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The Cold War

Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in 1962 when the Soviet Union began to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. The United States refused to allow this and, after thirteen tense days and many secret negotiations, the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles.

This is perhaps the closest that the United States and the Soviet Union came to nuclear war during the Cold war.

Kennedy planning for Cuban Missile Crisis
President Kennedy during crisis
Source: Harvard Film Archive

Leading up to the Crisis

Prior to the crisis the United States had attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro and the current government of Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion. The invasion failed, but it served as a warning to Fidel Castro. Also, the United States had installed several nuclear missile sites in Turkey and Italy with the range to strike Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union.

As a result, the Soviet Union felt they needed missile sites that could strike at the United States. At the same time the Cuban government wanted protection from the United States. They decided to work together and have the Soviet Union put nuclear missiles in Cuba that could strike most any portion of the USA.

How the Crisis Began

On October 14, 1962 an American U-2 spy plane flying over Cuba captured pictures of long range Soviet missiles in Cuba. This was a crisis like never before. These missiles could reach any point of the United States with nuclear warheads causing mass destruction.

President Kennedy called a meeting with his main security advisors. They considered a number of options from diplomacy to a full scale attack and invasion on Cuba. The Joint Chiefs of Staff voted to invade. They felt this was the only viable option. However, Kennedy was concerned that this would start World War III between the US and the Soviet Union. He opted to set up a naval blockade.

Blockade

Kennedy announced his plan on October 22, 1962. He showed the world the missile bases and said that the United States would be putting Cuba under "quarantine". This meant that no offensive weapons would be allowed to enter Cuba. He also said that any attack on the US from Cuba would be considered an act of war from the Soviet Union.

Over the next several days the crisis became more intense. The Soviet Union said they would not back down. By the 24th, Kennedy believed the US would have to invade Cuba.

Negotiations

Although the Soviet Union was publicly saying they would never back down, they were secretly negotiating with the United States. Eventually the two sides reached an agreement. The Soviet Union would remove the missiles from Cuba as long as the United States agreed to never invade Cuba again. In secret, the US also had to agree to remove their nuclear missiles from Turkey and Italy. The crisis was over.

Results of the Crisis

The crisis was President Kennedy's greatest moment. After the Bay of Pigs failure and the Berlin Wall, his leadership had come into question. The world could feel confident in the leader of the United States again.

Interesting Facts About the Cuban Missile Crisis Take a ten question quiz about this page.

To learn more about the Cold War:

Back to the Cold War summary page.

Overview Major Events Wars People of the Cold War

Western Leaders Communist Leaders
Works Cited

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