The Bay of Pigs incident had pushed Castro towards the Soviet Union, and by the end of 1961, the Cuban leader announced his conversion to communism, a worrying development for the capitalist United States. Furthermore, Soviet combat unites and military advisers had been placed in Cuba, with Khrushchev seeking the opportunity to extend his sphere of influence right on the US doorstep, and redress the balance of power. For arguments sake, I should mention that the Soviet defense for their military presence was the defense of Cuba from further US invasion, hence highlighting the US as the aggressor should there be any UN reprimand.
Khrushchev didn’t slow his involvement with Cuba, and in September 1962, began installing ballistic missiles on The island.on the 14th October American Spy planes took photos of Cuba, showing The construction of Soviet intermediate range missiles, to be operational by November that year. The missiles were in range of almost all US cities, & posed a major security threat and Kennedy had to act.
Upon learning of the missiles, he set up a committee of 12 advisers to discuss these options;
- Bomb Cuba & the Soviet Union with nuclear bombs
- Invade Cuba
- Use an airstrike to destroy the missile bombs
- Blockade Cuba
- Do nothing
All of these posed risks and threats to the US, and as the crisis mounted, Kennedy decided to impose a naval blockade on Cuba that would stretch 3300 kilometers. A fleet of Polaris submarines were readied for action, and 156 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles were readied.Air force bombers were on patrol& hundreds of thousands of troops were placed on combat alert.Kennedy made a television address warning Khrushchev that The soviet convoy approaching Cuba would be stopped & searched, and should any military equipment destined for Cuba be found the ships would have to return to USSR. A period known as the 13 days began.
Kennedy made the fore mentioned television address on the 22nd October and by the 24th, 18 soviet ships headed for Cuba turned and left to avoid a confrontation with the US blockade. Kennedy demanded the removal of the missiles and warned that failure to comply would lead to a US-led invasion of Cuba. Two days later, on the 26th October, Kennedy received a letter from Khrushchev, offering to remove the missiles if Kennedy removed the blockade and promised not to invade Cuba. The following day, Khrushchev amended his letter, and instead demanded the removal of US missiles from Turkey. Following this, American U2 spy planes were shot down over Cuba by soviet missiles, escalating the situation. On 28th October, Kennedy, ignoring the terms of the second letter, accepted the terms of the first, and added if there was no soviet response by 29th, US forces would invade Cuba. Khrushchev agreed to this, and the US removed their missiles from Turkey. This was done covertly, and the US appeared triumphant in the Crisis.
After the stress of waiting for letters to arrive during the crisis, a “hotline” was set up in June 1963, which was a direct link between the American President and the Russian Premier in Moscow. The Limited Test Ban Treaty was set up in July, with both sides agreeing to ban the testing of nuclear weapons in space, in the sea or above ground. These were the first steps in a period of détente; relaxed tensions in the relationship between the USA and USSR. These would be tested in the Prague Spring.