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Cuban Missile Crisis: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro

The fourteen day Cuban Missile Crisis of late October 1962 is regarded as one of the major confrontations of the Cold War period between the Soviets and the United States. The public became aware through President Kennedy’s address to the nation mid way through the crisis after having been initially in the dark from the onset.

Underlying cause

Kross details the underlying cause factor with a historic outlook on the events before the crisis1. The Soviet Union, unlike the United States, had not placed any of their arsenals outside their borders but even so, their introduction of missiles into Cuba sparked off the crisis. America took preparatory military steps in addition to placing a quarantine to prevent further military cargo from Russia being delivered to Cuba. Surveillance on the construction of the military bases in Cuba was also stepped up. Behind the scenes negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev culminated in the withdrawal of the Soviet arms from Cuba and a secret pledge by the Americans to dismantle their Jupiter missiles in Turkey.

The Americans had not been comfortable with the Castro revolution, and when Kennedy came to power, the efforts to topple his administration were planned and undertaken through Operation Mongoose. Small scale attacks by the Americans had not escaped the attention of Castro who had remained particularly alert after the invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs. Castro sought the assistance of the Soviets who saw this as an opportunity to place strategic weapons close to the United States similar to the American missiles in Turkey.

The Soviets began shipping military equipment to Cuba and also sending personnel assistance with the guise of quelling imminent attack on Cuba by the Americans. The crisis was sparked off when proof of offensive armament in Cuba by the Russians was obtained by American intelligence. According to Kroos, the secret operation against Castro is the main factor behind the development of the missile crisis in Cuba.

Kennedy’s admission of the crisis

With the first address on the crisis, President Kennedy began by revealing evidence gathered by American intelligence on the nuclear armament in Cuba by the Soviet Union2. The evidence clearly pointed to the offensive nature of the weapons as opposed to the supposed defensive nature of the armaments the Soviets had fronted as assistance to Cuba. The president outlined the type of arms and the danger they posed to various countries of the Western Hemisphere. He firmly declared that the war-like nature of the Soviet Union and its domination efforts would not be allowed to extend so close to America.

The president regarded the armament as a direct threat that would not be tolerated and thus, he announced the institution of measures aimed at peacefully ending the crisis while placing his military on high alert. He also directly implored the people of Cuba not to allow their nation and destiny to be affected by other people for they did not stand to gain anything from such actions.

Secrets of the Cold war

Much of the information on the stalemate and the ensuing events has been revealed much later and long after the crisis. The need for the availability of the crucial documents is understandable for it would not only lead to greater comprehension of the crisis, but also help in future with similar confrontations.

Newberger tells of the struggle to gain the classified documents from during the crisis for a conference that was to happen in Cuba between the three parties involved3. The United States Department of State made it difficult to obtain the documents and the cause was championed under the Freedom of Information Act and through the National Security Archive.

A majority of the 700 classified documents were released and subsequently found to contain vital information on the crisis. The conference, graced by some of the most influential figures of the crisis, led to the discovery of vital information that proved assumptions at the time wrong or that had not been considered. It was revealed that the actual number of troops in the ground greatly surpassed the modest estimates of the Americans. The conference further highlighted the scale of war an invasion into Cuba could have occasioned as unknown to the Americans, some Soviet arms were functional.

While generally considered the closest the world came to nuclear war, a new found appreciation of just how close it was and the potential magnitude for disaster was gleaned from the conference.

Letter to Nikita Khrushchev

President Kennedy in replying to the Soviet Union Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev, passionately but firmly relayed his desire for an end to the crisis4. While stressing on the need to end the armament of Cuba as the first step in resolving the crisis, Kennedy agreed on the need to seek a permanent solution. Referring to earlier correspondence from the Premier, the president considered his proposals as acceptable with a view to sustaining world peace and therefore, he agreed to lift the quarantine directive and also guarantee against invasion of Cuba.

President Kennedy also went as far as suggesting that an amicable resolution over the crisis would lead to discussions over the armament issues publicly highlighted by Khrushchev as part of an arms race. The president concluded with a categorical statement that warned against tying up the threat with other world security issues and thus prolonging debate on the crisis. Any prolonged discussion, according to Kennedy, placed world peace at risk. The letter showcased Kennedy as determined to diplomatically solve the crisis while firmly maintaining his stand.

Khrushchev’s take

During a report to the Soviets, Khrushchev tried to explain the actions he had undertaken in the Cuban nuclear crisis5. He started by explaining the measures the Americans had undertaken and how he prepared in response to the threat of attack. The crisis came about as a result of the need to give Cuba defensive capabilities after it came under an American blockade. He painted the picture of a peaceful Soviet administration and that of aggressive Americans.

Khrushchev viewed the deal as a success because it culminated in ensuring Cuba would not be attacked which had been the objective. He also informed the council that all agreements were fulfilled. He observed that the American population had come to terms with the possibility of a thermonuclear war on their soil. He advanced the desire for continued working toward peace after apparently defeating some Americans who had wanted war.

Castro’s perspective

Castro was well aware that an invasion of his country was being planned by the Central Intelligence Agency. However, he did not know the position held by Kennedy on the matter6. A Russian emissary, Adzhubei, visited both Havana and Washington and Cuba obtained a copy of his report to Khrushchev after the visits. The report on the deliberation with Kennedy, interpreted with intelligence gathered by the Cubans, pointed towards an American invasion.

The Russians apparently buoyed by their desire to maintain world peace and prevent the collapse of the Cuban Revolution, were invited by Castro to take any necessary steps in aiding Cuba. The Russians were also passionate about Cuba. Therefore, Cuba sent representatives to discuss installation of the missiles having realized that they had to sacrifice their security for risk in order to save their country.

Castro also acknowledged that even after the crisis was solved, Cuba still lived with the threat of invasion. He also felt that the aggression by the Americans was uncalled for and that all that they needed to do was accept the peaceful co-existence of different ideologies.

Arms race as part of the crisis

The Cuba Crisis served to greatly highlight the efforts of the two super powers to gain advantage in the aptly named Arms Race. An American perspective is seen through released tapes of conversations between President Kennedy and his advisers on military affairs and top ranking government officials7. From the tapes it can be gleaned that both parties and particularly the Americans viewed nuclear armament strength as a way to deter the opposition.

The question about the amounts of nuclear weapons on both sides also came up where some viewed the numbers as too much while others stressed the need to stay ahead the competition. It is therefore interesting to note that earlier proponents of more nuclear weapons later changed their stance preferring to call for elimination of all nuclear weapons. The tapes showed that the Americans were faced with a sort of uncertainty when it came to arms because of lack of intelligence and set targets were also difficult to meet.


Castro, Fidel. “Castro’s statement on Soviet missiles in Cuba.” 2009. Web.

Coleman, David. “Camelot’s Nuclear Conscience.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (2006): 40-45.

Kennedy, John F. “Address on removal of Soviet weapons from Cuba.” 2009. Web.

Kennedy, John F. “Letter to Khrushchev on the Cuban Missile Crisis.” 2009. Web.

Khrushchev, Nikita S. To avert war, our prime task. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1963.

Kross, Peter. Inside The Cuban Missile Crisis. Military History 23 no 8 (2006):30-36.

Newberger, Stewart H. “Secrets of October 1962: Opening Cuban Missile Crisis Files under FOIA.” ABA Journal (1992): 72-76.


  1. Peter Kross, “Inside The Cuban Missile Crisis,” Military History 23 no 8 (2006): 30-36.
  2. John Kennedy F, “Address on removal of Soviet weapons from Cuba,” 2009. Web.
  3. Stewart Newberger H, “Secrets of October 1962: Opening Cuban Missile Crisis Files under FOIA,” ABA Journal (1992): 72-76.
  4. John Kennedy F, “Letter to Khrushchev on the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 2009. Web.
  5. Nikita Khrushchev S, To avert war, our prime task (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1963), pp. 41-48.
  6. Fidel Castro, “Castro’s statement on Soviet missiles in Cuba,” 2009. Web.
  7. David Coleman, “Camelot’s Nuclear Conscience,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (2006): 40-45.
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