the Cuban Missile Crisis

  • Origins of the crisis
  • development of the crisis
  • the end in sight
  • the impact of the crisis
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  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 18-04-14 15:41

Origins of the crisis

historical background, pre-1959

  • until 1959 Cuba was little more than an American protectorate
  • Samuel Flagg Bemis(1943) - "The urge to annex was there for a century, but it was bridled, curbed, and halted by a great and historic self denial, checked by the common people of the United States and their opposition to imperialism"
  • the paternal attitude adopt by U.S over Cuba generated opposition among nationalist Cubans
  • Fidel Castro influenced by this, and his primary enemy in Cuba was Batista, the pro-U.S dictator
  • December 1956 - Castro returns to Cuba with borth Che Guevara and 79 supporters
  • Castro and followers dubbed los barbudos - the bearded ones
  • Castro lead guerilla campaign against batista - gained huge support
  • 1st January 1959 Batista gov. collapsed and Castro rode triumphantly into Cuba's capital city, Havanna.
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early developments, 1958-60

  • May 1958 vice pres. Nixon visited number of Latin states, led to shift in U.S policy toward the region
  • Economic stability became main target and U.S supported creation of regional banking institutional, The Inter-American Development Bank, and regional common markets
  • Eisenhower agreed to not offer unconditional support to any dictators
  • Embargo(ban) on any further arms shipments to Batista
  • Some of Castro's key supporters also Comm. - he couldn't let them challenge him for power, nor let them hand over Cuba to China or S.U
  • Castro needed support of a superpower to protect him from American response when he planned to reduce U.S political + economic power on Cuba
  • he had to maintain authority, keep independence, and not alienate any powerful external allies
  • May 1959 - agrarian reform policy - seized lots of U.S property on Cuba. Little hostility
  • Feb 1960 - Soviet First Deputy, Anastas Mikoyan visits Cuba anf arranged $100m in credits with Castro. Tied Cuba to the S.U
  • Soviet version of Marshall Plan had same impact on U.S that Marshall Plan had on S.U
  • April 1960 - first shipments of S.U crude oil arrived on Cuba - U.S oil companies refused to refine - Castro nationalised them
  • America imposed economic sanctions on Cuba - reduced U.S imports of Cuban sugar by 95%
  • October 1960 - Castro seized $1billion U.S assets on Cuba
  • by 1961 U.S decided it was time to remove Castro from power
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b.o.p invasion and Operation Mongoose, 1961

  • b.o.p invasion plan initiated during Eisenhower - inherited by Kennedy
  • 1500 anti Castro exiles to land on Cuba and carry out a military coup to remove Castro
  • kennedy supported CIA plan to land at b.o.p - disaster + humiliation for Kennedy
  • 30th november 1961 Kennedy authorised Operation Mongoose - "to help Cuba overthrow the communist regime" - some military force but mainly covert operations to destabilise the regime and facilitate anti-castro revolt from within
  • Mongoose's prospects of success were bad and Kennedy knew this. His adviseres developed two alternatives - OPLAN 312(air strikes and OPLAN 314(ground forces)
  • March 1962 - Operation Quick Kick - show of military might in the Caribbean - Soviet Defence Minister, Malinovsky concluded that in face of U.S attack, Cuba would stand for no more than a week. Krushchev decided to deploy nuclear missiles on Cuba in 1962
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S.U deploying nuclear missiles: Operation Anadyr

  • 'Anadyr' river in north east USSR - wanted U.S to think it was based in Artic
  • S.U sent over 60 nukes, 14,000 ground troops, 40 bombers, 40 jets, 100 AA missiles & more.
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S.U rationale for deployment in Cuba

the defence of Cuba

  • december 1962, after crisis, - Kruschev - "our purpose was only the defence of Cuba"
  • some historians regard the nuclear option as comparable to using a sledge hammer to crack a nut
  • If defence was his prime motive he would have used something less provocative
  • S.U could have sent conventional forces - no immediate threat to U.S so they would have no grounds to invade. Krushchev clearly had another motive
  • strong evidence to suggest U.S military aggression. Paterson(1990) - "United States made concited efforts to harass, isolate, and destroy the radical government in Havanna, and that in the absence of this approach there would have been no Cuban Missile Crisis"
  • The nuclear option made sense because it was purely a deterrent and never a threat
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S.U rationale for deployment in Cuba

bridging the missile gap

  • by October 1961, dominant nuclear power was U.S
  • Sputnik + first manned orbit of earth in April 1961 + Krushchev saying S.U producing ICBM's "like sausages" suggested S.U dominance in rocket technology.
  • Missile gap in favour of U.S and Moscow knew this. S.U had lost atomic leveridge and U.S gained it.
  • given this knowledge, Krushchev's only hope of rapidly bridging the gap was to place nukes on Cuba.
  • Munton and Welch(2007) - the missile gap and Cuba's defence were of equal importance to Krushchev
  • would have contributed to Krushchev's plan of reducing conventional military spending
  • would have allowed Krushchev to invest more money in to nuclear technology, and still have money to invest in satelite states, which were becoming increasingly fragile as Soviet promises had no materialised
  • No attempts made by the soviets to camouflage missile sites
  • little regard for use of U-2 spy planes to identify the sites - S.U were well aware of their existance - scrapped Open Skies policy as they knew about them
  • If bridging the gap was so important, why did they take little caution in secrecy of missiles?
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S.U rationale for deployment in Cuba

the need for friendship in view of Chinese situation

  • by 1962 Sino-Soviet split had occurred
  • Gaddis(2005) rejects view that redressing missile gap was Krushchev's main goal. - "Krushchev intended his missile deployment chiefly as an effort to spread revolution throughout latin America"
  • one of Krushchev's prios was to address the challenge that china had mounted against the S.U leadership of international Comm.
  • Krushchev's relations with West was based on peaceful coexistence - China exploited by saying Krushchev scared to back revolutions
  • Placing missiles in newly Comm. country would negate any Chinese anti-comm propaganda
  • March 1962 - Castro purges pro-soviet Escalante+supporters from his gov. he feared them as a challenge to his leadership. This may have left way open for chinese influence in Castro gov.
  • Soviet missiles would tie Cuba to S.U and confirm long term alliance.
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S.U rationale for deployment in Cuba

A link to Berlin

  • deployment of missiles to Cuba may divert U.S attention from Berlin
  • would put pressure on NATO if members felt U.S was focusing entirely on its own interests in Cuba and neglecting Europe/Berlin
  • Cuban issue may confront U.S with a hemispheric threat forcing them to withdraw from Berlin in return for Soviet concessions in Cuba - little evidence to back up this theory
  • Krushchev never made any efforts to seek concessions over Berlin as a part of missile withdrawal deal
  • Crisis showed how a problem in one area could be used to negotiate an issue in another area - characteristic device in Cold War era.
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S.U rationale for deployment in Cuba

U.S missiles in Turkey

  • May 1962 - U.S missile deployment in Turkey completed as commitment to NATO
  • Krushchev's response to this deployment may have been linked to his decision to place missiles on Cuba. Would have given Krushchev a bargaining tool to use against U.S missiles in Turkey.


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development of the crisis

  • summer 1962 - Castro agreed to Krushchev's request for nukes on Cuba
  • historiography shows Kennedy as a strong and resolute leader who forced Krushchev to back down. Later literature suggests Kennedy over reacted and risked the outbreak of nuclear war. James Nathan(1976) presents such an account.
  • Kennedy's failures in the initial stages o the crisis lay in the fact he was sure Krushchev wouldn't place missiles so close to America.
  • he failed to assess Krushchev's and Castro's responses to b.o.p invasion, operation mongoose, operation quick kick and clear attempts to isolate Cuba economically and diplomatically
  • failed to have a range of plans in place to deal with S.U response
  • Kennedy operated on an approach of crisis management. dealing with issue when they arose
  • the chaotic int. relations were also clear in krushchev. no evidence to suggest Krushchev knew how the U.S would react to missile deployment
  • Munton and Welch - he failed to see that by sneaking missiles in to Cuba, others would conclude that his intentions were offensive and aggressive, rather than defensive.
  • With S.U missiles on Cuba, Castro would be safe. He could be seen as a reckless and dangerous and opportunist who used the U.S and S.U to advance Cuba, through risky gambling.
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development of the crisis

  • July 1962 Soviets began shipping men to Cuba. 
  • 11th September Kennedy announced -"If at any time the Communist build up in Cuba were to endanger or interfere with our security in any way" or if Cuba were to "become an offensive military base of significant capacity for the Soviet Union, then the United States would do whatever must be done to protect its own security and that of its allies"
  • 21st September - S.U foreign minister Gromyko made speech to U.N saying attack on Cuba would mean war with S.U
  • Soviet build up depended entirely on U.S not realising. Secrecy broken 14th October 1962, U-2 spy plane pictured San Cristobal rocket site
  • Kennedy immediately assembled ExComm committee
  • They could do nothing which seemed to ignore Europe and focus on U.S as it risked splitting NATO
  • airstrikes against sites unfeasable
  • Kennedy opted for a naval blockade
  • Quarantine of Cuba announced to public Oct 22nd 1962
  • "we will have to make a deal in the end" - Kennedy
  • U.S bases put on max alert in prep for possible invasion of Cuba
  • "I call upon chairman Krushchev to halt and eventually to eliminate this clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations"
  • security council met next day and condemned S.U actions - S.U ambassador to UN also unaware of Moscow deployment plans.
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the development of the crisis

  • Krushchev called the blockade "an act of aggression...pushing mankind toward the abyss of a world missile-nuclear war"
  • by 24th october first S.U ships to reach quarantine zone either stopped or turned around
  • Dean Rusk - "we're eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked" - evidence shows that this isn't actually true, the closest Soviet Ship to the blockade turned away at roughly 750 miles.
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the end in sight

  • neither Kennedy nor Krushchev presented any significant offer as a basis for diplomatic settlement
  • brinkmanship was a high risk strategy and would only work if both sides recognised that confrontation during the nuclear age would be undesireable.
  • If Krushchev had in fact put missiles to protect Castro's regime, then it had backfired. Cuba was in greatest danger it had ever been
  • Kennedy's covert moving of Jupiter missiles from turkey would not suffice to end the crisis
  • 26th october kennedy - "we will get the strategic missiles out of Cuba only by invading Cuba or trading"
  • Overthrowing Castro and removing missiles was a viable option at this point
  • 26th october Krushchev sent Kennedy a letter saying that if U.S made a pledge to never invade Cuba then he would remove the missiles. The blockade/quarantine must also stop
  • Castro convinced/paranoid an invasion imminent
  • 26th October Castro ordered troops to fire on low flying renaissance aircraft
  • 27th October Krushchev sent new letter changing conditions for missile removal - made link between U.S missiles in Turkey and S.U missiles in Cuba. wished to trade the two
  • Excomm greatly opposed the trade
  • News came through to same ExComm meeting that a U-2 spy plane had been shot down over Cuba and the pilot killed
  • Kennedy agreed before that any such instance would be met by U.S air strikes on Cuban AA bases. Crisis on brink of deadly escalation.
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the end in sight

  • Kennedy's strategy was to ignored 2nd letter and respond to 1st, but he had to make sure Krushchev would accept it
  • Kennedy summoned Soviet Ambassador Dobrymin, and announced he was willing to remove missiles in Turkey, but not immediately. It could not be made public, as the USA's NATO allies would view it as a concession to S.U pressure
  • NATO told explicitly that no secret agreement reached
  • McGeorge Bundy - "we denied in every forum that there was any deal...we mislead our colleagues, our countrymen, our successors, and our allies"
  • The diplomacy was a success, 28th October Krushchev removed missiles
  • Castro was incensed by what he saw as an immediate betrayal by krushchev
  • He refused to let the U.S check missile sites - major part of the deal. U.S simply searched ships as they left Cuba with the missiles.
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the impact of the crisis

  • bought the world closer to nuclear war than ever before
  • little evidence to suggest Krushchev or Kennedy were likely to lose control
  • showed international relations could not be conducted through a system of crisis management
  • Immediate response was the creation of Washington-Moscow hotline in 1963. Frequency it was use is unknown, but some historians claim it's symbolic value greater than practical use
  • Crisis led to awareness to limit nuclear arms
  • October 1963 - partial test Ban Treaty
  • Krushchev first proposed limitations 30th October, 1962
  • Munton and Welch(2007) - negotiations were "a watershed, marking an important new era in arms control"
  • Treaty contained no provision for underground tests or periodic review and inspection
  • 3 months after signing, testing could begin if signatories felt their vital national interests at stake by not doing so
  • no obligation to sign - France+China did not
  • treaty major factor in development of detente
  • R.Crockatt - "detente showed the impress of the missile crisis"
  • U.S used superior military might to force S.U to back down. seen as humiliation for S.U
  • had been cold war defeat for S.U and constraint on their freedom of actions in int. relations
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the impact of the crisis

  • S.U had strategic parity with U.S, but emerged from crisis with determination to restore its international status
  • Cuba remain a Comm. state in U.S back yard
  • U.S commitment to containment and Truman Doctrine had failed
  • u.S intervention in S.Vietnam only just beginning to develop when crisis came to an end
  • Crisis part of a process of revolutionary change within developing countries
  • Crisis ensured the survival of west Berlin as an outpost of western capitalist democracy in heart of Comm. bloc
  • bought bipolar world closer to cooperation prior to era of detente which was to follow
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