U.S. Navy low-level photograph of San Cristobal MRBM site no. 1 (mission led by Commander William Ecker) (National Security Archive via U.S. Government)

The documents contained in this briefing book are Department of External Affairs diplomatic cables from the Cuban Missile Crisis and its aftermath.

The cables span from October 22, 1962, to May 6, 1963.

Use the listing on the left-hand side to navigate between different pages. Each page is an account of the cable traffic on a day (or several successive days) during or after the Cuban Missile Crisis. On some pages, documents are grouped by geographic location. On others, they are organized by prominent issues that appear on that date.

Reading these records reminds us that the crisis was dynamic, fast-moving, and a truly global event. Countries around the world were watching the actions of the major players and considering the impact on their own countries.

These cables reveal a much richer story beyond a confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Canadian diplomats were tracking the reactions of the governments and people of Brazil, Switzerland, Ghana, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, among many others. The collection also reveals many countries' beliefs about how the crisis could be resolved. Countries’ reactions to American, Soviet, and Cuban actions reveal a great deal about the international stage in 1962 and into 1963.


Members of the Organization of American States voting during a meeting on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress)

During the crisis, several OAS (the Organization of American States) members in Latin America, such as Argentina and the Dominican Republic, offered military support to help the U.S. enforce the naval quarantine around Cuba. Other international organizations were more measured in their response. Switzerland attempted to maintain neutrality for the Red Cross organization when the Soviet Union suggested the Red Cross play a role. The United Nations, including the Security Council and General Assembly, were important sites of discussion and division during the crisis.


Premiers Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro of Cuba shake hands and start to embrace in Moscow. Castro made a state visit to the Soviet Union in 1963. (Tullio Saba)

Many of the documents speculate on Khrushchev’s motives in placing the weapons in Cuba. Many observers, in Canada and elsewhere, assumed the missiles were to be used as a bargaining chip during negotiations over Berlin. While Soviet-American relations were obviously tense during the crisis, the cables detail US-Soviet engagement, including discussions of a disarmament deal by late November of 1962. The telegrams also shed light on Soviet-Cuban relations, including Fidel Castro’s wish to keep Soviet weapons in Cuba and his attempts to gain other concessions from the United States. Castro’s defiance put a strain on Soviet-Cuban relations, and he was accused of deliberately hindering negotiations.

The cables demonstrate the long tail of the crisis and point to the uncertainty that prevailed at the end of the “13 Days.” The documents explore the relationships between, and the future prospects for, key figures including Khrushchev and Castro. They also explore the broader implications for Cuba itself. Observations and speculation about the lingering presence of Soviet troops and weapons in Cuba continue in the records, as well as broader speculation about how the crisis would shape the Cold War's trajectory.

This particular group of cables is drawn from a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) volume, from the Department of National Defence fonds at Library and Archives Canada.

This volume was titled “International Affairs – Caribbean Crisis,” and it also includes National Defence message traffic, the briefing book for which can be found here.

In other words, these are cables that the Department of External Affairs passed to the Department of National Defence during the crisis. This is not, then, an exhaustive collection of diplomatic cables sent to or from External Affairs during the crisis.

These records, from R112, RG24-E-1-c, File number: 003-114, were released by Library and Archives Canada. The records are partially sanitized, but duplicate copies of many of the sanitized documents are also available in full in this briefing book. We note in the briefing book when information in a sanitized document is open elsewhere.

A table of all the cables can be found here.

Helpful graphs, charts, and a map are available here.