The tenth day of the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the evidence of the Soviet missiles in Cuba to the world stage.
Convened in New York City, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss a proposal by Secretary General U Thant to suspend the quarantine for two weeks while the diplomatic community sought a resolution to the crisis. Chairman Khrushchev accepted this proposal. However, the proposal was neither accepted nor rejected by the United States, hoping to keep control of the situation in American hands. Simultaneously, the United States sent Ambassador Adlai Stevenson to the meeting of the Security Council to present the evidence.
The interaction between Stevenson and Zorin at the United Nations (text follows, beginning with Mr. Stevenson):
Mr. Stevenson: I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I do not have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk. And I must confess to you that I am glad that I do not!But if I understood what you said, you said that my position had changed, that today I was defensive because we didn't have the evidence to prove our assertions, that your Government had installed long-range missiles in Cuba.Well, let me say something to you, Mr. Ambassador—we do have the evidence. We have it, and it is clear and it is incontrovertible. And let me say something else—those weapons must be taken out of Cuba.And next, let me say to you that, if I understood you, with a trespass on credulity that excels your best, you said that our position had changed since I spoke here the other day because of the pressures of world opinion and the majority of the United Nations. Well, let me say to you, sir, you are wrong again. We have had no pressure from anyone whatsoever. We came in here today to indicate our willingness to discuss Mr. U Thant’s proposals, and that is the only change that has taken place.But let me also say to you, sir, that there has been a change. You—the Soviet Union has sent these weapons to Cuba. You—the Soviet Union has upset the balance of power in the world. You—the Soviet Union has created this new danger, not the United States.And you ask with a fine show of indignation why the President did not tell Mr. Gromyko on last Thursday about our evidence, at the very time that Mr. Gromyko was blandly denying to the President that the USSR was placing such weapons on sites in the new world.Well, I'll tell you why—because we were assembling the evidence, and perhaps it would be instructive to the world to see how a Soviet official—how far he would go in perfidy. Perhaps we wanted to know if this country faced another example of nuclear deceit like that one a year ago, when in stealth, the Soviet Union broke the nuclear test moratorium.And while we are asking questions, let me ask you why your Government—your Foreign Minister—deliberately, cynically deceived us about the nuclear build-up in Cuba.And, finally, the other day, Mr. Zorin, I remind you that you didn't deny the existence of these weapons. Instead, we heard that they had suddenly become defensive weapons. But today, again if I heard you correctly, you now say that they do not exist, or that we haven’t proved they exist, with another fine flood of rhetorical scorn.All right, sir, let me ask you one simple question: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles at sites in Cuba? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?Mr. Zorin: Mr. Stevenson, would you continue your statement, please. You will receive your answer in due course. Do not worry.Mr. Stevenson: You can answer yes or no. You have denied they exist. I want to know if I understood you correctly. I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over, if that’s your decision. And I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room.
This exchange would go down in history as Adlai Stevenson's finest diplomatic moment. He would, for many years after, take considerable criticism for his position earlier in the crisis of advocating the United States trade the removal of their missiles in Turkey and Italy in addition to their naval base at Guantanamo Bay for the removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba. It was not lost on Adlai that his time in politics was coming to an end. He earned the respect of the members of Ex-Comm with his performance at the United Nations. President Kennedy wired Stevenson that evening with the following message:
"WATCHED YOUR SPEECH THIS AFTERNOON WITH GREAT SATISFACTION. IT HAS GIVEN OUR CAUSE A GREAT START....THE UNITED STATES IS FORTUNATE TO HAVE YOUR ADVOCACY. YOU HAVE MY WARM PERSONAL THANKS."
While the moment would be one of Stevenson's finest, the same could not be said for his Soviet counterpart. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who wrote the text of Adlai Stevenson's statement to the U.N. on the 23rd, said that in Stevenson's confrontation with Soviet ambassador Zorin, Zorin "seemed to be laboring without instructions" and "was not effective." This opinion was almost unanimous.
One of the critical voices of Zorin's performance was none other than Prime Minister Castro. His depiction of that day was as critical of Zorin as it was of the position of the United States:
"Well, there was that famous debate, which I would categorize as embarrassing, between the American ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, and the Soviet ambassador, Valerian Zorin. Stevenson [...] made a spectacular presentation to the United Nations Security Council in which he showed large aerial photographs of the strategic missile bases. The Soviet ambassador denied the evidence, denied that the proof was authentic. He rejected the debate. It was all ad hoc, all improvised - the man wasn't prepared to debate. He didn't attack, didn't denounce, didn't explain the powerful reasons that Cuba - a small country under constant threats both explicit and implicit from the superpower, under assault - had for requesting aid, and the USSR, faithful to its principles and internationalist duties, for providing it, and he got himself all tangles up in mediocre argument that stemmed, ultimately, from the vacillations and public mishandling of the issue by Khrushchev in the months leading up to the crisis. He made the mistake of rejecting the real debate, which should been over the sovereignty of Cuba, its right to defend itself, to protect itself. That was on 25 October 1962."
Ambassador Stevenson would return to Washington the following day, "relatively optimistic" about a settlement, as Schlesinger described him, but by the end of the week "rumors of an impending invasion reachined a new height of intensity."
Meanwhile, the United States knew that work was going forward on readying the missiles in Cuba. Daily U-2 flyovers were bringing the White House up-to-date images of the missile sites. Film from the day before the Security Council meeting showed construction was continuing. And morning and evening flyovers were taking place over Cuba. The belief of Ex-Comm was that the launch sites would be ready in 48-72 hours.
|USS Joseph P. Kennedy|
By this time, the United States had quite a fleet of ships in the Caribbean maintaining the quarantine. There were no fewer than two cruisers, twenty-five destroyers (including the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, named for President Kennedy's brother who was killed in World War II), several carriers and submarines, and numerous support ships. The Navy had allowed the Bucharest, a Soviet tanker, to proceed through the quarantine line. The Bucharest was the first tanker to reach the line with the intent to continue. It was decided that a ship of its kind would not be able to hold missiles below deck and as such posed no threat to continuing the mission on the island. That night, Kennedy approved adding missile fuel to the list of items that would not be allowed to proceed through the quarantine.
With success in convincing the world community that missiles were being installed in Cuba by the Soviets, the United States still sought success in convincing the Soviet Union that it was in the best interest of the world for their missiles to be dismantled. Unfortunately, the Soviets were going in the opposite direction as they worked to make their missiles operational.
The full statement of Ambassador Stevenson that included the presentation of evidence is available here.
The text of Kennedy's message to Stevenson is found in the essay "Adlai's Integrity and Credibility Were Impressive National Resources" by Carl McGowan. McGowan's essay is contained in Adlai Stevenson's Lasting Legacy, edited by Judge Alvin Liebling (page 195).
Schlesinger's comments were written in the October 28th entry in his Journals (page 176).
Castro's characterization of the U.N. debate between Stevenson and Zorin is found in Fidel Castro: My Life (pages 276-77).