Cuban Missile Crisis

October 1962 confrontation between the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States

The Cuban Missile Crisis was an event that happened in 1962. It was a serious confrontation between the Soviet Union, the United States, and Cuba during the Cold War. In Russia, it is known as the Caribbean Crisis. Cuba calls it the October Crisis. The crisis started because the Soviet Union was building sites for ballistic missiles in Cuba, so that they could target the United States. This caused the United States and the Soviet Union to create a proxy conflict directed at Cuba, causing them to indirectly attack each other because of Cuba.

Cuba's location

Together with the earlier Berlin Blockade, this crisis is seen as one of the most important confrontations of the Cold War. It may have been the moment when the Cold War came closest to a nuclear war.[1]

There was a coup in Cuba in 1959. A small group led by Fidel Castro took power in this Cuban Revolution. The new government took over American businesses. The American government refused to import anything from Cuba after that. This U.S. embargo against Cuba began February 7, 1962. In 1962, the American government was worried that the USSR would attack America from Cuba, because Cuba is near enough that the missiles could reach almost any city in America. Cuba was seen by the U.S. as a communist country, like the Soviet Union.

In October 1962, American ships did not let Soviet ships carrying missiles go into Cuba. The Soviets and Cubans agreed to take away the missiles if America did not attack Cuba. During the crisis, the United States secretly agreed to remove their Jupiter missiles from Turkey if all the Russian nuclear weapons were taken out of Cuba.

Background change

President Kennedy meets with reconnaissance pilots and General Curtis Lemay

Americans feared that the Soviet Union would expand communism or socialism. The US and the USSR were the main parties in the Cold War that began in 1945. The US did not want a country in the Caribbean to be openly allied with the USSR. That would also make the Monroe Doctrine useless, which kept powers in Europe from getting involved in the Americas.

The US had been embarrassed publicly by the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961, which had been launched under President John F. Kennedy by CIA-trained forces of Cuban exiles. Afterward, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower told Kennedy that "the failure of the Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to do something that they would otherwise not do".[2] The Bay of Pigs invasion left Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and his advisers with the impression that Kennedy was indecisive. One Soviet adviser wrote that he was "too young, intellectual, not prepared well for decision making in crisis situations... too intelligent and too weak".[2]

In late 1961, Kennedy launched a number of covert operations against Castro's government. Named Operation Mongoose, they were unsuccessful.[3] In February 1962, the US started an economic embargo against Cuba.[4]

In September 1961, the Cuban government thought the US would invade because of a resolution by the US Congress to allow military force if the interests of the US in Cuba were threatened.[5] The US also announced a military exercise in the Caribbean to be held the following month.

Crisis change

Castro and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to place secret strategic nuclear missiles in Cuba in case the US invaded. Like Castro, Khrushchev thought that the US would invade Cuba soon. If Cuba were to stop being a Communist country it would hurt Khrushchev's reputation around the world, especially in Latin America. He said that he wanted to confront the Americans "with more than words.... the logical answer was missiles".[6]

Tensions were at their highest from October 8, 1962. On October 14, United States reconnaissance saw the missile bases being built in Cuba. The crisis ended two weeks later on October 28, 1962, when the President of the United States John F. Kennedy and the United Nations Secretary-General U Thant reached an agreement with the USSR to destroy the missiles in Cuba if the US agreed not to invade Cuba. Khrushchev wanted the Jupiter and Thor missiles in Turkey to be removed. The US removed them but forced Khrushchev to keep that a secret.[7]

Causes change

Fidel Castro change

Fidel Castro

In Cuba, Fidel Castro took power from General Batista on January 1, 1959. From 1952 to 1959, Batista was a military dictator in Cuba. He was very right-wing, and had Mafia connections and the support of the Eisenhower administration. The United States was interested in Cuba because of the many businesses that they had there, even though the country was a dictatorship. The countries were also military friends. This was shown by the US base at Guantánamo Bay.

When Castro came to power in Cuba, he nationalized American companies in Cuba, meaning he took the private property from those companies and made it the property of Cuba.[8] The United States decided to break off economic relations with Cuba[9] (which means that they would stop buying things from them). They stopped American foreign aid going to Cuba, and stopped buying Cuban sugar (which was Cuba's main export). This was a disaster for Castro, because America bought the most Cuban sugar. However, Russia saved the Cuban economy by buying Cuban sugar for high prices.

Nikita Khrushchev change

Castro turned to the USSR, a great power. He signed a contract with Nikita Khrushchev, the Russian chairman at the time. The contract said that the USSR would buy 1 million tons of Cuban sugar per year, in exchange for Castro's communist support. He declared himself a Marxist-Leninist on December 2, 1961.

The reasons that Khrushchev wanted to help Cuba were:

  • He wanted a Communist state close to United States;
  • He wanted to test the new US president, John F. Kennedy;
  • He wanted a chance to get the American missile sites out of Turkey, which was close to Russia.

The Bay of Pigs change

Castro wanted to feel safe from the United States. He knew that if a second attack was made from the United States, Cuba might lose and he would be removed from power. Castro asked Khrushchev for the missile sites to be built on Cuba so that he could defend himself against any American threat. The USSR agreed to this and started building missile sites on Cuba. These missiles could hit any major city in the United States

Kennedy found out about the missile sites on October 16,[10] by sending a United States Navy U-2 Spy Plane to take pictures of Cuba,[11] he saw the missile sites and thought the worst: that Cuba was preparing to attack the United States.

Kennedy's options change

The US was angry when they found out about the missile sites. Kennedy's advisers did not think that the missiles were ready when they first saw the pictures but thought that they would be ready in less than two weeks (that gave the name of the movie and the book, called 13 Days).

Kennedy had to act fast. At first, he did not know what he could do. Options were not clear so he started EXCOMM (Executive Committee of the National Security Council) to give him some options:

Options Pros Cons
Do nothing Avoids any immediate war Kennedy would look weak to the USSR and the rest of the world. Leaves active nuclear missiles very close to the US.
Attack Would destroy most missile sites. Lots of soldiers would die and Cuba could launch nuclear missiles at the US, killing millions of people and thus causing a war between the US and the USSR.
Diplomatic pressure Would avoid a war and might convince USSR to remove the missiles The USSR would probably not give up and could end up by making it look more powerful than the US and its allies.
Blockade No casualties. Would make it difficult for the USSR to send military equipment (like missiles) and other supplies. The missile sites that were already in Cuba would still be there. A blockade is also an act of war and could start a real war against the USSR.

On October 20, Kennedy chose to blockade Cuba to stop all ships going there, rather than listen to his advisers, who wanted to attack.[12]

Khrushchev's options change

The USSR's first ships arrived at the blockade on October 25 and were prevented by the US Navy from reaching Cuba.

Nikita Khrushchev sent a letter to Kennedy on October 26. Kennedy's advisers said that the letter looked like it had been written by Khrushchev himself and not his official writers, who would normally write it. They also said that it seemed to be written by a man who was under stress. In a paper called "Forty Years After 13 Days," Robert McNamara quoted part of the letter from Khrushchev:

Everyone needs peace; both capitalists, if they have not lost their reason, and still more, communists.
War is our enemy and a calamity for all people.
If indeed war should break out, then it would not be in our power to stop it, for such is the logic of war. I have participated in two wars and I know that war ends only when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction.
I should like you to agree that one cannot give way to pressures; it is necessary to control them.
If people do not show wisdom, then in the final analysis they will come to a clash, like blind moles, and then reciprocal extermination will begin.
If you have not lost your self-control, then Mr. President we and you ought not now to pull on the end of a rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot.
And what that will mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly what terrible forces our countries possess. Let us not only relax the forces pulling on the end of the rope; let us take means to untie the knot. We are ready for this.

—Nikita Khrushchev[13]

Khrushchev was saying that he would remove the missile sites if President Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba. An invasion of Cuba would make Khrushchev look bad and could also lead to a nuclear war. This was the reaction that Kennedy wanted.

The very next day, a second letter was sent from Russia to Kennedy. This one looked more official than the first. It also said that the US must take its nuclear missiles out of Turkey if they wanted Russia to take their missiles out of Cuba. This would have been a fair trade because the US missiles in Turkey were close enough to Russia that they could reach most of the important cities and Cuba was close enough to the US that the Russian missiles would reach most of the important US cities. The problem for Kennedy was that he could not publicly agree to remove the US missiles from Turkey because Turkey would then not be protected and would not be happy.

Another problem was that Kennedy and his advisers did not know if Khrushchev was still in power. They thought that someone in the Russian government might have overthrown Khrushchev. They thought this because the second letter was so different from the first. Kennedy decided to send a secret message to Khrushchev saying that they would remove the missiles from Turkey in a few months as long as they did not tell the public about it. Kennedy then sent an official letter to Khrushchev agreeing to the conditions of the first letter and not mentioning the second.

Khrushchev agreed to the secret message.

On November 1, the missile sites were removed, and the problems were over.

Khrushchev's goals in the crisis had various results:

  1. A communist country was closer to the United States. Cuba came out of the crisis still a communist country.
  2. Kennedy was pushed in the crisis. In the end, his desire for peace was important to ending the crisis.
  3. The missile sites in Turkey were removed, but not in the way that Khrushchev had wanted.

The United States saw Kennedy as the hero who had fought Communism and won.

References change

  1. B. Gregory Marfleet (2000). "The Operational Code of John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis: A Comparison of Public and Private Rhetoric". Political Psychology. 21 (3): 545. doi:10.1111/0162-895X.00203.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Absher, Kenneth Michael (2009). "Mind-Sets and Missiles: A First Hand Account of the Cuban Missile Crisis". Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College. Archived from the original on 2010-04-20. Retrieved 2015-04-09. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Franklin, Jane, [excerpts from] The Cuban Missile Crisis - An In-Depth Chronology, archived from the original on 2007-01-11, retrieved 2009-05-03
  4. The American Presidency Project. "Proclamation 3447–Embargo on all trade with Cuba".
  5. Cuban resolution, October U.S. Public Law 87-733, S.J. Res. 230
  6. quote in Weldes J. 1999. Constructing national interests: the United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis. University of Minnesota Press, p29.
  7. Mark J. White 1995. The Cuban Missile Crisis. London: Macmillan, p228.
  8. A Thousand days: John F. Kennedy in the White House Arthur Schlesinger Jr 1965
  9. Proclamation 3447--Embargo on all trade with Cuba The American Presidency Project
  10. "Revelations from the Russian Archives". Library of Congress.
  11. "Interview with Syndey Graybeal -29. Jan 1998".
  12. The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 18-29, 1962, audio recordings
  13. "Cuban Missile Crisis documents on Arms Control Association". Archived from the original on 2004-02-18. Retrieved 2008-01-09.

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