Unmasking the Puzzle of Who “won” the Cuban Missile Crisis
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, both the U.S. leaders and the Soviet Union leaders were involved in a 13-day political and military impasse in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba. President John Kennedy notified Americans of the missiles and emphasized that his government was ready to employ military force to neutralize this seeming threat to its national security. Following this declaration, a lot of people were in fear that nuclear war was almost unavoidable. However, this possible nuclear war was mitigated when the U.S. gave in to the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s offer to remove the missiles and in return have the U.S. vacate the Cuban territories. Apart from assenting to this agreement, President Kennedy also secretly agreed to have the U.S. missiles removed from Turkey (History.com Editors). Following the U.S. avoidance of the perceived national security threat, preservation of the complexion of the nuclear rivalry that saw the country dominate over USSR, coincidence of nothing by giving in to Khrushchev’s demands, it would be justified to proclaim that the U.S. emerged strong during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The installation of the nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba was a new threat to the U.S national security. As Sechser & Fuhrmann (200) posit, the Soviet Union started installing nuclear weapons including medium-range R-12 missiles and intermediate-range R-14 missiles into Cuba in September 1962. In mid-October, an American spy plane captured photos of missile sites under construction on the island. After learning of these deployments, President Kennedy seemed to be puzzled by Khrushchev’s possible intentions. It was apparent that Khrushchev intentions were not only to defend Cuba’s Fidel Castro’s Regime but also to supplement the Soviet capacity to hit the U.S. mainland. Notably, missiles were installed just 90 miles from the U.S. shores. As a result, the U.S. felt vulnerable with these missiles based on a neighboring country and in striking range of almost all its cities.
On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy explained in a T.V. address that these missiles posed a threat to the country’s national security. Besides, he clarified his decision to enact a naval barrier around Cuba to neutralize this perceived threat (History.com Editors). Following Kennedy’s address, the majority of the Americans felt that nuclear war was inevitable. As Sechser & Fuhrmann (201) assert, Kennedy had already warned Khrushchev that “the gravest issues would arise” if Russia introduced bases or ballistic missiles in Cuba. Although Kennedy had the option of launching air strikes against the missile construction sites, he decided to come into terms with Khrushchev that would see the Soviets remove the missiles in exchange that the U.S. would not invade the Island. Unmistakably, the U.S. won by giving in to Khrushchev's demands. Notably, the majority of its people were threatened by the missiles since they were in close striking range of the majority of its cities.
The U.S. also preserved the complexion of the nuclear rivalry that it had dominated before the installation of the Cuban missiles. As previously noted, these missiles were installed very close to the U.S. mainland, approximately 90 miles south of Florida (History.com Editors). From these installation sites, the missiles could go as far as the eastern U.S. If these missile sites were to be operational, then they could have altered the complexion of the nuclear rivalry between the U.S. and the USSR that had at that point been dominated by the Americans (History.com Editors). Therefore, by giving in to Khrushchev’s demands, the U.S. not only avoided the breach of its national security but also dominated against the USSR in regards to nuclear superiority.
The U.S. did not lose anything by agreeing not to attack Cuba and to remove its missiles from Turkey. Instead, the U.S. was able to dissociate Khrushchev from his primary objectives. As stated by Sechser & Fuhrmann (200), Khrushchev’s motives were to defend Castro’s regime, supplement the Soviet’s capacity to hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear missiles and to gain an advantage in Berlin after he had failed to eject American forces from the city from 1958 to 1961. Notably, Khrushchev succeeded in his motive to defend Cuba from the U.S. aggression by having the U.S. promise not to invade Cuba. He also succeeded in getting the U.S. to remove its missiles from Turkey. However, he failed to accomplish his motive to hit the U.S. mainland. Undoubtedly, the U.S. understood the significance of protecting its people from dangerous attacks. Thus, its act to give in to Khrushchev’s demands should not be mistaken to mean that it was a weaker side. Instead, the country understood that it could lose nothing either by removing its missiles from Turkey or promising not to attack Cuba. In the end, the U.S. succeeded in protecting lives that could have been lost if the country was to engage in a nuclear war.
It also appears that Khrushchev conceded to the U.S. demands more than the U.S. yielded to his demands. According to Sechser & Fuhrmann (202-203), there are several indications that Khrushchev was willing to give in to the U.S. demands to avoid the imminent nuclear war. When explaining the need to withdraw missiles from Cuba, Khrushchev admitted that the Soviet was willing to retreat to save the entire human race. He also justified his actions to remove the missiles by noting that the presence of the missiles provoked the U.S. (Sechser & Fuhrmann 203). Thus, the Soviet did not remove missiles from Cuba because they were willing to do so. Instead, they had no other option other than escaping from the U.S. that was provoked by these missiles. Thus, the U.S. won during the crisis.