The Cuban Missile Crisis

  • Created by: TessBlyth
  • Created on: 23-04-19 19:33

The Cuban Revolution

In January 1959, a group of revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, toppled the pro-American government of Cuba. President Eisenhower was concerned about the revolution as there were very close links between Cuba and the USA. American businesses had invested heavily in Cuba and much of the land was owned by the Americans. It was also an important investor in Cuba's main export, sugar. The new leader of Cuba, Castro, was a nationalist who did not want his country's economy to be under American control. This created tension between the USA and Cuba in 3 main areas:

  • The American government reluctantly recognised the new government, but refused to provide economic aid unless Cuba followed guidelines set out by International Monetary Fund.     
  • In May 1959, the Cuban Government took over all land in Cuba owned by foreign nationals. It paid compensation to previous owners but the US government had refused to recognise the scheme.
  • Castro had already begun appointing communists to his government when in February 1960, he made an agreement with the USSR. Khurshchev agreed to buy Cuban sugar and provide economic aid. There was also a secret clause that stated Cuba would receive arms from them too.

In July 1960, Eisenhower reduced the amount of sugar the USA would buy from Cuba and in October banned all trade with the country. In January 1961, the USA broke off all diplomatic relations.

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The 'Bay of Pigs' Invasion

Kennedy did not want a Communist ally so close to American territory. He therefore gave his support to a plan agreed by the CIA which suggested that a group of Cuban exiles could be trained to launch an invasion to overthrow Castro. This would make the attack look like a Cuban counter-revolution, so the USA did not have to claim it was involved. 

On 17 April 1961, an invasion of around 1400 Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. The USA had hoped they would topple the Castro regime and put a new US-friendly governemtn in control. However, the coup was a complete failure for several reasons:

  • The volunteers had little military experience and were no match for the battle-hardened Cuban revolutonary army.
  • The USA could not send US ground forces or air strikes to support the attack because they wanted to make it look like a Cuban effort.
  • Castro's government found out about the invasion and prepared 20,000 soldiers which awaited the 1400 exiles - they were outnumbered. 
  • The USA and exile army wrongly assumed that most Cubans would support them, but many felt happy with Castro and did not rush to lend their support.

American involvement was undeniable and the invasion was a public humiliation for the USA.

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Consequences of the Bay of Pigs Invasion

  • The invasion was a humiliating defeat for the US. They had previously accused the Soviet Union of trying to build in an empire in Eastern Europe. Now the Americans looked hypocritical.
  • The Soviet Union were quick to point out that the people of Cuba were happy under Castro's government and had shown little support for the invasion. Khrushchev said this was a clear indication of the popularity of communism.
  • The 'Bay of Pigs' incident inevitably led to stronger relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union. After defeating the invasion, Castro declared himself a communist and asked Khrushchev to help him defend Cuba against future attack from the USA. In September 1961, Khrushchev publicly announced that he would provide arms to Cuba.
  • President Kennedy was extremely concerned by this - Cuba would not have modern military equipment and training from Soviet experts.
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The Cuban Missile Crisis

On 14 October 1962, an American U-2 spy plane took pictures of what seemed to be launch pads for medium-range ballistic missiles, capable of causing terrible damage to US cities. American intelligence agencies informed Kennedy that a fleet of Soviet ships was sailing to Cuba. Khrushchev had previously told Kennedy that he would not put nuclear weapons on Cuba.

On 16 October, Kennedy called together an Executive Committee to discuss how the USA should react. ExComm met every day for thirteen days, during which the world faced threats of nuclear war. On 22 October, Kennedy decided to set up a naval blockade around Cuba preventing any ships from entering without US permission. Kennedy prepared 54 bombs each with four nuclear warheads incase the Soviet Union decided to ignore the blockade. On 24 October, the Soviet ships reached the blockade and turned around. 

The Soviet decision not to break through the naval blockade meant direct confrontation had been avoided, but the Soviets still had missile sites in Cuba. On 26 October, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a telegram offering to remove missiles from Cuba if the USA agreed not to invade. A second telegram arrived on 27 October stating that he would remove the missiles if the US missiles in Turkey were also removed. Kennedy ignored the second telegram and agreed to Khrushchev's first proposal. On 28 October, Khrushchev sent his agreement. 

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Consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis

  • The Cuban Missile Crisis made clear what would happen if the USA and Soviet Union continued to follow a policy of brinkmanship. Both countries wanted to make sure that future misunderstandings would not cause war to break out.
  • In June 1963, a direct communications line was set up between Washington and Moscow which became known as the 'hotline'.
  • In August 1963, a Test Ban Treaty was signed by the USA, USSR and Britain, agreeing to prohibit the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, underwater or in the atmosphere.
  • In 1967, the Outer Space Treaty was signed, the USA and Soviet Union agreed not to use Space for military purposes. The treated specifically ruled out putting nuclear weapons into orbit.
  • In 1968, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Countries that signed up to the treaty agreed not to share their nuclear technology with other countries. 
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