The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during the height of the Cold War. Taking place from the 16th to 28th of October 1962, this event sparked world-wide terror as it threatened a nuclear war. The Soviet Union had stationed nuclear missiles in Cuba. This posed a threat to the United States and Canada given Cuba’s proximity to the countries. On October 14, 1962, an American spy plane photographed the Soviet ballistic missiles being installed in Cuba.
This news was relayed to US President John F. Kennedy on October 16, 1962. After secret discussions with his advisors, Kennedy decided to hold air strikes and instead mount a naval blockade of Cuba. On October 22, 1962, Kennedy announced the crisis to the public during a televised broadcast.
Shortly before the broadcast, Kenedy informed his fellow NATO leaders of the crisis. He advised Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to move Canadian forces to a higher alert level known as DECON-3. However, Diefenbaker was reluctant to comply. He was upset that the US had not consulted Canada earlier. There was already a political strain among Diefenbaker and Kennedy. As well, Canada was concerned that placing its military on DECON-3 might provoke the Soviet Union.
Despite Diefenbaker’s hesitance, National Defence Minister Douglas Harkness asked Canadian units to raise their alert levels. At this time, around half of Canada’s ministers remained undecided on the issue. This changed when Soviet ships approached the quarantine zone later that week. Other NATO members announced their support for the blockade. As a result, the Canadian government authorized the DEFCON-3 alert on October 24, 1962.
The Cuban Missile crisis lasted a total of 13 days. Throughout this period, there was an ever-present fear as the two atomic superpowers came to the edge of nuclear war. However, the crisis ended on October 28, 1962 with the help of the United Nations. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missiles contingent that Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba.
This event worsened the already tense relationship between Canada and the Fennedy government. The US accused Diefenbaker of avoiding his military duties during the beginning of the event. Furthermore, Diefenbaker’s hesitance on the crisis led to the loss of his regime during the 1963 elections.