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Thirteen October days of missile crisis

Summary:
The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 16th 1962 when US President John F Kennedy was shown photographs taken by a U2 spy plane that gave proof that the Soviet Union was building missile launching sites in Cuba from which it could launch a nuclear attack on the US. This began a 13-day tense confrontation that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.A U2 spy plane took photos that showed that the Soviets were constructing launch sites in Cuba for medium and intermediate range missiles targeted at US cities. The significance was that they could reach that targets in only a few minutes, giving the US no time to launch a counter-strike before they hit. The Soviets were this about to acquire a first strike capability and upset the balance of forces. Evidence suggested they were

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The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 16th 1962 when US President John F Kennedy was shown photographs taken by a U2 spy plane that gave proof that the Soviet Union was building missile launching sites in Cuba from which it could launch a nuclear attack on the US. This began a 13-day tense confrontation that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

A U2 spy plane took photos that showed that the Soviets were constructing launch sites in Cuba for medium and intermediate range missiles targeted at US cities. The significance was that they could reach that targets in only a few minutes, giving the US no time to launch a counter-strike before they hit. The Soviets were this about to acquire a first strike capability and upset the balance of forces. Evidence suggested they were planning 40 launchers. Ground-based intelligence had alerted the US, and led it to conduct the spy flights that confirmed the Soviet plans. Intelligence from Oleg Penkovsky, a Western agent within the Kremlin, about Soviet missiles enabled the CIA to identify the types of missile and confirm their offensive capability.

The USSR disastrously miscalculated the US response. They thought that President Kennedy’s lukewarm response after the failed Bay of Pigs incursion would lead him to avoid confrontations and accept the missiles as a fait accompli. In fact there was no chance that the US would accept so aggressive a move so near to its territory.

The US military wanted either an attack from the air to destroy the bases before they became operational, or a full-scale invasion of Cuba to eliminate the threat. There is no doubt that they had overwhelming superiority in firepower, both in missiles and in warheads. Kennedy opted, however, for a more cautious response, declaring a quarantine around Cuba that would intercept any Soviet ships bringing missiles or supplies, and demanding that missiles already there be shipped out and the launch sites dismantled.

The Cuba-bound Russian cargo ships drew closer each day to the US-declared exclusion zone, and the world awaited a confrontation. The US fleet prepared to fire warning shots to make the cargo vessels turn back, and to board them or sink them if they failed to respond. Khrushchev backed down when he realized that the Americans meant business. An agreement was reached under which the missile sites would be dismantled in return for a public US pledge not to invade the island. Under a secret clause the US agreed to dismantle intermediate range missiles it had based in Turkey. In fact these were already past their usefulness since they had been a stop-gap until the US had acquired intercontinental missiles, which it now had deployed.

The world watched as the Russian ships turned back, and as missiles loaded onto freighters were shown on the decks of their cargo ships leaving Cuba. The crisis was a victory for the US and a setback for the USSR. Fidel Castro was furious that Russia had backed down, and had been quite ready to see a nuclear war if it meant the destruction of capitalism and the subsequent victory for communism.

The lesson was that there would be no appeasement of Soviet aggression, and this fact tempered their subsequent actions. Khrushchev was fatally weakened by the affair and deposed within 2 years. Ronald Reagan took note, and when he was elected President, initiated an update of US military power that the Soviets could not compete with. The missiles of October almost precipitated a world nuclear war, but the success of the firm US response led it to pursue policies that ultimately won the Cold War.

President Putin no doubt regrets that Khrushchev backed down just as he regrets the fall of the Soviet East European puppet tyrannies, but there is no doubt that he takes on board the major lesson of the Cuban Missile crisis. If you push too hard against the West, they will push back.

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