For 13 days in October 1962, the world was on the brink of nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis, as it is now known, was a moment in history when the United States and the Soviet Union came perilously close to using their nuclear arsenals. The crisis was sparked by the Soviet Union’s decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the United States. But what’s relatively unknown is that this move was actually in response to an earlier perceived threat from America: the stationing of nuclear missiles in Italy, within striking distance of the USSR.
The story of the Cuban Missile Crisis begins in the early 1960s, when tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were running high. The Cold War was in full swing, and both sides were engaged in a nuclear arms race. In 1961, the United States began deploying Jupiter missiles in Italy and Turkey. These missiles had a range of around 1,500 miles and were capable of striking targets deep inside the Soviet Union. To the Soviet leadership, the deployment of these missiles was seen as a direct threat to their national security.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev decided to respond in kind. In May 1962, he began secretly moving nuclear missiles into Cuba, with the aim of creating a deterrent against a US attack. The Soviet Union had long seen Cuba as a potential ally in the Americas, and had been providing military and economic aid to the island nation since the early 1960s. By placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, Khrushchev hoped to both strengthen the USSR’s position in the region and create a balance of power with the United States.
The United States initially did not detect the Soviet Union’s deployment of nuclear missiles to Cuba, but as American intelligence agencies began to pick up on the activity, tensions began to rise. President John F. Kennedy was informed of the situation in mid-October and ordered a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent any further Soviet shipments of missiles from reaching the island. Kennedy also demanded that the Soviet Union remove the missiles already in place in Cuba.
Khrushchev initially responded by insisting that the Soviet Union had the right to defend itself and its allies, and that the deployment of missiles in Cuba was a defensive measure. However, as the crisis escalated and both sides prepared for war, Khrushchev eventually agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for a US promise not to invade the island and a secret agreement to remove US missiles from Turkey.
What’s often overlooked in the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis is the role that the deployment of Jupiter missiles in Italy played in sparking the crisis. In August 1962, Khrushchev sent a letter to Kennedy in which he warned that the deployment of US missiles in Italy was a provocation that could lead to war. Khrushchev argued that the missiles were within striking distance of the USSR, and that their deployment was a direct threat to Soviet national security.
The deployment of Jupiter missiles in Italy had largely gone unnoticed by the American public, and the US government had not informed NATO allies of the move. The deployment had also sparked protests in Italy, with many Italians objecting to the idea of nuclear weapons being stationed on their soil.
While the deployment of missiles in Italy did not directly lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was a factor in the decision to deploy missiles in Cuba. Khrushchev saw the deployment of missiles in Italy as evidence that the United States was intent on surrounding the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, and he saw the deployment of missiles in Cuba as a necessary response to this threat.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a tense and dangerous moment in history, and it served as a stark reminder of the risks inherent in the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. It also highlighted the importance of communication and diplomacy in resolving international conflicts.
After the crisis, both the United States and the Soviet Union took steps to reduce the risk of nuclear war. The two sides established a direct communication hotline between the White House and the Kremlin, and they signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space.
The Cuban Missile Crisis also had a lasting impact on Cuba. The Soviet Union’s decision to remove its missiles from Cuba in exchange for a US promise not to invade the island was seen as a betrayal by many Cubans. The crisis also led to a tightening of the US embargo on Cuba, which has had a significant impact on the country’s economy and political system.
In conclusion, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a pivotal moment in the Cold War, and its roots can be traced back to the deployment of Jupiter missiles in Italy. The crisis was a stark reminder of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and it highlighted the importance of communication and diplomacy in resolving international conflicts. While the crisis was resolved without a nuclear war, it had lasting consequences for Cuba and the world at large.