Monday, 17 October 2022 — The National Security Archive
Documents Chart Critical Contribution of U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson in Missile Crisis Management and Resolution
Stevenson’s Diplomatic Admonition: “Blackmail and Intimidation Never; Negotiation and Sanity Always”
Washington D.C., October 17, 2022 – In a secret “eyes only” memorandum for John F. Kennedy, written 60 years ago today at the outset of the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson admonished the president to abandon his initial plan to attack Cuba and to consider, instead, the diplomatic option of dismantling U.S. missile bases in Europe in return for the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Air strikes against Cuba would “have such incalculable consequences,” he argued, “that I feel you should have made it clear [to your advisors] that the existence of nuclear missile bases anywhere is negotiable before we start anything.”
The memorandum, posted today by the National Security Archive, was a follow-up to a private meeting Kennedy and Stevenson had on October 16 about the unfolding missile crisis and concluded with Stevenson’s mantra for U.S. diplomacy in the face of Soviet provocation: “Blackmail and intimidation never; negotiation and sanity always.”
Ambassador Stevenson’s early suggestion of negotiating a missile swap helped set the stage for the ultimate resolution of the dangerous crisis 11 days later, after President Kennedy agreed with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to trade U.S. Jupiter missiles based in Turkey for the withdrawal of the newly installed Soviet missiles in Cuba. But that quid pro quo to resolve the crisis was kept TOP SECRET for decades.
“Neither Stevenson nor the Kennedy-led secret diplomacy that resolved the most dangerous conflict in modern history have received full and due historical recognition,” according to Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project and authored an article in Foreign Policy magazine this week on Stevenson’s contribution to the missile crisis. “Stevenson’s approach, ‘Blackmail and intimidation never; negotiation and sanity always,’” Kornbluh noted, “is more relevant today than ever.”
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