I decided to analyse the topic, called “The Cuban missile crisis”. My work consists of seven chapters and 15 pages.

Imagine going about your life knowing that, at any given moment, you and everyone you know could be wiped out without warning at the push of a button.           This was the reality for millions of people during the forty-five-year period after World War II now known as the Cold War. As the United States and the Soviet Union faced off across the globe each knew that the other had nuclear weapons capable of destroying it. And destruction never loomed closer than during the thirteen days of the Cuban missile crisis.

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            “The day when the calendar could end” – as contemporaries called the “Black Sabbath” on October 27, 1962. The Cuban missile crisis, which almost became the beginning of a full-scale nuclear war between the United States of America and the Soviet Union.

            After the Cuban Revolution Fulgencio Batista was replaced by the Fidel Castro. In its turn, Fidel Castro severed well-established relations with the US and was interested in creation on relations with the Soviet Union, and it became a key moment of the history of the Caribbean Crisis, which led to serious consequences – operation Anadyr and American blockade.

            The main aim of my course paper is to analyse the situation from the contemporary point of view and try to find the answer to the question: If this were happening now, the US president would have had two tweets on his “Twitter” so beloved, to make a statement about the end of the acute confrontation with the USSR. But could Trump show the same wisdom as John Kennedy?!






Historical background


  In 1961, the United States deployed 15 medium-range missiles PGM-19 “Jupiter” in Turkey with a time of about 10 minutes. They “covered” the territory of the European part of the USSR. At that time, the Americans had a significant advantage over the Soviets in terms of the number of nuclear warheads (6,000 against 300) and in delivery vehicles. Placement of missiles near the border of the USSR was perceived as a flagrant violation of parity. Khrushchev learned about this by accident during a visit to Bulgaria in May 1962. He took US actions as a personal insult, and, in order to restore balance, proposed the deployment of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba.

On another hand USSR and the USA had a confrontation over Berlin – Khrushchev could use the excuse for an equivalent blockade or attack to Berlin in case if the Americans blockade or attacked Cuba. “So that whatever we do in regard to Cuba,” Kennedy said, “it gives him the chance to do the same with regard to Berlin”. [1]Furthermore, Kennedy thought, the European alliance would not understand why America felt necessary to attack Cuba and allies would blame the USA if they lose Berlin which split the alliance and the USSR would be the winner.

This he probably wanted to kill two birds with one stone: to deter any active US intervention or overthrow the Castro regime and support Fidel Castro, who had long and persistently asked for Soviet troops to be sent to Cuba to protect them from Americans who had shortly before attempted to overthrow the Cuban government (“Landing in the Bay of Pigs”). The operations to transfer medium-range missiles R-12 and R-14 to Cuba were called “Anadyr”. All the accompanying cargo was told that they were going to Chukotka. To the ports for validity, whole wagons of fur coats and sheepskins were driven. Captains involved in the operation of 85 ships were handed sealed bags, which should be opened in the sea in the presence of the deputy police officer.

            However, despite all the secrecy measures, the military understood: it is impossible to hide missiles from the U-2 American reconnaissance aircraft that regularly fly over Cuba. The plan was developed in advance, taking into account that the Americans will find Soviet missiles before they all are mounted. In places of unloading in Cuba, several anti-aircraft batteries were placed.

            The antiaircraft guns had an unexpected effect: at the end of August they were spotted by reconnaissance planes, but President John F. Kennedy told Congress that there were no offensive missiles in Cuba, and for a whole month banned flights over the island so that the accidentally shot down American aircraft did not lead to an escalation of the conflict. President Kennedy also speculated that actions of Soviet Union were the strategic balance of power. During this time, the Soviet military brought and unloaded all the missiles, began to build positions for their launch.

Meanwhile, in the ruling circles of the United States, the initiative was intercepted by “hawks” – reconnaissance flights over the territory of Cuba passed to the Air Force. On October 4, 1962, a reconnaissance aircraft, piloted by Major Richard Heiser, photographed Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles near the village of San Cristobal. In the evening of the same day, information was brought to the attention of the US military leadership. On the morning of October 16, photos were shown to the president. Diplomatic measures were rejected immediately. Robert Kennedy argued for a ‘combination of the blockade route and the air strike route’. It means that blockade would be coupled with a 72-hour interval from the demand to the action of an ultimatum demanding a removal of the missiles. The USA would proceed with an air strike if the Russians did not comply.

On October 22, John Kennedy addressed the American people (and the Soviet government) in a television speech.

He confirmed the presence of missiles in Cuba and declared a naval blockade in the form of a quarantine zone about 1000 km around the coast of the island. He warned that the armed forces “are ready for any development of events” and condemned the Soviet Union for “secrecy and misleading”. [2]Khrushchev replied that the blockade was illegal and any ship under the Soviet flag would ignore it. Nevertheless, the blockade entered into force on October 24 at 10:00. By this time, 30 Soviet ships and ships, including the Aleksandrovsk, carrying nuclear warheads on board, were going to Cuba.

On October 24, Khrushchev received a short telegram from Kennedy calling for “showing prudence” and “observing the terms of the blockade.” Khrushchev responded by sending a sharp letter to the US president and calling quarantine “the violation of freedom to use international water and international airspace is an act of aggression pushing humanity toward of a world nuclear-missile war,” and warned: “captains of Soviet ships will not comply with the regulations of the US Navy.” 

On October 25, Kennedy gave an order to increase the combat readiness of the US Armed Forces to the level of DEFCON-2 (the first and only known case in the history of the United States). On the same day, Kennedy received a letter to the Kremlin in which he indicated that “the Soviet side has broken its promises against Cuba and misled it.”

On the morning of October 26, Khrushchev wrote a letter to Kennedy, where he proposed to dismantle Cuban missiles and return them to the USSR, in exchange, the Americans will never invade Cuba. Both reports came in the afternoon on Saturday, October 27, and in the evening an American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was destroyed by a Soviet air defense group attack when approaching Guantanamo. The pilot, Major Rudolf Andersen, died. On this day, the world was closest to a global nuclear war, therefore it was called the “Black Sabbath”.

On the night of October 27 to October 28, President Robert Kennedy’s brother Robert met with the Soviet ambassador to the US Anatoly Dobrynin. Kennedy shared with the Dobrynin fears of the president that “the situation is about to get out of control and threatens to breed a chain reaction.” Robert Kennedy said that his brother is ready to give guarantees of non-aggression and the early lifting of the blockade from Cuba.

The next morning, the Kremlin received a message from John F. Kennedy, confirming the Americans’ readiness to lift the blockade and give assurances of non-aggression in response to the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from there. Khrushchev replied with consent. His answer was decided to be broadcasted on the radio. An hour before the broadcast of Nikita Khrushchev’s message (16:00 Moscow time), Minister of Defense of the USSR Malinovsky sent an order to begin dismantling the launch pad P-12.

Peaceful resolution of the crisis did not satisfy everyone. Thus, General Curtis LeMay, the commander-in-chief of the US Air Force, called it “the worst defeat in our history.” Nevertheless, the crisis was a turning point in the nuclear race and the “cold war” – its end marked the beginning of a period of detente intense relations. Guarantees of non-aggression in Cuba are observed by the US so far. American missiles in Turkey were safely dismantled.  


“Jupiter missiles” in Turkey


The Cuban missile crisis was preceded by the Suez Crisis in 1957 and the Berlin Crisis in 1961. And already in 1962, the world came to the brink of an armed conflict and a nuclear war, which was avoided by a miracle.    

The immediate cause was the actions of Khrushchev, but the prerequisites for that were in the politics of the US and the Soviet Union. These include the confrontation in Europe, the arms race, the deployment of American medium-range missiles in Turkey and in Europe. And most importantly – a huge program of strategic arms build-up, begun in the US with the election of President John F. Kennedy. In just six years, from 1961 to 1967, the US ground-based and sea-launched missile forces increased forty-fold! Seeing the powerful build-up of armaments by Washington, Khrushchev understood that the Soviet Union lags far behind and is therefore vulnerable. He himself was not deceived by the bluff that the USSR is ahead of the US. Hence the attempt, at least for a while, to reduce the gap due to the transfer of medium-range missiles to Cuba, from where they reached the United States and thus obtained strategic potential. Directly Khrushchev’s actions served as a trigger for the crisis, but the prerequisites for it arose not in October 1962, but much earlier …

Did he risk and how much, aiming to remove American Jupiter and Thor missiles from Turkey and Great Britain? Now we see that the risk was great, but the political goal was achieved.

 Formally, John Kennedy did not give any assurances but promised not to take action to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba. Khrushchev seized the promise since the US will not attack Cuba, the USSR withdraws of missiles from Cuba.


Options of further development of conflict


The Americans saw only three possible options: to destroy missiles with pinpoints, to conduct a full-scale military operation in Cuba or to introduce a naval blockade of the island. The Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted an invasion to eliminate the missile threat, thereby finally putting end to a main Soviet outpost in the western hemisphere. While the Secretary of Defense McNamara raised the idea of blockading future weapons shipments to Cuba, but his suggestion did nothing about the missiles already deployed there except to warn the Soviets not to use them.

“Hawks” in the face of generals Taylor and Air Force chief of staff Curtis LeMay insisted on an immediate invasion to follow up the air strikes to prevent the Soviets from deploying all the missiles. Kennedy did not support this idea, it was decided to confine himself to the sea blockade. But according to international law, the blockade is an act of war, while neither the deployment of missiles in Turkey nor the response – in Cuba no agreements were violated.

And only Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State saw an opportunity to persuade Castro to push the Soviets out, also the diplomatic issue of this conflict suggested by UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson who would be intended purely to freeze the situation and the Soviet missile installations would be monitored by UN observation teams.


The role of Castro


 Many Cubans welcomed Fidel Castro’s regime and his revolution in 1959 overthrow of the dictatorial general Fulgencio Batista, the nation’s American-backed president. Castro almost as soon as came to power took steps to reduce American influence which did not restrict by Batista on the island. The US public and government were gravely concerned about the creation of a communist state and member of Soviet Bloc only seventy miles from its southern shores. So, the invasion of Cuba was a part of the scenario in a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States during Cold War. Later John Kennedy agreed: “Yes, we will give Cuba guarantees of immunity in exchange for the withdrawal of your missiles.” Also, Robert Kennedy said that, regardless of the crisis, the president wants to withdraw the Jupiter missiles. “This weapon is commanded by NATO, and its bodies must all approve. Therefore, we ask for confidentiality! Cuba supports terrorism in Latin America. If this ceases, we will have no reason to intervene. ” A peaceful solution to the conflict was found. 

However, Castro did not conceal his disappointment. Khrushchev insulted the Cuban leader, completely without consulting him. The withdrawal of Soviet troops was very difficult. First of all, Castro did not agree to accept the international inspection. In 1962, UN Secretary-General U Thant flew to Havana. At the airport, he was met by Foreign Minister Raul Roa, and Castro continued to persist. Despite the fact that the USSR demanded that Cubans allow Tana to visit the bases where the dismantling was taking place, the UN Secretary-General was never allowed to go there. Moscow was worried about the ongoing quarantine. Washington replied that until all its requirements were fulfilled, the quarantine would be preserved. He was removed only on November 20. The USSR tried to translate the conversation into US-Cuban relations, asked for a written guarantee of Cuba’s security, but the US president refused. Kennedy recalled that the Americans had no way to double-check the Cuban territory. In an interview in the 1990s with Castro, he said that had it come down to an invasion, Castro himself said that he wouldn’t have waited, he would have launched the nuclear missiles at the US. ? Attempts by the CIA to kill Castro continued. For many years, his personal guard, Fabian Escalante, estimated that by the beginning of 2006, 638 attempts had been committed.


Empirical part


            During the crisis, a detachment of four submarines, armed with torpedoes with nuclear warheads, capable of destroying the American fleet, was stationed off the coast of Cuba.

American warships and aviation patrolled the Atlantic Ocean area off the Cuban coasts to discover the submarines of a likely enemy. Soviet submarines were forced to go deep under the water. To force them to rise to the surface, the Americans began to throw explosive cartridges into the water, which was informed to Moscow. But they did not know that Moscow at that time had no connection with its submarines. And they did not know that there were nuclear weapons on their board.

Soviet sailors drew information about what was happening in the world, based only on what they could observe themselves. And they saw that they were “encircled” by the American fleet, that they were fired upon each surfacing to the surface and bombarded with explosive ammunition at each dive …

In extreme cases, the commander of each submarine could give an order for the use of nuclear weapons by Soviet submarines without the agreement with the center. For this, it was necessary to have an agreed decision of three people. On the submarine B-59 these people were the commander of the boat Valentin Savitsky, the deputy commander for political affairs Ivan Maslennikov and the chief of staff of the brigade PL, the captain of the II rank Vasily Arkhipov.

Moscow for 2 weeks did not contact the commanders of submarines, so as not to lead the American ships on their trail, so they knew nothing about how the Caribbean crisis is developing. Commander B-59 decided to launch a torpedo with a nuclear warhead, knowing full well that this meant death for him and his entire team: “We’ll blow them up, we’ll all perish, but we’ll sink all their ships.” However, Vasily Arkhipov, as a senior officer aboard the boat, showed remarkable restraint and composure, did not allow him to do it. The wise K-19 experience, which crashed in the summer of 1961, knew what a nuclear warhead. Then on the K-19 Soviet sailors were killed trying to fix the nuclear reactor, and Vasily himself received a strong dose of radiation.

And at this terrible moment Vasily Arkhipov, not knowing that he was saving the whole world, took advantage of the right of his “veto” and forbade the launch of a nuclear missile. On October 29, 1962, the submarine B-59 surfaced under the sights of the US multi-hundredth armed forces. To the surprise of the sailors, no one entered the boat, and they were sent to go home. The Caribbean crisis was settled. 

Vasily Arkhipov, who retired in the rank of Vice Admiral, passed away in 1999. For many years the details of the campaign of Soviet submarines to the US shores were kept secret. This case was told only in 2002, during a conference in Havana, dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Caribbean crisis. Former US Secretary of Defense McNamara, based on declassified US documents, acknowledged that the onset of a nuclear war was much closer than many had expected. Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, explained what McNamara had in mind: “A man named Vasily Arkhipov saved the world on Earth.”[3]


Lessons from the Caribbean crisis for the modern world


In the book “The war in Syria and its consequences for the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Russian view “made a parallel between the two operations of the General Staff: during the period of the Caribbean crisis and during the dispatch in 2015 of military equipment and personnel of the Russian Aerospace Forces to Syria. In both cases, a scheme was used to covertly deploy a contingent of military personnel. In 1962, she took four months, this time – three. Here we see the direct impact of lessons learned from the Caribbean crisis. NATO and the United States were very surprised when Israeli intelligence found a Russian military presence in Syria. The second unexpected moment was the testing of Russian military hardware by missile weapons. Americans were shocked when a Russian cruise missile flew from the Caspian Sea. And another – when in the Mediterranean Sea was a Russian submarine. Thus, Russia has shown that it has the capacity to oppose the US military machine. But how real is the threat of a military confrontation today? Political scientists note with regret that it is much more real than at any time since the mid-1980s, although less possible than in the hottest days of the Caribbean crisis. This threat requires finding optimal solutions, without political costs for each side.

The September proposal of the Russian President to begin, at last, to implement in practice, and not in words the Minsk process. Introduce UN peacekeeping forces into the corridor between the Donbas and the rest of Ukraine and implement the first two points of the Minsk agreements – ceasefire and withdrawal of military equipment. And then all the other items. Such a compromise is not a retreat by either side. This is a reasonable way to begin to unwind this coil of contradictions.

Another problematic point is Syria. The Russian Government is constantly receiving peaceful initiatives aimed at resolving the situation. For example, to agree that the departure of Bashar Assad is not a prerequisite for the restoration of peace. The Kremlin believes that this issue should be resolved in the course of the peace process in Syria. Until then, it is necessary to coordinate the fighting of both coalitions acting against the Islamic State, a coalition led by the United States and the coalition of Syria, Russia, Iran, and Iraq.

Another problem is North Korea. The Trump administration expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that Russia was increasing trade with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This is also putting the US policy on putting pressure on Pyongyang, which is carrying out its nuclear missile program, under attack.

Russia offers a path of diplomacy, which is justified and represents a path of step-by-step steps. At the first stage – to agree with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the moratorium on nuclear testing, and on the other – to ease part of the sanctions. Then – a moratorium on the testing of long-range ballistic missiles. And an additional lifting of sanctions.



            After the analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I came to a conclusion that it continues to be relevant today. As an example, Iran’s long- running quest for a nuclear weapon represents to the United States a ‘Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion’. At one moment the Americans will be forced, ultimately, to make a choice between attacking Iran as Iraq in 2004 and accommodating a new nuclear state.

            However, it is important to mention that I decided to express my personal opinion. Based on the first presidential debate the United States the President Donald Trump wanted to shoot an Iranian ship just for making gestures at him. I suppose it wouldn’t be too far off for him to nuke the Soviets just because they were dealing with Cuba

As the Donald Trump confronts this and other policy challenges in regimes such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China over the coming years, these formidable case study will become ever more valuable

[1] Allison, G. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Foreign Policy:

Theories, Actors, Cases. 3rd edition. Smith, S., Hadfield, A., Dunne, T. (eds.). Oxford University Press, 2016. pp. 263.-290.

[2] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (October 09, 2017), Cuban missile crisis (Encyclopedia Britannica). Available on:

[3] Roberts, Priscilla Mary. Cuban Missile Crisis: The Essential Reference Guide. Abc-Clio Inc, 2012.