Cuban Missile Crisis

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THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS

The “Caribbean crisis,” as it was known in the former Soviet Union, was attributed to the Kennedy administration’s unwillingness to accept the status quo in Cuba. Unalterably opposed to Fidel Castro, the administration organized an ill-fated invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro refugees in April 1961. After the “Bay of Pigs” fiasco, the Central Intelligence Agency tried to assassinate Castro and sponsored covert operations against Cuba, the Department of State organized an economic and political boycott of the country, and the Pentagon prepared and rehearsed a full-scale invasion of Cuba. The Soviet Union had become deeply involved with the Castro regime, and was especially pleased by its turn toward socialism. By helping Castro, whom he viewed as “a modern-day Lenin,” Khrushchev thought he was doing something of historical importance.3 Moscow also had more practical reasons for supporting Cuba; the triumph of socialism in Cuba made good propaganda elsewhere in Latin America and demonstrated to Beijing that the Soviet Union was not a “paper tiger.” The fall of Castro, were it to occur, was expected to have “a devastating effect on the revolutionary world movement.”4 The prospect of a second American invasion troubled Khrushchev and his advisors throughout the summer and fall of 1961. The Cubans were even more worried, and kept Moscow fully informed of American covert operations and military preparations. In the spring of 1962, Khrushchev decided that as the Soviet Union was too far away to save Cuba by conventional means, a second invasion could only be deterred by deploying nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States on the island. They “would force Kennedy to choose between accepting Cuba or fighting a nuclear war.” And, as the American President was a reasonable man, he would choose the former.5 Khrushchev’s decision also seems to have been influenced by his desire to establish the psychological basis for political equality with the United States. After the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Eisenhower Administration sought to reassure its allies by deploying intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in Europe. Turkey and Italy agreed to accept the missiles, but President Eisenhower had second thoughts about the political wisdom of the deployment; he worried that Khrushchev would regard them as extraordinarily provocative, “just as we would if he put missiles in our backyard.”6 Against Khrushchev’ advice, President Kennedy decided to persevere with the installation of Jupiter missiles in Turkey, and Khrushchev was furious. He complained at length to Kennedy about the missiles at the June 1961 Vienna Summit, as well as about other efforts the United States was making “to surround the Soviet Union with bases.”7 During the 1962 crisis, Khrushchev wrote a private letter to Kennedy suggesting that the Cuban missiles were an appropriate tit-for-tat response to the Jupiter missiles in Turkey.8 Khrushchev appears to have decided to send missiles to Cuba in May 1961 after a trip to Bulgaria. He confided his intention to Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and Deputy Prime Minister Anastas I. Mikoyan, both of whom doubted that missiles could be deployed secretly and warned that their discovery might provoke a crisis with the United States.9 Khrushchev nevertheless persevered, and compelled a reluctant Presidium to vote its support for the missile deployment after he had gained the acquiescence of Fidel Castro. Defense Minister Rodion Ya. Malinovsky, who also had doubts about the wisdom of the deployment, was put in charge of operational planning. The most enthusiastic supporter was Marshal Sergei S. Biryuzov, recently appointed commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, who maintained that the rockets “would look like palm trees” to American reconnaissance aircraft.10 A Soviet delegation, led by Marshal Biryuzov, was sent to Havana in late May to consult with the Cuban...
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