- The Cuban Missile Crisis involved the two superpowers of the time – the Soviet Union and the United States. Any conflict between them was likely to involve the rest of the word, affecting every country that was allied to either of them. Since both countries were threatening the other to invade with missiles, people feared the coming of a Third World War, a much more devastating war than the previous two, because it would be a nuclear war. People dreaded this war, because they knew that millions would die in a matter of minutes. For instance, the USSR had placed short-range missiles in Cuba that would kill 80 million Americans within five minutes. Although neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev seemed to want a war, it seemed a real possibility that if there was one, it would be a catastrophe. Any tiny misunderstanding or mistake, or even a poor decision, could trigger it.
- The Cuban Missile Crisis mainly concerned the Soviet Union and the United States. Their leaders, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, might have felt forced to do what was best for their country. In Kennedy’s case, the Americans wanted to get rid of the missiles and, if possible, get rid of Fidel Castro and eliminate Communism from Cuba. Khrushchev and the Soviets wanted to test the USA and prove that the USSR was stronger, but he also wished other countries to feel attracted to socialism.
Kennedy was able to act responsibly and sensibly, although in some occasions he showed how weak he was. First of all, he tried to ignore the advice he received from the army, navy and air force commanders, telling him to invade Cuba, because he knew what the Soviet Union would do if he attacked. Therefore, he delayed war as much as possible, something very brave to do since doing this might have given the impression that the country was not ready or was not strong enough to invade. Kennedy’s decision of blockading was very wise because it was an intermediate point between invading and having peace discussion; it was neither very aggressive nor too passive. It was also a good idea to protect the Americans in case of war, by construction nuclear fallout shelters. However, the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion showed how reluctant the USA was to become involved in Cuba and how it unsuccessfully tried to remove Communism from the country; the shooting of the U-2 spy plane on Cuba also showed Kennedy’s weakness because he was expected to retaliate and he did not. Nevertheless, considering the seriousness of the situation and the dangers of war, Kennedy’s actions were quite good.
Khrushchev was in a more relaxed position than Kennedy; therefore he was able to be more aggressive and was not afraid of beginning a war. At the beginning he did not say he had placed missiles on Cuba, but then he admitted it. His attitude of waiting for Kennedy’s next move, particularly when he had to decide between invading, blockading, doing nothing or applying diplomatic pressures, enabled him to show that he would only go to war if Kennedy decided to. Khrushchev took advantage of Kennedy’s insecurity and inexperience at the end of the crisis, by setting conditions to the removal of the missiles. This was an excellent strategy since he was able to start the peace discussions and, at the same time, squeeze everything he could out of the USA (by making them remove their missiles on Turkey). However, after the second letter he sent to Kennedy, he was forced to back down since Kennedy had promised to do everything he had asked for and he threatened him to attack if the Soviet Union did not withdraw.
Both leaders achieved part of their objectives. The missiles were withdrawn from Cuba and the USSR was able to keep a Communist Cuba right next to the United States. However, Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis better than Khrushchev, because, although he was insecure, he managed to face a very complicated situation which endangered the world’s future. Khrushchev also acted cleverly and was the first to talk about peace, but the fact that he never had to make any big decisions as Kennedy had, does not highlight his handling of the crisis.