The world was pulled back from the brink of nuclear war on this day in 1962, when the superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States of America reached an agreement to end the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The stand-off had begun when American intelligence discovered the presence of Russian nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island, just 90 miles off the US coast.
In response, President John F Kennedy had appeared on television to declare what he called a naval ‘quarantine’ of Cuba and to announce that any launch of missiles from the island would be considered an act of war by America – whether aimed at them or not.
A telegram from Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev to Kennedy stated: “The Soviet Union cannot afford not to decline the despotic demands of the USA" and that it viewed the blockade as "an act of aggression".
With Soviet vessels laden with weaponry making their way to the Caribbean and US forces at DEFCON 2, it seemed that war was inevitable - until Khrushchev agreed to remove the weapons, in return for a promise from Kennedy that America would not invade Cuba.
Khrushchev also asked for the withdrawal of US Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy secretly acceded to this demand – in the face of Turkish opposition - in the knowledge that the weapons were virtually obsolete, and the Russian ships turned back.
America ended its quarantine of Cuba on November 20, 1962, and the Soviet Union removed its nuclear weapons from the island before the year was out. The US missiles in Turkey were withdrawn in 1963.
As the deal to remove the Turkish missiles was done in secret, it appeared that Kennedy had ‘won’, and with Cuba and China both dismayed by this outcome, Khrushchev’s position in Russia was considerably weakened. He would be removed from power two years later.