It was the era of the Cold War when there was a struggle for influence between the world’s two largest powers, the Soviet Union and the United States, a state based on communist ideology. Both the powers had aligned their allies for which every strategy including economic and defense cooperation was being used.
During this period, a crisis arose after which the world was threatened by the collision of these two nuclear powers. This crisis is remembered in history as ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’.
The crisis began when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to install nuclear missiles in Cuba on May 21, 1962.
After the 1959 revolution in Cuba, a socialist government was established under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Due to ideological commitment, Castro decided to go to the camp of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Cuba was an important ally for the Soviet Union due to its geographical proximity to the United States. While after Castro assumed power, he started to increase his dependence on the Soviet Union from a military and economic point of view.
The Soviet Union was already looking for an opportunity to avert the threat of nuclear weapons being found against it in Western Europe. He feared that the United States might bring nuclear weapons to Turkey, its NATO ally.
Turkey shared the longest border in Europe with the Soviet Union. Therefore, the head of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev, decided to install nuclear missiles in Cuba to prevent any possible threat.
America decided to react strongly to this decision. On September 4, 1962, President John F. Kennedy warned that the Soviet Union would suffer “serious consequences” if missiles were installed in Cuba.
After this announcement, the United States began to monitor the intentions of the Soviet Union. On October 14, 1962, details received by an American spy plane U-2 confirmed that the Soviet Union had installed a missile in Cuba.
These missiles were installed only 145 kilometers from the US state of Florida, which meant that many northeastern cities of the United States were on the target of these missiles of the Soviet Union carrying nuclear weapons.
Those 13 Days
The conflict started after the confirmation of the installation of missiles by the Soviet Union in Cuba, which raised the threat of nuclear war between Russia and the United States.
In this conflict, US President Kennedy and Soviet leader Khrushchev were face to face. Kennedy, with a spot-face, was quietly but firmly informing the world of the dire consequences of the crisis, while Khrushchev continued to use fiery rhetoric.
A briefing was given to President Kennedy on October 16 with the details and photographs collected of the spy plane. Two possible courses of action were put before them, one of which was a blockade of the shipping lanes and the other a direct attack.
The United States increased secret surveillance after the crisis began. The day after the briefing to President Kennedy, further information was received from another U-2 aircraft. It marked the installation of more missiles. This time, 16 to 32 missiles were reported to be deployed.
As soon as this information was received, the units of the US Army began to move to the southeastern bases. Tensions were rising and the clouds of war were deepening
Encirclement of Cuba
In such a tense environment, both verbal and practical messages are equally important. Sometimes weapons make diplomacy effective, sometimes diplomacy is used as a weapon.
President Kennedy had decided to advance on both these fronts. He wrote a letter to the Soviet Union on October 22. In the text of the letter, Khrushchev was informed in diplomatic terms of the consequences of this crisis.
Addressing Khrushchev, President Kennedy wrote: “I do not think that you, or any other person of common sense, in this age of nuclear weapons, would knowingly push the world into a war that the light of day has brought.” It is clear that no country will be able to win this war. The devastating consequences of this war will have to be borne by the whole world as well as by the side that will start it.
That same evening, in a televised address, President Kennedy issued orders for a naval blockade of Cuba and arrangements to land planes there. This advance made it clear that the temperature of the atmosphere will increase further.
At the same time, the important regional organization “Organization of American States” also announced the support of American actions. While the next day, the US Navy fleet started moving towards Cuba for the naval blockade.
In response, Russia also deployed four of its nuclear submarines while halting the movement of its fleet carrying munitions to Cuba.
In response to President Kennedy’s letter, Khrushchev expressed anger at the decision to impose a naval blockade of Cuba, writing: “You are not appealing for understanding, but trying to intimidate us.”
At the same time, the Soviet Union also alerted the forces of its defense alliance established with the Commonwealth of Central and Eastern Europe under the Warsaw Pact.
A statement by the Cuban leader Fidel Castro added to the tension of the situation. Speaking at an event, he urged Khrushchev to launch a nuclear attack on America.
Along with the sharp statements and military actions, there was also a series of diplomatic maneuvers. In a letter to President Kennedy, Khrushchev wrote that the Soviet Union was ready to withdraw its missiles and military personnel if the United States gave assurances that it would not attack Cuba.
The spy plane was shot down
The day after this contact, the U.S. spy plane flying over Cuba was targeted. The pilot of the crashed American plane was killed, the only casualty in the crisis.
After that, Khrushchev wrote another letter to President Kennedy in which he offered that if the United States removed its missiles installed in Turkey, the Soviet Union would also remove its missiles from Cuba. Kennedy promised to end the naval blockade of Cuba if the missiles were removed.
These diplomatic contacts eventually proved fruitful and on October 28, Khrushchev backed down. The Soviet Union removed its missiles from Cuba and the crisis was averted. Under a secret agreement, the United States also removed its Jupiter missiles from Turkey and on November 20, 1962, President Kennedy ended the naval blockade of Cuba.
After the crisis
The year after this crisis, a ‘hotline’ was established between the heads of state of the United States and the Soviet Union through telex. Earlier, both the chiefs used to communicate with the help of their ambassadors.
Before the missile crisis, in May 1962, Cuba seized the assets of several American companies. After that, President Kennedy imposed severe economic and trade sanctions on Cuba. The tension between the two countries was reduced due to the missile crisis.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War ended, but US diplomatic relations with Cuba remained severed. The relationship was restored in 2014, half a century after the crisis, when US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced the restoration of diplomatic relations.