The Cuban Missile Crisis, was a 13-day confrontation in October 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Unionover Soviet ballistic missiles deployed in Cuba. It played out on television worldwide and was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.
In response to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, and the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey against the USSR with Moscow within range, Soviet leaderNikita Khrushchev decided to agree to Cuba’s request to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter future harassment of Cuba. An agreement was reached during a secret meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro in July and construction on a number of missile sites started later that summer.
An election was underway in the U.S. and the White House had denied Republican charges that it was ignoring dangerous Soviet missiles 90 miles from Florida
. These missile preparations were confirmed when an Air Force U-2 spy plane produced clear photographic evidence of medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missile facilities. The United States established a military blockade to prevent further missiles from entering Cuba. It announced that they would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba be dismantled and returned to the USSR.
After a period of tense negotiations an agreement was reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement never to invade Cuba without direct provocation. Secretly, the US also agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter MRBMs, which were deployed in Turkey and Italy against the Soviet Union but were not known to the public.
When all missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 20, 1962. The negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear, and direct communication line between Washington and Moscow. As a result, the Moscow–Washington hotline was established. A series of agreements sharply reduced U.S.-Soviet tensions for the following years.
Earlier actions by the United States
The United States was concerned about an expansion of Communism, and a Latin American country allying openly with the USSR was regarded as unacceptable, given the US-Soviet enmity since the end of World War II. Such an involvement would also directly defy the Monroe Doctrine, a United States policy which, while limiting the United States’ involvement with European colonies and European affairs, held that European powers ought not to have involvement with states in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States had been embarrassed publicly by the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961, which had been launched under President John F. Kennedy by CIA-trained forces of Cuban exiles. Afterward, former President Eisenhower told Kennedy that “the failure of the Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to do something that they would otherwise not do.” The half-hearted invasion left Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and his advisers with the impression that Kennedy was indecisive and, as one Soviet adviser wrote, “too young, intellectual, not prepared well for decision making in crisis situations … too intelligent and too weak.” US covert operations continued in 1961 with the unsuccessful Operation Mongoose.
In addition, Khrushchev’s impression of Kennedy’s weakness was confirmed by the President’s soft response during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, particularly the building of the Berlin Wall. Speaking to Soviet officials in the aftermath of the crisis, Khrushchev asserted, “I know for certain that Kennedy doesn’t have a strong background, nor, generally speaking, does he have the courage to stand up to a serious challenge.” He also told his son Sergei that on Cuba, Kennedy “would make a fuss, make more of a fuss, and then agree.”
In January 1962, General Edward Lansdale described plans to overthrow the Cuban Government in a top-secret report (partially declassified 1989), addressed to President Kennedy and officials involved with Operation Mongoose. CIA agents or “pathfinders” from the Special Activities Division were to be infiltrated into Cuba to carry out sabotage and organization, including radio broadcasts. In February 1962, the United States launched an embargo against Cuba, and Lansdale presented a 26-page, top-secret timetable for implementation of the overthrow of the Cuban Government, mandating that guerrilla operations begin in August and September, and in the first two weeks of October: “Open revolt and overthrow of the Communist regime.”
| United States
| Soviet Union
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|1 U-2 spy aircraft shot down
1 aircraft damaged