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The Cuban Missile Crisis in the Cold War


The Cold War is signified by several serious conflict escalations between the Soviet Union and the United States, one of which is the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the failed Bay of Pigs operation, the government of Cuba requested the USSR’s help, and the latter placed its nuclear missiles on the territory of the island. This paper will explain the details of the most significant Cold War confrontations between the USSR and the United States, which is the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Background: The Cold War

The Cuban Missile Crisis is a part of the Cold War confrontation between the USSR and the United States. The two counties have been the superpowers that defined the direction of geopolitics in the late 1940s and 1990s (Lebow & Stein, 2021). The cause of the conflict was the difference in the ideologies that the two states promoted. Naturally, the confrontation between two states has to lead to some tensions and either a resolution through negotiations or war. This confrontation between the Eastern and the Western superpowers began after World War II. The conflict ended after the USSR seized to exist; however, over the course of it, the states have had several conflicts that could have led to the full-scale war with the use of nuclear weapons (Lebow & Stein, 2021). However, the name “the Cold War” stems from the fact that although both countries supported small-scale conflicts of their allies, there was never a direct confrontation between them. Hence, the Cuban Missile Crisis is the most significant one out of the confrontations that happened between the USSR and the United States during the Cold War.

Cuban Missile Crisis

The October Crisis of 1962 is the nuclear confrontation between the United States and the USSR. However, as was noted previously, this conflict was only one element of the prolonged cold war between the two global superpowers, although this crisis was perhaps the one that was at a high risk of developing into a full-scale war.

This crisis began with the Cuban Prime Minister’s request to place nuclear missiles on the island in 1961. Fidel Castro requested this to be done after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which was a threat to his authority in an attempt to prevent future invasions (Lebow & Stein, 2021). Apart from this operation, the government of the United States has overtly tried to overthrow Castro to ensure that Cuban’s government is not collaborating with the communists, but these attempts were failed. Hence, the Cuban Missile Crisis is a natural continuation of the overt actions that the governments of the two states have made in an attempt to promote their ideologies and discredit that of the opponent.

Naturally, the placement of nuclear weapons closes to the United States borders became a serious threat to national security. Williams (2019) states that former President Dwight Eisenhower warned Kennedy that the failure of this operation would result in the USSR’s leaders acting more boldly. This warning was true because, after the operation, Cuba and the USSR collaborated to place the nuclear missiles across the island, threatening the national security of the United States. This move was the boldest action that the Soviet Union as taken over the course of the Cold War. The issue of Cuba’s alliance with the USSR was a concern for the United States government even prior to the placement of the missiles. As a Latin American country, Cuba was in close proximity to the United States, and therefore, its collaboration with a communist superpower was a threat to the United States, as Williams (2020) notes in their review of this conflict.

Some experts, such as Lebow and Stein (2021), argue that the Bay of Pigs justification is not realistic and the real reason for the missiles being placed on Cuba was the Soviet Union falling behind on the number of nuclear missiles they have built when compared to the United States. Hence, the placement of these weapons was a strategic decision to put the movement of the states at a disadvantage, considering the large number of weapons they have possessed.

Naturally, the United States intelligence agents, after receiving and analyzing the reports from the locals, determined that the Cuban government has received nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union. After receiving the confirmation from the analysts who reviewed aerial photos, the President of the United States was notified. Moreover, Williams (2020) argues that the leadership of the United States did not have a response plan since they did not expect such a move from the USSR. Thus, the initial confusion of the United States’ leaders is another example supporting the idea that the Cold War was an overt conflict where both states’ leaders did not plan to engage in a direct confrontation.

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The response of the United States government began “with President John F. Kennedy’s dramatic broadcast announcing “a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba” to force the removal from the island of newly discovered Soviet medium- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles” (Colman, 2019, p. 150). The United States used a tactic of blockade instead of a direct confrontation as a way to force the Soviet Union leaders to remove the nuclear missiles from the island. According to Lebow and Stein (2021), President Kennedy made a decision between two options: the blockade and an airstrike directed at Cuba island. The blockade was an indirect action that implied not allowing the ships to pass to Cuba. Williams (2020) notes that the United States administration hesitated for a long time before choosing to engage in a blockade mainly due to the international law issues that were a direct result of using a blockade as a response measure. This is because technically, the term “blockade” meant that there was a war between the states, which led to the consequences and potential response from the other state.

The fact that the United States government and President John F. Kennedy, in particular, chose blockade over a military action is a distinct characteristic of the Cold War conflicts. Arguably, a military action from the United States would provoke the USSR to act in the same way, and the allies of both countries would have to participate in the conflict. This mobilization of force could lead to another world war, which is why careful actions and non-military intervention methods were the best options over the course of this conflict.

Moreover, both sides did not plan to engage in a direct conflict since the USSR’s leaders also planned to use the missiles as an element of negotiations when discussing West Berlin. Accruing to Williams (20), Khrushchev had plans directed at integrating the remaining part of Berlin into its set of allies. Hence, the missiles’ placement could be used when negotiating with the United States since the USSR could agree to remove them in return for receiving control over the entirety of Berlin. Hence, this conflict shows that both states’ leaders were not interested in a direct confrontation and a war and instead used weapons and a threat of a nuclear conflict to promote their geopolitical interests and agendas.

This conflict required the two states to negotiate and establish ways of reducing the tension to avoid a full-scale nuclear war. As a result, in 1962, the Moscow-Washington hotline was established as a direct line of communication for the leaders of the two states (Lebow & Stein, 2021). The Cuban confrontation is an example of a conflict between the USSR and the United States. Mainly, this confrontation did not happen directly between the two countries; and instead, it centered around the USSR’s ally. This is a common feature of this conflict since these two superpowers never directly engaged in a battle or other type of engagement. However, Cuba served as a stage for resolving ideological and geopolitical issues.


In summary, this paper explains the details of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This conflict is a part of the Cold War between the two global superpowers. As seen from the analysis, both the United States and the USSR’s leadership were not interested in beginning a war. However, the USSR’s leader wanted to use the ballistic missiles as leverage when negotiating the status of Berlin and as a way to have an advantage since the United States had substantially more nuclear weapons.


Colman, J. (2019). Toward “world support” and “the ultimate judgment of history”: The U.S. legal case for the blockade of Cuba during the Missile Crisis, 1962. Journal Of Cold War Studies, 21(2), 150-173.

Lebow, R., & Stein, J. (2021). 5. Back to the past: Counterfactuals and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Princeton University Press, 119-148.

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Williams, T. (2020). Oxford AQA GCSE history: Conflict and tension between East and West 1945-1972. Oxford University Press.

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