combatants.

Other than this small critique, great article - as always. Thanks.

larry smith

This is excerpted from a 1998 Miami Herald article:

Unknown to US intelligence for 30 years, the Soviet Union had sneaked about 100 small nuclear weapons into Cuba at the time of the 1962 missile crisis, in addition to its more powerful strategic missiles.

Cuban President Fidel Castro wanted to keep the tactical weapons -- short-range rockets and airplane bombs -- even after the crisis, and Moscow's defense minister initially ordered his troops to train Cubans in their use.

But Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, horrified that Castro had urged him to launch strategic nuclear missiles against the United States at the height of the crisis, ordered that all the tactical weapons be swiftly removed.

The crisis ended and the last of the tactical warheads was reported returned to the Soviet Union in December 1962, according to documents found by Western and Russian researchers in once-secret Soviet archives.

``In retrospect, it shows the crisis was more dangerous than thought,'' said George Washington University professor Jim Hershberg, an expert on the crisis. ``If we had invaded Cuba, and they had used some of these [tactical] weapons, it would have been awful.''

The Soviet archives showed that the CIA's failure to spot the tactical nukes led to a potentially catastrophic underestimation of the threat that Cuba posed as President Kennedy was considering invading the island to knock out the strategic missiles.

EB Christen

I didn't dispute that Castro would have used nukes in the event that he had been invaded. In fact, I said exactly that: he wanted the nukes for strategic parity to stave off the expected invasion of Cuba. It is naturally implied that if the USA had invaded Castro would have wanted to or even would have used the nukes in retaliation. My exact wording was:

"Castro had no intention of launching nukes at the United States - at least none that could ever be proven. His aim was to achieve strategic parity in union with the Russians in order to secure Cuba against the ever expected American invasion. While I agree that the US was absolutely correct in preventing this development, it is inflammatory to suggest that Castro had a desire to 'launch' his bombs against the United States in an unprovoked attack."

My point in contrasting Castro with the 'new nuclear threats' was to show that unlike Castro, the new nuclear threats of North Korea, Iran and various non-state actors exist as a major threat precisely because of their unpredictably. Iran has long sponsored terrorism and has used smaller proxy agencies to wage asymmetric warfare against the USA. If it acquired nuclear weapons there is no reason to assume that it wouldn't be willing to allow Hizballah to use one on Israel or allow Al Qaida to smuggle one into a western allied country. Likewise, since North Korea is so cash strapped, it is not unlikely to see a scenario where a nuke could be exchanged for cash and similarly slip into the 'wrong hands'. These new actors don't want nukes 'exclusively' for deterrence or for defensive parity - therein lies the difference and the danger. The non-state actors want nukes to wage war and they are willing to strike first. Castro had no such desire that we could ever tell. He wanted the nukes to prevent an invasion he assumed would happen. This might seem like hair splitting, but there is an important distinction between these two kinds of threat.

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