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Cuban Missile Crisis Essay, Research Paper

World War II forced two giants, United States and the Soviet Union, to put their differences aside in the name of conquering a more threatening force, Hitler and his Nazi armies. Yet, already in the three conferences, starting with meeting in Teheran in 1943, the Yalta talks in February 1945, and the Berlin (Potsdam) Conference in August 1945, it was obvious that the alliance would not last in peacetime. Although the American President Roosevelt recognized Soviet Union’s Communist government, his successor, president Truman had no intentions of complying with USSR’s every demand. Both powers had very different perspectives on how to deal with the war-wrecked Europe. While the US government wished to see recovered Europe as democratic, the Soviets wanted to have it under their communist control. The Iron Curtain was down, and so began the war of diplomacy, ideals and espionage. In October 1962, resulting from the tensions based upon different perspectives arose the Cuban Missile Crisis. This potentially cataclysmic incident became one of most significant events of the Cold War not only because the two nations came dangerously close to a thermonuclear war, but also because it brought policy makers on both sides to reevaluate their use of diplomacy and nuclear weapons.

The Cuban confrontation did not spring up into existence over night. There were many minor conflicts that led up to the crisis. However there are two predominant reasons why the Soviets decided to place their nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba. First of all, they were insecure about the missile gap between the United States and Soviet Union. For a long time, the Soviets thought that they were years ahead of the US in terms of intercontinental missiles. After all, they did put “Sputnik” into orbit first, well before Americans had dreamt about such an act. Most of the Soviet organizations did not believe that there was a necessity to prepare for a nuclear conflict. This negligence made it harder for them to understand and deal with the fact that the US had finally surpassed them. Although they were not given any evident reasons to feel threatened, they probably thought that Americans were getting ready to invade the Soviet Union in order to vanquish their way of life. Soviet missiles were only powerful enough to be launched against Europe but U.S. missiles, such as those located in Greece and Turkey, were capable of striking the entire Soviet Union. As it was not possible to build more intercontinental missiles for economic reasons, “a group within the newly created Strategic Rocket Forces proposed the using of Cuba as a missile site”(Information?1). This move was entirely backed by the Soviet premier Nitkita S. Khrushchev, who believed that “the future of wars would involve strategic nuclear rockets”(Information? 4). Although the Soviets didn’t have enough resources to build rockets that would reach United States from USSR, the IRBMs and MRBMs, intermediate-range missiles of a smaller range would be as successful as the intercontinental rockets if using Cuba as the launch site. Furthermore, installing the missiles in Cuba would be Khrushchev’s response to Kennedy’s deployment of Jupiters in Turkey”(Lebow and Gross Stein 100). However, Khrushchev failed to acknowledge the error in his rationalization, for he did not consider the domestic political pressures that would make this action unacceptable to Kennedy. In his mind, he was justified for, finally, missile parity would be achieved without any larger costs.

The second reason for the Soviet installment of its missiles on Cuba was the fear of losing the island in an invasion. Although initially, Fidel Castro was hailed a hero by both the Cuban people and Americans when he took power of the Cuban government by overthrowing the previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista, soon, he took actions hostile towards the American interests, as well as, he aligned his country publicly with the Soviet Union. The U.S. public and government were gravely concerned about the creation of communist state and member of the Soviet bloc only seventy miles from its southern shores. The Americans made several attempts to oust him, first of which was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, for which President John F. Kennedy assumed responsibility. It was carried out by anti-Castro Cuban exiles, trained and backed by America’s CIA. Furthermore, the CIA has been running covert operations throughout Cuba trying to damage the Castro government. Another attempt was a U.S. military exercise in 1962. As David Detzer reports, the Armed Forces conducted a mock invasion of a Caribbean island to overthrow a fictitious dictator whose name, Ortsac, was Castro spelled backwards (36). Furthermore, the United States also drafted a plan, named Operation Mongoose, to invade Cuba. The CIA even went as far as to try to eliminate Castro by organizing a series of assassination attempts, however, “bad luck, incompetence, and likely Mafia betrayal foiled plots to dispose of Castro by poisoned food and drink, exploding cigars?poison pills?a three-man hit squad, diving suit contaminated with tuberculosis bacilli?rare sea shell, filled with explosives”(Lebow and Gross Stein 35). All those attempts were devised to keep Castro nervous. Obviously the Americans reached their goal, because Fidel Castro began looking for a way to defend his island nation from an attack by the U.S. Ever since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, he felt a second attack was inevitable. Aware of the significance of this opportunity, Khrushchev eagerly extended an offer of assistance to the desperate Cuban general. The Soviet Premier offered Castro new trade opportunities, to ease the effects of U.S. sanctions, and a promise of protection from U.S. hostilities. Convinced of the threat, Castro approved of Khrushchev’s plan to place missiles on the island. In the summer of 1962 the Soviet Union worked quickly and secretly to build its missile installations in Cuba. Thus, the Soviets reached their goal of getting dangerously close with their missiles to the United States under the alleged reason, as Khrushchev stated, that the Soviet’s “aim has been and is to help Cuba, and no one can dispute the humanity of our motives, which are oriented toward enabling Cuba to live peacefully and develop in the way its people desire”(”Letter From Chairman Khrushchev?” 3). Consequently, throughout the summer and fall of 1962, the Soviets shipped launch equipment and personnel necessary for the preparation of missiles to Cuba. Fearing that they would be discovered, instead of military ships, civilian vessels were used, and troops rode on cruise liners posing as tourists. In all, sixty missiles and their warheads were transported to Cuba.

On 29 August 1962, a U-2 reconnaissance flight over Cuba revealed the presence of Soviet defensive missiles on the island. On the same day, the Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobryunin assured Attorney General Robert Kennedy that no offensive missiles would be placed in Cuba. Eleven days later, however, the first Soviet medium-ranged ballistic missiles arrived. Consequently, Kennedy ordered another U-2 flight. The delivered information indicated that there were more surface-to-air missile site, and six much larger missiles. SS-4 nuclear missiles were discovered as well. It was obvious that the Soviets have been deceiving America. In response, Kennedy hand-picked a group of trusted government officials to advise him on the crisis. This committee was later referred to as the Executive Committee of the national Security Council, EX-COMM. This group outlined three possible courses of action for the U.S. to take against Cuba and the Soviet Union. The first idea pointed to the political courses of action: “To engage Castro and Khrushchev on the diplomatic stage in a gamble to resolve the crisis openly”(Detzer 49), however most members thought it unlikely to succeed. The second option would involve “a declaration of open Surveillance combined with a blockade against offensive weapons entering Cuba”(Detzer 49). The third possibility was “military action directed against Cuba, staring with an air attack against the missiles”(Detzer 50). As Detzer explained, the EX-COMM worked under the premise that the missile warheads were not yet in Cuba and not attached to the missiles, however this was not true, because the warheads were already installed and prepared to be fired in order to stop an invasion (51). However, all the information that the government did have was kept secret from both the soviets and the public. If the enemies found out, they might have hidden the missiles or launch them. If the public found out, the nation would panic. After all, some people have already built for themselves shelters, schools conducted nuclear bomb drills, and children wore name tags in order to be recognized.

On October 18, Presidents Kennedy met with the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrie Gromyko. Although, he was aware of the Soviet deception and lies, Kennedy did not confront the minister about the missiles. Rather the president listened to Gromyko’s statement that Soviet aid was “solely for the purpose of contributing to the defense capabilities of Cuba and to the development of its peaceful democracy”(Smith-Thompson 220). In response, Kennedy reread a statement he had made on September 4, saying the U.S. would not tolerate offensive weapons in Cuba. Later in the evening, while a dinner was held in honor of Gromyko, EX-COMM had another meeting during which it the members decided on recommending a blockade as a way of dealing with the crisis. The president favored this option for “it allowed the U.S. to start with minimal action and increase the pressure on the Soviets as needed”(Thompson 225). On October 22, 1962, he addressed the nation announcing the present situation in the Cuban Missile Crisis to an anxious public. After revealing that Cuba became a military base for “offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction [constituting] an explicit threat to the peace and security of all Americas”, he stated that “neither the United States of America not the world community of nations [could] tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation large or small”(”President Kennedy?” 1). In his speech, Kennedy in addition to demanding that Russian Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev remove all the missile bases and their deadly contents, Kennedy ordered a naval quarantine (blockade) of Cuba in order to prevent Russian ships from bringing additional missiles and construction materials to the island. He used the term ‘quarantine’ instead of a ‘blockade’ for the other, under international treaties was defined as an act of war. A quarantine, on the other hand, was merely an attempt to keep something unwanted, like Soviet military shipment, out of a particular area, Cuba. Kennedy further explained that he ordered an increased close surveillance of Cuba and its military buildup, as well as he reinforced the base at Guantanamo. Furthermore, he called upon “the captive people of Cuba [for their] leaders are no longer Cuban leaders inspired by Cuban ideals. They are puppets ad agents of an international conspiracy”(President Kennedy?3)? To win the support of other nations and to further prove that the United States were not waging war against Cuba or the Soviet Union, Kennedy sent Khrushchev a copy of his speech. Upon reading it, the latter became infuriated for two reasons. He was mad because his operation was not kept in secrecy and because of the American blockade. In response to the quarantine, Premier Khrushchev authorized his Soviet field commanders in Cuba to launch their tactical nuclear weapons if invaded by U.S. forces. He would not step down and eliminate the missile sites. In the Cold War perspective, Cuba was like Berlin, “a beleaguered outpost within the other side’s sphere of influence”(Lebow and Gross Stein 21). The Soviet Union was unprepared to abandon Cuba, just as the United States were unwilling to lose their hold on Berlin. Thus, in his letter to Kennedy, Khrushchev responded that the president was not “declaring a quarantine, but rather issuing an ultimatum, and ?threatening that if [the Soviet Union does] not obey your orders, [the U.S.] will use force”(Khrushchev to? 1). Furthermore, Khrushchev accused the Americans of violating “the freedom of navigation in international waters and air space [which constitutes] an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war”(Khrushchev to? 2). On one hand, it was obvious that the Soviet premier did not take the young president seriously. After witnessing the terrible failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, he did not think Kennedy was strong enough to stand up to the experienced official of Soviet Union. However, Khrushchev had also his own reputation to worry about. He knew that he was in no position to protect neither the missiles nor the Cuban Government. Yet, if he backed down he would be branded a coward by both his domestic opponents and Fidel Castro, who might have blocked withdrawal of the missiles”(Lebow and Gross Stein 116). Thus, he ordered the Soviet ships to proceed.

On October 25, 1962, U Thant, Secretary General of the United Nations proposed to Kennedy and Khrushchev a pause in the crisis. He suggested the Soviet stop shipping offensive weapons to Cuba for two or three weeks and in exchange the Americans would suspend the quarantine. However, Kennedy politely turned down the offer, because he realized that it would allow the Soviets to continue preparing the missiles that were already in Cuba. Refusing to step down, he sent another message to Khrushchev restating his position. Yet, he did not wish for war, the president sent the U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson to confront the Soviets and the United Nations. Khrushchev was very optimistic about the UN accepting the missiles because of the fundamental similarity between the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba and American missiles in Turkey. Yet, when asked directly about the missiles, Soviet Ambassador Zorin refused to comment. Consequently, Stevenson showed the reconnaissance photos of missile sites, an unquestionable evidence for Soviet presence in Cuba. At that point, Soviet deception was revealed on an international scale, making it impossible to accuse the United States of ungrounded acts of aggression.

On October 26, Kennedy realized that the quarantine alone could not force the Soviet government to remove its offensive weapons from Cuba. Continuous U-2 reports revealed that not only there was no halt in the development of the missile sites, but that the Soviets were also attempting to camouflage the missiles. The conflict came to a dangerous climax when on U-2 was shot down. The EX-COMM interpreted the action as a planned escalation of the situation by the Kremlin, but the order did not come from there, but rather from a Soviet commander in Cuba. To worsen the situation, information began to leak out into the press depriving the negotiators of privacy. The conflict was ready to explode into nuclear-missile war; yet, none of the sides wanted to take it so far. On one hand, there was President Kennedy, who would not get the nation’s full support in declaring a war. On the other hand, was Khrushchev he realized perfectly well that the Soviet Union was in no shape to get involved in such costly confrontation. Consequently, a secret deal was struck: the Americans would quietly remove the Jupiters a few months after the crisis, if the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba. Khrushchev accepted this informal pledge, glad that it was kept secret even from Fidel Castro, who despised the idea of Cuba being simply a Soviet pawn. The official agreement revealed to the public stated that “if the Soviets would withdraw their missiles from Cuba under UN supervision and promise not to reintroduce them, the United States would agree not to invade Cuba”(Layman 192). After Khrushchev signed the agreement, Kennedy stated that the naval blockade would be lifted after verification of removal of the missiles and dismantling of their launch sites. The crisis was over.

Although, initially both leaders adopted strict positions, gradually, they became more moderate and ready to compromise. Understanding that there was now way of winning the conflict, the emphasis was placed on resolving it. Neither Khrushchev nor Kennedy wanted the crisis to transform into a nuclear war and thus, they rejected the course of action that would lead unstoppable military escalation. Khrushchev was committed to keeping peace, and his installment of missiles was rather a display triggered by anger and intended to impress the United States as well as the rest of the world. Yet, as the Soviet leader had time to calm down, diplomacy triumphed over force. Through the established communication, both leaders learned about each other and their objectives, finally, realizing that concessions would not be seen as signs of weakness, but rather dedication to peace.


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