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Cuban Missile Crisis

Countries and Leaders involved:

Nikita Khrushchev - USSR ....................John F. Kennedy- The US............................Fidel Castro - Cuba
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*As the USA and the USSR grew as strong powerful countries after the Second World War, United Nations was also involved as the tensions between the two countries could have resulted in a war that could affect the rest of the world.

Summary of Crisis:

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation between the United States, Soviet Union, and Cuba. As an American U2 plane was flying over Cuba, they discovered eight missile launch pads being built on the edge of the Sierra del Rosario in west-central Cuba – the missiles were capable of carrying nuclear warheads for more than six hundred miles. In an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro and his government, the CIA trained Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs invasion. It was unsuccessful as the exiles were captured within three days by the Cuban military. Naval blockades were put to prevent military material from the Soviet Union to enter Cuba. On October 23, 1962 Khrushchev writes to US President Kennedy, stating that his actions are a world threat – this starts the series of secret meetings between the two countries. On October 28, 1962 The US agrees to remove their missiles from Turkey and the Soviets start to remove their missile bases in Cuba.

Background of conflict

Vienna Summit

At the Vienna Summit meeting in June 1961 held between Kennedy and Khrushchev, the soviet leader strongly advocated and defended the Cuban Revolution and his support of Castro’s regime. He believed that no country had the right to be involved in Cuba’s international affairs, unless it was to help instate Castro’s communist government. Khrushchev also reinstated Soviet policy supporting nationalist movements by defending Castro’s revolution in Cuba warning Kennedy that if the US were to invade Cuba, the Soviets would be at their defense. And by the end of this meeting, the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union in regard to Cuba were high.

Cuban Revolution

On January 1st 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s revolutionary government would then become the present Communist Party of Cuba. Throughout the revolution and Castro’s regime, many anti-communists or exiles fled to Cuba’s Las Villas provinces. The US, fearing communist influence in the western hemisphere, began training these exiles to overthrow Castro’s government. This mission, known as Operation Mongoose, was top secret. The counter-revolutionary rebels made several unsuccessful attempts, including the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion backed by the US. The Bay of pigs was a significant point in relations between the US and Cuba. It made rebels and communists all over Latin America look to Cuba as an example of a tiny country that could resist imperialism even when outgunned. This failure was an embarrassment for Kennedy. And since he took full responsibility for the mission, he lost much credibility; however, Kennedy refused to let this mistake happen again by making the Soviets think first of whether to place strategic missiles in Cuba.

Growing Hostility

Castro was becoming worried that any day the Americans could invade Cuba. This fear caused him to agree to Khrushchev’s plans of securing the Caribbean by putting missiles and other military weapons in Cuba. Both parties benefitted from this agreement since the Soviet Union, having a missile base close to the United States, could quickly launch missiles if there was a nuclear threat, while the small country of Cuba gets the protection of the 2nd largest superpower. And while all this was going on, the Russians launched Sputnik, the earth’s first artificial satellite. This scared America even though the USSR was still behind in nuclear development. But that didn’t stop Russia from growing a newfound confidence in the arms race.

Missile Bases Discovered

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It wasn’t until October 1962 that American U2 planes discovered missiles being installed in Cuba. Panic strikes Kennedy as he questions Cuba’s true intentions. This moment is regarded as the closest the Cold War ever came to becoming a nuclear conflict. It also marks the first documented threat of mutual assured destruction being discussed as a defining element in a major international arms agreement. Kennedy decides to act upon this by a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent military material from reaching the country.
Kennedy's Adress to the Nation - Response to Cuban Missiles

What caused this…

Fidel Castro was worried for his country’s safety from the Americans after nationalizing all American owned companies in Cuba. The Americans stopped buying sugar from Cuba – their economy went down. Soviets were eager to put their missiles in a location closer to America, so in exchange for missilebases to be built, the Soviets bought sugar and oil from Cuba; the economy of Cuba was rising once again. Some historians argue that the Crisis occurred because Khrushchev didn’t think that the newly elected President would do anything once discovering the weapons.


On 26 October 1962, Khrushchev, in a letter to Kennedy, offered to remove the Soviet missiles in Cuba in exchange for a pledge by the United States not to invade Cuba. Khrushchev at the same time blamed Kennedy for starting the conflict by unnecessarily intervening in Cuba’s internal affairs. He blamed Kennedy publicly so that the presence of Soviet missiles could be decriminalized. The next day, Khrushchev added the removal of US missiles in Turkey to his demands. Kennedy agreed to remove the blockade and give assurances against an American invasion of Cuba in exchange for the immediate removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba.


Although Khrushchev desperately needed to avoid war with the United States, he criticized the United States’ hypocrisy. The US intervened in other nations’ internal affairs to protect its own interests, but denied the Soviet Union that same right. Khrushchev guaranteed the sovereignty of Turkey and pledged not to invade Turkey, but demanded that the United States pledge not to invade Cuba, and remove American missiles in Turkey in exchange for the removal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Which makes it impossible to deny that the US were hypocritical towards the Soviet Union as they, just like the them, had missiles planted in another country.


In the end, Krushchev and Kennedy came to an understanding. Both pledged not to invade Turkey or Cuba and to remove missiles in both those areas. This eased tensions between the two countries which lead to the beginning of the period ‘detente.’


The Cuban Missile Crisis showed the superpowers that they had no option but to co-exist peacefully. It began the so-called period of 'dètente', which lasted until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. This period started with the introduction of a telephone hotline between the White House and the Kremlin, called 'IWIK', and the agreement that the USA would sell grain to the USSR. It also included a series of treaties, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which limited the amount of missile systems used in defending areas, and the two Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and II).

Cuba and US Relations Today

Cuba and US relations today have yet to be resolved. They have no formal diplomatic relations and embargo, which makes it illegal for US corporations to do business with Cuba, is still in effect. Embargo dates back to the nationalization of US corporations after Castro took power in the Cuban Revolution. The States have stated that they will continue it as long as the Cuban government refuses to become democratic and have greater respect for human rights. George W. Bush, who was greatly against Cuban politics, set up harsh travel restrictions of Americans to Cuba. He declared Cuba to be one of the few “outposts of tyranny” remaining in the world. Whereas the current president Obama who still is not willing to relinquish embargo until democratic system established, has eased travel restrictions as well as easing trade with Cuba.

Works Cited:

Chrisp, Peter. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac Library, 2002. Print.
Howarth, Tony. Twentieth Century History: The World since 1900. Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1979. Print.