Cuban missile crisis Essay

This essay has a total of 3038 words and 14 pages.

cuban missile crisis



Many agree that the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world ever
came to nuclear war; but exactly how close did it come? The Crisis was
ultimately a showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union from
October 16 to October 28, 1962. During those thirteen stressful days, the
world’s two biggest superpowers stood on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.
The Crisis started as a result of both the Soviet Union’s fear of losing the
arms race, and Cuba’s fear of US invasion. The Soviet Premier, Nikita
Khrushchev, thought that both problems could easily be solved by placing
Soviet medium range missiles in Cuba. This deployment would double the
Soviet arsenal and protect Cuba from US invasion. Khrushchev proposed this
idea to Cuban Premier, Fidel Castro, who, like Khrushchev, saw the strategic
advantage. The two premiers worked together in secrecy throughout the
late-summer and early-fall of 1962. The Soviets shipped sixty medium-range
ballistic missiles (MRBMs) along with their warheads, launch equipment, and
necessary operating personnel to Cuba. When United States President, John
F. Kennedy discovered the presence of these offensive weapons, he
immediately organized EX-COMM, a group of his twelve most important
advisors. They spent the next couple of days discussing different possible
plans of action and finally decided to remove the US missiles from Turkey
and promise not to invade Cuba in exchange for the removal of all offensive
weapons in Cuba. On October 28, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a letter stating
that he agreed to the terms Kennedy stated, and the crisis ended.
The Cuban Missile Crisis can be blamed on the insecurity of Cuba and
the Soviet Union. After the United States’ unsuccessful attempt to overthrow
Castro and end communism in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Castro was
fearful of another US invasion. The US Armed Forces conducted a mock
invasion and drafted a plan to invade Cuba to keep Castro nervous. As a
result, Castro thought the US was serious, and he was desperate to find
protection. This protection came in the form of sixty Soviet medium-range
ballistic missiles. (Detzer 30-32, 39, 55, 68, 87)
During his presidential campaign, Kennedy repeatedly stated that the
US had less missiles than the Soviets, contradicting the Pentagon’s claim that
the opposite was true. However, during the summer of 1961, when
Khrushchev constructed a wall around West Berlin, the Kennedy
Administration revealed to Khrushchev that the US. did, in fact, have more
missiles than the Soviet Union. What worried Khrushchev the most, though,
was that the Soviet missiles were only powerful enough to be launched
against Europe, but the US missiles were capable of striking the entire Soviet
Union. He worried that if the Soviet Union lost the arms race that badly, it
would invite a nuclear attack from the US. Khrushchev needed a way to
counter the United State’s lead. (May 49)
In April of 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came up with the
idea of installing medium-range missiles in Cuba. Cuba was close enough to
the United States that the Soviet missiles would be an effective deterrent to a
potential US attack against either the Soviet Union or Cuba. Castro accepted
Khrushchev’s offer, since it would protect Cuba and, therefore, solve
Castro’s previous dilemma. In mid-July of 1962, the Soviet Union began its
buildup of offensive weapons in Cuba.
The Soviets spent most of the late-summer and early-fall of 1962
ferrying launch equipment and personnel necessary for the preparation of
missiles to Cuba. Since they could not use military ships (for fear of being
discovered) the Soviets used civilian vessels. However, even with this
caution, their actions were detected. As the US monitored the suddenly
increased shipping activity to Cuba, rumors started in Washington. On
August 10, John McCone, director of the CIA, sent the President a letter
stating his belief that the Soviets were placing MRBMs in Cuba. On August
29, a U-2 on a reconnaissance flight over Cuba revealed the presence of SA-2
SAM (Surface-to-Air-Missile) sites. On September 4, to calm the Congress
and public, Kennedy announced that there were Soviet missiles in Cuba, but
that since they were defensive and not offensive, the US had nothing to worry
about. Pressured by Congress, Kennedy ordered another U-2 flight over
Cuba for October 9. However it was delayed until Sunday, October 14.
After the pictures from the reconnaissance flight were analyzed, the
National Photographic Interpretation Center found what at first were thought
to be more surface-to-air missile sites. A closer look, however, showed six
much larger SS-4 nuclear missiles; each 60 to 65 feet long. They now knew
they had a big problem. President Kennedy was informed of the missiles
during breakfast the next day. It was now clear to him that the Soviets had
been purposefully deceiving him for months. Kennedy immediately
scheduled two meetings for that morning. At the first one, he looked over the
photos. The missiles he saw had a range of 1,100 miles and could hit major
US cities including New York, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. At the
time, the missiles were not yet operational, nor did they have nuclear
warheads, but they soon would. At the second meeting, Kennedy
hand-picked a group of his twelve most trusted government officials to advise
him on the crisis. This group was referred to as the Executive Committee of
the National Security Council, or EX-COMM. EX-COMM included Vice
President, Lyndon Johnson; Secretary of State, Dean Rusk; Secretary of
Defense, Robert McNamara; Chairman of the JCS, General Maxwell Taylor;
Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, McGeorge
Bundy; Secretary of the Treasury, Douglas Dillon; CIA Director, John
McCone; Attorney General, Robert Kennedy; Undersecretary of State,
George Ball; Special Counsel, Theodore Sorensen; Deputy Secretary of
Defense, Roswell Gilpatric; and Soviet Specialist, Llewellyn Thompson.
(Fursenko 223-224) In that meeting, Secretary Of Defense Robert
McNamara outlined three possible courses of action the US could take
against Cuba and the Soviet Union. The first was “The political course of
action.” It involved Castro and Khrushchev getting together and resolving the
crisis on a diplomatic level. This plan was rejected since most members of
EX-COMM thought it wouldn’t work. The second plan was to blockade
Cuba to prevent any more offensive missiles from entering. The third plan
was military action against Cuba, starting with an air attack with missiles,
followed by an invasion. Since EX-COMM falsely believed that the missile
warheads were not yet in Cuba, the goal of any action they agreed on was to
stop the warheads from reaching Cuba.
In order to maintain secrecy, Kennedy followed his planned schedule.
So far, the Soviets still didn’t know the Americans knew of the missiles in
Cuba, and neither did the American public. If the Soviets found out, they
might hide the missiles or launch them sooner than they had wanted. If the
public found out, the nation would panic. Kennedy was in a good mood and
even joked a little while in public, but became very serious when he entered
his car and called a meeting with EX-COMM. Throughout EX-COMM’s
discussions, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Especially the Air Force strongly
argued for an air strike. Before the Air Force was done, they had planned a
massive air strike that would have wiped Cuba off the planet’s surface, had
Kennedy not denied the plan. After another U-2 flight on the night of
October 17, the military discovered intermediate range (IRBMs) SS-5 nuclear
missiles. Not counting Washington and Oregon, these missiles could reach
all of the continental US
On October 18, Kennedy met with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrie
Gromyko. This was a strange meeting. Since EX-COMM wasn’t sure if
Gromyko knew of the missiles, Kennedy decided not to confront the minister
on the issue. Later that evening, while a dinner was being held in Gromyko’s
honor, EX-COMM had an important meeting. During the meeting, a majority
opinion had been reached on recommending a blockade to the White House.
At the White House, Kennedy liked the idea of a blockade, but couldn’t
decide between it or an air strike.
Kennedy met again with EX-COMM on October 20 to discuss his
decision. He liked the idea of a blockade because it allowed the US to start
with minimal action and increase the pressure on the Soviets as needed. On
the 21st, Kennedy decided to blockade Cuba. In the speech Kennedy would
give to the nation, he would use the word “quarantine” instead of “blockade.”
This was an important detail. A blockade, as defined under international
treaties, is an act of war. A quarantine, however, is merely an attempt to
keep something unwanted out of a particular area. In this way, the US could
have its blockade, but the international community would not consider it an
act of war. Later in the day, another U-2 flight revealed bombers and MiGs
being assembled and cruise missile sites being built on Cuba’s northern shore.
(Brugioni 315)
On Monday, October 22, within minutes of Kennedy’s address to the
nation, almost 300 Navy ships set sail for Cuba. Military alert was raised to
DEFCON 3 and instructions were given to be ready to launch missiles.
Twenty planes armed with nuclear bombs were also in the air ready to strike
the USSR
At exactly 7.00 p.m., Kennedy began his speech. He stated, “...I have
directed that the following initial steps be taken: First, to halt this offensive
build up, a strict quarantine of all military equipment under shipment to Cuba
is being initiated. Second, I have directed the continued and increased close
surveillance and its military build up. Third, it shall be the policy of this
nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in
the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United
States, requiring a full retaliatory response on the Soviet Union.”
Kennedy sent a copy of his speech to Khrushchev, who became
infuriated. He was angry at both his military for not successfully hiding the
missiles and the American “quarantine” which, no matter what they called it,
was an act of war. Khrushchev’s first response to the speech was to instruct
the ships on their way to Cuba not to stop. Castro also responded by
mobilizing all of Cuba’s military forces.
On October 23, Kennedy ordered six Crusader jets to fly a low-level
reconnaissance mission. The mission, flown at 350 feet and at 350 knots,
brought back amazing close-up pictures of the missile sites. It also showed
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