The Cuban Missile Crisis

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The Cuban Revolution

Cuban is a large island 160km away from the USA. Long been an ally of America - many Americans owned businesses in Cuba and a large American naval base in Cuba. Cuban leader was General Batista. He was supported by America because he was anti-communist but he wa corrupt and very unpopular with many Cubans.

In 1959, after 3 years of attempts, Fidel Castro, removed Batista from power and took control of Cuba. Castro was communist, therefore America dd not like him. He took over US owened land and businesses and gave the land to odinary Cuban Farmers. As a Communist he set up close links with the USSR. Khrushchev sent adivsors, economic aid and military equipment to Cuba. 

How did the USA react?

June 1960, Eisenhower authorised the CIA to investigate ways of overthrowing Castro. CIA provided support and funds to Cuban exiles and investigated ways of disrupting the Cuban economy. American companies working in Cuba refused to co-operate with any Cuban businesses that used materials imported from the USSR. American media broadcast a lot of critcism of Casto and his regime. January 1961, the new President, John F Kennedy, broke offdiplomatic relations with Cuba.

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The Bay of Pigs

Kennedy supplied arms, equipment and transport to 1,400 anti-Castro Cuban exiles so they could invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. In April 1961, the exiles leanded at the 'Bay of Pigs' on the Cuban coast. They were met by 20,000 of Castro's troops, who were armed with tanks and modern weapons. Castro's troops captured or killed all 1,400 Cuban exiles within a few days. The invasion was a disaster for the US and made Kennedy look weak.

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Why did Khrushchev put missiles in Cuba?

After the Bay of Pigs the USSR supplied Cuba with more weapons - the most significant of these being nuclear missiles. Khrushchev did this for several reasons:

  • The USA had missiles in western Europe and Turkey well within range of the USSR. Placing missiles in Cuba helped to balance things out.
  • The USSR had many cheap, medium range missiles than the USA so a launch site near the US coast was ideal.
  • Sovie missiles in Cuba would strengthen Khrushchev's bargaining position against the USA.
  • Khrushchev was keen to help and defend Castro.
  • Khrushchev wanted to strenghten his own political position in the USSR. Missiles in Cuba were a huge propaganda victory against the USA and boosted his reputation.

Kennedy's options:

On 14th October 1962 a US spy plane photographed the construction of the Soviet missile site in Cuba.

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Kennedy's Options

  • Do nothing - which would make Kennedy look weak.
  • Surgical air attack to destroy the nclear bases - could encourage a counter attack
  • Invade Cuba by air and sea - would illicit an equivalent soviet response.
  • Use diplomatic pressure by getting the UN to intervene and negotiate - if the USA was forced to back it would be a sign of weakness.
  • Blockade Cuba so that no more Soviet weapons can be delivered to Cuba and call for the Soviet Union to remove the weapons that are already there - would not solve the problem and may result in retaliation. 
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Important Dates

  • 14th October 1962 - An American U2 spy plane flies over Cuba and takes photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles.
  • 16th October 1962 - President Kennedy forms a group if advisors called EX-COMM, which begins to discuss in secret how to respond to the situation.
  • 18th October 1962 - Kennedy meets with the soviet foreign minister, Gromyko. Gromyko denies there are any 'offensive' missiles in Cuba.
  • 21st October 1962 -  Kennedy decides a blockade of Cuba
  • 22nd October 1962 -  Kennedy broadcasts live on US TV and tells the American public about the exsistance of missiles in Cuba and his plans for blockade.
  • 24th October 1962 - The blockade begins. American military forces are put on alert and go to DEFCON 2 - one step away from war.
  • 26th October 1962 - Khrushchevwrites a letter to Kennedy and proposes that he will remove the missiles if Kennedy puclicly announces he will not invade Cuba.
  • 27th October 1962 -  A new letter arrives from Khrushchev propings a pubic trade of Soviet missiles in Cuba for Ameican missiles in Turkey.An American U2 spy plane shot down and pilot is killed. Soviets are secretly told that if they remove missiles from Cuba then the Usa will not invade Cuba and remove missiles from Turkey within 6 months.
  • 28th October 1962 -  Khrushchev announces on Radio Moscow that he has agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba.
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Impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis

  • Closest USA and USSR had come to nuclear conflict. Overall it improved US-Soviet realations.
  • USA and USSR set up a direct telephone link between the Kremlin and the White HOuse.
  • In 1963, a test ban treaty was signed by the USA, USSR and Britain.
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Who won the Cuban Missile Crisis?


  • Kennedy seen by the world as the victor - he had stood up to the soviets and they had backed down.
  • He had also stood up to his military advisors who had wanted to invade Cuba.


  • Kennedy removed missiles from Turkey
  • Castro remained in power and communist threat remained.
  • Kennedy had made many enemies -some key generals thought he was not really prepared to fight communism.


  • Khrushchev had prevented US invasion of Cuba.
  • Publicly he was seen as the peace maker
  • Had gained the agreement that the missiles in Turkey would be removed
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Who won the Cuban Missile Crisis? Continued


  • The USSR was shown to have lied about the nuclear missiles in Cuba
  • Khrushchev had been forced to back down - Soviet misssiles were removed from Cuba
  • Khrushchev as unable to make public the areement to get the USA to remove their missiles from Turkey - no one knew
  • In 1964, Khrushchev was replaced as Soviet leader.


  • Castro remained in power and the USA did not  invade Cuba
  • Castro remained heavily armed
  • Castro maintained control of American industries he had taken over


  • Cuba remained poor and isolated - it was unable to trade with the USA so had to rely on the USSR for supplies and equipment.
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