What was the Cuban Missile Crisis?

The Cuban Missile Crisis, also known as the October Crisis of 1962 (Spanish: Crisis de Octubre), the Caribbean Crisis (Russian: Карибский кризис, tr. Karibsky krizis, IPA: [kɐˈrʲipskʲɪj ˈkrʲizʲɪs]), or the Missile Scare, was a 13-day (16 to 28 October 1962) confrontation between the United States (US) and the Soviet Union initiated by Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba.

The confrontation is often considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.

In response to the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 and the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Cuba’s request to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter a future invasion. An agreement was reached during a secret meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro in July 1962, and construction of a number of missile launch facilities started later that summer.

Meanwhile, the 1962 US elections were under way, and the White House had denied charges for months that it was ignoring dangerous Soviet missiles 90 miles (140 km) from Florida. The missile preparations were confirmed when an Air Force U-2 spy plane produced clear photographic evidence of medium-range (SS-4) and intermediate-range (R-14) ballistic missile facilities.

When this was reported to President John F. Kennedy he then convened a meeting of the nine members of the National Security Council and five other key advisers in a group that became known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM). After consultation with them, Kennedy ordered a naval blockade on 22 October to prevent further missiles from reaching Cuba. The US announced it would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba be dismantled and returned to the Soviet Union.

After several days of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement to avoid invading Cuba again. Secretly, the United States agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), which had been deployed in Turkey against the Soviet Union; there has been debate on whether or not Italy was included in the agreement as well.

When all offensive missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on 21 November 1962. The negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear, and direct communication line between the two Superpowers. As a result, the Moscow-Washington hotline was established. A series of agreements later reduced US-Soviet tensions for several years until both parties began to build their nuclear arsenals even further.

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