The Cuban Missile Crisis


The Cuban Missile Crisis



 Soviet Missiles in Cuba

Soviet Missiles in Cuba, as shown in a U.S reconnaissance photo


The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, but in the end, improved communication between the world's two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The Cuban Missile Crisis is part of the larger conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union known as the Cold War.

Since the end of World War Two, the U.S. and the Soviet Union (and their respective allies), had engaged in what came to be known as the Cold War. A cold war is a conflict in which the two primary belligerents (enemies), do not actually engage in major combat against each other, but act through other nations and groups (known as proxies), and try to gain a strategic advantage against each other. What this means is that both the Americans and the Russians (as the Soviets were also known), sought to add other nations to their sides, through outright war, through encouraging their allies to engage in wars to expand influence (such as with the North Korean invasion of South Korea), or to keep nations currently allied to them on their side. This is the reason the U.S. became involved in both the Korean and the Vietnam wars, and why the Soviets became involved in Afghanistan.

In terms of seeking strategic advantage over the other, each side created alliances around the world to counter the power and influence of the other side. Part of this endeavor often included military aid to allied nations. For example, the United States was allied to Turkey, a nation that bordered on the Soviet Union. In April of 1962, the U.S. placed 15 Jupiter missiles, which were medium-range, ground-launched, ballistic nuclear missiles, in Turkey. The Soviets saw this as a clear threat to their security. in May, 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev developed the idea of placing Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, which is only 90 miles from the United States. His intention was to "equalize what the West likes to call 'the balance of power," according to memoirs published by Khruschev in later years. The missiles in Cuba would be able to reach nearly the entire continental United States with little warning to the American forces.

Cuba was a close ally of the Soviet Union, ruled by a communist revolutionary named Fidel Castro. Castro liked the idea of an increased Soviet presence in Cuba as a means of protection from the United States, which had tried to overthrow him through military means with an invasion by American-supported Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

The Soviet operation to place the missiles in Cuba was done with great secrecy, so that, even though the construction of the missile sites began in July, 1962, the Americans did not discover the sites until October of that year. However, as early as August, 1962, the American intelligence community began receiving reports of increased Soviet activity in Cuba, the confirmation of the Soviet missile sites did not come until a U2 spy plane overflew Cuba on October 14, 1962. That U2 flight captured images of a Soviet SS-4 missile site under construction at San Cristobal, in western Cuba.

President Kennedy was informed on the morning of October 16. by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy. Bundy showed Kennedy the U2 photos and explained the analysis of the photos as prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). That evening, President Kennedy convened a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) and other key advisors. This group would later be referred to as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (or EXCOMM for short). This group evaluated the situation and came up with six possible American responses to the Soviet threat:

1. No Action

2. Diplomacy: Try to talk the Soviets into removing the missiles

3. Issue a Warning: Put pressure on Castro to get the Soviets to remove the missiles. In essence, this called for threatening Castro and his regime in Cuba

4. Blockade Cuba: Put in place a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent any more missiles or equipment from arriving in Cuba.

5. Air Strikes: Attack the Soviet military bases and missile sites in Cuba with air strikes.

6. Invade Cuba: A full military invasion of Cuba to eliminate the Castro regime and end Soviet power in Cuba.

The members of EXCOMM disagreed on which option to take. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (the military leadership), called for a full invasion. They did not believe the Soviets would respond to a blockade, and felt that an air strike could not guarantee that all the missile sites would be destroyed.

In the end, President Kennedy chose to impose a blockade of Cuba. While the Soviets threatened to ignore the blockade and force their way through to Cuba, in the end, they did not challenge the U.S. Navy, and back-door negotiations enabled the two sides to agree to end the crisis. The Soviets withdrew their missiles from Cuba (and the U.S. withdrew some out-dated nuclear missiles from Turkey).

The world came very close to nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. While the U.S. did force the Soviets to withdraw their forces from Cuba, the initial goal of the Soviet Union and Cuba was realized. The Kennedy Administration never invaded Cuba (nor any adminstration since), and the island-nation only 90 miles from American shores is still ruled by the Cuban Communist Party, and it is still led (as of 2012), by the Castro brothers (Raoul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel, though the older Castro is still alive and plays a role in governing Cuba.)




President Kennedy addressing the nation

Resources and Links on the Cuban Missile Crisis:

The Crisis in Cuba:

Cuban Missile Crisis--John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The World on the Brink--The Thirteen Days of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 18-29, 1962--History Out Loud --audio of President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: A Political Perspective After 40 Years--From George Washington University

Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962--U.S. Navy website on the Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis--Primary documents chronicling the Cuban Missile Crisis from the Avalon Project

Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline--From History Timelines

Cuba: Cuban Missile Crisis--From the Federation of American Scientists

Airpower and the Cuban Missile Crisis--Air-Force Magazine.com


Americans Involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis:

Robert McNamara--American Defense Secretary


Copyright 1998-2013 Roger A. Lee and History Guy Media; Last Modified: 07.20.13

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Names of the Conflict:

Cuban Missile Crisis (American)

October Crisis (Cuban

Caribbean Crisis (Russian)




BEGAN: October 14, 1962--The United States discovers Soviet Missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy was informed on the morning of October 16, 1962


ENDED: October 28, 1962--Crisis ends when the Soviets agree to remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba


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