How Far Was the Dispute over Berlin 1958-1961 a Primary Cause of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

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How far was the dispute over Berlin 1958-1961 a primary cause of the Cuban missile crisis ?

The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 is frequently described as the moment the cold war turned hot. Many believe that this thirteen-day period was the closest the world came to nuclear conflict. This essay will focus on the primary causes of the Soviet Union placing missiles on Cuba: closing the missile gap, trying to force the issue of Berlin or to protect Cuba. The essay will focus on many individual factors, such as the Berlin blockade, and will attempt to answer one of the most controversial questions in the Cold war period.

The Berlin dispute was a pivotal factor throughout the cold war period and should be considered a primary cause of the Cuban crises. West Berlin was a enclave deep in East Germany. Its very existence repudiated the East German government’s claim to be the legitimate government of all of Germany. In 1948 and 1958 war had seemed near as the Soviet Union tried to force the west out. In 1961 the Berlin Wall had been built to prevent a mass exodus from East to West Germany, this was humiliating for the Soviets. Yet Khrushchev still wished to remove the western presence totally. Stalin was forced to resort to trapping people in East Berlin to stop them from escaping, not the best propaganda image for communism. The Soviet leadership was clearly intent on protecting Soviet interests at this juncture and viewed the west with increasing suspicion. It was a catalyst to conflict between the west and communist states and therefore a possible cause of the Cuban missile crisis. Khrushchev may have placed missiles in Cuba to use them as a bargaining tool with the US in hope that discussions would lead to the West staying out of Berlin, in exchange for the removal of the missiles in Cuba.

Khrushchev believed that by placing missiles on Cuba he would force the west out of Berlin. If the U.S. did strike at the missiles, it would give the Soviets an excuse to attack U.S. outposts closer to the Soviet Union. The one outpost that most concerned the EX COMM (Executive Committee of the National Security Council was a body of United States government officials that convened to advise President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis)was West Berlin, where the Soviet Union had built a wall one year earlier. The missiles could be employed either to deter the Americans from declaring war or be used for bargaining purposes. Kennedy regarded this as Khrushchev’s main motives. Kennedy surmised that Khrushchev knew the placing of missiles was too big a risk just to restore the balance of power; he must have been using them to solve the Berlin problem. Since Berlin was strategically more important than Cuba, the trade would be a win for Khrushchev. President Kennedy recognized this, "The advantage is, from Khrushchev's point of view, he takes a great chance but there are quite some rewards to it." It would appear that Khrushchev saw Cuba as a political pawn and that the Berlin dispute was a prime factor the Soviet Union’s decision to place missiles on Cuba. Khrushchev needed to restore Soviet dignity after the Berlin crisis and the country’s international recognition especially with the Chinese who thought that the Soviets were trying to appease the Americans. Hostility between the East and the West, evidenced by the construction of the Berlin Wall, was a causal link in Khrushchev’s decision to place missiles on Cuba; heightening the threat of nuclear war and resulting in the Cuban missile crisis.

While the Berlin dispute was a likely cause of the missile crisis, there are other factors to consider (some of them linked to the Berlin issue). Another possible reason as to why the Soviet Union decided to place missiles on Cuba was to re-establish the balance of missile power. Kennedy announced that he would increase the number of missiles and warheads that could be launched against the Soviet Union. By the...
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