During the Cold War there were many different stages that were the diplomatic political playground of the major world powers. The stage in this research paper will focus on is the island country of Cuba. Cuba was a hotbed for communism and coups during the Cold War and especially during the early 1960’s. In this paper the focus will be on the thirteen day period of Oct 16 through Oct 28 of 1962. This time is referred to as the Cuban Missile Crisis. During those few days in October 1962 there were coups by the Cuban people, there was aid from foreign countries, and a large amount of diplomatic sleight of hand.
The island of Cuba during this time was a hotbed for communism and the spreading of displeasure with government on both local and global levels. The entire reason the United States intervened was because Russia took advantage of a failing government to try and assert basically a satellite government by giving aid to the current communist government. This came with the plan that during the process of aiding the Cuban government that the Russian Government could place missiles on the island.
Since at the time there were no Russian missiles that could be long range the location of Cuba and its proximity to the United States made it a prime target. During the crisis there was a point when the United States chose to not act with force for fear of a response of all out war. All the while Russia is seeing just how much the United States will allow them to get away with before there are any consequences. The response by the United States was the Quarantine of Cuba, and the quarantine of Cuba lead to the end of the Cuban missile and the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
During the Cold War there were many countries and/or entities that had a hand in the events and communications that made up the political power struggle that was the Cold War. There were, however, a few key major players on the world stage that were the masterminds and the puppeteers that put on the show. Those players were Russia and the United States, and Russia was on a mission to prove that the United States was not all powerful or the pinnacle of the world. In the ever since the end of World War II the Russians had been looking for a way to assert themselves as an equal to the seemingly insurmountable monstrosity that was the United States. The attempts to do this along with spread the communism ideology, and the Russia foothold, included the Korean War and the Vietnam war.
However, “According to Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs, in May 1962 he conceived the idea of placing intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Cuba as a means of countering an emerging lead of the United States in developing and deploying strategic missiles. He also presented the scheme as a means of protecting Cuba from another United States-sponsored invasion, such as the failed attempt at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.” (‘Cold War: Cuban Missile Crisis’ 2018)
The Bay of Pigs invasion was an attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro who had recently staged a coup against the former American supported president. Fidel Castro did not support the United States and was a believer in the idea of communism, and this troubled the United States government to the point that the Eisenhower had the CIA begin training 1,400 exiled Cubans. The Bay of Pigs failure was the point when Castro began looking for friends in the Soviet Union. This alignment with the Soviets worried the United States even more, so the United States Government began doing more reconnaissance and surveillance work over the island nation of Cuba.
On October 14, 1962 a U-2 spy plane flew over Cuba and found evidence of a Soviet SS-4 medium range missile begins constructed on the island. Two days later on October 16, 1962 president John F. Kennedy was briefed on the situation, and immediately he gathered a group of high ranking officials and advisors that were known from there on as the Executive Committee or ExComm. Once assembled the president and the committee spent nearly two weeks wrestling with this crisis of epic proportions, and this wrestling match was not one sided as the Soviets struggled with it as well.
Very early on in the deliberations it was decided that the presence of the missiles in Cuba was unacceptable, but the plan of attack on how to handle the situation was more complex and the solution more complicated than ExComm first thought. “In deliberations that stretched on for nearly a week, they came up with a variety of options, including a bombing attack on the missile sites and a full-scale invasion of Cuba. But Kennedy ultimately decided on a more measured approach.” (Editors 2018). That more measured approach would be what would come to be called the quarantine of Cuba, which would then be followed by the ultimatum addressed to the Soviet Union.
The quarantine of Cuba was order by president Kennedy and he announced it to the American people in a televised address on October 22, 1962 where he explained how they had gotten the information about the missiles and that the United States were being diligent in the protection of the American people. Also he stated that the communication with the Russian government up to the day of the missiles discovery had been very definite that there was no attempts in the works for Russia to expand their military force. Kennedy continues to say how there was still, when confronted with the information, no confession on the part of the Russian Government and that “Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko told me in my office that he was instructed to make it clear once again, as he said his government had already done, that Soviet assistance to Cuba, and I quote, ‘pursued solely for the purpose of contributing to the defense capabilities of Cuba,’” (Atomicarchive.Com 2018).
These statements by the Russian government were known to be lies and this led president Kennedy to move forward with the naval quarantine. This quarantine was different than a naval blockade because the president felt as if a blockade would been seen as an act of aggression and lead to full blown war. A blockade would stop any and all ships from leaving or arriving at the island of Cuba. While a naval quarantine allowed supply ships, passenger ships, and any other foreign ships to dock and leave Cuba except any ship from the Soviet Union. This was an attempt to force the Soviets to either give up their plans for Cuba or force the Soviets to admit to their plans and face the diplomatic consequences.
As the quarantine continued it became clear that the Soviets plans were not going to play out as they wished and that if not handled properly it would lead to all out war with the epicenter of that war being Cuba. The Soviets, however, were not going to back down or pull out that easily, and were determined to use what leverage they still had to benefit themselves. To do this the Soviets used the only thing they had on their side, the actions of the United States, because “On October 24, Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s message with a statement that the U.S. “blockade” was an “act of aggression” and that Soviet ships bound for Cuba would be ordered to proceed.” (‘Milestones: 1961–1968 – Office Of The Historian’ 2018) and the goal of this was to make it seem to the world stage that the United States acted in aggression first. The quarantine seemed to not be working because by October 26 1962 the president was considering the idea that only a full scale attack would remove the missile sites, as they were nearly complete. The president was determined to keep this affair strictly non-violent and gave the diplomatic channel just a little longer.
During the time of the United States ExComm meetings and the presidents deliberations the Soviet president Nikita Khrushchev was weighing his options and the possible outcomes. This attempt at increasing the Soviet military footprint was turning into a possible global disaster, as the reality was that even if the missiles were finished on Cuba the Soviets could never even remotely effectively exact an attack on the United States. “Khrushchev had completely miscalculated the American response to Soviet missiles in Cuba, as British diplomat to the Soviet Union, Sir Frank K. Roberts affirmed: “Khrushchev had never intended that his Cuban adventure [would] involve any risk of war”. (digitalcommons, 2011) and this miscalculation lead to Khrushchev to opening a “back channel” of communication to the office of the president of the United States.
On the afternoon of October 26 1962 there was a soviet agent that approached a whitehouse official stating that an agreement could be reached with the Soviets that would conclude with them removing the missiles and returning them to the Soviet Union. In secret letters sent back and forth from Khrushchev and Kennedy there were a flurry of analogies, metaphors, and lobbying on both sides, but in a letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy on October 27, 1962 when there is nearly an agreement reacher Khrushchev reaches further and beings lobbying for the missiles in Turkey to be dismantled saying “You are disturbed over Cuba. You say that this disturbs you because it is 90 miles by sea from the coast of the United States of America.
But Turkey adjoins us; our sentries patrol back and forth and see each other.” (Office Of The Historian, 1962). This was once again an attempt to get some benefit out of the situation so the world would see the situation as a mutual compromise more than a surrender. This is the eyes of the Soviets was still a small victory, because to in essence go toe to toe with the United States and not end up the exponential loser was a display of the United States wasn’t unbeatable nor were they flawless.
In conclusion, the Cuban missile crisis ended by the way of diplomatic arm wrestling and some underestimation on Khrushchev’s part. The Soviets dismantled the missile sites on Cuba in exchange for the guarantee that the United States would not invade the island, also the final outcome came with the United States dismantling the missile sites it had in Turkey. This was in the support of bolstering the agreement with the Soviets as the United States did not completely agree to dismantle the missiles in Turkey, but stated that they were in the makings of removing them anyway.
In the thirteen days of the crisis there was a game of global chess that was being played, but one player failed to bring anything but the pawns and the queen to the table whereas the opponent brought a full board. The United States played the chess game well and gave the Soviets every chance they could to resolve the issue before they unleashed the entire board and wiped out all of the Soviets pieces.
The Cuban missile Crisis was the last major event of the Cold War although there was still the war in Vietnam raging on and both parties were in some capacity or another involved. However, the Cuban Missile Crisis was the beginning of the end of the Cold War as the world stage was never the same and the realizations of both major players of the Cold War realized that there was no clear clean way to end this altercation without risking another world war but on a nuclear scale.
- ‘Cold War: Cuban Missile Crisis’. 2018. Loc.Gov. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/colc.html.
- Editors, History.com. 2018. ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/cuban-missile-crisis.
- ‘Address To The American People About The Cuban Missile Crisis | Cuban Missile Crisis | Historical Documents | Atomicarchive.Com’. 2018. Atomicarchive.Com. http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Cuba/CubaSpeech.shtml.
- ‘Milestones: 1961–1968 – Office Of The Historian’. 2018. History.State.Gov. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/cuban-missile-crisis.
- ‘Foreign Relations Of The United States, 1961–1963, Volume VI, Kennedy-Khrushchev Exchanges – Office Of The Historian’. 1962. History.State.Gov. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v06/d66.
- 2011. Digitalcommons.Iwu.Edu. https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1145&context=constructing.
- Frank K. Roberts, “Encounters with Khrushchev,” in Khrushchev and Khrushchevism, ed. Martin McCauley (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987), 226.