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What Do We Know About Cuban Missile Crisis

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The Cuban Missile Crisis was a period of confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over the positioning of nuclear missiles in Cuba. This confrontation lasted thirteen days and was from October 15 to October 28 of 1962. During this time, the Soviet Union secretly placed nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba. When President John F. kennedy feared having a catastrophe occur, he made a proposal to the Soviet leaders asking them to withdraw their missiles and in return the United States promised that they would never invade Cuba. While this was happening, John F. Kennedy was President of the United States, having been elected in 1960 and Nikita Khrushchev assumed control of the Soviet Union in 1953 following the death of the previous leader Joseph Stalin.

By October 18th, the CIA had found yet more missile sites, providing the ExComm with new U-2 photos revealing construction of a launch site for the R-14, a more advanced, longer rane missile. Once these missiles became operable, more than 90 percent of the American population would be vulnerable to a nuclear strike from Cuba, as would the backbone of the American strategic deterrent. Discovery of these sites dramatically increased the scope of any air strike options. The chiefs now insisted that any military action should include the full set of military targets in Cuba, and felt that a follow-on invasion would be a practical necessity. But a military response began to look less and less appealing to many others. As the scope of the military option increased, so did the political costs as well. American intelligence had found no evidence of nuclear warheads in Cuba and during the crisis itself never confirmed that any were present.

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During the ExComm meeting on October 18, the options finally began to narrow to two: blockade or air strike. Most around the table at this meeting understood that an air strike would almost certainly have to be followed by an invasion; those who favored military action understood that a blocked would be imposed as a matter of course while military operations were under way. So the real choice that they had to make was whether they wanted to do a blockade alone, holding further military options in reserve while Khrushchev had a chance to agree to back down, or an attack without warning.

Llewellyn Thompson, one of the Kennedy administration top Soviet experts, joined the group for the discussion and immediately championed the blockade option. In his view, Khrushchev had deployed missiles to Cuba for the purpose of dealing them away, most likely for concessions on Berlin. In this he was mistake, but his conviction that he was right led him to stress the importance of giving Khrushchev an opportunity to negotiate. A sudden military strike would force Khrushchev to retaliate and in effect it would set off a sequence of actions and reactions that would be difficult to anticipate and control. Thompson was confident that the Soviets would not attempt to run the blockade, but he worried that it would not actually force cessation of work on the missile sites in Cuba. Those who leaned toward the blockade therefore tended to favor giving Khrushchev a limited window to comply with American demands to withdraw. The group spent a great deal of time considering the various prices Krushchev might demand in return for agreeing to withdraw missiles from Cuba, very quickly identifying American Jupiter missiles in turkey as one possible quid pro quo.

One of the issues they discussed about setting up a blockade was that it was technically an act of war. Some were not concerned with this, but Kennedy eventually came to worry about the optics of declaring war on Cuba or the Soviet Union. Kennedy did not understand how he could justify a blockade legally without technically entering a state of war. The question prompted a good deal of creative discussion. Rusk and Martin suggested securing authorization under the Rio treaty from the OAS, and later that night the State Department’s deputy legal adviser, Leonard Meeker, ingeniously suggested calling the blockade a “quarantine.”

After this discussion, Kennedy became very eager to come to a decision. He was still unsure about what he would do, but he did not want to draw out all of these events much longer. A mojority of Kennedy’s advisers, meeting on a Saturday morning officially as the entire national Security Council, had converged on the blockade option. But the question remained of what to do if the Soviets did not agree to dismantle the existing missile sites. On this, there was a huge disagreement. Many favored following u with an air strike if Khrushchev did not agree to withdraw the missiles within forty-eight or seventy-two hours. McNamara argued against the ultimatum and stressed the importance of being willing to negotiate. It was not McNamara, not Adlai Stevenson, who raised the possibility of withdrawing U.S. missiles from Turkey and Italy and possibly limiting the period of time in which the United States would remain in Guantanamo. Kennedy rejected to offer this type of missile trade ut kept an open mind about withdrawing the missiles from Turkey and Italy.

They ended up deciding on using the blockade as at least an opening move. With this, the discussion shifted to how they would carry out their plan and it focused on the mechanics and execution of it. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a period of confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. When President John F. kennedy feared having a catastrophe occur, he made a proposal to the Soviet leaders asking them to withdraw their missiles and in return the United States promised that they would never invade Cuba. In return, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to dismantle all Russian missiles based in Cuba and ship them back to the Soviet Union. This event was a very hostile and was a time in history where there were many debates on what to do, but in the end the United States made the right decision and stopped a further crisis from occurring.


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