Russia is once again in the spotlight in terms of American foreign policy. Our old Cold War foe has once again begun taking aggressive action in Eastern Europe and the connections being made to the Cold War are undeniable. Although President Obama has said that Russia is not the biggest foreign policy concern for the United States, the fact that we are once again facing off against Russia means that we must look back at the history of this relationship.
Context of the Cuban Missile Crisis
In 1962 Cold War tension was at a peak. The United States and Russia, without engaging in direct combat, were trying to get a leg up on the other in any way possible. Most of these actions involved gaining control of third world countries or trying to get a lead in the arms race, the constant battle between the two countries to have the most powerful military. A huge part of this arms race was having as many nuclear warheads that could be quickly launched at the enemy as possible. The Soviet Union saw communist Cuba as a perfect launch site for short range nuclear missiles.
Images attained from spy planes over Cuba allowed the United States government to realize the Soviet Union’s plan to install nuclear weapons in Cuba before they we completely installed. The next 13 days in October 1962 were among the most important and tense days in the history of American foreign policy. If the Soviet Union succeeded in installing its missiles they could strike at any city in the United States with nearly no warning, but the United States did not want to take military action that would lead to a nuclear war with the Soviet union. President Kennedy ordered a naval “quarantine” on Cuba that would stop and search any Soviet ship and force them to turn around if weapons were aboard.
The Soviet Union backed down and had their ships turn around before reaching the blockade, but there was still the issue of missiles already present in Cuba. According to the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian many of President Kennedy’s advisors recommended a full-scale invasion of Cuba to remove the missiles before they became operational, but the President, thankfully, chose diplomacy. In a secret deal with the Soviet Union, President Kennedy agreed to remove Jupiter Missiles in Turkey in exchange for removal of the missiles in Cuba, also according to the Office of the Historian.
The United States was the clear victor of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Khrushchev and the Soviet government backed down in the face of an American challenge. Further, because the deal to remove the missiles in Turkey was made in secret it appeared as if the Soviet Union had won nothing from the encounter.
It was later revealed that Cuba had, and was willing to use in the case of invasion, fully operation nuclear missiles. If President Kennedy had chosen invasion over diplomacy there likely would have been a nuclear war in the Western Hemisphere if not across the globe.
As we enter another conflict with Russia it is important to understand our shared history and the roles that diplomacy and violence have played.