JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban missile crisis was the gravest “clash” for the duration of the cold war, the Soviet Union and the United Sates of America came dangerously close to dreadful confrontation when the USSR in an extraordinary hazardous move had begun concealed effort to establish a chief offensive military presence in Cuba in 19621. This potentially outrageous move by the Soviet’s brought the policy makers of both countries to a seriously question their use of military force and diplomacy.
The crisis was a significant event of the cold war which prolonged the hostility period between the Soviet Union the United States. Being the gravest situation encountered by both countries, then had it received a poor handling from the two countries then it could have resulted in a nuclear war. The seeming unavoidability of nuclear war led to a number of demonstrations outside the US embassy in London.
After receiving the photographs showing the USSR nuclear missile installations in western Cuba in 1962, the course of JF Kennedy’s presidency changed. Although the US were not sure of the USSR’s intentions, it was clear that it was an act of provocation and attempt by the Soviet Union to shift the power balance in the west2. According to the intelligence report, the missiles would be ready to launch in few weeks time, which meant that the US had a limited time to formulate the right course of action. Allowing the USSR to install the nuclear weapons near their country would likely encourage the soviet’s aggression elsewhere; JFK had to act wisely and decisively.
During this period, Kennedy faced both his greatest test and his greatest opportunity as the US president to stand up to the USSR premier Nikita Khrushchev and affirm the US strength in a major confrontation in the cold war3. Consequently, JFK and his top advisers met in the white house to agree on the best course of action. The assembled group of advisors assembled by Kennedy came to be called the ExComm (Executive Committee of National Security Council. The ExComm included JFK’s brother, the Attorney general Robert Kennedy, White House counsel Theodore Sorensen, the regular participants in the Security Council meetings and other advisors who worked under the administration of former presidents Eisenhower and Truman4.
The ExComm made quick discussions and came up with possible actions to be taken, including:
1. Taking no action.
2. Engage diplomatic pressure to force the Soviets remove the missiles
3. To use the Air Force in bombing all the nuclear sites.
4. To write a message to Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro warning him of the dangers they were in.
5. To Navy to block the ships carrying the missiles to Cuba.
6. Invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro.
During the discussions, the committee had to put into consideration how Cuba and USSR will react to the decisions made by the US. After the first meeting, the committee collectively agreed that the only solution was to invade Cuba because they believed that USSR would not attempt to stop the invasion. The president’s aggressive advisors thought the military action was the suitable course of action. However, Kennedy was skeptical with this move because the move could have led to military retaliatory from the soviets thus ending up in a third world war. Having in mind the CIA’s poor advice before the Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy decided to wait and called for other meetings5.
After a series of meetings, the majority of the ExComm members began to favor the imposition of naval blockade. JFK supported the use of naval blockade because it was a strong but limited course of action that left the United States in control6. According to the international laws, quarantine is an act of war however Kennedy and his administration thought that the Soviet Union will not be provoked to show aggression by mere blockade.
The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Anderson wrote a paper that helped President Kennedy to distinguish between blockade of all materials and quarantine of offensive weapons, giving an indication that their original intention was not a classic blockade. Since the blockade was to take place in international waters, J.F. Kennedy acquired approval for military action from the OAS under the Rio Treaty hemispheric defense provisions. President Kennedy made an announcement about naval blockade around Cuba on 22nd October 1962 stating that the blockade would prevent the Soviets from delivering missiles to Cuba7.
Additionally, Kennedy pledged that the US would retaliate if USSR fired even one missile from Cuba towards any western hemisphere country. Following a series of negotiations, Kennedy made a demand that the Soviets to dismantle all missile installations in Cuba. Accordingly, Nikita Khrushchev agreed to dismantle and remove the missiles from Cuba bringing the crisis to an end8.
The Cuban missile crisis became the watershed event in the cold war in terms of both the military and policy strategy. The ending of the crisis gave a good example of crisis management model because of the handling of the crisis by President Kennedy and his officials at the highest level. In this case, the problem required cooperation because the situation both the US and the USSR had more to lose than to gain9. The merger of military action and politics marked the start of a new era where the use of force in resolving conflicts was no longer deemed to be the most suitable option. The end of the crisis gave rise to a new nexus between diplomatic maneuvers and military strategy. In conclusion, the period marked the thawing of the cold war and both decided to retreat leading to the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 by the USSR, the US and Britain10.
Fleming, Fergus. The Cuban Missile Crisis: To the Brink of World War III. New York:
May, Ernest and Zelikow, Philip. The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban
Missile Crisis. Washington: Norton, 2002.
Medina, Loreta. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Pennsylvania: Greenhaven Press, 2002.
Nathan, James. Anatomy of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Michigan: Greenwood Press, 2001.
Scheir, Helga and McKeown, Timothy. The Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: ABDO, 2008.