The required brevity of this essay precludes the possibility of giving any kind of narrative of the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis; however we will begin with a brief analysis of the origins of the crisis before proceeding to analyse who was to blame and eventually concluding that there were faults on both sides, although more on Kennedy’s than Khrushchev’s.
President Kennedy had come to office in 1960 under the generally held, but entirely inaccurate belief that America had far fewer missiles than the Soviets. Almost immediately upon election he committed the US to a massive increase in the US’ nuclear missile arsenal. Even when it was admitted that the US in fact had far more missiles than the Soviet Union, the building program did not slow down (Kahan & Long, 1972, 565).
Giglio has argued that the crisis arose out of a personal vendetta of the Kennedy’s against Castro himself (Giglio, 1991, 190). It is long established that the CIA were engaged in attempts to assassinate Castro. Robert Kennedy even held responsible for these operations for a time (Chang & Kornbluh, 1992, 20-23).
The American trade embargo on Cuba and the growing belief that an invasion was imminent led the Soviet Union to threaten war if any such event should occur (Giglio, 1991, 190). We can say, with hindsight, that direct invasion was unlikely given the disastrous Bay of Pigs incident, however this was certainly not clear to the Soviets at the time.
Bohlen and Thompson have noted that the Russians had never before placed nuclear weapons outside of their territory and that placing them in Cuba could have been seen by the Americans as a direct threat to their national security. The Russians now had a first strike capability on America’s very doorstep with the ability to strike anywhere at will. This was a threat that Kennedy simply could not ignore (Beschloss, 1991 424). From the Soviets perspective, they may have seen the positioning of missiles in Cuba as a way of balancing the strategic superiority the US had over them in such weapons.
John and Robert Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, Adlai Stevenson, Kenneth Keating and Dean Acheson all played significant roles in creating or exacerbating the crisis. It is beyond doubt that Khrushchev had made the critical decision to place missiles in Cuba; but Kennedy’s campaign to overthrow Castro had helped convince the Russian Premier that they were needed to act as a deterrent to American invasion. Keating and other Republicans had forced Kennedy to promise the American electorate that he would resist any attempts to put missiles on Cube, compelling Kennedy to action in October 62. Even Stevenson, whose ideas and policies throughout the crisis were generally sound, had contributed by laying the foundation in 61 for the Cubans to be ejected from the OAS (White, 1996, 232).
External and Internal factors were no doubt in operation during the build up to the crisis. External factors were certainly of vital importance. Khrushchev almost certainly believed that placing missiles in Cuba would close the strategic gap that he knew to exist; it would also help appease the Chinese and provide a bargaining chip in negotiations with the west (White, 1996, 233).