There has never been a time period when the world was as close to a third world war or nuclear war as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For years, the United States had enjoyed a nuclear site based in Turkey without problems. However, the Soviet Union tried to set up a similar site in Cuba and what was caused afterwards is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The USSR made use of Operation Anadyr and tried to limit the United States knowledge of it. However, it was not long until the United States knew what was happening and President Kennedy was faced with a few options over what he should do to end the crisis.
The USSR’s Operation Anadyr was an attempt at setting up a nuclear site in Cuba without the United States finding out. The Soviet Union was so keen on keeping the United States oblivious that they created a “code name for the deployment, a label chosen primarily for its deceptive value.” (Crisis 33) The operation “called for the deployment of approximately 50,000 Soviet soldiers, sailors, and airmen.” (Crisis 34) Russia sent many nuclear weapons to Cuba including “strategic nuclear weapons,” “ground forces”, “air and air defense forces”, and “coastal defense forces.” (Crisis 35-36)Out of the “strategic nuclear weapons”, there were “36 R-12 MRBMs in 3 regiments of twelve, each regiment had eight launchers” and “24 R-14 IRBMs in two regiments of twelve with a total of sixteen launchers.”(Crisis 35)Out of the “ground forces” at hand were “four reinforced motorized rifle regiments, each of which had approximately 3,500 soldiers, for a total of 14,000” and “36 Luna short-range rockets, nine per motorized rifle regiment.”(Crisis 36)In the “air and air defense forces” in attendance were “42 Il-28 jet light bombers”, “40 MiG-21 fighters”, and “72 V-75 launchers, with a total of 144 antiaircraft missiles.” (Crisis 36)And finally in the “coastal defense forces” present were the “80 FKR-1 cruise missiles in two regiment with eight launchers each, five missiles per launcher”, “32 S-2 “Sopka” cruise missiles at four fixed sites, with two launchers each,” and “12 Komar patrol boats, each with two launchers for conventionally armed missiles with a 25-mile range.” (Crisis 36-37)
The deployment was carried out with very precise detail to ensure precision as well as make certain that the United States did not pick up anything about the Soviet’s plan to locate a nuclear site on Cuba. Many “arrangements also had to be made concerning the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of both Cuba and the Soviet Union now that the two countries were embarking on such an unprecedentedly bold and far-reaching project in military cooperation.” (Crisis 38)To discuss matters further, “Raúl Castro traveled to Moscow in early July to negotiate a formal treaty.” (38)When Raúl returned to Cuba, he brought back a document for “Fidel’s approval [that] gave the Soviet Union control over the weapons and personnel deployed to Cuba.” (Crisis 38)However, it seemed that Khrushchev was rather antsy and “by the middle of July [the Soviet Union] began shipping men and equipment” across the Atlantic Ocean and into Cuba. (Crisis 38)The first ship, “the Marie Ulyanov arrived in the port of Cabañas on July 26. All of the deployments “took place under a painstaking veil of secrecy.” (Crisis 38) The Soviet Union positioned all of their energy and vitality to keep the entire operation top-secret and the sailors and other recruits “were not permitted to communicate with the outside world once loading began” of the ships. (Crisis 40) Even the “captains of the ships [did] not discover their destinations until well out at sea, where they were instructed to open sealed envelopes in the presence of political officers.” (Crisis 40)Even “at sea, Soviet soldiers were not allowed out on deck during daylight [hours] and had to suffer brutally hot and cramped conditions inside.” (Crisis 40) The “workers unloaded ships as quickly as possible” to avoid detection from the United States. (Crisis 46)
Although “[Gribkov] literally spent weeks writing and rewriting plans and orders by hand” and “[trying] to anticipate every possible security flaw”, he was still unsuccessful in his endeavor to understand the United States and President Kennedy. (Crisis 33) The Soviet Union’s head officials were obsessed with the thought of the United States finding out what was happening, so “to prevent premature discovery of the deployment and to defend against American air attack and invasion” the Soviet Union sent “jet fighters and surface-to-air missiles” to Cuba. (Crisis 34)However, “despite the intensive planning effort, to some extent the Soviets made things up as they went along or did things for the sake of speed that made little military sense.” (Crisis 34)The citizens in Cuba began to know the situation as “Operation Checkered Shirt.” (Crisis 40)Soon after the deployment began, “American intelligence noticed the dramatic spike in shipping traffic right away and strove to discern its meaning.” (Crisis 41)On the other hand, “the Soviets were trying to complete the deployment undetected,” (Crisis 43) The Soviet Union and Cuba, did not know that the United States was beginning to become aware of roughly what was happening between the two countries. To analyze what was happening, government officials “turned to all three of its principal sources of information: photo intelligence (PHOTINT), supplied primarily by aerial reconnaissance; human intelligence (HUMINT), supplied primarily by Cuban refugees and allied intelligence services in places where the movements of Soviet ships could easily be observed as they passed through narrow channels; and signals intelligence (SIGINT), which relied primarily on the interception and if necessary the decryption of Soviet radio traffic.” (Crisis 41)Out of all of these sources, none was more reliable than photography. “U-2 photographs would ultimately provide the first hard proof of nuclear missile deployments in Cuba, but not until October 15.” (Crisis 42)Even with the Soviet Union trying to hide everything “the shrouds were so perfectly well fitted that their dimensions gave away what they were hiding when photographed from above.” (Crisis 43)After a while, the foreigners seemed to get lazy and left out “various specialized pieces of supporting equipment, such as missile fueling truckers [which] were parked in open fields.” (Crisis 43)
Very few people knew how President Kennedy first responded to the news, because he kept attending to his campaigning. McGeorge Bundy was the man that had to break the news to the president.”The president was not easily rattled, but Bundy could see a wave of disbelief, shock, anger, and fear wash over him in the brief moment it took him to react.The president immediately asked Bundy to assemble a select group to advise him on an American response.” (Crisis 49)After receiving yet more pictures of the up and coming nuclear sites, “[Kennedy] decided that he should start sending signals that he would not tolerate [nuclear weapons if the Soviet Union placed them in Cuba].” (Crisis 43)It was “Kennedy’s decision to make deterrent threats” to the Soviet Union. (Crisis 43)It was obvious that “Kennedy clearly hoped his words and deeds would convince Americans that he was on top of the problem.” (Crisis 44)Yet, “Kennedy soon began issuing orders just in case he needed military options.”(Crisis 49)”Khrushchev suddenly sensed danger” and wandered if “he had made a terrible mistake.” (Crisis 46)
The people Bundy assembled soon “[became] known as the “ExComm”, or the Executive Committee of the National Security Council.” (Crisis 49)The committee gathered together to discuss the possible options that President Kennedy had available to him. “One option-“do nothing”-they more or less ruled out at the beginning.” (Crisis 53)President Kennedy was upset and angry over the whole ordeal, so “the only nonviolent option Kennedy entertained on the morning of October 16 was a blockade, which he felt would be too easy for the Soviets to circumvent.” (Crisis 52) “It was fortunate for the ExComm that the options being considered did not, in fact, come out of thin air.” (Crisis 53) After little time “the options finally began to narrow to two: blockade or air strike.” (Crisis 55)The idea of a blockade also “tended to favor giving Khrushchev a limited window to comply with American demands to withdraw” the nuclear weapons and the Soviet civilians.” (Crisis 56)However, there were two major problems with a blockade. First of all, “one of the difficulties with a blockade was that it was technically an act of war” and “there were lingering doubts about the effectiveness of a blockade.” (Crisis 58)The other option was an air strike. “The chiefs thought that the minimum requirement was a massive air strike against the full set of military targets in Cuba.” (Crisis 52)However, there were three major problems with an air strike. First of all, “Chairman of the JCS General Maxwell Taylor candidly stated that an air strike would “never be 100 percent” effective.” (Crisis 52)Secondly, “a sudden military strike would, in effect, force Khrushchev to retaliate, setting in train a sequence of actions and reactions that would be difficult to anticipate and control.” (Crisis 56)And third, “he found the chiefs eager to mount the large air strike but divided on the utility of invasion.” (Crisis 58) “So the real choice was between a blockade alone, holding further military options in reserve while Khrushchev had a chance to agree to back down, or an attack without warning.” (Crisis 56)President Kennedy “was still unsure about what he would do, but he did not want things to drag out much longer.” (Crisis 56) President Kennedy was away in Cleveland and Chicago so he asked his brother, Bobby, to inform him what was decided. “During the course of the day on Friday, Bobby actually came to favor the blockade as the initial step, and the blockade option came out on top. A majority of Kennedy’s advisers, meeting on Saturday morning officially as the entire National Security Council, had converged on the blockade option.” (58) The blockade was unquestionably the future “opening move”. (Crisis 59)To prevent any problems with other countries, “the blockade would be labeled a “quarantine,” and the White House would seek legal cover by securing authorization from the OAS.” (Crisis 59)Before Kennedy made the final call he talked with General Walter C. Sweeney about the possibility of an air strike. “Sweeney told him frankly there could be no guarantee that an attack would destroy all the missiles in Cuba. Some missiles would likely survive.” (Crisis 59)Yet, many congressional leaders criticized Kennedy saying that they “unimpressed with the decision to impose the “quarantine” and called for stronger military action.” (Crisis 61) Kennedy concluded the meeting by saying, “If we go into Cuba, we have to all realize that we have taken the chance that these missiles, which are ready to fire, won’t be fired.” (Crisis 61)
We are, as a world, lucky that President Kennedy took time to himself and confided in others before he reacted to the nuclear site present in Cuba. Many things could have been differently and the outcomes could have been much more severe. We are also lucky that the Soviet Union was not better prepared and better at keeping secrets when it came to Operation Anadyr.
The U.S., the U.S.S.R., and Cuba all made many decisions that led to some troubling actions that made the Cuban Missile Crisis worse. The United States acted upon the evidence presented to them through “photo intelligence (PHOTINT), supplied primarily by aerial reconnaissance” (Crisis 43). The U-2 photographs offered the United States evidence of the nuclear arsenal that was building up in Cuba by the help of the Soviet Union. “At 7:00 P.M., President Kennedy went on radio and television to give the most ominous presidential speech of the Cold War” (Crisis 64). Presidential speeches usually do not trigger international attention; however “the reaction of Soviet leaders was a mixture of outrage and relief” (Crisis 66). Yet, with the speech “Khrushchev realized that he had some time to spare, so he decided to continue with construction of the missile sites” (Crisis 66) When the Soviet Union remained persistent with the building of the missiles sites, the crisis became much more severe. Not long after the Kennedy’s speech the “photoreconnaissance showed that the Soviets were continuing to work on both the R-12 and R-14 launch sites and had stepped up their camouflage efforts. Some Soviet submarines had also been detected escorting ships” (Crisis 70). Meanwhile, the Soviets were still “assembling Il-28 bombers” (Crisis 74). Many important officials in the Soviet Union were left clueless about the presence of missiles in Cuba, “Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin even denied that there were missiles in Cuba and categorically refused to answer further questions” (Crisis 68). Even Gorgi Bolshakov and Anatoly were also kept oblivious of the presence of nuclear arsenal in Cuba. Many U.S. reconnaissance planes were flying over Cuba examining what was taking place in the nearby country. Fidel Castro was displeased with the Soviets way of handling things and “on October 26, Castro’s patience ran out. He announced that Cuban antiaircraft forces would start firing on low-level reconnaissance planes the next morning.” (Crisis 76) Some of the low-level planes were encountering so much antiaircraft fire that they had to abort their mission. A Soviet ship was also approaching the line of United States ships even though Khrushchev promised they would not threaten it. (Crisis 77) A plane was “shot down by one of advance[d] V-75 missile sites” (Crisis 77). Although neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev knew, at the time, who shot down Major Anderson’s U-2, it still significantly made the situation worse.
Though some of the actions taken by the countries made the situation worse, some of the actions actually helped to calm the situation and seemed to reduce the possibility of war. One of the situations that was at first severe, but turned out to reduce the chance of war was the Soviet ships en route to Cuba. However, “The Kremlin recognized that the American navy posed a danger to Soviet ships en route to Cub and issued instructions to some ships that had recently left for Cuba, or were just leaving, to return to port” (Crisis 66). The OAS was the Organization of American States, which helped to “enshrine the principle of nonintervention” and was made up of the Western Hemispheric nations. To help ensure peace, the OAS met in Washington, at the request of the United States, to vote on a resolution that endorsed not only the quarantine but further unspecified actions necessary to ensure that the missiles in Cuba did not threaten any of the countries in the Western Hemisphere. (Crisis 68) Many of the meetings of the ExComm were tense in atmosphere, even when news reached the White House that the Soviet ships close to the blockade had either stopped or turned around. (Crisis 71) To reach a peaceful setting, “Khrushchev proposed to his Presidium colleagues that the Soviet Union might offer to dismantle the missile sites in return for a pledge from the United States not to invade Cuba” (Crisis 73). The Kremlin was mightily eager to avoid a shooting war, so they refused to allow Soviets to fire on American aircrafts and had petitioned Castro viciously to hold Cuban antiaircraft fire also. (Crisis 75) After Khrushchev heard of the United States U-2 being shot down, “he called a formal meeting of the Presidium for noon” (Crisis 82). After Kennedy and Khrushchev reached an agreement, to limit Castro’s disapproval, Khrushchev wrote a letter to Castro “urging restraint and trying to justify his actions” and the agreement. (Crisis 83)
Several “unofficial” efforts were made to calm the situation. Toward the beginning of the crisis, Kennedy pursued possible solutions through private as well as unorthodox channels. (Crisis 70) The United States tried to communicate privately with the Soviet Union when “someone close to the White House, possibly Robert Kennedy, asked an American Journalist, Frank Holeman, to talk to Bolshakov.” (Crisis 68) By sending him to speak with Bolshakov, the United States had hoped to convey two things to the Soviet Union. “The first was that the president was resolute: the missiles had to be withdrawn, and he was prepared to take further steps, if necessary. But, second, Kennedy might be willing to discuss a deal involving Turkish missiles” (Crisis 68). Holeman’s meeting with Bolshakov was important in soothing the situation because the United States was trying to show the USSR that it was willing to make allowances to resolve the situation. Another “unofficial” effort was Robert Kennedy’s meeting with Dobrynin. “The president’s brother met secretly with Dobrynin at the Justice Department that evening, around 8 P.M. [to tell] the ambassador that the fact that work was continuing on the missile sites was a great concern, and he warned that the downing of the American U-2 could lead to further incidents and a serious escalation of the conflict” (Crisis 68). Robert Kennedy also said that even though he isn’t demanding the removal of its missiles, if the Soviet Union did not remove the missiles by the following day, military action would be inevitable. (Crisis 79) Kennedy was also stated “that there could be no deal, no quid pro quo, on such a matter” as the Turkish missiles. (Crisis 80) He did, however, state “that the president had wanted those missiles withdrawn for some time and expressed the view that they would be removed after the crisis was resolved” (Crisis 80). Kennedy’s unofficial meeting with Dobrynin functioned as a way to show the Soviet Union that the United States was stern, that if the Soviets didn’t agree to remove the missiles, the United States would be forced to strike by military means. It also served to show that U.S., although unwilling to make a deal on the Turkish missiles, was willing to have them removed after the resolution of the crisis.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was solved by a mixture of actions, both official and unofficial. Dobrynin called Bobby to confirm that “Moscow had agreed to withdraw the missiles from Cuba” and to give the president and his brother his best wishes. (Crisis 82) Dobrynin also “handed over a letter from Khrushchev setting out the terms of the agreement, including the secret deal on the Jupiter missiles” (Crisis 82). However, the deal on the Jupiter missiles was “unofficial” and was to be kept undocumented. So Bobby returned the letter, refusing to acknowledge it, told the ambassador that no written record of the trade was to be kept, but gave his word. (Crisis 82) The United States and Soviet Union, whether or not it was documented, both gave up their missiles in foreign land. When Castro heard of the agreement on the radio, he was furious that “Khrushchev proposed pulling out the missiles in return for a worthless American pledge not to invade” (Crisis 83).
The three countries involved all took different routes when it came to dealing with the crisis at hand, but one thing was certain, none of them wanted a war. The actions made, both official and unofficial, were what shaped the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the end, all three countries had to give something up. The Soviet Union and United States gave up their foreign nuclear arsenal and Cuba gave up the presence of the Soviet Union.