British Ambassador First Outsider to Learn of Kennedy Decision for Blockade - British Told of U.S. Preemptive Nuclear Strike Plan if Soviets Moved Against West Berlin - Belgian Foreign Minister “Preferred U.S. to Inform NATO Allies 24 Hours in Advance”
Washington, D.C., October 21, 2022 – President John F. Kennedy made unilateral decisions to blockade Cuba and approve other military moves, but winning the support of European allies remained central to U.S. policy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to declassified records of briefings prepared for NATO members shortly before Kennedy announced the U.S. discovery of the Soviet missiles.
The first to learn of U.S. plans was British Ambassador David Ormsby-Gore, a close friend of the President’s. According to a declassified telegram found in the British archives, during lunch on October 21, Kennedy told Ormsby-Gore of the missiles and the two choices that he saw: a blockade or an air strike. Asked which option was best, Ormsby-Gore said a blockade, because an air strike would damage the U.S. politically. Kennedy said that was the choice he had made. He told the ambassador that his emphasis was on negotiating the missiles out of Cuba and that he did “not expect or intend that the present course of action” would lead to an invasion of Cuba.
Later that day, Kennedy alerted British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the discovery of the missiles and the dangers that he saw, but other NATO allies were not informed until the next day before President Kennedy’s televised speech. Kennedy and his advisers believed that sharing with allies the sensitive photographic intelligence that had informed U.S. decisions, even on short notice, would help win their support. Nevertheless, NATO allies resented the last-minute notification and even more so that they were not consulted about U.S. moves in advance. They supported U.S. actions, but some discontent lay beneath the surface.
This compilation consists of the available declassified U.S. records of the briefings given to NATO allies on October 22, 1962, the day of President Kennedy’s first public speech on the crisis. White House reports discuss the briefings of French President Charles De Gaulle, British Prime Minister Macmillan, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and top NATO representatives. Many of the documents focus on the early communications with the British, the NATO ally with the closest relationship to the United States (…)
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