A Realist Analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis

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The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is undeniably a major confrontation of the Cold War. Lasting for 13 days it is arguably the pinnacle of the Cold War. This crisis was a decisive factor in the United States’ (US) decision process of whether to engage in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (USSR). However the essential fault of both state leaders (J. Kennedy and N. Khrushchev) which created the inevitable crisis was miscommunication. Today we recognise actions taken by both states during the crisis as consistent with a realist point of view. Realism holds great emphasise on the obstacles enforced by human nature and the non-attendance of an international government. Creating international politics an area focused on power and state-interest.

Realism consists of four focal propositions: the international system is anarchic; states are the most important actors; all states are unitary, rational actors; and the primary concern of states is survival. Through a realist analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it is clear that the actions of both states reflect these realist fundamentals.

The Cuban Missile Crisis greatly reflects the struggle of power between the United States and Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. Historical context of the crisis creates an understanding of how power was obtained, whilst the crisis itself fixates on the struggle to retain and gain power. Fidel Castro’s induction into power in 1959 was first supported by the US. Castro was not the normative corrupt Latin-American dictator of the times. However, his communist identity soon created ties with the Soviet Union and the threat of communism spread to Cuba, a state merely 90 miles from America. In accordance with the realist proposition that states pursue self-interest and relative-gain, America refused to cede its power of intervention. This unwillingness to cede power was their downfall. Castro became more economically nationalistic later in that same year. This eventually led to the nationalisation of all foreign owned property and businesses’ in Cuba, including Americas, further deteriorating US-Cuban relations. Whilst fear of communism continued, President Eisenhower’s answer to Castro’s actions was a strict trade sanction. White House press secretary James Hagerty issued this statement: “there is a limit to what the United States and self-respect can endure, that limit has now been reached…sympathies…to the people of Cuba who now live under…a dictator”. This statement conveys Eisenhower’s egotism and element of pride and personifies the offence which Cuba had inflicted on the US. Trade sanctions, which are still in effect today were imposed to maintain an upper hand. It left 95% of Cuban sugar buyer-less, driving Cuba directly into the arms of the communist Soviet Union.

Americas unawareness of the USSRs intentions and inability to communicate frankly, were partly to blame for the development of a security dilemma between the two superpowers. Americas failed attempt to remove Castro from power in the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 inevitably furthered the Soviet Union’s force in Latin America. Due to the United States actions and miscommunications, Soviet-nuclear testing restarted in 1961. This was closely challenged by an American nuclear test, and rapid accumulation of military support in order to safe guard the United States interests; With the constant production of nuclear weapons by both superpowers, the need to one-up each other in order to tip the balance of power in each states favour increased. This eventually led to President Khrushchev decision to construct nuclear-capable launch sites in Cuba as a check on American power. An argument can be made as to whether Khrushchev’s actions were necessary for the protection of state or whether the motivator was his personal campaign to accumulate power. As suggested by Morgenthau, there is “a tragic presence of evil in all political actions” (Morgenthau 1946: 203), therefore, given...
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