What were the key factors in the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis?
The Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 is said to be the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war, even now in present times when arms are both more advanced and somewhat dispensable. It was “the single most dangerous crisis of the cold war era” and centred around Cuba in which the Soviet Union were found by the United States to have secretly installed ballistic missiles. For fourteen days the fate of the world lay in the hands of the two superpower leaders, namely the President of the United States, John Fitzjerald Kennedy, and the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, while they deliberated whether or not to take military action against one another. Resolution of the crisis came about as a result of both leaders coming to an agreement that said missiles would be dismantled and military action would not be taken. Having said this there was conflict, tension and complication to endure prior to this agreement. It is important to have a background understanding of what brought about the crisis before describing the resolving factors leading up to settlement. Carroll Quighey described how the pattern of a classic diplomatic crisis has 3 stages which are confrontation, recognition and finally settlement and we shall look at the Cuban missile crisis with help from this pattern.
As mentioned above, the first stage of a diplomatic crisis pattern is that of confrontation, described by Quighey as “a dispute- a power struggle in an area of conflict”. In the case of the Cuban missile crisis the power struggle was between the United States and the Soviet Union and the area of conflict was Cuba. At this time, the Premier of Cuba was Fidel Castro. Relations between Cuba and the United States were poor and on April 17th, 1961, John F. Kennedy authorised an attempt to overthrow the Cuban dictator in an event known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. Kennedy’s anti-Castro rebellion failed but made the Cuban dictator wary of another US attempt to invade or attack. It was then that the Soviet Union increased its support for Fidel Castro’s Cuban Regime and secretly installed the ballistic missiles in Cuba. Kennedy was left in the dark about the missiles until Tuesday 16th October. McGeorge Bundy, the President’s National Security Advisor, handed Kennedy photos taken secretly from U-2 planes which conveyed nuclear-armed missiles being set up on the island of Cuba by Soviet soldiers. It was concluded that said missiles were of an offensive nature and that action needed to be taken against this nuclear threat. John Gaddis suggested “it was the largest amphibious operation the Soviet Union had ever mounted”. When confronted Khrushchev claimed that it was a form of humanitarian aid and his intensions were “to save Castro’s revolution from another American invasion. Contrary to this is the opinion that the Soviet Union leader saw personal opportunity in the missile instalment as a means of amending the strategic imbalance between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was all part of the arms race and “the presence of Russian missiles in Cuba had drastically altered the balance of world power“ . Having said this, Khrushchev did not want to start a war and allegedly stated of the Americans “Every idiot can start a war but it is impossible to win this war…therefore the missiles have one purpose- to scare them“. Whether motive for Cuban protection or self gain, the tension between the Americans and the Soviet Union worsened and Kennedy recognised that something would have to be done.
This takes us into the next stage as described by Quighey- recognition. Kennedy was well aware that action needed to be taken to resolve the growing conflict between the two superpowers but was unsure as to whether to take the diplomatic or military route of resolution. John Gaddis claims that “early critics went as far as to say that he (Kennedy) would have risked a nuclear...
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