How Nuclear Tensions During 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis Compare to Now


Banner headlines of Britain’s daily newspapers October 23 announcing President Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba. U.S. planes and ships, armed with orders to shoot if necessary, began taking up positions in the Caribbean October 22 to cut off shipments of Communist offensive weapons to Cuba. October 2022 marks the 60-year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with current nuclear tensions heightened due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

October 1962 is widely known as a period of time when nuclear tensions were heightened during the Cuban Missile Crisis; however, many have wondered if tensions are the same now amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

During a nearly two-week period in October 1962, the world appeared to be on the brink of nuclear war after American military forces discovered Soviet Union nuclear missile sites being built in Cuba. In response, then-President John F. Kennedy called for the Navy to “quarantine” Cuba, calling on the Soviet Union to remove the nuclear weapons from the nearby island.

Since February 2022, Russia has continued to wage war on Ukraine, with many believing that President Vladimir Putin could be pushed to the brink and potentially use a nuclear weapon.

Life in 1962

In 1962, Jack Commander was just 6 years old, but he recently spoke to Newsweek about nuclear missile drills he was ordered to do in school while living in Orlando, Florida.

“In school, kindergarten and Pre-k…if a siren would go off and there’d be an imminent nuke bomb attack, all the kids would stick our heads under the desk, tuck ourselves together and stick out heads underneath the desks,” Commander told Newsweek. “That was the standard drill or practice for students in school to prepare for a nuke bomb attack.”

“People from my generation, we still joke about that today, ‘Remember when we were in school and had to duck our heads under our desks?'” Commander said.

Commander also explained that he lived near a U.S. Air Force base and he noticed dozens of bomber planes constantly flying overhead in case they needed to attack.

“It seemed like hundreds of bombers because our house was on the flight path and the windows in the house, they shook day and night for that week, 10-day period,” Commander said. “The bombers were just one after another, after another, circling, taking off and landing. It was crazy.”

Once the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, when the Soviet Union agreed to remove its nuclear weapons from Cuba, Commander said that he and his family felt “relief.”

“Once my mom and dad told me that everything was ok, the danger had passed, it was just kind of relief thing,” Commander said. “I could finally get a good night’s sleep because the planes were no longer shaking the house all night long.”

Have Things Changed?

Heather Williams, the director of the Project on Nuclear Issues and a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), also spoke to Newsweek about the Cuban Missile Crisis and how things have changed since then.

Williams explained that one of the most obvious reasons why the current nuclear tensions are different from 1962 is that the Cuban Missile crisis “was between two nuclear-armed adversaries, which because of the deployments in Cuba, were in very close proximity to each other.”

“In the current crisis, Ukraine doesn’t have nuclear weapons, so that dynamic is a bit different,” Williams said.

According to Williams, the types of nuclear weapons is another large difference in tensions now compared to 1962.

A man walks in front of a destroyed building after a Russian missile attack in the town of Vasylkiv, near Kyiv, on February 27, 2022. As of Friday, October 14, 2022 the war between Russia and Ukraine continues to rage.DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

“We’re talking about tactical nuclear weapons used now. That’s what the real concern is. These would be lower yield, shorter range, potentially battlefield used nuclear weapons,” Williams told Newsweek. “During the Cuban Missile Crisis, these were much higher yield strategic weapons. So, think about the mushroom cloud images.”

“It was also a bit more acute. The Cuban Missile Crisis was 13 days, really intense, a lot of public messaging and public signaling about what was going on. In Ukraine, this is a drawn-out conflict. Putin’s statements in September were thinly veiled nuclear threats but really nuclear weapons have been in the background, or the foreground throughout this entire crisis.”

As Williams noted, Putin did speak about using further defense methods if Russia felt threatened by other nations. “If Russia feels its territorial integrity is threatened, we will use all defense methods at our disposal, and this is not a bluff,” Putin said last month.

In addition to Putin’s past remark, an ally of the Kremlin leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, also recently mentioned the use of a “low-yield nuclear weapon.”

Despite the recent rhetoric from Putin and others, Williams also spoke about the current threat levels compared to those during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“I think it is highly unlikely that Putin will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The cost would be so significant for him, it would not help him win the war in Ukraine, he would most likely lose a lot of his close partners he relies on,” Williams said. “With that said, I don’t think we should take his threats lightly. The President [Joe Biden] made a speech a few days ago saying, ‘We should not interpret this as a bluff’, and I agree with that.”

“So these threats we have to take very seriously nonetheless, I think the likelihood is pretty low,” Williams told Newsweek. “Whereas during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was much more dangerous because you had those two nuclear-armed adversaries go toe-to-toe, quite literally.”


  1. “In the current crisis, Ukraine doesn’t have nuclear weapons, so that dynamic is a bit different,”

    Many mistakes made by the free world have allowed to let another evil monster to rear its ugly head. But, the Budapest Memorandum is the biggest one of all. It allowed mafia land to start this terrible war. If Ukraine had maintained its nuclear arsenal, the evil rat would never have attacked. This document is not worth the ink it’s written with. And, another one shall never come to be, for every nuclear power will know what worth security guarantees really have; none whatsoever. The lesson learned is, nothing secures your safety more than an arsenal of atom bombs. Thanks, you losers Obama, Cameron, and Hollande, for letting Ukraine down!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Or put another way Sir OFP…God helps those who help themselves. I can’t blame the naivety of the 90s. Everyone thought evil was gone and a new era began. Unfortunately we didn’t heed the lessons of history or understood the gravity of the genesis of Moskali which was belligerence since it’s beginnings in the 1600s.

      Liked by 2 people

    • In all fairness though facts, Cammers doesn’t belong in that shitlist. Not at all. Britain is the junior partner and although he and Billy Hague tried to persuade Obama to be more harsh with putler, he was unsuccessful. They were both the first in the world to condemn putler for his action for what it was : a land grab.
      He was the first to send cash to Poro, as well as non-lethal help: medical, winter kit etc. He was also the first to send military trainers, who stayed right up until they were ordered home back in February.

      Liked by 2 people

      • So, without the US, Britain was/is helpless to assure Ukraine’s safety? Then, they should not have signed it, or, at least, added this little detail to the document. Or, the UK could have done much more and maybe that coward Obama would have followed suit.
        But, it’s all too late anyway. Hindsight and such is always a bitch.

        Liked by 2 people

        • We needed him to honour the terms of Budapest and he didn’t. No argument.
          I’m just saying he doesn’t belong with the scum on your list, because he did help a hell of a lot. Eg the trainers were there for one year, but each year they asked for it not only to continue but expand. By the time putler’s genocide started, 23,000 Ukrainian troops and Ukrainian trainers had gone through the process, which helped the defenders tremendously.
          My friend who runs a Ukrainian military charity repeatedly told me how much they valued the British trainers, who had some elite SBS blokes in their numbers.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Was also a tremendous loss when Ukraine gave away it’s heavy bombers in payment of gas debt. Not sure why Ukraine agreed to Budapest Memorandum since it only gave assurances and not guarantees. Ukraine needs the KSC to be implemented.

    Liked by 1 person

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