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The Cuban Missile Crisis

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Introduction

Remembered as perhaps the most intense episode of the Cold War due to its nuclear threat, the Cuban Missile Crisis has been analyzed extensively by historians hoping to construct an accurate picture of its cause and development. The tight control exercised by both Soviet and American government agencies, however, has limited access to relevant documents, and thus inhibited any objective study of the crisis. Until only a few years ago, most of the world would have agreed with Arthur Schlesinger Jr.s' description of the event as a "brilliantly controlled"1 American victory- a paragon of US dedication, morale, and diplomatic skill. But as the National Security Archive has gradually opened access to key accounts, it has become apparent that what seemed so finely orchestrated was in fact wrought with "misinformation, miscalculation, and misjudgment."2 At the time, tensions were already running high due to the fierce military and psychological rivalry between superpowers, and problems within the Eastern and Western blocs themselves made it even easier to misinterpret political signals. Failures in intelligence and a general lack of central control further complicated the situation, fuelling the fires of mistrust that were already burning with the increased urgency that accompanies the prospect of nuclear war. From these revelations, we can conclude that initial assessments of the episode as a thirteen day affair are incorrect, that it was rather the result of long-term misunderstanding. And while deliberate deception did play a significant role in the development of the crisis, we must acknowledge that it was, for the most part, perpetuated by a combination of basic mistrust and political and military mishaps. ...read more.

Middle

By the end of 1959, Cuba had become a Russian client state, and a useful foothold for the Soviets in the western hemisphere. Despite the intense antagonism that existed between the Russians and the Americans, the US administration did not view the close relationship between Castro and Khrushchev with any real alarm. This was because they felt that while the Soviets wanted to undermine the American public image, they were not willing to take action that could precipitate nuclear war. Thus, Kennedy was reasonably sure that his warning to the Soviets not to deploy missiles in Cuba would be obeyed in the interests of the common goal of nuclear non-proliferation. It came as a shock, then, when U2 planes flying over Cuban territory showed that several missile sites were under construction. This greatly increased the American mistrust of the Soviets, and, as correspondence began to flow between Moscow and Washington, it became apparent that there was an inherent difference in the way that the two superpowers defined the Cuban problem. For instance, the Americans felt that they had a right to know what was happening in their part of the world, complaining that the Kremlin had given "repeated assurances of what (you were) not doing"7- in effect, that it had lied to them. The Soviets, on the other hand, asserted that they were "under no obligation to inform the U.S of any activities (they were) carrying on in a third country."8 This statement was probably only made to promote a sense of strength and independence, but it was, to the Americans, a sign that even the prospect of nuclear war could not deter the Soviets from their campaign of domination and expansion. ...read more.

Conclusion

protect their public image at home, and yet, at the same time, undermine the enemy's position; how to keep up in the arms race while avoiding nuclear war. These things, and may others ensured that any resolution of the crisis would have to offer a military quid pro quo which would diffuse the nuclear conflict without causing either superpower to lose face. The fact that Soviet and American officials still disagree about the details of the eventual agreement, however, shows that it was more the "(nuclear) restraint that was practiced and expected"17 that prevented the outbreak of war than any diplomatic feat. 1 Jonathan K. Reece "Revising the History of the Missile Crisis," pg. 34. 2 Robert McNamara as quoted in Jonathan K. Reece's "Revising the History of the Missile Crisis, pg. 34. 3 William R. Keych "The 20th Century World" pg. 304 4 William R. Keych "The 20th Century World" pg. 304 5 William R. Keych, op cit., pg. 316 6 William R. Keych, op cit. pg. 297 7 Letter from John F. Kennedy to N.S. Khrushchev of Nov. 6, 1962. 8 Soviet Ambassador Kusnetsov as quoted in letter from John F. Kennedy to N.S. Khrushchev of Nov. 6, 1962. 9 The President's Address, October 22,nd, 1962. 10 "Top Secret" document released to the US National Security Archives in January 1989. 11 Ibid. 12 Letter from John F. Kennedy to N.S. Khrushchev of Nov. 6, 1962 13 http://www.wilsoncenter.org/subsites/ccpdc/pubs/zart/Ch11.html 14 Eisenhower as quoted by Jonathan K. Reece, op cit. page 46. 15 http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/moment.html 16 Letter from John F. Kennedy, op cit. 17 http://wwww.wilsoncenter.org/subsites/ccpdc/pubs/zart/Ch.11.html ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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