Posted: March 18th, 2023
The reports of the arrival of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to the island of Cuba. These warheads are capable of reaching almost any part of the continental United States. The presence of these warheads represents an escalation of the conflict with the Soviet Union and its allies, and it represents an existential threat to the United States. For the first time since the arms buildup between the U.S. And USSR began, we are in a situation where mutually-assured destruction is a legitimate possibility. The response of the United States to this conflict represents the most significant challenge faced by President Kennedy to this point in his career, and it is imperative that he authorize the right course of action.
May (2011) posits that Kennedy was aware of and had permitted the arrival of defensive missiles from the U.S.S.R. To Cuba, and in fact had an agreement in place with Nikita Khrushchev that the Soviets would not install offensive weapons in Cuba. The arrival of offensive weapons gave the U.S.S.R. The capacity to strike the continental U.S., mirroring the capabilities of the U.S., which had placed missiles in Italy and Turkey. The arrival of the missiles not only signaled that mutually-assured destruction was a possibility, but it fed into public fears in the West that had been stoked by Kennedy himself during his election campaign about the U.S.S.R.’s missile capacity (Schwarz, 2013).
The arrival of the missiles prompted a crisis that requires careful weighing of interests in order to find an optimal solution. There are several background factors and influences that will contribute to the final policy recommendation. The first is that the U.S. relationship with Cuba is strongly negative, following the Cuban Revolution. Cuba, now a Communist country, had been aligned with the U.S.S.R. Cuba, being just a few miles offshore from the United States, was an embarrassment to American hegemony in its home region, and the U.S. had been trying since the revolution to overthrow the Castro government (Schwarz, 2013). These efforts had angered the Soviets.
Another background issue is the missile imbalance. While Kennedy campaigned on a missile gap that placed the Soviets in front of the arms race, the reality was that the U.S. had superior weaponry, and had been able to place missiles with NATO allies Italy and Turkey. The missiles in Turkey were especially galling to the U.S.S.R. because they were close to the border with the U.S.S.R., representing a threat to everything from Moscow to Caspian oil installations to the U.S.S.R.’s naval bases in the Crimea. The U.S.S.R. would seek a counter to the threat posed by NATO missile installations, and found it in the newly-Communist Cuba (LOC, 2010).
There are two critical factors in the decision regarding the U.S. missiles in Europe. The Italian missiles are obsolete at this point, but Turkey is strongly opposed to the removal of missiles from its territory, owing to the immediate presence of the Soviet Union along its borders and because of Soviet and Warsaw Pact presence on the Black Sea coastline, which Turkey also shares. Its missiles are viewed as a deterrent to further Eastern aggression.
There are four options that are being considered for resolution of the Cuban missile crisis. These are a blockade, an airstrike, a ground invasion and negotiations. The first option, a naval blockade, will have the following effects. It will isolate Cuba, an island that is not believed to be able to sustain itself without importations of fuel, and possibly food as well. The blockade will limit the effectiveness of the Cuban government and military apparatus, and will cripple its economy. The blockade will therefore force action, with the objective of securing the withdrawal of the offensive weaponry. A blockade bears some risks, as it represents the threat of military force, but it is not overt force, so may be seen as both restraint and as expressing a desire to find a solution that does not take us to the brink of nuclear war.
The second option is an airstrike. This option would eliminate the direct threat of the missiles if successful, but would launch open conflict. While the U.S. appears to have military advantage, it is unknown precisely what the capabilities of the Soviets are. For example, they have apparently deployed nuclear submarines to the area, and they may have placed tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba (Chomsky, 2012). Further, the military strength of the Soviets is unknown. There are concerns that a response of open conflict could also see Berlin captured.
The third option is to launch a ground invasion of Cuba. This approach seems riskier than airstrikes. While airstrikes could result in a missile being missed, they are quicker. A ground war would give the Soviets an opportunity to deploy the missiles, would invite open warfare, and ultimately would put the U.S. At risk on invasion as well. The upside of a ground invasion is that the U.S. could not only ensure that all missiles are found, but restore friendly government to Cuba as well, thus making this a more permanent solution that airstrikes.
The fourth option is to negotiate. This option is risky, because Khrushchev has already demonstrated that he cannot be trusted. Furthermore, while there is an offer on the table to withdraw the missiles if the U.S. withdraws its missiles from Turkey, this option weakens the U.S. position in Europe. There is room for negotiation to bring this problem to resolution, but there remains the question of leverage. The U.S. has limited leverage here. While Khrushchev wants to have the missiles removed from Turkey, this is not a crisis to the extent that the U.S. is facing with the missiles in Cuba. Khrushchev therefore has bargaining leverage. Negotiating at this point would be negotiating from a position of weakness, and furthermore there is no guarantee that negotiating would be successful. However, negotiations are preferable to nuclear annihilation, so that is one positive. Furthermore, the world views the balance of power between the U.S. And USSR as roughly equal — no prestige would be lose negotiating. Indeed many European nations favor a negotiated solution and it would reflect poorly on the U.S. To be unable to resolve this crisis without starting World War Three.
Before a strategy is chosen, it is worth considering what the end game is for the United States. The optimal solution is a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Further objectives would be to maintain leadership of Western interests. Ideally, the balance of power in the world should be maintained. Turkey would like to keep its missiles, but in reality this is flexible, given the stakes at hand. The underlying principle should be to end the crisis peacefully, and if peace is not possible then to end the crisis decisively.
It is recommended that the U.S. pursues the blockade option. The military options are unadvisable because they represent a step in the direction we are trying to avoid. If the objective is to remove the threat of mutually-assured destruction, then the military option is an incredible gamble. Airstrikes are quick enough, but in order to guarantee success of this option would require perfect intelligence. We know from reports that there are several large missiles in Cuba — locals reported them being transported in the middle of the night. The problem is that we are not 100% certain how many there are, and where they are located Airstrikes would require perfection in order to avoid triggering a nuclear response. There is the potential for tactical airstrikes to eliminate this threat, but there is also the risk that such a move would escalate the conflict. A land invasion would similarly represent an escalation, and it also runs the risk of taking too long to execute — missiles could be launched as a response to a land invasion.
The negotiation option holds some promise. There are conditions that we believe Khrushchev will agree to, such as the removal of missiles from Turkey and Italy. The Italian missiles are redundant, and we can put the Turkish missiles on the table It is entirely possible that Khrushchev manufactured this entire crisis to gain sufficient leverage to have the missiles removed from Turkey. At this point, such an outcome is the closest to optimal. The problem is that we have limited leverage because we need these missiles removed as soon as possible. Further, the United States may not be able to trust Khrushchev.
The blockade option is therefore optimal. The blockade is a means to avoid armed conflict, first and foremost. This option moves us in the direction in which we want to go, which is away from mutually-assured destruction. The armed response is appealing but the risk of nuclear annihilation makes it an inappropriate gamble, especially when we would be increasing the risk of the worst possible outcome. The blockade moves us away from that
The blockade also serves as a means of improving our leverage in the negotiating process. It does this in two ways. The first is that it cuts off Cuba from critical supplies, especially of oil. Cuba is a partner of the U.S.S.R. In this, so putting pressure on the Castro regime might be a way to improve our bargaining position. Second, the blockade is a quasi-military action that allows us to show force in the region. Negotiations may seem weak, which would have negative long-run consequences. The blockade is a means of demonstrating our military strength without actually using force. By doing this, we are not backing down, yet we are not escalating the conflict either. We can bring Khrushchev back to the negotiating table.
The blockade option serves as a precursor to negotiations. By increasing the pressure on the U.S.S.R. And on Cuba, we put ourselves in a position where both parties are equally motivated to find a resolution to this crisis. We can open negotiations on this relatively even footing. As long as we are prepared to withdraw our missiles from Italy and Turkey, the blockade as a precursor to negotiation option can be effective. When we implement the blockade, the end result is to improve Soviet desire to negotiate a solution we can trust. If they have reason to fear us they are more likely to dismantle their missiles and take them back to the U.S.S.R.
It is recommended therefore to defuse the Cuban missile crisis through the use of a blockade to cut Cuba off from critical supplies The blockade achieves two objectives, the first being to reduce the likelihood of nuclear conflict and the second is to improve our bargaining position for negotiations about a permanent resolution to this crisis.
Chomsky, N. (2012). Cuban missile crisis: How the U.S. played Russian roulette with nuclear war. The Guardian. Retrieved November 17, 2013 from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/15/cuban-missile-crisis-russian-roulette
LOC. (2010). Cold war: Cuban missile crisis Library of Congress. Retrieved November 17, 2013 from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/colc.html
May, E. (2011). John F. Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis BBC History. Retrieved November 17, 2013 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/coldwar/kennedy_cuban_missile_01.shtml
Schwarz, B. (2013). The real Cuban missile crisis. The Atlantic. Retrieved November 17, 2013 from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/01/the-real-cuban-missile-crisis/309190/
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