Cuban Missile Crisis


The roots of many contemporary problems of international politics and foreign relations lie in the postwar reconstruction of the world. There was an irreconcilable struggle in all areas of confrontation during the Cold War. The USA and the USSR tried to surpass each other in the development of nuclear capability, despite the worldwide efforts in reaching an atmosphere of detente and a certain equilibrium in the balance of nuclear arms. Fortunately, the Cold War did not lead to a rupture of diplomatic relations or a direct confrontation of the armed forces between the opposing military and political blocs. However, it brought the world to the brink of a global catastrophe one day. A sharp deterioration in relations between the USSR and the U.S. on October 1962 led to what has come to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cuban Missile Crisis had far-reaching implications for both superpowers as well as the world politics.

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The Course of the Crisis

Speaking of the Cold War, the American historian Arthur Meier Schlesinger once wrote that, It was the product not of a decision but of a dilemma. Each side felt compelled to adopt policies which the other could not but regard as a threat to the principles of the peace. Each then felt compelled to undertake defensive measures. Schlesinger meant that the transformation of the U.S. and the Soviet Union into superpowers led to the emergence of sharp disagreements between them concerning the postwar world. Thus, the intensification of the struggle for spheres of influence was a prerequisite of the Cold War. Another reason for the postwar tension between the Western Bloc and the Eastern Block was laying down the foundation for the Soviet model of totalitarian society in Eastern Europe and the U.S. opposition to the spread of communism in the world. Eventually, the tensions between the United States and the USSR led to crises and open military confrontation. The crisis was among the most striking manifestations of the Cold War.

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The starting point of the crisis was the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The revolution toppled the Batista regime and brought the representative of the pro-communist forces Fidel Castro to power. The U.S.-Cuban relations deteriorated sharply from that point on. In January 1961, the U.S. finally severed diplomatic relations with the Cuban State. This was followed by the unsuccessful landing of anti-Castro Cuban exiles armed groups to the Cuban territory in April of the same year. These conditions prompted Fidel Castro to seek assistance from the USSR.

The Soviet leadership decided to place medium-range missiles and Il-28 Beagle nuclear-capable jet bombers on Cuba secretly, considering that the Cuban island is 90 miles south of the United States. This decision, taken at a meeting of the Soviet Defense Council on 21 May 1962, was in the interests of both sides. Cuba received reliable protection from any aggression by the US and the Soviet military leadership reduced the flight time of its missiles to the U.S. territory. On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy imposed a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba and sent the US Navy warships to its coast. All Soviet ships to Cuba were inspected. The U.S. troops thereupon were put on alert in Europe. In turn, the armed forces of the Warsaw Pact, composed of the USSR and Soviet satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe, were also activated. A thirteen-day confrontation lasted from October 15 to October 28, 1962. The threat of a nuclear catastrophe in those days was relevant as never before.

Fortunately, the leaders of the superpowers John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev demonstrated statesmanship and managed to get in the way of overcoming the conflict by political means rather than military ones. The leaders of the U.S. and the USSR proved willing to reach compromises. The Soviet Union agreed to get the missiles off the Cuban territory in exchange for lifting the blockade and providing security guarantees for Cuba. It is how the crisis ended up.

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The Significance of the Crisis

The root causes of the Cuban missile crisis lay in the very logic of the Cold War and the rules of the zero-sum game. Each of the superpowers sought to use every opportunity to gain an advantage over the opponent in the geopolitical and geo-strategic sphere. In this context, the USSR and the U.S. tried to win over the Cuban liberation movement, which was turning into an increasingly influential factor in international life. It sought to develop their own approaches that did not fit well into a bipolar system and violated the existing division into spheres of influence. The United States considered the American continent its ancestral lands. The U.S. had become sensitive to the Soviet Unions attempts to gain a foothold in its backyard.

Soviet campaign concerning Cuba had both global and regional nature. The movement of Soviet military power to the Western Hemisphere could have changed the overall balance of forces, increasing the vulnerability of the United States considerably. In regional terms, support for revolutionary Cuba meant a challenge to the U.S. monopolistic influence on the American continent, reflecting the formation of the new international situation.

Nevertheless, the Cuban Missile Crises turned to be a very significant event for both superpowers. Lessons learned from the crisis determined the new direction of the U.S. and Soviet foreign policy. First, the United States continued to modernize the military and political doctrines to raise the threshold of a possible U.S.-Soviet nuclear conflict and to reduce the risk of unintentional clashes and escalation of regional conventional warfare with the participation of the great powers into a nuclear war. American experts introduced the concept of mutual assured destruction, which developed in the framework of Flexible Response strategy. The subsequent evolution of the concepts of strategic stability took place in the framework of the MAD paradigm. In 1968, the U.S. strategy of flexible response was the basis for the fourth strategic concept of NATO, which is known as The Strategic Concept for the Defense of the North Atlantic Area. This fact showed the great solidarity of the allies in the alliance with the United States.

Second, the U.S. and the USSR intensified negotiations on arms control, in particular, reductions of the anti-missile defense systems and other strategic arms. In fact, it was a practical embodiment of the MAD stability. Third, both superpowers had taken steps to enhance the technical capabilities for maintaining direct dialogue between the U.S. and the USSR in an emergency. A hotline between Washington and Moscow was set up on June 20, 1963. It allowed the leaders of both nations to communicate with each other at any moment. Thus, the basis of the US-Soviet rapprochement was laid. It continues to this day, but with some negative tendencies.

Finally, in July 1964, the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the OAS Member States raised the question of the aggressive actions of Cuba, which affected the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Venezuela and the existence of democratic institutions in that country (Herz). Under the U.S. pressure, there was made a decision that obliged the countries of Latin America to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba. The only country that opposed that decision was Mexica. The U.S. government actions were an attempt to maintain its influence in the Western Hemisphere, according to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. The Soviet-Cuban rapprochement and intensification of the left and democratic forces in the region demonstrated the need to find new methods of interaction between the United States and Latin America.


Thus, the Cuban Missile crisis was very significant for the USA as well as the USSR. The political changes that have taken place in the middle and second half of the 20th century led to rapid geopolitical changes in the world and the formation of a new world order. The latter was characterized by the political, economic and ideological confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers, namely the United States and the USSR. There was a real threat of a military conflict, the consequences of which could have been disastrous. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the edge of nuclear catastrophe for the first time, forcing the states to take a new look at the global issues and priorities. The lessons learned in a nuclear conflict off the coast of Cuba became the very starting point of the United States revision of its foreign policies. The political miscalculation, reckless actions, and incorrect assessment of the opponents intentions all this threatened irreparable catastrophe for all mankind. Undoubtedly, the most important lesson of the crisis was that the leaders of the two superpowers realized and felt the danger of balancing on the brink of nuclear war.

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