Cuban Missile Crisis Essay

Submitted By chrisgarciaj
Words: 1065
Pages: 5

Chris Garcia
Cold War in Documents and Film

One Hell of a Gamble The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 brought the United States and the Soviet Union closer to nuclear war than perhaps any other incident in the Cold War (1946– 1991). The crisis began on October 14, 1962, when American U-2 spy planes flying over Cuba brought back photographs revealing that sites for medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles were under construction. The Cuban missiles posed a serious strategic problem for President John F. Kennedy because they were capable of hitting targets deep within United States territory. The missiles also posed a political dilemma for the president because of his campaign promises to contain Communism aggressively. Coming after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and with only weeks to go before the mid-term 1962 elections, Kennedy believed that American voters would see any decision that allowed offensive weapons to remain only ninety miles from U.S. soil as a sign of weakness. It is still uncertain why the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban leader Fidel Castro decided to install offensive missiles in Cuba. Some have speculated that the Communist leaders saw the missiles as a way to defend Cuba from another U.S. invasion. Others surmise that Khrushchev saw the missiles as a way to alter the strategic balance of power in the Cold War by creating the impression that the United States lacked the resolve to confront Communism. It also seems possible that the Soviet leader saw the missiles as diplomatic bargaining chips he could use to extract concessions from the United States on other sensitive Cold War issues. To address the threat posed to U.S. interests by the Cuban missiles, Kennedy convened an executive committee (EXCOMM) of the National Security Council. The EXCOMM consisted of thirteen advisers, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, CIA Director John McCone, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Special Counsel Theodore Sorensen. For twelve days beginning on October 16, the EXCOMM met in secret to plan the U.S. response. Almost from the beginning of deliberations, the EXCOMM concluded that the United States had to take some action that would remove the missiles from Cuba. Among the proposals discussed was a preemptive air strike to destroy the missile bases before they became operational. Kennedy rejected this plan when the U.S. Air Force could not guarantee that all missile sites would be destroyed. The EXCOMM also discussed a land invasion of Cuba that would both destroy all offensive weapons and remove Castro from power. The president, worried that this strategy would provoke a Soviet retaliation against West Berlin or lead to general war, also rejected this plan. In the end, the EXCOMM agreed to impose a "quarantine" of Cuba, blocking all shipments of weapons to Cuba. Kennedy believed that this option would demonstrate the U.S. resolve to prevent the missiles from becoming operational and would also provide time for a diplomatic solution to be found. The quarantine of Cuba began on the morning of October 22. Later that evening, in a televised address, Kennedy revealed to the American people for the first time the existence of the Cuban missiles and the plan for their removal. For the next several days Cold War tensions reached their zenith as the world waited for the Soviet response. The first part of that answer came two days later when the first Soviet ships bound for Cuba reversed course to avoid the U.S. blockade. On October 26 Khrushchev sent two cable messages to Kennedy that provided the second part of the Soviet response. In the first message the Soviet leader offered to remove the missiles in return for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba. Before the president could respond, a second, tougher cable arrived. In it Khrushchev demanded