The 1962 stationing of Soviet missiles in
The Cuban Missile Crisis began on 15 October 1962, at the height of the Cold War, when an American spy plane took photographs of ballistic missiles, belonging to the Soviet Union, being installed in
U.S. President John F. Kennedy and his advisors secretly discussed what to do about this unexpected threat for a week. After rejecting calls from his military to launch air strikes against the missile sites, Kennedy mounted an immediate naval blockade of
Like other NATO leaders, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was personally informed by Kennedy of the
The main issue for the Canadian government was whether to comply with an American request to move Canadian forces to a higher alert status known as "DEFCON-3." Diefenbaker was reluctant. Not only did he dislike Kennedy, he was angry that the
The Canadian government was also concerned that placing its military on alert might provoke the Soviet Union.
In spite of these concerns and delays, National Defence Minister Douglas Harkness allowed Canadian units to quietly raise their readiness alert level to "DEFCON-3." Formal authorization, however, was delayed while the Cabinet debated the matter over the next two days. Harkness argued that the nature of the crisis, combined with existing international defence arrangements, made the alert necessary (Canada was a member, along with the U.S., of both NATO and NORAD ).
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It also made worse already difficult relations with the Kennedy administration, and fuelled controversy and confusion in Canada – underway since the 1960 debate on Bomarc missiles – over Canadian policy on nuclear weapons.
The Cuban Missile Crisis continued for 13 tense days, at which time the world's two atomic superpowers came uncomfortably close to nuclear war. The stand-off was resolved with the help of United Nations diplomats. It ended on 28 October, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to dismantle and remove the Soviet missiles, in return for Kennedy's promise not to invade