Background • It was against the background of the arms race that Cuba became a major flashpoint of the Cold War. • Cuba is a large island just 160km from Florida in the southern USA. • It had long been an American ally. Americans owned most of the businesses on the island and they had a huge naval base there (Guantanamo). • In 1959, after a three-year guerrilla campaign, Fidel Castro overthrew the American-backed dictator Batista. • Now there was a new pro-communist state in what the United States regarded as their sphere of influence. This was going to be real test of the USA’s policy of containment.
Key Players:John F. Kennedy • Born 1917 • Died November 3 1963 • President of the USA between 1961-1963 • He was the first Catholic and the youngest President ever of the United States. • His youth, vigour and charm created a new hope for Americans that both domestic and foreign problems could be effectively tackled. • He followed a policy towards the Soviets of ‘flexible response’, which meant relying on a range of responses to deal with Soviet actions. • Kennedy resisted threats from Khrushchev for the US to leave Berlin and later played a key role in the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. • Despite this he increased US involvement in Vietnam • Kennedy was assassinated in 1963
Key Players:Nikita Khrushchev • Born 1894 • Died 1971 • Emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin in 1953. • He denounced Stalin at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 which led the policy of destalinisation. • In international affairs, Khrushchev followed a policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’ believing that the superpowers could exist side by side without destroying each other. • Despite this policy he still threatened the West over Berlin and took a huge risk by putting nuclear missiles in Cuba. • The outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis led to his downfall and he was sacked by the Politburo in 1964.
Key Players: Fidel Castro • Born into a wealthy land-owning family. • He attended a Jesuit school and then graduated as a lawyer from Havana University. • He took on many cases for the poorest members of society and this made him aware of the inequalities in Cuban society. • He was very resentful of the domination of the Americans in every aspect of Cuban life. • Joined the Cuban People’s Party in 1947 which campaigned against poverty and injustice. • Castro and the Cuban People’s Party was expected to win the 1952 election. However this did not occur due to a military coup by General Fulgencio Batista. • After several revolutionary attempts, Castro with the help of other rebels successfully took power on 9 January 1959.
Attempts at Containment 1959 – 1961 • For two years Cuba and the USA maintained a frosty relationship but without any direct confrontation. • Castro took over American-owned businesses in Cuba, but he let the USA keep its naval base. • Castro assured Americans living in Cuba that they were safe. • Castro wanted to run Cuba without any interference. • From the summer of 1960 he was receiving arms from the Soviet Union and American spies knew this.
Attempts at Containment January 1961 • The USA broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. • Castro thought the USA was preparing to invade. • It did not, or not directly, but it was clear that the USA was no longer prepared to tolerate a Soviet satellite in the heart of its own ‘sphere of influence’ April 1961 • President Kennedy supplied arms, equipment and transport for 1400 anti-Castro exiles to invade Cuba and overthrow him. • The exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs. They were met by 20,000 Cuban troops armed with tanks and modern weapons. The invasion failed disastrously. Castro captured or killed them all within days. • To Cuba and the Soviet Union, the failed invasion suggested that the USA was unwilling to get directly involved in Cuba. • The Soviet leader Khrushchev was scornful of Kennedy’s pathetic attempt to oust Communism from Cuba.
Results of Bay of Pigs Invasion • Loss of prestige within the United States and the rest of the world for Kennedy. • Set back Kennedy’s attempts to identify the USA with anti-colonialism. • Castro’s support within Cuba and his position was strengthened. • The Soviet Union and Khrushchev were also given ammunition to use in criticising the US. • Other Latin American governments and peoples were outraged and the incident revived fears of US imperialism in South America. • Strengthened Cuba’s ties with the Soviet Union
Did you know? The CIA and Castro The CIA carried out numerous assassination attempts against Castro. Stories about plots against Castro include exploding cigars, poison in milkshakes, training his ex-girlfriend to shoot him, and, as confirmed in recently published CIA documents, hiring the Mafia to kill Castro. However, Fidel Castro has gone on to survive ten US Presidents.
I think he [Khrushchev] did it because of the Bay of Pigs. He thought that anyone who was so young and inexperienced as to get into that mess could be beaten; and anyone who got into it and didn’t see it through, had not guts. So he just beat the hell out of me. If he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts, until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him. Kennedy speaking after a meeting with Khrushchev in 1961. Question Time Using these two sources say about the success of America’s containment policy? I believe there is no country in the world…whose economic colonisation, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, partly as a consequence of US policy during the Batista regime. I believe that, without being aware of it, we conceived and created the Castro movement, starting from scratch. President Kennedy speaking in 1963
What was the Soviet Union doing in Cuba? • After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Soviet arms flooded into Cuba. • In May 1962, the Soviet Union announced publically for the first time that they were supplying Cuba with arms. • By September 1962 it had thousands of Soviet missiles, plus patrol boats, tanks, radar vans, missile erectors, jet bombers, jet fighters and 5000 Soviet technicians to help to maintain the weapons. • The Americans were willing to tolerate conventional arms being supplied to Cuba, but the big issue was whether they were willing to put nuclear missiles on Cuba. • The USA believed that it was unlikely that the USSR would send any nuclear missiles to Cuba as they had not taken this step with any of their satellite states before. • On September 11 1962, Kennedy warned the USSR that he would prevent ‘by any means might be necessary’ Cuba’s becoming an offensive military base (nuclear base).
Why did the Soviet Union place nuclear missiles on Cuba? This was an incredibly risky strategy, the USSR must have known that it was likely to cause an incident with the USA. What is more interesting is that the USSR did not make any attempt at all to camouflage the sites, and even allowed the missiles to travel on open deck. Historians have suggested five possible explanations. • To bargain with the USA Khrushchev wanted the missiles as a bargaining counter. If he had missiles on Cuba, he could agree to remove them in return for some American concessions. 2. To test the USA In the strained atmosphere of Cold War politics the missiles were designed to see how strong the Americans really were – whether they would back off or face up. The Soviet Union wanted to test out Kennedy.
Why did the Soviet Union place nuclear missiles on Cuba? 3. To trap the USA The missiles were a trap. Khrushchev wanted the Americans to find them and be drawn into a nuclear war. He did not even try to hide them. 4. To get the upper hand in the arms race Khrushchev was so concerned about the missile gap between the USSR and the USA that he would seize any opportunity he could to close it. With missiles on Cuba it was less likely that the USA would ever launch a ‘first strike’ against the USSR. 5. To defend Cuba The missiles were genuinely meant to defend Cuba.
Why was the presence of missiles intolerable to the USA? • The positioning of the missiles in Cuba did not really affect the worldwide nuclear balance. • However, it did increase the Soviet first strike capability. • This meant that the warning time for missiles fired at the United States would be far less than for missiles fired from within the Soviet Union. • Also this represented a change in the balance of power in the eyes of the US people. • ‘Offensive missiles in Cuba have a very different psychological and political effect in this hemisphere than missiles in the USSR pointed at us’ President Kennedy pointed out at a meeting with his advisers. • This created a problem for President Kennedy. The prestige of the USA and also Kennedy was once again at stake. • Another factor were the impending Congressional elections, which were to take place in early November. For the Democratic Party to face elections with missiles installed in Cuba would be a disaster for the Kennedy administration.
Why was the presence of missiles so intolerable to the USA? Map showing the position and range of missiles based in Cuba compared with those based in Turkey.
Thirteen Days: October 1962 • On Sunday 14th October 1962, a US spy plane flew over Cuba. It took detailed photographs of missile sites in Cuba. • To the military experts two things were obvious: • That these were nuclear missile sites • That these sites were being build by the USSR • More photo reconnaissance followed over the next two days. • This confirmed that some sites were nearly finished but others were being built. • Some of these sites had already been supplied with missiles. • The experts said that the most developed of the sites could be ready to launch missiles in just seven days. • American spy plans also reported that 20 Soviet ships were currently on their way to Cuba carrying missiles.
Thirteen Days: October 1962 Aerial photograph of missiles in Cuba, issued by the United States Embassy in London on 23 October 1962
Kennedy’s Options On Tuesday 16th October 1962, President Kennedy was informed for the discovery. He now had several choices? • Do Nothing? • For • The Americans still had a vastly greater nuclear power than the Soviet Union. The USA could still destroy the Soviet Union so – the argument went – the USSR would never use these missiles. The biggest danger to world peace would be to overreact to this discovery. • Against • The USSR had lied about Cuban missiles. Kennedy had already issued his solemn warning to the USSR. • To do nothing would be another sign of weakness.
Kennedy’s Options 2. Surgical air attack? An immediate selected air attack to destroy the nuclear bases themselves. • For • It would destroy the missiles before they were ready to use • Against • Destruction of all sites could not be guaranteed. Even one left undamaged could launch a counter attack against the USA. • The attack would inevitably kill Soviet soldiers. The Soviet Union might retaliate at once. • To attack without advance warning was seen as immoral
Kennedy’s Options 3. Invasion? All-out invasion of Cuba by air and sea • For • An invasion would not only get rid of the missiles but Castro as well. • The American forces were already trained and available to do it. • Against • It would almost certainly guarantee an equivalent Soviet response, either to protect Cuba, or within the Soviet sphere of influence – for example, a take-over of Berlin.
Kennedy’s Options 4. Diplomatic Pressures? To get the United Nations or other body to intervene and negotiate. • For • It would avoid conflict • Against • If the USA was forced to back down, it would be a sign of weakness
Kennedy’s Options 5. Blockade? A ban of the Soviet Union bringing in any further military supplies to Cuba, enforced by the US navy who would stop and search Soviet ships. Also a call for the Soviet Union to withdraw what was already there. • For • It would show that the USA was serious, but it would not be a direct act of war. • It would put the burden on Khrushchev to decide what to do next. • The USA had a strong navy and could still take the other options if this one did not work. • Against • It would not solve the main problem – the missiles were already on Cuba. They could be used within one week. • The Soviet Union might retaliate by blockading Berlin as it had done in 1948
ExComm • The Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm) was a body of United States government officials that convened to advise President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. • It was composed of the regular members of the NSC, along with other men whom the President deemed useful during the crisis. • It was made up of twelve full members in addition to the President. • Advisers frequently sat in on the meetings, which were held in the Cabinet Room of the White House’s West Wing and were secretly recorded by tape activated by Kennedy. • None of the other committee members knew the meetings were being recorded, except maybe for the President’s brother, Robert Kennedy. • According to political theorist James Bright that as the possibility of war with the Soviet Union became more probable, the committee members became less concerned with removing the missiles from Cuba and instead focused their energy on avoiding a nuclear war.
ExComm • Members • John F. Kennedy – President • Lyndon B. Johnson – Vice-President • Dean Rusk, Secretary of State • C. Douglas Dillon, Secretary of the Treasury • Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defence • Robert F. Kennedy – Attorney General • McGeorge Bundy – National Security Advisor • John McCone – Director of Central Intelligence • General Maxwell D. Taylor – US Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff • George Bell – Under Secretary for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs • Llewellyn Thompson – Ambassador to the Soviet Union • Roswell Gilpatric – Deputy Secretary of Defence • Dean Archeson – Former United States Secretary of State
Crisis Timeline • Tuesday 16 October • President Kennedy is informed of the missile build-up • Saturday 20 October • Kennedy decides on a blockade of Cuba. • Monday 22 October • Kennedy announces the blockade and calls on the Soviet Union to withdraw its missiles. • ‘I call on Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate the reckless and provocative threat to world peace…He has the opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction…withdrawing these weapons from Cuba.’
Crisis Timeline • Tuesday 23 October • Kennedy receives a letter from Khrushchev saying that Soviet ships will not observes the blockade. Khrushchev does not admit the presence of nuclear missiles on Cuba. • Wednesday 24 October • The Blockade begins. The first missile-carrying ships, accompanied by a Soviet submarine, approach the 500-mile (800km) blockade zone. Then suddenly, at 10:32am, the 20 Soviet ships which are closest to the zone stop or turn around. • Thursday 25 October • Despite this, intensive aerial photography reveals that work on the missile bases in Cuba is proceeding rapidly
Crisis Timeline • Friday 26 October • Kennedy receives a long personal letter from Khrushchev. • The letter claims that the missiles on Cuba are purely defensive, but goes on: ‘If assurances were given that the USA would not participate in an attack on Cuba and the blockade was lifted, then the question of a removal or the destruction of the missile sites would be an entirely different question.’ • This was the first time Khrushchev has admitted the presence of the missiles.
Crisis Timeline • Saturday 27 October • Khrushchev sends a second letter – revising his proposals – saying that the condition for removing missiles from Cuba is that the USA withdraw its missiles from Turkey. • Kennedy cannot accept this condition. • An American U-2 plane is shot down over Cuba. The pilot is killed. • The President is advised to launch an immediate reprisal attack on Cuba. • Kennedy decides to delay an attack. He also decides to ignore the second Khrushchev letter, but accepts the terms suggested by Khrushchev on 26th October. He says that if the Soviet Union does not withdraw, an attack will follow. • However Kennedy sent Attorney General Robert Kennedy to meet with Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to Washington D.C., to agree that the US would remove the missiles from Turkey.
Crisis Timeline • Sunday 28 October • Khrushchev replies to Kennedy and agreed to remove all missiles from Cuba in return for U.S. assurance that it would not invade Cuba. • There was no reference to U.S. removal of missiles from Turkey – this part of the deal remained secret. • ‘In order to eliminate as rapidly as possible the conflict which endangers the cause of peace…the Soviet Government has given a new order to dismantle the arms which you described as offensive and to crate and return them to the Soviet Union.’
Results of the Crisis • For the USA • Kennedy’s personal prestige increased. It shocked the United States into realising the fragility of its own personal security, and increased the US focus on building up military strength. • For the USSR • Despite his claims of victory, the crisis was a humiliation of Khrushchev and contributed to his fall from power in 1964. • The USSR did not itself suffer from this humiliation and continued as a superpower for the next three decades. • For Cuba • Castro remained in power with the threat of a US invasion removed. • However, Cuba became determined not to become a pawn in the East-West struggle, and pursued a foreign policy independent of Moscow. • Havana became a centre of revolutionary activity, education and training activists and spreading revolution in Africa and Central America; although the Castro regime did continue to rely on the USSR for economic aid and arms.
Results of the Crisis • For the wider international situation? • The Orthodox view is that the world was made a more secure place because: • A hotline was established between the USSR and USA to make immediate telephone communication easier. • Both sides realised the danger of nuclear war. • Two important treaties were signed following the crisis: • The Test-ban Treaty of August 1964, which forbade nuclear tests in the atmosphere, space or underwater • The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, which prevented signatories from transferring weapons or knowledge of how to make them to non-nuclear powers. • Essentially the world was a more secure place after the missile crisis in that there was more stability; neither side would now issue challenges to the other side’s sphere of influence.
Reflections of the Crisis In  we increased our military aid to Cuba. We were sure the Americans would never agree to the existence of Castro’s Cuba. They feared, and we hoped, that a Socialist Cuba might become a magnet that would attract other Latin American countries to socialism. We had to find an effective deterrent to American interference in the Caribbean. The Caribbean Crisis was a triumph of Soviet foreign policy and a personal triumph in my own career. Today Cuba exists as an independent socialist country right in front of America. Cuba’s very existence is good propaganda. We behaved with dignity and forced the United States to demobilise and to recognise Cuba. Khrushchev’s Memoirs in 1971
Reflections of the Crisis President Kennedy will be remembered as the President who helped to bring the thaw in the Cold War. This was always his aim but only after Cuba did he really act. That crisis left its mark on him; he recognised how frightening were the consequences of misunderstandings between East and West. President Kennedy’s obituary in the British Newspaper, The Guardian (1963) Even after it was all over [the President] made no statement attempting to take credit for himself or for his administration for what had occurred. He instructed all [his staff] that no interview should be given, no statement made, which would claim any kind of victory. He respected Khrushchev for properly determining what was in his own country’s interests and in the interests of mankind. If it was a triumph, it was a triumph for the next generation and not for any particular government or people. Robert Kennedy in 13 Days (1968)