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Cuban Missile Crisis: 1962.

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1 Cuban Missile Crisis: 1962

2 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.


4 Key Players: John F. Kennedy
Born 1917 Died November President of the USA between 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

5 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 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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 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.

9 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

10 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.

11 I think he [Khrushchev] did it because of the Bay of Pigs
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

12 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 , Kennedy warned the USSR that he would prevent ‘by any means might be necessary’ Cuba’s becoming an offensive military base (nuclear base).

13 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.

14 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.

15 Activity: To place or not to place?
Imagine that you are a Soviet advisor to Premier Nikita Khrushchev. While at his villa on the Black Sea coast, Khrushchev asks for your honest opinion of this idea: the Soviet Union should place nuclear missiles in Cuba. He wants you not to look at it from the perspective of Marxist ideology – he knows you are a loyal Communist! Consider the USSR’s strategic perspective: does this move make sense? Click on icon to access task

16 Why was the presence of missiles so intolerable to the USA?

17 The Actual Crisis: October 1962
On Sunday 14th October 1962, an American 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.

18 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.

19 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

20 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.

21 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

22 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

23 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.

24 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

25 Crisis Timeline Tuesday 16 October Saturday 20 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.’

26 Crisis Timeline Tuesday 23 October Wednesday 24 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

27 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.

28 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 plan 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.

29 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.’

30 The Outcome Cuba stayed Communist and highly armed. However, the nuclear missiles were withdrawn under United Nations supervision. Both leaders had emerged with something from the crisis. Kennedy had greatly improved his reputation both at home and throughout the west. He had stood up to Khrushchev and had made him back down. Khrushchev was also able to claim a personal triumph. Cuba remained a useful ally in ‘Uncle Sam’s backyard’. Historians agree that the Cuban Missile Crisis helped to thaw Cold War relations between the USA and USSR. Critics of the containment policy were silenced. Interventions were not worth the high risk.

31 Reflections of the Crisis
In [1961] 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

32 Reflections of the Crisis
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) 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)

33 Historiography - Kennedy
How effective was Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis? The Orthodox View This view argues that this was Kennedy’s finest hour, that he successfully used nuclear brinkmanship to preserve world peace. The writings of Robert Kennedy, Theodore C. Sorenson and Richard E. Neustadt all put forward arguments in support of this view: Kennedy was right to respond to the crisis in a firm and forceful way, as the missiles represented a Soviet threat to alter the balance of power either in actuality or in appearance. The idea of imposing a quarantine (blockade) exerted maximum pressure on the Soviet Union while incurring the minimum risk of war. Kennedy himself always remained calm and in control of the situation. He resisted pressure for action from the military, he was statesmanlike and did not attempt to humiliate Khrushchev. The results of the crisis helped to preserve the balance of power and world peace.

34 Historiography - Kennedy
The Revisionist View This view stresses that Kennedy unnecessarily raised the Cuban episode to the level of crisis and confrontation and thus subjected the world to the danger of nuclear war. Roger Hagman, David Horowitz and I.F. Stone put forward arguments in support of this view: The missiles did not affect the nuclear balance and the USA was under no great threat. This was rather a political problem that could have been resolved by political means. The imposition of the blockade and the fact that Kennedy made the crisis public turned it into an unnecessarily dangerous situation. Kennedy was only interested in personal and national prestige. The forthcoming November elections meant that the President wanted the situation solved quickly, so he could not wait for lengthy negotiations. The aftermath of the crisis was not victory by arrogance, which led to the United States to increase its activity in Vietnam.

35 Historiography - Kennedy
“What if the Russians had refused to back down and remove their missiles from Cuba? What if they had called our bluff and war had begun, and escalated? How would the historians of mankind, if a fragment survived, have regarded the events of October?...Since this is the kind of bluff that can easily be played once too often, and that his successors may feel urged to imitate, it would be well to think it over carefully before canonising Kennedy as an apostle of peace” I.F. Stone (on Kennedy after his assassination)

36 Historiography - Kennedy
New Interpretations

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