How close to war was the world in the 1960s?

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  • Created on: 07-04-13 15:56

Castro and Cuba

Cuba is an island about 160km from American mainland. Ruled by corrupt dictator Batista until 1959 who was friendly with USA. American businessmen had property and industry in Cuba and USA was a major market for Cuban goods.

1959, Batista overthrown in a revolution led by Fidel Castro. Castro became leader and wanted to remove all foreign influence. Land was seized from the Americans and their businesses nationalized.

The USA refused to buy the Cubans' main export, sugar cane, so Castro sold to the USSR. Americans were concerned of Cuba as Castro was believed to be a communist and USA feared spreading of communism. USSR now had ally close to America.

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Bay of Pigs

Before Kennedy became President, there was a plan for USA to invade Cuba and team up with enemies of Castro. The CIA advised that Castro could be overthrown if USA supported Cuban rebels. With American support, a force of 1400 rebels landed at Bay of Pigs in Cuba. They were trapped on the beach by Castro's forces and could not link with rebels on land. They were easily defeated.

Disaster for Kennedy as many in the USA blamed him for refusing air cover to the invasion as he did not want to be seen openly supporting rebels. The world sympathised with the Cubans. Castro feared Americans would attack again so he turned to the USSR for help. He announced he was a communist and Khrushchev supplied weapons and surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down American planes.

Kennedy also appeared weak to Khrushchev so he supplied Cuba with long-range missiles that could be fired at the USA.

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Cuban Missile Crisis

Soviets do not yet have Polaris Missiles that could be fired from submarines so a base in Cuba so close to USA meant they could threaten. Khrushchev saw missiles as answer to American bases in Turkey. USA suspected missiles being put up but Khrushchev denied it when challenged and claimed USSR had no intention.

16 October 1962 American U2 spy plane took photos of launch pads built for long-range missiles on CUba. No missiles at the moment but when in place, could carry hydrogen bombs that could reach and destroy American cities within 20 minutes.

Millions of American lives would be lost so Kennedy had to take action.

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Difficulties Facing the USA

If Kennedy ignored missiles and just made diplomatic protest, he would have appeared to backed down and was weak. If he launched an attack in Cuba it would result in loss of life. If nuclear attack it could provoke nuclear war with the USSR resulting in destruction of world.

Soviet ships with missiles heading towards Cuba so kennedy decided to put naval blockade around Cuba. 22 October he announced sea within 800km of Cuba will be placed in quarantine and no ships carrying weapons will be allowed through. Kennedy called Khrushchev to withdraw weapons from Cuba.

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Crisis Point

Soviet ships carrying rockets approach Cuba. World waited to see what happens when Soviet ships reach blockade. Clash between superpowers avoided but not over. Kennedy demanded Soviets remove all sites and missiles. 26th October Khrushchev agreed to consider dismantling if Kennedy removed blockade. 

Next day Kennedy received letter from Khrushchev demanding he remove all missiles in Turkey in exchange for removal of missiles in Cuba. Kennedy answered first agreement then ignored second. He threatened to invade Cuba if Khrushchev did not respond by 29th October.

One Soviet ship boarded and crate containing nuclear bombs opened. 26th october U2 plane shot down over Cuba and pilot killed. Secretary General of UN urged leaders to avoid war. 28th October Khrushchev agreed to dismantle missile sites in return for Kennedy lifting blockades and not attacking Cuba.

Khrushchev guaranteed safety of Cuba and worked with UN to prevent war. Blockade liftend and sites dismantled.

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Results of Cuban Missile Crisis

Nuclear war avoided - usually regarded peak of Cold War, most tense.

Soviets now have ally close to America, starting to balance out USA allies near USSR.

Kennedy's reputation increased, seen as strong as stood up to Khrushchev and forced him to back down. Restored prestige after Bay of Pigs.

Khrushchev protected Cuba and claimed as peacemaker who had listened to UN, avoided war and seeked peace.

Both leaders realised how close to war (brinkmanship) leading to thaw. Telephone link between Washington and Moscow ('the hotline') set up so can talk directly. Disarmament Conference held in 1962 resulting in Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Weapons cannot be tested in air or ground to avoid pollution. Can be tested underground.

Kennedy initially refused to withdraw American missiles in Turkey, he later agreed secretly to dismantle them.

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Last satellite state to become communist in 1948. Applied for Marshall Aid but Stalin prevented it. From 1948 to 1968, ruled by Novotny, loyal to USSR. Had been democracy before and objected to Soviet control.

Czechs wanted more freedom and wider trade. January 1968 Novotny forced to resign and replaced by Alexander Dubcek.

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Prague Spring

Dubcek was leader of Czech Communist party and he believed in 'Communism with a human face'. He felt government should respond to needs of the people. Censorship of press and radio removed and powers of secret police reduced. Government control of industry and agriculture reduced and trade unions given more power.

Borders with West opened and trade and travel was permitted. Dubcek remembered Hungary 1956 and constantly stressed to Soviets that Czechoslovakia is still communist and will not withdraw from Warsaw Pact. Reforms were known as Prague Spring but concerned USSR.

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USSR Response

Brezhnev feared reforms in Czechoslovakia will lead to demands in USSR and other satellite states. Warsaw Pact leaders also felt threatened by Czechoslovakia, as they felt their own positions were being weakened. Brezhnev scared Czechoslovakia will look to West rather than USSR causing gap in Iron Curtain, leading to its collapse.

Negotiation ensued and Warsaw Pact countries discussed the situation. Dubcek maintained Czechoslovakia was communist and wanted to remain in Warsaw Pact. Great surprise when 20th August 1968 Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia.

Remembering Hungary, Czech government did not fight back. No fighting, only passive resistance leading to fewer than 100 dead. Demonstrations, white-wash, homemade bombs, street cartoons. Many soldiers surprised at the amount of hate. 

Dubcek called to Moscow and replaced by Husak. Reforms withdrawn, opposition continued and a student set himself on fire in protest. Dubcek allowed to return as minor official but eventually dismissed from Communist Party. After a year or so, all opposition died down, Soviets restored control by force.

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Brezhnev Doctrine

Statement to explain Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. Brezhnev made it a policy in a speech in November 1968:

'When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some Socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem for the country concerned, but a common problem and concern for all Socialist countries.'

Made it clear that if any country attempted to break away from Soviet control will be regarded as threat to other Warsaw Pact countries. Put an end to communist reform. Doctrine remained in force until reversed by President Gorbachev in 1989.

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Effects of Events in Czechoslovakia

Suppression of Dubcek's reforms and Brezhnev Doctrine sent clear signal to satellite states the USSR will resist any attempt to break away from Soviet control.

Ended all attempts to reform communism.

Czechs even more resentful of Soviet rule but realised there was little they could do. Over 250,000 emigrated afer 1968.

West disapproved of Soviet action but did nothing. Relations were better since Cuba and USA realised helping Czechoslovakia will end it. Example of how USSR allowed its own sphere of influence without interference. No threat to USA or NATO country, so USSR allowed to continue.

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