“We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked” (Dean Rusk). The Cuban Missile Crisis put the world on the edge of its seat, and was the closest anyone has ever gotten to full-scale nuclear war. Even though the event lasted a mere two weeks (from October 14-24, 1962), it played a significant role in international politics, and its effects can still be seen today. The Cuban Missile Crisis is significant to current international relations because it taught two very important lessons; that information is crucial to successful negotiations, and that it is important to know when to compromise.
The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis is traced from both post-World War II negotiations and the Cuban Revolution. After the end of World War II, the Yalta Conference marked a turning point in Soviet-American relations (The American Vision). This is because the Soviet Union wanted the freed countries of Europe to use communist government systems, whereas the United States wanted the freedom for each country to choose their government. Unfortunately, this clashing belief of government systems created the Cold War and eventually escalated into the Cuban Missile Crisis. On the other side of the globe, a Cuban Revolution was taking place, overthrowing previous dictator named Fulgencio Batista. Under Batista’s rule, American businesses exploited Cuba’s industries with little to no prosecution (“Cuban Revolution”). The new leader, Fidel Castro, began taking over American industries in Cuba, characterizing the U.S. as a vulture (“Cuban Revolution”). This harsh shift between the leaders of Cuba and . As a result of the embargo, Castro sought the aid of the Soviet Union to help their economic position (“What Triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis?”). Had the United States been more willing to discuss a compromise between Cuba and the U.S., the crisis may have never even occurred.
Much of the information that is available today about the Cuban Missile Crisis was not available to the people who needed it the most. One of the most devastating issues during the crisis was obtaining the proper information in order for each leader to make apt decisions. On October 14, an American U2 spy plane photographed military bases in Cuba, which, after close examination, proved the existence of nuclear warheads (Schroeder, “Cuban Missile Crisis”). The other information that was lacking was the capability and range of the warheads. One map showed that there were three different types of nuclear missiles based in Cuba, ones that could reach a maximum distance of 630 nautical miles, 1020 nautical miles, and even 2200 nautical miles (“USSR Missile Ranges”). With such long distance missiles, the Soviets could hit nearly every city in the continental U.S. (“USSR Missile Ranges”). Despite having full knowledge of their missiles’ capabilities and locations, the Soviet Union refused to disclose such vital information, even to the United Nations. This further aggravated the situation and made negotiations borderline threatening, because it showed the Soviet’s intent was to keep those missiles a secret. If, on the other hand, the Soviets had disclosed their intentions before shipping the missiles, a better compromise would have been made.
Along with the chaos of the Cuban Missile Crisis, many other important international events were taking place. For example, in 1961, the USSR constructed the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Germany (“World Events”). This wall represented both a material and ideological separation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It shut off trade and immigration between the two sides of Germany and essentially halted peaceful communications between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as well. Additionally, the Space Race further deteriorated diplomacy between the U.S. and USSR. Starting in the 1950’s and continuing past the missile crisis,”…space would become another dramatic arena for this competition, as each side sought to prove the superiority of its technology” (“World Events”). As the competition heated up, so did tensions at United Nations meetings. Adlai Stevenson said in a speech regarding the missile presence in Cuba,”… we heard that they had suddenly become defensive weapons. But today, again if I heard you correctly, you now say they do not exist…” (“Speech at the UN”). He went on to further say,”You – the Soviet Union – have sent these weapons to Cuba. You – the Soviet Union – have upset the balance of power in the world” (“Speech at the UN”). Analyzing the tone of the speech, even negotiations at a UN conference, were very hostile.
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During the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, not only were different governments clashing, but people within the U.S. were questioning the Soviet Union’s intents. So much so that,”the search for spies escalated into a general fear of Communist subversion” (The American Vision). The American people feared communism. This “Red Scare” spread like wildfire, newspapers wrote about it, magazines published it, even organizations such as HUAC were created out of the fear of communism. One newspaper wrote,”The military has grown out of our conviction that the Western World is faced with the very real possibility of a Soviet Attack” (Bowles, “The Most Powerful Idea”). It also stated,”We are wholly right in building our Army, Navy, and Air Force strong enough to discourage Soviet attack” (Bowles, “The Most Powerful Idea”).
The Cuban Missile Crisis left a definite impression on the world. As Mary Roberts said,” The Cuban Missile Crisis had a sobering impact on its protagonists” (“Cuban Missile Crisis). That is to say, its effects caused the world to take a step back and realize what had just happened. Sure, the Cold War hadn’t ended, however it led the international community to come together to try to prevent similar nuclear crises from occurring. Today, a similar issue presents itself as North Korea tries to assert itself as a nuclear capable nation. During the missile crisis it was ,”…the Soviet Union’s determination to achieve, at least, a nuclear parity with the United States” (“Cuban Missile Crisis”). Today, though not nearly to the same caliber, North Korea has been determined to continue its nuclear missile tests. In January of this year, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear weapons test, defying international sanctions once again (“North Korea Crisis”).
Even more so today do we realize just how fragile the situation in Cuba was,”Declassified documents and new information has confirmed that the Cuban Missile Crisis was even more serious than officials at the time believed” (Schroeder, “The Cuban Missile Crisis”).