Since 1960 the Soviet shad been supplying Castro with arms, and American intelligence knew about this. This pushed the relationship between the countries downhill, until in January 1961, the USA broke of all diplomatic relations with Cuba.
In April 1961 President John F. Kennedy supplied a group of anti-Castro exiles with arms in order to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. The 14,000 exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs and where annihilated by 20,000 Cuban troops with more modern weapons. The invasion failed miserably and in the Communists eyes showed Kennedy as a weak President who was not prepared to make a stand against them.
But what were the Soviets doing in Cuba anyway? Well, Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, as part of the Communist philosophy, wanted to spread his way of thinking around the globe. Also, if Khrushchev could manage to deploy nuclear missiles on Cuba it would be a huge deterrent to the use of the American missiles, which could destroy all major Soviet cities as they were positioned in nearby Turkey. The USSR were seriously behind in the arms race and at that time only had missiles that could only strike the west coast of America. However, although missile sites were already in Cuba, the big question was whether they would send nuclear weapons.
On the 14th October 1962, a spy plane spotted numerous missile launch sites on Cuba. These were immediately identified as nuclear and Russian. The shocking thing was that the coast of Florida was a mere 160km away from the nearest launch site at Gaunajay. Two days later President Kennedy was informed and immediately began to run through his options. He had a mere week to make a decision – the fate of the world was hanging in the balance.
He had a number of options:
The first was to do nothing as he still had vastly greater nuclear power than the USSR. The USA could still destroy the USSR so the Russians wouldn’t use their missiles. Also to over-react would be the biggest danger to world peace. However the USSR lied about missiles and he had already issued them a warning- to do nothing would show another sign of weakness.
A second option was to use an immediate air attack to destroy the nuclear bases. It would destroy the missiles before they were ready to use against the US but destruction of all the sites could not be guaranteed. Even if only one was left it could launch a devastating counter-attack. Also, the attack would kill Soviet soldiers which would enrage the USSR and possibly start an all-out war.
The most violent option was an all out invasion of Cuba by air and sea. This, unlike an air attack, would not only get rid of the missiles but also Castro and to make it viable the American army was ready to do this. However there would definitely be a Soviet response which could involve protecting Cuba or taking over Berlin.
The next was to get the UN or another body to intervene and negotiate: this would avoid conflict however if the USA was forced to back down it would be a sign of weakness.
The last option and the one Kennedy eventually chose to follow was to blockade Cuba. This would involve a ban on the USSR bringing any more military supplies into Cuba and calling for the Soviets to withdraw what was already there. The good side of this is that it would show the USA were serious and put pressure on Khrushchev and also the USA had a strong navy and could fall back on other options if necessary. But the down side would be that it would not solve the main problem as the missiles were already on Cuba and the Soviets might retaliate by blockading Berlin.
Finally 24th October at 8 o’clock, 20 ships approached the blockade line but turned around at the last second. Khrushchev had respected the blockade. Khrushchev agreed to remove missiles and Kennedy therefore removed blockade.
Due to the decisions made by Khrushchev and Kennedy crisis was averted. Kennedy stood his ground and forced Khrushchev to accept his terms. Although it was a risky strategy it paid off and dramatically changed the course of history: a nuclear war, and probably the destruction of the world, was prevented.