Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
Perhaps no single event in the history of the cold war presented as great a challenge to world peace and the continued existence of humankind as the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. The outcome of the crisis has been linked to the development of a direct Teletype “hotline” between Moscow and Washington, D.C., the initial stages of superpower détente, and the ratification of a bilateral atmospheric testing ban on nuclear weapons.
Despite the failed U.S. effort to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, President John F. Kennedy continued to make Castro’s removal a primary goal. In November 1961, Kennedy initiated Operation Mongoose, a covert operations plan designed to incite dissident Cubans against Castro. Perhaps as a result, Castro, who enjoyed the Soviet Union’s political and military backing, began receiving regular covert shipments of Soviet arms, ostensibly for defensive purposes only.
On October 14, 1962, a U2 spy plane, flying a routine Strategic Air Command mission over Cuba, snapped a series of photographs that became the first direct evidence of Soviet medium-range ballistic nuclear missiles in Cuba. These missiles clearly constituted an offensive weapons buildup on the island.
On the morning of October 16, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy presented a detailed analysis of the photographic evidence to Kennedy at an Oval Office briefing. Just before noon, Kennedy convened the first meeting of fourteen administration officials and advisers. The group became known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or ExComm.
Time was of the essence. ExComm members received estimates that the Soviet missiles could be at full operation within fourteen days, with individual missiles readied within eighteen hours under a crash program. Most missiles were determined to be SS-4s, with a range of approximately 1,100 nautical miles (1,266 statute miles). This placed major American cities, including Dallas and Washington, D.C., within range of a strike. Later, photographic evidence concluded that several SS-5s, with a range of 2,200 nautical miles, were also included in the Soviet arms shipments.
For the next seven days, ExComm debated the merits of three general approaches to the developing crisis, all while keeping a tight public lid on the Cuban discovery. The first was a surgical airstrike targeting as many missile sites as possible. The second was an air strike followed by a U.S. military invasion of Cuba. The third was a blockade of Soviet ships thought to be carrying additional materials in support of the offensive weapons program.
In an attempt to allow diplomatic approaches an opportunity to work, Kennedy opted for the blockade, which was termed a quarantine so as to avoid warlike denotations.
On October 22, in anticipation of a Cuban and/or Soviet reaction to the quarantine, the joint chiefs of staff placed U.S. military forces worldwide on DEFCON 3 alert. At five that afternoon, Kennedy met with seventeen congressional leaders from both major parties to discuss the situation. The president received some support for the quarantine, but notable exceptions included Senators J. William Fulbright and Richard B. Russell, both of whom believed that the strategy would not compel the Soviets to abandon their missiles.
By six that evening, Secretary of State Dean Rusk met with the Soviet ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin, and presented the ambassador with an advanced copy of Kennedy’s address. At seven, Kennedy addressed the American public in a seventeen-minute speech. His major objective, in addition to calling public attention to the Soviet missiles in Cuba, was to outline the U.S. response—the quarantine of all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba.
Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s reply to Kennedy’s speech arrived on the morning of October 23. Premier Khrushchev’s letter insisted that the Soviet missiles in Cuba were defensive in nature, and that the proposed U.S. response constituted a grave threat to world peace.
Kennedy was concerned that Berlin, which was divided into segments of East and West at the end of World War II, would become a focal point for Soviet retaliation. As such, he directed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to develop plans for protecting Berlin in the event the Soviets mounted a quarantine around the city.
By the evening of October 23, Kennedy and ExComm had new worries much closer to home. Earlier in the day, the CIA began tracking several Soviet submarines unexpectedly moving toward Cuba. This made the Navy’s job of conducting the quarantine more complicated, as it now had to track the changing position of the Soviet subs in order to ensure the safety of its own vessels.
The quarantine, which received the unanimous backing of the Organization of American States, went into effect at 10:00 a.m. on October 24.
Early morning intelligence on that day suggested that sixteen of the nineteen Soviet cargo ships identified as Cuban bound were reversing course. The remaining three, however, were nearing the quarantine line, including the Gagarin and Komiles. Naval intelligence reported that one of the Soviet subs had taken a position between the two ships. Kennedy, though wishing to avoid conflict with the sub, authorized the aircraft carrier USS Essex to take whatever defensive measures were necessary against the submarine. This was perhaps the most dangerous moment of the cold war, as both superpowers were armed and mere moments from turning the war hot. Just prior to any armed hostilities, however, both Soviet ships stopped dead in the water, and eventually reversed course.
Realizing that a diplomatic resolution to the crisis was imperative, Kennedy and senior ExComm advisers began to consider offering the Soviets a missile trade. Specifically, if Khrushchev pulled his missiles out of Cuba, the United States would dismantle and remove its Jupiter missiles in Turkey.
October 25 found the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, publicly confronting the Soviet ambassador, Valerian Zorin, in front of the United Nations Security Council. The Soviet Union had, until this date, denied that offensive Soviet missiles were in Cuba. At this point, Stevenson showed the council, and the world, several reconnaissance photographs of the Cuban missiles.
This triumph was short-lived. By five that evening, CIA director John McCone reported to ExComm that some of the Cuban missiles were now operational.
By the morning of October 26, Kennedy was convinced that only an invasion of Cuba could succeed in removing the missiles. ExComm initiated preliminary civil defense measures for the American Southeast, while the State Department began to devise plans for establishing a new civil government in the wake of Castro’s deposing. By that afternoon, the U.S. military was poised to conduct a land invasion. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara advised Kennedy to expect heavy American casualties in the campaign.
At six that evening, the State Department received a letter from Khruschev proposing that the U.S. declare it would not invade Cuba in exchange for the Soviets dismantling the missiles. Later that evening, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s closest adviser and brother, held another in a series of private meetings with Dobrynin. It was at this meeting that Kennedy, with the president’s approval, began to specifically discuss the option of a Turkey-for-Cuba missile trade.
Any positive momentum from this meeting stalled on the morning of October 27. A second letter from Khruschev arrived at the State Department around eleven. This letter replaced the noninvasion pledge with the requirement of a complete removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey. This raised the stakes for the Kennedy administration, as any public agreement on the Jupiter missiles would appear as a quid pro quo, with the U.S. forced to develop its security and foreign policies under severe threat.
The situation deteriorated even further when a U2, piloted by Major Rudolf Anderson, was shot down over Cuba around noon. Sensing that he was losing control of the crisis, Kennedy decided not to retaliate against the anti-aircraft site that fired on Anderson, much to the consternation of his military leaders.
At an ExComm meeting later that evening, the idea of responding only to the offer in Khrushchev’s first letter—the noninvasion pledge—while ignoring the terms of the second letter, was debated. President Kennedy eventually came to adopt the proposal. Robert Kennedy was sent to discuss the terms with Dobrynin, which included an agreement not to publicly disclose the Turkey-for-Cuba missile trade, so as to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo.
President Kennedy, while hopeful that a deal would be reached, activated twenty-four Air Force units in preparation for a Cuban invasion to occur no later than October 29.
A CIA update in the early morning of October 28 claimed that all MRBM sites in Cuba were now operational. At nine that morning, Radio Moscow broadcast Khrushchev’s reply to the terms outlined to Dobrynin the night before. In it, Khruschev stated that all Soviet missiles in Cuba would be dismantled and crated. No public mention of the missile trade deal was made. The Cuban Missile Crisis was over, and a world war with nuclear weapons had most likely been averted.
Many historians generally view President Kennedy’s performance in the crisis as exemplary, and worthy of emulation by all chief executives. However, some revisioanry scholars have criticized Kennedy’s interpretation of the threat posed by the Cuban missiles as an overreaction not warranted by a sober assessment of Soviet intentions and strategic goals.
Of the many scholarly works devoted to understanding the dynamics of the missile crisis, and its effects on policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, is Graham T. Allison and Philip Zelikow’s Essence of Decision (1999). This volume has perhaps the greatest continuing impact for scholars and other interested persons alike. Allison analyzes the crisis through three distinct models. Model One assesses foreign policy from the rational actor approach, which considers each state as an individual or person, and attempts to understand actor behavior according to specified risks and payoffs. Model Two examines the crisis from the vantage point of the individual agencies involved, while Model Three attempts to capture the individual interests and proclivities of the major players involved.
Allison and Zelikow use the unique exigencies presented by the crisis to suggest that the models are incompatible in understanding the strategic calculus between states. Yet their description leaves the models open to the argument that they are not able to account for the novel and immediate adaptations that events, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, require of government actors. At the same time, it is not clear that there is much true difference between the models, especially two and three, as all three are steeped in the rational choice tradition. Thus, while the examination does help to shed some light on the internal dynamics inherent in government decision-making processes, the uniqueness of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the relative inability of the three models to capture the dynamics at work in both Washington and Moscow serve as a reminder of how critical, and potentially catastrophic, a period the thirteen days in October 1962 truly were.
SEE ALSO Castro, Fidel; Cold War; Communism; Democracy; Kennedy, John F.; Khrushchev, Nikita; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow. 1999. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2nd ed. New York: Longman.
Brune, Lester H. 1985. The Missile Crisis of October 1962: A Review of Issues and References. Claremont, CA: Regina Books.
Hilsman, Roger. 1967. To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Medland, William J. 1990. The Cuban Missile Crisis: Evolving Historical Perspectives. The History Teacher 23: 433–447.
Rostow, Walt W. 1972. The Diffusion of Power: An Essay in Recent History. New York: Macmillan.
Sorensen, Theodore C. 1965. Kennedy. New York: Harper and Row.
Brian Robert Calfano
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Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
█ LARRY GILMAN
The Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 was triggered by the Soviet deployment to Cuba of medium-range, nucleararmed ballistic missiles. The United States demanded that the Soviet Union remove these missiles and imposed a naval blockade on Cuba, threatening to sink any Soviet ships that approached the island without permitting their cargoes to be inspected. Eventually, the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) announced that it would remove the missiles, and the crisis ended. Most historians affirm that the world has never been closer to global nuclear war than during the 13 days of the Cuban missile crisis (Oct. 14–Oct. 28, 1962).
The roots of the Cuban missile crisis go back, in part, to an earlier crisis—the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by Cuban expatriates trained, supplied, and directed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The purpose of the failed invasion was to overthrow Fidel Castro's leftist rule of Cuba, but had two unintended effects. First, it frightened Castro, causing him to make concessions to the U.S.S.R, which wanted to place military bases on the island of Cuba, in exchange for protection against further U.S. invasion attempts. Second, it heightened tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, read U.S. weakness in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and blustered publicly that he might retaliate by driving the U.S. out of West Berlin. U.S. President John Kennedy, in return, openly boasted that the U.S. possessed many more (and more accurate and deliverable) nuclear missiles and warheads than the U.S.S.R., and would consider striking first with them if it ever found itself at a military disadvantage. Kennedy's claim was true; in 1962, the U.S.S.R. had at most 20 or 30—perhaps as few as four — functional, deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); the U.S. had several hundred. Nevertheless, Kennedy had claimed, during his presidential campaign, that the incumbent Eisenhower's administration had allowed the Soviets to get ahead of the U.S. in missiles, causing a "missile gap." A missile gap did exist, as Kennedy knew, but in reverse; it had always been the U.S. that was far ahead of the U.S.S.R. in such weapons. Once in office, Kennedy dropped the old story about the "missile gap" and brandished the United States's nuclear superiority openly against Khrushchev.
Khruschev's response was to secretly build missile bases on Cuban soil to compensate for Soviet inferiority in ICBMs. These missiles were medium-range and intermediate-range, rather than intercontinental, but from Cuba could reach the entire continental U.S. except its northwest corner. Similar missiles had been by stationed the United States for years in Turkey, which borders southern Russia. Castro gave permission to the Soviets to build Cuban missile bases in trade for a promise of protection against U.S. invasion and for cancellation of Cuban monetary debts.
Construction of the Cuban bases proceeded throughout the summer of 1962. The U.S. was aware, from various intelligence sources, that the Soviets were building up military forces on the island, but did not realize that intermediate-range nuclear weapons were part of the plan. Kennedy issued warnings to Khrushchev that the U.S. would not tolerate a major military buildup in Cuba, but would do "whatever must be done" to guarantee U.S. security; Kennedy and his advisors believed that Khrushchev would take these grave warnings seriously, and were
also aware that the U.S.S.R. had never yet placed nuclear weapons outside Russian territory; these factors made it seem unlikely that nuclear weapons were part of the Cuban buildup. Nevertheless, they were.
U-2 spy planes (aircraft designed to take reconnaissance photographs from very high altitudes) were making regular flights over Cuba, observing the military buildup. On October 14, a U-2 spy plane photographed an area near San Cristóbal, Cuba, revealing launch pads, missile erectors, and transport trucks for medium-range missiles. Four of the launchers were already in firing position. Khrushchev had decided to deploy launchers for at least 16 intermediate-range missiles (capable of reaching most of the continental U.S.) and 24 medium-range missiles (capable of reaching the southeastern U.S., including Washington, D.C.).
The U-2 pictures were shown to Kennedy on the morning of October 16. Much like the Kennedy administration's claims during the Bay of Pigs crisis that the U.S. had no illegal intentions in Cuba, Khrushchev's claims to have no desire to base missiles in Cuba had proved to be untrue. Kennedy hastily assembled an ad hoc executive committee of the National Security Council, which helped him come up with two alternative plans: (1) Immediate attack on the Soviet missiles sites in Cuba, followed by a full invasion of the island using 180,000 U.S. troops. (2) A naval blockade of Cuba, to be lifted only if the Soviets removed its missiles. If the blockade did not work—and it was a risky plan, as such a blockade is, by international law, an act of war—the invasion plan would be carried out.
On October 22, 1962, Kennedy addressed the American people by television. He stated:
"This sudden, clandestine decision to station strategic weapons for the first time outside of Soviet soil is a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo which cannot be accepted by this country if our courage and our commitments are ever to be trusted again…To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back."
Over the next four days, ships carrying Russian goods were searched at sea, and several Soviet vessels carrying missiles were turned back by U.S. naval vessels. The U.S. Strategic Air Command placed all its B-52 intercontinental bombers on 15-minute takeoff alert on October 20; on October 22, it placed them on a revolving airborne alert, with a percentage of bombers airborne at all times, ready to head over the North Pole toward the Soviet Union. ICBM crews were also placed on highest alert, ready to launch, and nuclear-armed Polaris submarines moved to their pre-assigned war stations at sea. The Soviet Union already had over 45,000 of its own troops on Cuba (though the U.S. estimated only 16,000), armed with 90 shortrange nuclear warheads that would have been used against a U.S. invasion force. (The U.S. did not know of these short-range nuclear weapons.)
A U.S. invasion of Cuba, had it occurred, could have escalated rapidly to nuclear war, first in Cuba and then globally. The entire world, including Kennedy and Khrushchev and their advisors, feared throughout the crisis that global nuclear war was extremely probable. If nuclear war had occurred, it could have caused hundreds of millions of deaths, and significantly destroyed the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and many other nations as functioning societies.
On October 26, Khrushchev sent a private message to Kennedy indicating that he would be willing to remove the missiles if the U.S. would promise not to invade Cuba. The following day, a more formal message said that Soviet Union would remove its missiles only if the U.S. would remove its Jupiter-class intermediate-range missiles from Turkey. In secret negotiations between Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy (brother of President Kennedy), the U.S. did promise not to invade Cuba in exchange for withdrawal of the Soviet missiles; it did not, however, promise to remove its missiles from Turkey. These missiles were considered largely symbolic by U.S. strategists, and were technically unreliable and obsolete. Additionally, their threat to the U.S.S.R. could have been replaced by deployment of a Poseidon submarine carrying nuclear missiles to the eastern Mediterranean. In secret, therefore, Kennedy seriously considered trading the missiles in Turkey for the missiles in Cuba, although in public he refused to do. On October 28—one day before the deadline urged by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff for launching a Cuban invasion—the Soviets stated that they would remove their missiles from Cuba. The crisis abated.
Many historians have viewed Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis as a masterpiece of statesmanship. The Soviet Union backed down; its missiles were removed; U.S. goals were fully met; American geomilitary prestige was preserved. Other historians argue that the Kennedy administration was not as deft in reality as it seemed publicly. Kennedy and his advisors were badly frightened; Secretary of State Dean Rusk began to weep when told, at the height of the crisis, that a U-2 plane had been shot down over Cuba. Robert Kennedy said later that his brother had put events in motion that he could not control.
What is certain is that Khrushchev and Kennedy were both willing to risk global nuclear war for dubious gains. The Soviets were soon to achieve strategic nuclear parity with the U.S. simply by building more and better ICBMs; any strategic advantage to be gained by placing missiles in Cuba would, therefore, be short-term. By the same token, no long-term U.S. interests were at stake in the deployment of Soviet intermediate-range missiles to Cuba, as within a few years every city in the continental U.S. would be vulnerable to Soviet ICBMs and submarinelaunched ballistic missiles anyway. Kennedy administration officials knew that the Soviet buildup in Cuba would, at worst, decrease the United States's massive strategic advantage, or appear to do so—in Kennedy's words, make the Soviets "look like they're coequal with the U.S." Kennedy was thus, willing to gamble the world's future not to save the U.S. from an imminent military threat, but because to tolerate the Soviet buildup in Cuba would, in his words, "have politically changed the balance of power. It would have appeared to, and appearances contribute to reality."
The U.S. emerged from the Cuban missile crisis with greatly expanded confidence in its own geopolitical skill. Its policymakers had verified, as they believed, that "showing resolve" (threatening to use military force) was more effective than diplomacy, the United Nations, or international law—with the proviso that the U.S. should be more willing to commit conventional (non-nuclear) military forces in a crisis, in order to keep back from the nuclear abyss. Today, many historians argue that U.S. willingness to invade Vietnam is directly attributable to its success during the Cuban missile crisis.
█ FURTHER READING:
Nathan, James. Anatomy of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 2001.
Frankel, Max. "Learning from the Missile Crisis." Smithsonian. October, 2002: 53–64.
Bay of Pigs
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Cuban Missile Crisis
Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was furious at what he considered Kennedy's flagrant interference in Soviet‐Cuban affairs and his violation of freedom of navigation. But by the time the quarantine took effect on the morning of 24 October—after a unanimous endorsement by the Organization of American States—Khrushchev ordered Soviet ships not to challenge the blockade. For several days a settlement proved elusive and pressure built for more decisive action.
Neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev wanted to risk nuclear war over the issue, and both became increasingly concerned that an accident or inadvertent military action might trigger escalation. An apparent break in the tension came on 26 October, when, in a rambling, emotional letter, Khrushchev offered to withdraw the missiles in return for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba. But in a second, tougher letter received the following morning, Khrushchev demanded that Kennedy withdraw analogous Jupiter missiles from Turkey (deployed under the aegis of NATO). Most of Kennedy's advisers argued strongly against this, on the ground that it would be interpreted by the Soviets as evidence of American weakness, and by NATO as betrayal of an ally. Kennedy decided to ignore Khrushchev's latest demand and accept his earlier offer.
As the ExComm deliberated on 27 October, word reached the White House that an American U‐2 reconnaissance plane had been shot down over Cuba, and that another had inadvertently strayed over Siberian air space, narrowly avoiding a similar fate. Kennedy resolved to bring the crisis to an end. Ignoring the ExComm's advice, he secretly agreed that the United States would withdraw its missiles from Turkey “within a few months” as a private quid pro quo to a UN‐verified withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. Kennedy would also pledge publicly not to invade Cuba. Khrushchev accepted, and on 28 October the acute phase of the crisis came to an end.
Castro, feeling betrayed by his Soviet patron, refused to allow United Nations inspectors on Cuban soil to verify the withdrawal. But satisfied by aerial photography that the Soviets had withdrawn the weapons the United States considered offensive, Kennedy issued a proclamation terminating the quarantine on 21 November.
The causes of the crisis have long been debated. Khrushchev conceived the deployment in the late spring of 1962, after a hasty and uncritical decision‐making process involving only a small group of advisers. His goals appear to have been to deter a feared American invasion of Cuba; to redress the United States's massive superiority in strategic nuclear weapons, publicly revealed by the United States in October 1961, exploding the myth of a “missile gap” favoring the Soviet Union; and less importantly, to reciprocate the Jupiter deployment in Turkey.
The crisis provides textbook illustrations of important misperceptions and miscalculations. The U.S. government had calculated that the Soviet Union would not deploy nuclear weapons to Cuba because such a move would be inconsistent with past Soviet behavior, and because it seemed obvious that it would trigger a major confrontation. The Kennedy administration also failed to appreciate the extent to which the public demolition of the missile gap myth heightened the Soviets' sense of vulnerability; the strength of Soviet and Cuban fears of a U.S. invasion of Cuba (heightened by the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of the previous year); and the strength and sincerity of the Soviet view that if the United States had the right to deploy missiles in Turkey, the Soviet Union had the right to deploy missiles in Cuba. Consequently, Kennedy failed to deter the move in a timely fashion, issuing stern warnings against it only in September 1962, when the secret deployment was well underway.
Similarly, Khrushchev grossly overestimated the willingness of Kennedy and the American people to tolerate a major disruption in the hemispheric status quo; under estimated the likelihood that American intelligence would discover the missiles prematurely; and failed to appreciate that the secrecy and deception surrounding the deployment would inflame American passions. Consequently, Khrushchev underestimated the risks of the deployment.
Although scholars differ in their assessment, some consider the Cuban Missile Crisis a classic case of prudent crisis management. Kennedy and Khrushchev prevented the conflict from escalating while they sought and found a mutually satisfactory solution. They did so by avoiding irreversible steps, curtailing unwarranted bluster, and avoiding backing each other into a corner. Other scholars have criticized the handling of the crisis as being too timid or too reckless. Kennedy's critics on the right lament his unwillingness to seize the opportunity to destroy Castro; his critics on the other side of the spectrum condemn his willingness to risk nuclear war merely to delay the inevitable—the vulnerability of the American homeland to Soviet nuclear weapons. Hard‐liners in the Soviet military severely criticized Khrushchev for yielding to U.S. pressure. New information on intelligence failures, command and control breakdowns, and near accidents suggest that both leaders' fears of uncertainty, misperception, misjudgment, accident, and unauthorized military action provided a critical degree of caution and circumspection that prevented the crisis from escalating even further.
Paradoxically, the Cuban Missile Crisis led to an immediate improvement in U.S.‐Soviet relations. A series of agreements intended to restrain the arms race and improve crisis stability followed, most notably the Hot‐Line Agreement and Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963. Over the following decades, the superpowers crafted a modus vivendi designed to prevent a similar occurrence whereby the Soviet Union refrained from deploying military equipment with offensive capabilities to Cuba, and the United States acquiesced in a Communist‐controlled Cuba with close ties to the USSR.
[See also Arms Control and Disarmament; Cold War: External Course; Cold War: Changing Interpretations; U‐2 Spy Planes.]
Raymond L. Garthoff , Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1987; rev. ed. 1989.
James G. Blight,, Bruce J. Allyn,, and and David A. Welch , Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse, 1993.
James G. Blight, and and David A. Welch , Risking ‘The Destruction of Nations': Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis for New and Aspiring Nuclear States, Security Studies, 4 (Summer 1994), pp. 811–50.
Anatoli I. Gribkov, and and William Y. Smith , Operation Anadyr: U.S. and Soviet Generals Recount the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1994.
Richard Ned Lebow and and Janice Gross Stein , We All Lost the Cold War, 1994.
Ernest R. May and and Philip D. Zelikow , Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1997.
James G. Blight and David A. Welch, eds., Intelligence and the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1998.
David A. Welch
"Cuban Missile Crisis." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis
"Cuban Missile Crisis." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a dangerous moment in the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The actions taken by President John F. Kennedy's administration prevented the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. The crisis also illustrated the limitations of international law, as the United States relied on military actions and threats to accomplish its goal.
The crisis grew out of political changes in Cuba. In the 1950s, Fidel Castro, a young lawyer, led a guerrilla movement against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Batista lost the confidence of the Cuban people and on January 1, 1959, fled the country. Castro became premier of the new government.
At first, the United States supported the Castro government. This changed when Castro seized U.S.-owned sugar estates and cattle ranches in Cuba. The United States subsequently embargoed trade with Cuba, and the central intelligence agency (CIA) began covert operations to topple Castro. In 1960, Castro openly embraced communism and signed Cuba's first trade agreement with the Soviet Union.
Many Cubans had left the island of Cuba for the United States following the Castro revolution. Aided by the United States, a Cuban exile army was trained for an invasion. Although most of the planning took place in 1960, when President dwight d. eisenhower was finishing his second term, the final decision to invade came during the first months of the Kennedy
administration. In April 1961, Cuban exiles invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The invasion was a debacle, in part because U.S. air support that had been promised was not provided. The exile army was captured.
Convinced that the United States would attempt another invasion, Castro asked Premier Nikita Khrushchev, of the Soviet Union, for nuclear missiles. Khrushchev agreed to what would be the first deployment of nuclear weapons outside the Soviet Union. President Kennedy at first did not believe the Soviets would follow through on their promise. On October 14, 1962, however, photographs taken by reconnaissance planes showed that missile sites were being built in Cuba. The president convened a small group of trusted advisers, called the Executive Committee of the national security council (Ex Com). Attorney General robert f. kennedy served on Ex Com and became the key adviser to President Kennedy during the crisis.
Military officials advocated bombing the missile sites or invading Cuba. Others argued for a nuclear strike on Cuba. These ideas were rejected in favor of a naval blockade of Cuba. All ships attempting to enter Cuba were to be stopped and searched for missiles and related military material. President Kennedy, believing that the Soviets were using the missiles to test his will, resolved to make the crisis public. Bypassing private, diplomatic procedures, Kennedy went on national television on October 22 and informed the United States of the missile sites, the naval blockade, and his resolve to take any action necessary to prevent the missile deployment.
Tension built during the last days of October as the world awaited the approach of Soviet missile-bearing ships at the blockade line. If Soviet ships refused to turn back, it was likely that U.S. ships would either stop them or sink them. If that happened, nuclear war seemed probable.
During the crisis, the united nations was not used as a vehicle for negotiation or mediation. The United States and the Soviet Union ignored an appeal by Secretary General U Thant, of the United Nations, that they reduce tensions for a few weeks. Instead, the Security Council of the United Nations became a stage for both sides to trade accusations. Ambassador adlai stevenson, from the United States, presented photographs of the missile sites to back up U.S. claims.
On October 24, the crisis began to ease, as 12 Soviet ships on their way to Cuba were, on orders from Moscow, diverted or halted. However, construction on the missile sites continued. On October 26, Premier Khrushchev sent a long, emotional letter to President Kennedy, claiming that the missiles were defensive. He implied that a pledge by the United States not to invade Cuba would allow him to remove the missiles. President Kennedy replied, accepting the proposal to exchange withdrawal of the missiles for the promise not to invade. He also stated that if the Soviet Union did not answer his reply in two or three days, Cuba would be bombed. On October 28, the Soviets announced on Radio Moscow that the missile sites were being dismantled.
Some historians maintain that President Kennedy acted heroically to meet a threat to the security of the United States. Others claim that the missiles at issue were of limited range and were purely defensive, and that Kennedy was reckless in brandishing the threat of nuclear war. Most agree that the crisis was probably the closest the Soviet Union and the United States ever got to nuclear war.
The significance of the crisis to international law and the management of international crises has led to many books, articles, and scholarly conferences. In October 2002, a conference hosted by Fidel Castro was held in Havana. It was a rare event because participants from the United States, Soviet, and Cuban governments attended the gathering, sharing their impressions of what had happened during the crisis. Participants included former U.S. defense secretary Robert McNamara, Kennedy presidential aides Arthur Schlesinger, Ted Sorensen, and Richard Goodwin, as well as Ethel Kennedy, the widow of robert kennedy.
The Cuban government declassified documents relating to the crisis and Castro took center stage, arguing that Khrushchev had inflamed the situation by lying to Kennedy that there were no nuclear weapons in Cuba. McNamara confirmed that most of Kennedy's advisers, both military and civilian, had recommended he attack Cuba. The conference ended with a trip to a former missile silo on the western side of Cuba.
Blight, James G., et al. 2002. Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Diez Acosta, Tomás. 2002. October 1962: The "Missile" Crisis as Seen from Cuba. New York: Pathfinder.
Garthoff, Raymond. 2002. "The Havana Conference on the
Cuban Missile Crisis." Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Available online at <www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/CWIHP/BULLETINS/b1a1.htm> (accessed May 30, 2003).
O'Neill, William L. 1971. Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960s. New York: Quadrangle Books.
"Cuban Missile Crisis." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis
"Cuban Missile Crisis." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS. Often regarded as the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age, the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 was a culmination of several Cold War tensions that had been building for some time. As a result of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's turn toward Soviet-style communism in the early 1960s and the failed U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961, U.S. Cuban relations were openly hostile by 1962. In April and May 1962, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev decided to deploy Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, just ninety miles from Florida. In an agreement with Castro, the weapons would be shipped and installed secretly, so that when they were operational, the West would be presented with a fait accompli.
During August and September 1962, U.S. intelligence found evidence of increasing Soviet military aid arriving in Cuba, including advanced surface-to-air missile installations, IL-28 Beagle nuclear-capable bombers, and several thousand Soviet "technicians." Refugee reports also suggested that Soviet ballistic missiles were on the island. Although U.S. intelligence could not confirm these reports, critics of President John F. Kennedy's administration used them in political attacks during the lead-up to the November congressional elections. In response, in September, Kennedy publicly warned that if weapons designed for offensive use were detected in Cuba, "the gravest consequences would arise."
On 14 October, a U-2 aerial reconnaissance flight over Cuba returned photographs of long, canvas-covered objects. As American photo analysts pored over the photos during the next twenty-four hours and compared their findings to their catalogs of known Soviet weaponry, it became clear that the Soviets were installing medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and launch pads in Cuba, where they would be within easy striking distance of much of the mainland United States.
Having just dealt with the civil rights riots at the University of Mississippi, the Kennedy administration again found itself confronted with a crisis. The president was informed of the discovery on the morning of 16 October and immediately convened a White House meeting of his top national security advisers, a body that later became officially known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or ExComm. Kennedy decided not to confront the Soviets until he and the ExComm could consider and prepare courses of action. During this series of top secret meetings, several courses of action were considered, ranging from direct military strikes on the missile sites, a full-scale invasion of Cuba, a quid pro quo removal of American Jupiter missiles in Turkey, and a blockade of the island. Acutely aware that miscalculation by either side could spark nuclear war, Kennedy settled upon a blockade of Cuba in tandem with an ultimatum to the Soviets to remove the missiles, both to be announced during a special national broadcast on television during the evening of 22 October. In that broadcast, Kennedy declared that a naval quarantine of Cuba would go into effect on the morning of 24 October and would not be lifted until all offensive weapons had been removed. He also announced that he had ordered increased surveillance of Cuba and, ominously, that he had directed the armed forces "to prepare for any eventualities."
On 24 October, as U.S. strategic nuclear forces were placed on DEFCON 2, the highest alert status below actual nuclear war, the world waited anxiously for the Soviet response to the quarantine. Despite some tense moments, the deadline ultimately passed without serious incident, as several Soviet-chartered ships either changed course or stopped short of the quarantine line. On 25 October, the
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai E. Stevenson, famously confronted his Soviet counterpart, Valerian Zorin, with photographic evidence and said he would "wait until hell freezes over" for a Soviet explanation. At U.S. insistence, the Organization of the American States officially condemned the Soviet-Cuban action and thereby formalized Cuba's hemispheric isolation.
Over the next few days, U.S. intelligence reported that not only were the MRBMs nearing operational status, but there were also intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and tactical nuclear weapons on the island. While U.S. forces continued to mobilize, a series of letters between Kennedy and Khrushchev was supplemented by several secret unofficial channels, the most notable of which was Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's secret meetings with Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, and Georgi Bolshakov, the intelligence chief at the Soviet embassy.
On Saturday, 27 October, the crisis was at its peak. During the afternoon, reports came in of an American U-2 being shot down over Cuba by a surface-to-air missile. As tension mounted, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that they were ready to launch an invasion of Cuba within twenty-four hours. In communications on 27 and 28 October, Khrushchev formally capitulated by agreeing to dismantle the missiles and ship them back to the Soviet Union. In turn, Kennedy publicly announced that he had pledged to provide a noninvasion guarantee to Cuba conditional on the offensive weapons being removed and the implementation of effective international verification. Secretly, he also agreed to remove the American Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
Although the crisis had been largely defused peacefully, it was not over. Castro refused to allow UN inspectors onto Cuban sovereign territory, and Khrushchev initially refused to accept that the Soviet IL-28 Beagle bombers were offensive weapons. Intensive discussions through the United Nations finally led to Khrushchev agreeing on 20 November to remove the bombers in exchange for a lifting of the naval quarantine.
For many, the crisis demonstrated the dangers of the nuclear age. Subsequently, a telephone hotline was established linking the White House and the Kremlin and efforts were intensified to secure arms control agreements and détente.
Fursenko, Aleksandr, and Timothy Naftali. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964. New York: Norton, 1997.
Garthoff, Raymond L. Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1989.
May, Ernest, and Philip Zelikow, eds. The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Concise ed. New York, Norton, 2002.
"Cuban Missile Crisis." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cuban-missile-crisis
"Cuban Missile Crisis." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cuban-missile-crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most serious incidents of the Cold War. Many believed that war might break out between the United States and the Soviet Union over the latter's basing of nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba.
Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba promising to restore the liberal 1940 constitution but immediately took more radical steps, including an economic agreement in 1960 with the Soviet Union. In turn, the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, promised in June to defend Cuba with Soviet nuclear arms. In early 1961, the United States broke relations with Havana, and in April it helped thousands of Cuban exiles stage an abortive uprising at the Bay of Pigs.
Khrushchev was convinced that the United States would strike again, this time with American soldiers; and he believed that Castro's defeat would be a fatal blow to his own leadership. He decided that basing Soviet missiles in Cuba would deter the United States from a strike against the Castro regime. Moreover, so he reasoned, the Cuba-based medium-range missiles would compensate for the USSR's marked inferiority to America's ICBM capabilities. Finally, a successful showdown with Washington might improve Moscow's deteriorating relations with China.
In April 1962, Khrushchev raised the possibility of basing Soviet missiles in Cuba with his defense minister, Rodion Malinovsky. He hoped to deploy the missiles by October and then inform Kennedy after the congressional elections in November. He apparently expected the Americans to accept the deployment of the Soviet missiles as calmly as the Kremlin had accepted the basing of U.S. missiles in Turkey. Foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, when finally consulted, flatly told Khrushchev that Soviet missiles in Cuba would "cause a political explosion" (Taubman) in the United States, but the premier was unmoved. In late April, a Soviet delegation met with Khrushchev before departing for Cuba. They were told to "explain the plan" to install missiles "to Castro" (Taubman). In fact, their mission was more one of "telling than asking." Castro was hardly enthusiastic, but was ready to yield to a policy that would strengthen the "entire socialist camp" (Taubman). Later the Presidium voted unanimously to approve the move.
Perhaps most remarkably, Khrushchev believed that the deployment of sixty missiles with forty launchers, not to mention the support personnel and equipment, could be done secretly. General Anatoly Gribkov warned that the installation process in Cuba could not be concealed. And American U-2 spy planes flew over the sites unhindered. The Cubans, too, doubted that the plan could be kept secret; Khrushchev responded that if the weapons were discovered the United States would not overreact, but if trouble arose, the Soviets would "send the Baltic Fleet."
In July 1962, the American government learned that the USSR had started missile deliveries to Cuba. By the end of August, American intelligence reported that Soviet technicians were in Cuba, supervising new military construction. In September, Kennedy warned that if any Soviet ground-to-ground missiles were deployed in Cuba, "the gravest issues would arise." Rather than calling a halt to the operation, Khrushchev ordered it accelerated, while repeatedly assuring Washington that no build-up was taking place.
On October 14, U.S. aerial reconnaissance discovered a medium-range ballistic missile mounted on a launching site. Such a missile could hit the eastern United States in a matter of minutes. On October 16, Kennedy and his closest advisers met to discuss the crisis and immediately agreed that the missile must be removed. On October 22, Kennedy announced a "quarantine" around Cuba, much to Khrushchev's delight. The premier thought the word sufficiently vague to allow for negotiation and exulted, "We've saved Cuba!" Despite his apparent satisfaction, Khrushchev fired off a letter to Kennedy accusing him of interfering in Cuban affairs and threatening world peace. He then went to the opera.
The turning point came on October 24, when Attorney General Robert Kennedy told the Soviet ambassador that the United States would stop the Soviet ships, strongly implying that it would do so even if it meant war. Khrushchev reacted angrily, but a letter from President Kennedy on October 25 pushed the premier toward compromise. Kennedy wrote that he regretted the deterioration in relations and hoped Khrushchev would take steps to restore the "earlier situation." With this letter, Khrushchev finally realized that the crisis was not worth the gamble and began to back down. Another war scare occurred on the twenty-seventh with the downing of a U-2 over Cuba, but by this point both leaders were ready and even anxious to end the crisis. On October 29, the premier informed Kennedy that the missiles and offensive weapons in Cuba would be removed. Kennedy promised there would be no invasion and secretly agreed to remove America's Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
Khrushchev's Cuban gamble helped convince the Soviet leadership that he was unfit to lead the USSR. This humiliation, combined with failures in domestic policies, cost him his job in 1964.
Fursenko, Aleksander, and Naftali, Timothy. (1997). "One Hell of a Gamble": Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958–1964. New York: Norton.
Nathan, James A. (2001). Anatomy of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Taubman, William. (2003). Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. New York: Norton.
Thomson, William. (1995). Khrushchev: A Political Life. Oxford, UK: Macmillan.
"Cuban Missile Crisis." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis-0
"Cuban Missile Crisis." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis-0
Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, major cold war confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. In response to the Bay of Pigs Invasion and other American actions against Cuba as well as to President Kennedy's build-up in Italy and Turkey of U.S. strategic nuclear forces with first-strike capability aimed at the Soviet Union, the USSR increased its support of Fidel Castro's Cuban regime. In the summer of 1962, Nikita Khrushchev secretly decided to install nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in Cuba. When U.S. reconnaissance flights revealed the clandestine construction of missile launching sites, President Kennedy publicly denounced (Oct. 22, 1962) the Soviet actions. He imposed a naval blockade on Cuba and declared that any missile launched from Cuba would warrant a full-scale retaliatory attack by the United States against the Soviet Union. On Oct. 24, Russian ships carrying missiles to Cuba turned back, and when Khrushchev agreed (Oct. 28) to withdraw the missiles and dismantle the missile sites, the crisis ended as suddenly as it had begun. The United States ended its blockade on Nov. 20, and by the end of the year the missiles and bombers were removed from Cuba. The United States, in return, pledged not to invade Cuba, and subsequently, in fulfillment of a secret agreement with Khrushchev, removed the ballistic missiles placed in Turkey.
See E. R. May and P. D. Zeilkow, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (1997); R. F. Kennedy, Thirteen Days (1969, repr. 1971); A. Chayes, The Cuban Missile Crisis (1974); R. Garthoff, Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis (1989); A. Fursenko and T. Naftali, One Hell of a Gamble (1997); M. Frankel, High Noon in the Cold War (2004); M. Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight (2008); S. M. Stern, The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory (2012).
"Cuban Missile Crisis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis
"Cuban Missile Crisis." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
"Cuban Missile Crisis." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis
"Cuban Missile Crisis." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cuban-missile-crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
"Cuban Missile Crisis." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cuban-missile-crisis
"Cuban Missile Crisis." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved May 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cuban-missile-crisis