After World War II was over, two super powers emerged in a tight bipolar system – the United States and the Soviet Union. The Cold War began in 1947 when the U. S. “openly stated its opposition to Soviet expansion” (Roskin & Berry, 2010, p. 9). However, as the 1960s approached, it was becoming clear that the influences of these truly great powers were declining (Hermes, 2001). Kennedy’s doctrine couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. His attest to the importance of flexibility essentially averted a nuclear World War III.
In 1959, Fidel Castro led a guerrilla war against the Batista regime in Cuba, he “clamped down his own dictatorship… and turned to the Soviet Union for arms and financial aid” (Roskin & Berry, 2010, p. 154-155). After the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion failed (a U. S. attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro), Castro felt a second attack was inevitable. Consequently, he approved of Khrushchev’s proposal to install missiles on the island. In the summer of 1962 the Soviet Union began building its missile installations in Cuba (Wiersma & Larson, 1997).
In October of 1962, during the height of the Cold War, a U2 camera plane captured photographs of nuclear missile sites being built in Cuba by the Soviet Union (Roskin & Berry, 2010). When the U. S. expressed their concerns, the Soviets claimed they were merely providing Cuba with weapons to defend themselves in the event of future U. S. attacks. Kennedy made it clear that the “United States would retaliate against the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons if any Cuban missiles were used against an American nation” (Hermes, 2001, p. 595). These events effectively led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
According to Roskin (2010), Kennedy’s doctrine was to “Respond flexibly to communist expansion, especially to guerrilla warfare” (p. 58). In February, 1961 President Kennedy wrote a letter to Khrushchev stating: I think we should recognize, in honesty to each other, that there are problems on which we may not be able to agree. However, I believe that while recognizing that we do not and, in all probability will not, share a common view on all of these problems, I do believe that the manner in which we approach them and, in particular, the manner in which our disagreements are handled, can be of great importance (State. ov). Kennedy was guiding the U. S. into a new era of flexible response and de-emphasized massive military retaliation. His doctrine of flexibility couldn’t have come at a better time. The communist eastern European satellite nations were pressing for more freedom of action, and the Chinese opposed the Soviet’s hope for a peaceful coexistence with the U. S. “The Communist bloc, therefore, was in the process of splintering, with groups favoring the Soviet, Chinese, or Cuban brand of Communism emerging in many countries” (Hermes, 2001, p. 92). Kennedy’s patience and flexibility would soon prove to avert the world from a nuclear World War III. In deciding how to deal with the Soviet’s missile aid to Cuba, Kennedy stood up the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (aka: EXCOMM), a group of his twelve most important advisors to handle the crisis. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara outlined three possible courses of action: 1. The political course of action: to engage Castro and Khrushchev on the diplomatic stage in a gamble to resolve the crisis openly. An option which most members of EXCOMM deemed unlikely to succeed. ) 2. A course of action that would involve declaration of open surveillance combined with a blockade against offensive weapons entering Cuba. 3. Military action directed against Cuba, starting with an air attack against the missiles, and then followed by an invasion (Wiersma & Larson, 1997). In alignment with his doctrine, President Kennedy opted for the declaration of open surveillance combined with a naval blockade to prevent the Soviets from bringing any more military supplies to Cuba (Correll, 2005).
Kennedy favored the blockade because it provided the Soviets an option to end the crisis. The blockade proved to be effective because on October 28th, Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the weapon sites and pull the missiles out of Cuba. In turn, the U. S. pledged not to invade Cuba. In a separate deal, which remained secret for more than twenty-five years, the United States also agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey (“Cuban Missile Crisis,” n. d. ). These diplomatic efforts enhanced the relationship between the U. S. and the Soviets.
As a result of the crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The treaty enacted the following: •Prohibited nuclear weapons tests or other nuclear explosions under water, in the atmosphere, or in outer space; •Allowed underground nuclear tests as long as no radioactive debris falls outside the boundaries of the nation conducting the test; and •Pledged signatories to work towards complete disarmament, an end to the armaments race, and an end to the contamination of the environment by radioactive substances (“Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” n. d. ).
The Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement unfortunately placed Cuba in a perilous situation. It had been transformed into a strategic U. S. target when the Soviet Union placed missiles there. When the Soviets withdrew the missiles in the face of U. S. pressure, Cuba was even more vulnerable. The country at the center of the conflict was not even consulted with regards to the agreement. Therefore, Cuba concluded that neither superpower could be trusted (Blight & Brenner, 2002). The overall advantage to Kennedy’s doctrine is the United States was able to avoid a nuclear World War III.
Unbeknownst to Kennedy at the time, the Soviets had three dozen nuclear warheads they were prepared to use had the U. S. invaded Cuba (Roskin & Berry, 2010). Khrushchev told his generals that if he couldn’t be reached in the event of an invasion, they had the authority to launch the nuclear weapons. In turn, Kennedy would have had no choice but to retaliate with American nuclear devices (Wiersma & Larson, 1997). Another advantage to the doctrine was a teletype “Hotline” was established between the Kremlin and the White House so that the two world leaders could communicate quickly.
During the Missile Crisis, it could take up to seven hours to transmit a message from one capitol to the other (Wiersma & Larson, 1997). In retrospect, events could have occurred much differently if Kennedy decided to invade Cuba before getting a message that Khrushchev had agreed to pull the missiles out of Cuba. With the ending of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet attempts to challenge the United States directly began to subside. For the United States, Cuba marked the success of the flexible response era, as the American reaction ranged from limited and conventional measures to the threat of general war (Hermes, 2001).
Together, Kennedy and Khrushchev were able to demonstrate that they were unwilling to risk nuclear war in spite of their differences. Kennedy’s doctrine was a success. As Blight and Brenner point out, “The appropriate lesson that should have been drawn from this behavior is that flexibility, compromise, and respect for an adversary’s calculus of its vulnerability is essential for the peaceful outcome of a crisis” (2002). ? References Blight, J. , Brenner, P. (2002). Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sad and Luminous Days; Cuba’s Struggles with the Superpowers after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Retrieved from http://www. historyofcuba. com/history/Sad-1. htm Correll, J. (2005). Airpower and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Air Force Magazine, 88(8), 82. Cuban Missile Crisis. (n. d. ) John F. Kennedy Presidental Library and Museum. Retrieved from http://www. jfklibrary. org/JFK/JFK-in-History/Cuban-Missile-Crisis. aspx Hermes, W. (2001). Global Pressures and the Flexible Response. American Military History. Retrieved from http://www. history. army. mil/books/amh/AMH-27. htm Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. (n. d. ) John F. Kennedy Presidental Library and Museum.
Retrieved from http://www. jfklibrary. org/JFK/JFK-in-History/Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty. aspx Roskin, M. , Berry, N. (2010). IR: The New World of International Relations (8th ed. ). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall U. S. Department of State, Office of the Historian. (1996). Kennedy-Khrushchev Exchanges. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, VI. Washington, DC: USGPO Wiersma, K. , Larson, B. (1997). Fourteen Days in October: The Cuban Missile Crisis. Retrieved from http://library. advanced. org/11046/