Cuban Missile Crisis: Historical Interpretation


At present it is comparatively simple not to recall the bipolar structure that controlled worldwide associations and the extreme conflict that the Cold War period created almost twenty years ago. The missile crisis in Cuba is debatably the most extreme conflict throughout that period between the two super powers. It was a period in which the nuclear war was not just a hypothetical military approach but rather a factual likelihood. At the time of crisis, President J.F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev decision making procedure were based on reasons and not of obsessed leaders of state playing a competition of nuclear brinkmanship1. President Kennedy frantically sought to sustain the tactical balance of supremacy and on the other hand Premier Khrushchev sought to change the tactical balance of supremacy in favor of the Soviet Union. President Kennedy was left without an option but to counter the Soviet nuclear missile installment in Cuba. President Kennedy felt that if he failed to counter this probe of Soviet intents into the Western Hemisphere, he would have given Premier Khrushchev an upper hand of continuing to probe all other regions of American control. This paper attempts to build on the historical interpretation of Cuban missile crisis.

Historical Approach to Cuban Missile Crisis

A number of historical statements link the actions of the Cuban missile crisis. Various scholars imply that the handling of the predicament by President Kennedy was precarious and pointlessly confrontational, thrusting the US and the Soviet Union to the brink of thermonuclear war2. The predicament did propel the US and Soviet Union in the direction of the sheer drop of nuclear war3. Nevertheless, revisionist historians argue that the Soviet Union missiles in Cuba created no additional jeopardy nor did it change the nuclear risk to the mainland of the US. Though the reasoning is definitely true that the revisionist historians put forward that Soviet founded nuclear missiles initiated from Cuba would have equal catastrophic outcomes as if they had been initiated from inside Soviet Union. That reality in itself is inadequate to hold the wrapping up that the Soviet operation of nuclear missiles in Cuba did not bring about additional threat to the US. Most significantly, the Soviet operation of nuclear missiles in Cuba did modify the strategic balance of supremacy. Upon close assessment of the historical records, transformation of the strategic balance of supremacy was an important stimulating factor that led to Prime Minister Khrushchev making a decision to operate nuclear missiles. As it is a fact with many political conclusions, Khrushchev decision to operate the missile was complex. He did not only want to change the strategic balance of supremacy but also wanted to thwart the American policies of containment particularly in Berlin and Latin America4. In addition, the operation of Soviet missiles in Cuba permitted him to put at risk the American mainland similarly in the same manner the American missiles in Europe risked the Soviet Union.

Fidel Castro was ready to allow the Soviet missiles even though not completely on his stipulations. The acceptance of the missiles by Fidel Castro like Khrushchev was for the sake of expansion of communism but the main reason was to save Cuba. Fidel Castro was misguided by the perception that Cuba would be invaded by United States, a perception that had significant value and neither did the administration of US under President Kennedy pursue a policy that would stop the likelihood of such perceptions. The failure by President Kennedy was not as a result of his tackling of the Cuban missile crisis but rather his failure was his incapability to stop the Cuban perception of forthcoming attack by United States supported forces. The question that comes to the mind is when the US discovered the Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, what was the appropriate response by US to this emerging act of Cold War? What was the political and security repercussion if Kennedy opted for purely diplomatic solution to the crisis or decided not to act? This highlights the importance of analyzing the Cuban Missile Crisis in the perspective of the times, particularly the period of Cold War. To assess the crisis else is to discount the long standing convectional loyalty to the Monroe Doctrine and disregard the American international policies of containment. Devoid of the framework of the Cold War the work of investigating the crisis and the decision making process of Kennedy and Khrushchev is certainly dangerous. Even though the decision making procedures of the two leaders who were super power were sometimes out of order with some predictable and unpredictable upsetting results, they were able to successful achieve a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

The years that were before the Cuban Missiles Crisis are specifically pertinent to the crisis itself for a number of occurrences directly affected primary decision making processes at the time of the crisis. Those years show an intense omnipresent and vigorous Cold war environment, thus the justification of missile crisis analysis in the framework of Cold War. The fruitful instigate of Sputnik in 1957 did put the American community in a state of panic over the perceived strength of Soviet technological advancement5. A Gallup poll in 1958 discovered that sixty seven percent of Americans held that Soviet Union was way before the United States in the Cold War6. Yuri Gagarin flight of 1961 the 1st man to orbit the earth added the Americans misperception of Soviet might in technology and military. 1960 saw an age of consensus where American social protest was made obsolete through agreements such as the global fear of communism7.

The Cold War and the containment approach were beyond and above political policies. It was an American culture that gave a common identification for Americans after the war. In the late 40s, 50s and early 60s, a number of strategic geopolitical regions confronted the United States policy of containment. However the state that would have the greatest effect on the Cuban Missile Crisis was Berlin and Cuba. President Kennedy inherited a clandestine military operation from his antecedent President Eisenhower which he crafted to conquer the newly inaugurated communist government of Fidel Castro. This military strategy which was later called Bay of Pigs and then as a fiasco was an utter failure of policies and decision making. Bay of Pigs was an ideal exhibit of group think approach and defective decision making. The group suffered a false impression of immunity, accord, repression of personal hesitations, the submissiveness cultivated by debonair headship and a custom against antagonism of new group members 8. Kennedy failure gave the chance to learn from the shortcoming of group decision making procedure in the Bay of Pigs attack strategy. Hence the consequences of not questioning the intelligence service, military consultants, and a need to find agreement inside the group without substitute standpoints might be evaded in the subsequent crisis. This turned out to be far more intricate and insecure than the Bay of Pigs9. Nonetheless, the Bay of Pigs attack and the failure to stop the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) supported plan accelerated a military rapprochement among Soviet Union and Cuba which assisted Khrushchev in deciding on transporting Soviet nuclear missiles to Cuba10.

Instability and conflict of Berlin, Germany during the same period was the other geopolitical region that exhibited the Cold War pressures. Kennedy inherited Berlin problem and in 1958, Khrushchev gave US, Great Britain and France with a provocation to either change Western Berlin into a free city or he would act singularly and give power over Western access to Berlin to the administration of the East Germany11. This would have led to removal of partners of WWII from Berlin to create an exclusive area of Soviet control. Khrushchev saw Kennedy as frail and ill-prepared to fight off real politic negotiation like his predecessor and thus bullied him into submission over Berlin case. The severity and boldness of Khrushchev gave Kennedy an intuition that Soviet was threatening both West Berlin and the United States’ containment policy in which Berlin was for all time the dominant geopolitics physical and psychological demarcation line preventing the expansion of communism12. Berlin predicament affected Kennedy decision making processes at the time of Cuban Missile Crisis. He invariably associated Berlin with Cuba. Kennedy saw that losing Berlin to Soviet Union was comparable to invalidating containment.

A further credible justification that has been in the recent time supported by historians is that Khrushchev had the intention to protect Fidel Castro and the communist administration from the likelihood of being invaded by Americans13. The Kennedy’s government failure to cease from clandestine operations to conquer Castro’s communist state improved perception that an incursion was in the offing. Khrushchev pointed out that he was merely stimulated by the protection needs of Cuba. But Khrushchev made it clear to his colleagues that the operation was an offensive plan14. The opposing reports shed doubt on which statement was correct. It is extremely possible that Khrushchev wanted to justify his events in more constructive light and to a large extent more plausible that Khrushchev did in fact set up the nuclear missiles as a strategy of an offensive Cold War scheme. If Khrushchev strategy was purely defensive, then there is no explanation why he conducted his deployment covertly. In addition, Khrushchev did not consult Castro when he was issued with ultimatums by Kennedy government to remove the missiles.

If the Cuban defense supposition is inadequate since the operation of missiles was not purely for the defense of the Castro government the question is what motivated Khrushchev. Khrushchev was passionately irritated by the nearness of American Jupiter missiles positioned so close to the boundary of Russia in Turkey. Noticeably, what motivated Khrushchev to operate nuclear missiles was the fact of the closeness of Cuba to the US and to grant United States a bout of its own medicine15. In the instance where Soviet was to remove the missiles, Khrushchev would finger out the American missile in Turkey and in other NATO states16 as a negotiating ground for their withdrawal. But this singular inspiration to position missiles would be a generalization of Soviet intents because the Jupiter missiles were obsolete and was not likely that Khrushchev would undertake such precarious endeavor for they could not change the balance of supremacy. Possibly Khrushchev had a bigger reward in mind explicitly a resolution of Berlin issue.

Following serious negotiations and the considering all the alternatives, the crisis concluded with a give and take. The US promised not to attack Cuba and obsolete United States Jupiter missile in Turkey promised to dismantle it secretly at an undecided date. The missiles were withdrawn afterward to avoid the manifestation of a settled quid pro quo agreement17. The Soviet Union was to right away withdraw the Soviet Missiles from Cuba. It came out like Soviet Union unilaterally removed the positioned nuclear missiles in the face of American military demands and this view lingered for years since the Soviets stuck to the agreed bargain to keep the withdrawal of Turkey missile in secrecy.

Right away after the crisis there was a period of cooling of Cold War pressure. Nevertheless the cooling time was temporal as the Soviets sought and attained nuclear uniformity with US. European partners of US felt desperately ensnared by the bipolarity of Soviet Union and US control. As one official remembered that they were kept completely up to date but were never asked concerning the tangible verdicts as they impinge Cuba itself. As a result, whether legitimate or not, France and England required obtaining nuclear weapons subsequent to the crisis to frustrate what they alleged as American unilateralism. Upon thinking all over again, President Kennedy saw the missile crisis in a diverse illumination. He anticipated that he had made to Khrushchev the point he had failed to make in Vienna summit that none of the side shall challenge to interfere haphazardly with the fragile and multifaceted balance of the world supremacy18. The two super powers on no account again confronted the fragile equilibrium of supremacy sufficient to risk thermonuclear war.


Khrushchev, though ready to acknowledge the uncertain speculate that President Kennedy will not militarily object to the missile operation was however a lucid player who comprehended the outcomes of his actions and those of President Kennedy and hunted an ambassadorial resolution to ward off nuclear holocaust. If Kennedy acknowledged the existence of Soviet Missile in Cuba, the Soviet Union stood to achieve worldwide reputation, alter the equilibrium of supremacy toward Soviet Union and communism and would have every ground to keep on confronting American areas of control worldwide. The danger of positioning missiles in Cuba was excessive but their gains were massive, Khrushchev basically underestimated Kennedy’s reaction19. Kennedy had to respond aggressively, an encouraged Khrushchev who saw Kennedy as feeble could not simply consent devoid of some form of preclusion from US. In addition, Khrushchev underestimated the irresistible anticommunism philosophy of the American public and their leaders. It was politically unfeasible for President Kennedy not to challenge the Soviet Union over Cuba as result of major security repercussions together with further expansion of communism. The period of Cuba Missile Crisis, Cold War pressure subjugated not only the domestic protection political affairs of US but also subjugated world wide interactions.


Allison, Graham & Zelikow, Philip. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Longman Publishing, 1999.

Fursenko, Aleksandr and Naftali, Timothy. Khrushchev’s Cold war: The inside Story of an American Adversary. New York: Norton Publishing, 2006.

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Gillon, Steven. American Paradox: History of the US since 1945. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2007.

Janis, Irving. Victim of group Thinking. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972.

McKeown, Timothy. The Cuban Missile Crisis & Politic as Usual. Journal of Politics, 62 (2000): 70-87.

Payne, Rodger. Public opinion & foreign Threats: Eisenhower Respond to Sputnik. Armed Forces & Society, 21 (1994): 89-112.

Pious, Richard. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Limits of Crisis Management. Political Science Quartely, 116 (1999):81-105.

Schlesinger, Arthur. A Thousand Days: John Kennedy in the White House. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1965.

Smith, Tom. The Polls: America Attitude toward the Soviet Union & Communism. The Public Opinion, 47 (1983): 277-292.

Zubok, Vladislav. A failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold war from Stalin to Gorbachev. N.Carolina, the University of Carolina Press, 2009.


  1. Pious, Richard. The Cuban Missile Crisis & the Limits of Crisis Management, Political Science Quartely, (116, 1999) 87.
  2. McKeown, Timothy. The Cuban Missile Crisis & Politics as Usual, Journal of Politics, (62, 2000) 76.
  3. Gillon, Steven. American Paradox: History of the US since 1945 (Boston, Houghton 2007) 56.
  4. Pious, 90.
  5. Payne, Rodger. Public Opinion & Foreign Threats: Eisenhower Respond to Sputnik, Armed Forces & Society (1994) 93.
  6. Smith, Tom. The Polls: American Attitude toward the Soviet Union & communism/. The Public Opinion (47, 1983)281.
  7. Schlesinger, Arthur. A Thousand days: John Kennedy in the White House (Boston, Houghton Miffin co 1965) 106.
  8. Janis, Irving. Victim of group Think (Boston Houghton Miffin Co. 1972) 45.
  9. Janis, 47.
  10. Gillon, 24.
  11. Allison, Graham & Zelikow, Philip. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York, Longman Publishing, 1999) 67.
  12. Janis, 49.
  13. Fursenko, Aleksandr & Naftali, Timothy. Khrushchev’s Cold War: The inside Story of an American Adversary (New York,Penguin 2005) 08.
  14. Fursenko & Naftali, 18.
  15. Gaddis, John. The Cold War: A New History (New York, Penguin 2005) 25.
  16. Zubok, Vladislay. A failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War (North Carolina, The University of Carolina Press 2009) 34.
  17. Payne, 103.
  18. Allison, & Zelikow, 73.
  19. Fursenko & Naftali, 26.
Find out the price of your paper