In November 1962, the United States discovered an installation of Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) on the island of Cuba, just 90 miles from the coast of Florida. The Soviet Union, who hitherto was strategically inferior to the United States in nuclear capability, donated these missiles to Cuba. Moscow sought diplomatic goals aimed at weakening the US’s continued policy of containment of communism, including a withdrawal of US forces from Berlin, a guarantee that the US would not invade Cuba, and a removal of US missiles from Turkey. The instalment of IRBMs in Cuba strengthened Moscow’s bargaining power in negotiations with the United States. For the first time, the United States were threatened by a military capable of reaching far inside their borders with a potential capability for mass destruction. Unlike previous ground force encounters through history, this threat endangered their major political institutions, civilian population centres, and industrial structures. US president Kennedy was determined that the Soviet Union would not back him into a corner, and was left with no other option than to stand firm against the Soviet’s demands. In a time of mass public hysteria, there was no significant opposition to this stance. Kennedy could not compromise, at all costs, even if this meant risking a third world war.
Following the 1959 Cuban revolution, where the guerrilla forces led by Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed dictator Batista in Cuba, the United States showed determination to re-establish a capitalist-led regime. In a time of bipolar international politics, it was a degradation to capitalist dignity that there should be a communist regime just 90 miles from the coast of the world’s strongest capitalist power. Castro did not initially declared any alignment with Moscow. Indeed in April 1959, the Cuban leader even visited the United States to discuss financial aid for an their industrialization program . However the United States saw communism in any form as an enemy. In the time leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the CIA repeatedly endeavoured to displace Castro from power.
The attempts to overthrow Castro finally came to a head when, in blah 19blah, a CIA-backed force of 1500 men, mainly Cuban exiles, landed at the Bay of Pigs, undertaking to storm into Havana and drive out Castro’s regime. Within three days Castro’s army easily repelled this invasion. The CIA had tried to disguise returning planes landing in Florida as that of defected Cuban air force fighters, but without difficulty the press identified them as CIA planes. This invasion was clear confirmation of the US intent to overthrow Castro. Documents have since been released proving further attempts to undermine Castro, including failed assassination attempts , confirming the determination of the US to dispose of the leader. In 19XX, he formally aligned Cuba with Soviet communism.
When Cuba finally declared its alliance with the USSR in 19XX, this now gave the Soviets the perfect justification for using their comrades as a base for nuclear missiles.
If we are to understand why the United States were prepared to risk a third World War, we must first understand the significance of the threat they posed. Until the missiles were installed in Cuba, the United States clearly had the upper hand in terms of the strategic positioning of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Before 1961, 5 failed US attempts at launching ballistic missiles and one failed attempt at launching a satellite into space, had led to the media publicly announcing that the United States were falling back in the nuclear arms race. With the impending presidential election, Democratic candidate exploited the Republican failure to prevent Soviet superiority in the run up to the polls.
However in 1961, US spokesmen publicly announced their nuclear supremacy over the Soviets. Not only did they have an estimated 17 times more nuclear power than the Soviet Union , but they also had nuclear missile bases in Turkey, Italy, and the Federal Republic of Germany, all with their missiles pointed at the Soviet Union. The Soviets did not have the long-range nuclear capabilities of the United States, and so the oceans served as a natural protective shield. The strategic positioning of missiles in Cuba strengthened the Moscow’s bargaining power in negotiations with the United States.
The weapons alone were enough to create mass hysteria, but the fact that the US discovered them before the Soviet Union or Cuba declared their existence added greatly to suspicion concerning Moscow’s motives. Khruschev and Castro intended to publicly announce the existence of the missiles in November, after the United States congressional elections, but the fact that the United States had failed to prevent their instalment at the outset, further undermined American national security, pressurising the President to remain firm in his response. While it was officially declared that the missiles were placed in Cuba exclusively to prevent further invasions, few have since argued that there were no further underlying Soviet motives. Until now, the Soviet Union was clearly in no position to make political demands to a formidably stronger United States. With missiles now in a position to cause severe devastation to America, this now put the Soviet Union in good standing to negotiate over other issues.