Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Hotline

An instantaneous, point-to-point, secure link between the president of the United States and the leader of the Soviet Union, established in 1963. Sometimes referred to as the "red phone," the direct White House–Kremlin hotline was set up in the immediate aftermath of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The most dangerous confrontation of the entire Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated how a simple misunderstanding or delay in communication might result in an accidental nuclear exchange. The hotline was designed to establish instant communications between the leaders of the two superpowers. Actually, the hotline was not a telephone at all but rather a series of quick-printing teletype machines.

At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it took nearly twelve hours for Washington to receive Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's initial 3,000-word response to President John F. Kennedy's ultimatum. By the time the White House had written a response, it had received a second, much tougher response. Convinced that faster, more direct communication might have ended the showdown earlier, Kennedy administration officials proposed the hotline to Moscow, which readily embraced the concept. Although few particulars of the hotline are known, it is believed to have been encrypted with a virtually fool-proof system. The hotline was first used during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War to be sure that each side was aware of the other's military moves in response to the crisis.

Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.


Further Reading
Brugioni, Dino A. Eyeball to Eyeball: Inside the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Random House, 1993.
 

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