Krushchev’ Hardline Approach: Just for Kennedy or Just His Style?


An interesting book I have recently finished reading discusses the four Soviet leaders Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev called, “Leadership Style and Soviet Foreign Policy” by James M. Goldgeier and recommend it to any student, scholar or individual interested in Soviet-US relations during the Cold War. It offered a different picture than what is traditionally taught in high school and university classrooms regarding John F. Kennedy, Khrushchev and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The following thoughts are an attempt to reconcile with the traditional depiction of the crisis and how it painted the American president and the Soviet secretary, by reviewing the major themes and concepts of Mr. Goldgeier’s book.

The Traditional Story:

The traditional traits of the story of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis are something along these lines:

  • JFK was the new leader of the Free World. He was also the first Catholic and youngest president ever elected.
  • JFK faced a strong Soviet threat. JFK outlined this in his presidential debates, claiming the US had a missile capacity and inventory inferior to that of the USSR.
  • JFK had led a failed invasion known as the, “Bay of Pigs”.
  • Secretary Khrushchev secretly started sending nuclear-enhanced ballistic missiles to the Communist island of Cuba, to counter American power.
  • Secretary Khrushchev believed JFK to be a weak and incompetent leader and therefore wanted to test his strength and capability by taking a hard-line approach.

So here we have a picture that casts JFK as a new, ground-breaking leader who was put to the test by an aggressive Soviet secretary that had it out personally for JFK.

“Leadership Style and Soviet Foreign Policy” Concepts and Theories:


That Soviet leaders successful domestic political endeavours shaped and guided their actions within the international arena, resulting generally in failure.

Overview of concepts:

Development of Schemas: “to sort incoming information, people use ‘schemas’.” Schemas are assumptions about how things work. “In highly ambiguous settings, human beings need rules of thumb to guide them. As Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross have noted, a variety of different theoretical areas within psychology ‘all have made essentially the same point – that objects and events in the phenomenal world are almost never approached as if they were sui generis configurations but rather are assimilated into preexisting structures in the mind of the perceiver.'” There is no consensus with psychologists on what constitutes the most ‘important’ memories used for schema construction, however it can easily be asserted that in regards to the individual, if the memory is understood as important, the easier it will be for them to remember it for later reference and operationalization. Essentially the concept of schemas dictates that leaders group together “powerful” and “easy-to-reach” memories of success to construct an overarching policy or idea when contemplating which political behaviour to attend to.

Types of Bargaining Style – Strategy and Tactics: Mr. Goldgeier outlines that in any domestic or international playing field, political bargaining has two basic types of style: coercion and accommodation.

– Coercion: is the use of threats, bluffs, warning, or force to exert pressure on an adversary to accept one’s demands, whereas,

– Accommodation: is the offering of concessions or compromises to satisfy an opponent’s position.

Ultimately both styles have their pros and cons and their own logic, therefore they cannot be exclusively classified as “right” or “wrong”. Coercive-type practices are good to demonstrate the conviction, strength and importance of a person’s position, with the underlying fear that accommodation will bread contempt and undermine their stance. Accommodation-type practices are good in order for the leader to reach a settlement and reach mutual satisfaction with the fundamental fear that coercive strategy will lead to retaliation of some sort.

As Goldgeier summarizes it, “The coercive strategist recognizes the danger of looking weak but underestimates the risks of being provocative. The accommodative bargainer understands the risks of provocation but neglects the problem of appearing weak. Whether a given strategy is successful is highly dependent on the situation, the opponent and the skill used in applying strategy.”

Other Factors:

-Balance of Power: leaders trying to survive in a world lacking a central authority must commit to decisions that maintain balance against other nations, as well as interact with in order to ensure order and stability.

-Domestic Political Needs: most often is the case with leaders within the international arena, they are subject to the current domestic negotiations of policy within their respective countries at that time and so therefore this must be recognized along schemas and bargaining type as affecting their foreign policy behavior at some level.

Shared Experiences: In regards to the “Operational-Code”, it suggests that leaders are guided by a set of cultural maxims. In regard to Soviet leaders, these maxims “derived from factors such as Russian culture, the experience of the Bolsheviks as revolutionaries in tsarist Russia, and the Bolshevik view of the capitalist enemy.” The “operational-code” also tends to focus primarily on the “image of the adversary” and therefore must be recognized as well.

The Cuban Missile Crisis Re-Examined in a New Light

First and foremost when attempting to understand the validity of the traditional narrative of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 we must target the perception of the leaders involved in order to bring to light the nature of the actual conflict and why certain actions and rhetoric was utilized.

The Nature of Power:

Power is fundamentally difficult to define, in fact, most definitions resort to defining the nature of power rather than exactly what it is because it fluctuates on so many levels in regards to an infinite amount of variables it interacts with. When determining, however, the nature of power in given situations it can be asserted that power is a combination of a person utilizing a mix of psychological as well as physical components in order to project an image of what their position is; therefore it is safe to reason that power involves a substantial amount of ‘perception creation’ between those acting out a stance of power and those to which it is being projected toward. This is vital to remember when discussing the events before and after the Cuban Missile Crisis in conjunction with the theory outlined above from Mr. Goldgeier above.

Khrushchev’s Rise to Power in the Presidium (Politburo)

One of Stalin’s favorite style of political strategy was to bask himself in the perception of accommodation, while utilizing his loyal officials to carry out the hard lines he secretly wished to be carried out; therefore Stalin was a coercive political bargaining who camouflaged himself in appeasement and moderation. Khrushchev was also coercive in his political strategy, but made no attempt to camouflage his actions and rose to power after Stalin’s death in 1953 on these grounds.

After Stalin’s death, Khrushchev’s main political enemy or threat to the top was Georgy Malenkov who was a confidant and collaborator of Stalin’s. Between 1953 and 1955 Malenkov was considered the most powerful man in Russia, Chairman of the Council of Ministers (very powerful position) and First Secretary of the party, who was expected to succeed Stalin as General Secretary. As Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Malenkov made Lavrenty Beria (secret police chief and someone who Stalin introduced to FDR as “our Himmler”) his deputy, therefore securing a relatively comfortable position within the governing body. As does any immediate substantial increase in power aspirants began to join together to remove him from his seat as First Secretary, upon which Krushchev assumed the position in September in 1953. Among the next six years, Khrushchev had to battle opponents ranging from a number of powerful Communist officials such as Dmitri Shepilov, Lazar Kaganovich and others; eventually becoming the undisputed leader in the Twenty-first Party Congress in 1959.

How did Khrushchev successfully rid of his political enemies and become leader? He used blantant coercive tactics such as warnings, threats and often bluffs applying “continue verbal pressure against rivals.” He made no effort to hide his aggressive position on power but rather used it demonstrate his capacity to defend it. Mr. Goldgeier indicates that Khrushchev’s strategy was to exploit the atmosphere of crisis after Stalin to make common cause with the masses against intransigent forces within the establishment.” In other words, he would play on the fundamental fears of the established and highly disconnected elite by raising popular expectations. One of his favorite tactics in his coercive strategy was to prematurely announce policy that would put his rivals in the awkward position to either commit or get out of the way, as well as raise the stakes as to what the policies goals would be in order to display his opponents as failures once that difficult policy expectations never manifested accordingly. In order to demonstrate the “actuality” of this strategy, below is a case example of how he shifted Malenkov, Stalin’s confident, aside in order to make his position available for the taking.

Crop Production Policy and the Fight for Power:

Krushchev’s use of agricultural policy to outflank rivals in the eyes of the public was a major issue that helped propel him in the eyes of the Poliburo but also the general mass public. In 1953, when Malekov was still First Secretary and yielded considerable power, he had declared that the Soviet Union’s grain problem had been solved, and his proposals for the future amounted to “increasing productivity of the lands already under plow so as to increase the supply of potatoes and vegetables.” Ultimately he was playing it safe on a large policy issue that many Russian people relied upon for their daily wages. In that same year and by a simple act of nature, the crop output was a poor one and as Mr. Goldgeier has pointed out, “was 25 percent lower per capita than it had been in 1913 and that livestock had still not reached pre-revolutionary levels.” To add insult to injury, and for what could have been ultimately Malenkov’s lack of a unique source for political strategy, maintained his position and declared that the “grain problem has been solved in the USSR.”

In January 1954 Krushchev defined the agricultural policies as bleak and his memorandum, “Ways of Solving the Grain Problem” helped reassert this grim picture of the agricultural capacity of Russia under Malenkov. As is according to Krushchev’s political bargaining style, he came out with bold assertions that were in some ways political threats to those who were administering the policies he was attacking. His proposal called for thirteen million hectares of new acreage into use in Kazakhstan and western Siberia (the Virgin Lands) as an emergency measure to increase the country’s grain supply and livestock. He met with a group of Machine Tractor Station officials, the Central Committee plenum and the Sovkhoz (state farm) officials to push his policy as the right form of policy for agriculture. As one scholar writes,

The idea was truly Khrushchevian in both its scope and timing. He risked alienating Molotov and others just when he had to have their support if he was to deal with Malenkov. Again and again in the future he would announce his most controversial policies just when most men would have preferred to play safe. Equally typical of Khrushchev was the size of the project…Seventy thousand workers were needed to man the new state farms that would be set p on the virgin steppe, and in two years they were to produce close to a fifth of the nation’s total grain.

Since Malenkov and his officials were in charge of the Agricultural Ministry, Khrushchev was essentially taking him head-on. Further, the more he pushed his plan and the more it gained ground the more control he was taking from Malenkov and the ministry as a whole. In fact in 1953 he changed the leadership of the Machine Tractor Stations and closed the raion (regional) agencies of the Agricultural Ministry. Regardless of his policy initiatives’ successes and failures, he pushed on and always defined the issues as the fault of other officials (mostly his political opponents) within the Politburo. There was good harvest in 1954, and droughts the following year, but regardless of what happened to crop production he always was redefining the issues in order to constantly put pressure on his opponents and to portray them as ineffective and weak rulers of Russia.

Ultimately one way to conclusively define the overall political behavior in Khrushchev’s domestic endeavors was that he constantly applied pressure and sought to gain greater and greater payoffs without thinking through the implications. Within the agricultural policy he, “planted corn in areas traditionally used for rye and oats, which led to disastrous crop failure. And the Virgin Lands, while productive in the short term, was overused. The amount of fallow land declined sharply; weeds choked the crops; and overplowing led to serious erosion.” Whether the policies came to fruition or not it was his ability to rapidly define policies with bold initiatives that were largely areas of control that was not personally under his influence, therefore allowing him time and again to push aside rivals and eventually make it to the top as General Secretary in 1959.

The 1961 “Bay of Pigs” Invasion

Fidel Castro came to power the same year as Khrushchev in 1959 by armed conflict against the Batista government. Given the close vicinity of the island of Cuba to that of the United States (some 90 miles), the JFK administration was quite wary of the island remaining Communist-controlled, especially in light of the close relations visible between Khrushchev and Castro. During the Eisenhower administration a plan was devised to invade the island of Cuba with a small army of 1,400 CIA-trained Cuban exiles. The rationale behind it was that parts of the Cuban population and military establishment would look more favorably upon an army of Cuban nationals rather than an overpowering American force. In order to ensure that Cuba remained with a friendly and cooperative government, the JFK administration decided to move ahead with the plan.

Without going into the details and for the purpose of this document, the Bay of Pigs invasion was a complete disaster and ultimately should have never been authorized. The 1,400 troops landed in a swamp where it was expected little resistance would be found and the soldiers equipment suffered greatly because of it. Cuban intelligence had discovered the programs existence from various Cuban entities in and around the Guatemalan and Nicaraguan area and therefore were quite prepared for any type of American or American-led offensive to their island. The aftermath was the capture of almost 1,200 of the Cuban invaders, and over a 100 deaths of American and Cuban personnel. After 20 months of imprisonment, the Cuban government released the prisoners that were ransomed by various private American entities.

The Start of 1962 and the Advance Toward the Cuban Missile Crisis

Time and again the Soviet government had reiterated to American officials that it was against any type whatsoever, whether direct or indirect, invasion of the Cuban island. Given the good relations of the Cuban and Soviet leaders as well as the new potential to counter American global security dominance, it was Khrushchev who wanted to make sure that Kennedy would not attempt to overthrow the Communist leadership in Cuba (as was previously tried with the Bay of Pigs invasion). It had been noticed that the USSR had been sending a substantial quantity of cargo shipments to Cuba and the newly elected JFK administration sought assurances within the Soviet rankings that no nuclear weapons whatsoever were being delivered to the island of Cuba. Time and again the Soviets reiterated the message that only defensive weapons were being brought to Cuba and that it was not their intent to cause such damage to US-Soviet relations. Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador to Washington answered all US concerns, with the response he had been ordered to give (by Khrushchev), that only “defensive weapons” were being supplied to Cuba and that nothing “new or extraordinary” was going on there.

The mistake in this entire process was that the JFK administration failed to touch base with this development and fundamentally believed the responses they were getting from Moscow as truth. Regardless to whether there was hard proof, the administration should have been acting in a manner that was anticipating exactly what came true in mid-October of that same year, a nuclear build up. Listening to the White House tapes, you can hear Kennedy wonder out loud why the USSR had placed the nuclear arsenal in Cuba, saying, “well, its a goddamn mystery to me.” Kennedy and his closest aides all believed the words from Moscow that the cargo shipments were not delivering nuclear weapons, this was their first mistake; secondly JFK did not think of the possibility of how the “Bay of Pigs” invasion might have looked to repeated Soviet demands to not to invade the island of Cuba. Furthermore, the opposition Republicans in Congress led by New York Senator Kenneth Keating, were making the Soviet build-up of Cuba their number one issue before November Congressional elections. The Republicans stated time and again of how the Soviets, regardless of Soviet reassurances, were supplying the island with nuclear ballistic missiles and that something needed to be done before such nuclear-feared actions manifested themselves too late in the process. Then CIA director John McCone had no “hard evidence” but was certain that the Soviet intention was nuclear build up, Kennedy ignored it all.

The same year, along with further military plans and exercises to invade the island of Cuba, which were well known in the intelligence community, the Organization of American States excluded Cuba as a participant, furthering Cuba’s isolation and shift toward immediate Soviet assistance. Khrushchev gravely understood the American nuclear superiority (17:1 at the time) was detrimental to any negotiations the Soviet Union wished to enter with the United States and therefore entertained three reasons to supply Cuba with nuclear weapons,

(1) He wanted to settle the Berlin issue, which had been made clear by him ever since the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, (he feared he might not be able to settle the issue without the exposed missile gap in the US’ favor),

(2) The US (by US deputy secretary of defense Roswell Gilpatric) had stated that stated Soviet nuclear capabilities was mere bluster, and that

(3) the USSR wished to protect its Communist partner Cuba.

Khrushchev writes that sending the nuclear ballistic missiles to Cuba would help equalize “what the West likes to call ‘the balance of power’.” Lastly, the deployment of IRBMs (intermediate range ballistic missiles) to Italy and Turkey greatly threatened the Soviet’s security, (similar to what we are seeing now with the Russian federation and the anti-ballistic missile defenses being drawn up for Eastern Europe, to be completed by 2015 if given the go ahead). Part of the Soviet’s “bluster” that deputy secretary Gilpatric was referring to came from Soviet statements such as;

The Government of the Soviet Union authorized Tass to state that there is no need for the Soviet Union to shift its weapons for the repulsion of aggression, for a retaliatory blow, to any other country, for instance Cuba. Out nuclear weapons are so powerful in their explosive force and the Soviet Union has such powerful rockets to carry these nuclear warheads, that there is no need to search for sites for them beyond the boundaries of the Soviet Union.

Part of the mismanaged policy and action taken by the Americans during this time was calling such statements “pure bluster” and not anticipating anything to the contrary, it was most likely the Soviet’s goal to make such obvious non-factual statements in order to win American credence and buy time to send the missiles in secret. There are many opinions with scholars, utilizing several different approaches trying to come to terms with how and why the Soviet Union took the measures to place nuclear ballistic missiles on the island of Cuba. For example Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow in their book, “Essence of Decision”, entertained four major hypothesis as to why the Soviets did what they did,

(1) Cuban Defense

(2) Cold War Politics

(3) Missile Power, and

(4) Berlin – Win, Trade, or Trap

They offer some great insight as to potentially why Khrushchev ordered the shipments of missiles and should be given a read by anyone interested on the subject. For the purposes of this document and to control the overall length and discussion of this document, I will continue by utilizing information and concepts from Mr. Goldgeier’s version of the account.

Here we begin to see the political bargaining style of Khrushchev emerge. He took a strong stance when it came to the protection and governmental integrity of Cuba with repeated Soviet claims that it would not accept an invasion of Cuba and feared that the American government was planning to do so. He repeatedly attempted to apply pressure on the United States by denouncing their intentions in light of the “Bay of Pigs” and threatening to respond in measure if the United States attempted any invasion plots further. What’s more, Khrushchev was secretly shipping nuclear weapons and taking a deceptive position toward the action in order that he buy the necessary time for the UN meeting in November/December to present a fait accompli to the American government. This was his typical bargaining style throughout his political career, at home and abroad and had little to do with what the traditional narrative of the crisis regarding Khrushchev’s personal animosity and contempt for a “weak” Kennedy; yet JFK may have made some poor decisions such as,

(1) Ordering the “Bay of Pigs” invasion

(2) Believing repeated Soviet communications that no nuclear or offensive weapons of any type were being delivered to Cuba, and,

(3) Allowing invasion drafts and exercises by the military to be continued after 1961.

For example, Foreign Minister Gromyko continued to deny the presence of offensive weapons in Cuba. Gromyko himself stated later that since the president had “asked about ‘offensive weapons’ and not rockets, he avoided the whole subject of missiles” and said simply that only defensive weapons were being sent; “the foreign minister argued that since he had not been directly asked about missiles, technically he had not lied.” Kennedy should of understood the deceptive nature of Soviet politics, and never taken anything of such an immediate danger toward the United States so lightly with the Soviet’s mere word. Instead of allowing invasion-type exercises to continue in the United States, it would have been more conducive for the administration to allow defensive, rather than offensive military exercises to be executed, and further continue “test bombing” nuclear weapons in remote areas in order to convey the seriousness of the situation, rather than provoke the very issue they believed the Soviets to be telling the truth about, Cuba. Another example of when Kennedy should have known of Soviet deception regarding Cuba is when Khrushchev applied more rhetorical pressure stating,

The whole world knows that the USA has circled the Soviet Union and other socialist countries with its military bases. What have they placed there – tractors? …This they consider their right…It is necessary to acknowledge equal rights and equal capabilities for all countries of the world.

The Showdown

With Khrushchev’s plan of his November-December fait accompli announcement of Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba, the Secretary reiterated to US ambassador on October 16th that he might visit sometime then. What the Soviet leader did not know however was that Kennedy on that same day had just learned of Soviet missiles in Cuba and that the fears he had been ignoring were true after all. Another reason why JFK may have truly believed the USSR was not sending nuclear ballistic missiles was that he honestly did not believe the Soviet Union thought it served any interest of theirs to do so; yet if he only understood the political style of Khrushchev, he may have thought twice about such an assumption. October 22 Kennedy gave his speech to the nation that the Soviet Union had placed offensive missiles in Cuba and that he intended to quarantine the island in order to prevent further military shipments with nuclear arsenals.

Khrushchev’s first response, as was to his political style, increase his verbal bluster. After all, as Kissinger later recorded in his memiors about Soviet politics in general, “No evening with the Soviet leadership could be complete without some bluster,” but this time the Soviet bluster was serious due to the actual threat now posed only 90 miles off the American coast. Increasing his verbal bluster was to deny that missiles were on Cuba, and he warned that the Soviet Union would not back down. He continued to threaten the United States by continuing to construct the missiles and make them operational on the island and ignore the American demands. What we did see to begin here was a shift in Khrushchev away from his comfortable coercive nature of threats and bluffs and had ordered the ships carrying nuclear materials toward Cuba to turn around toward home. At this point we begin to see a Khrushchev who was awestruck by the potential destructive power of total Nuclear War. To echo the sentiments of Kissinger in 1957 when he wrote,

It is paradoxical that so much hope should concetrate on man’s most destructive capabilities.

Soviet Rhetoric and Interaction with the United States’ Quarantine

Upon learning of the American Quarantine around Cuba on 22 October, I am sure Khrushchev and his government became slightly frustrated when the American response did not elicit immediate military aggression, but rather sought to contain such potentially destructive possibilities. Nonetheless the Soviet leader did not flounder to continue his empty rhetoric and attacks by writing to the US government,

I hope that the United States government will display wisdom and renounce the actions pursued by you, which may lead to catastrophic consequences for world peace.

The Soviet Union’s response was not unexpected and even accused the US as the ones to blame and stated their Quarantine was playing “a reckless game with fire.” It went on further to say that “if the aggressor unleashes war, then the Soviet Union will inflict the most powerful retaliatory strike.” More threats, as Khrushchev’s political bargaining ‘comfort zone’ has demonstrated, especially with no real thought process as to the implications of making such threats or bluffs. Khrushchev was taking great pains to define the problem his way, as Mr. Goldgeier outlines when Khrushchev wrote,

You, Mr. President are not declaring a quarantine, but rather are setting forth an ultimatum and threatening that if we do not give in to your demands you will use force….No, Mr. President, I cannot agree to this, and I think that in your own heart, you recognize that I am correct. I am convinced that in my place you would act the same way… There, Mr. President, if you coolly weight the situation which has developed, not giving way to passions, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot fail to reject that arbitrary demands of the United States. When you confront us with such conditions, try to put yourself in our place and consider how the United States would react to these conditions. I do not doubt that if someone attempted to dictate similar conditions to you – the United States – you would reject such an attempt. And we also say – no.

What he was fundamentally saying to JFK was to back down because if he was in his position he would realize that he would simply be unable to back down. On 24 October Khrushchev admitted to American business man William E. Knox (on a business trip in Moscow) that the blockade around Cuba was illegal and then followed with the position that the USSR had anti-aircraft and nuclear ballistic missiles on the island (the first time he admitted it to the United States).

The UN Proposal to End Hostilities

U Thant, Secretary General of the United Nations, gave Khrushchev an opportunity to express his interest in ending the crisis. U Thant had made a proposal that would fit well with Soviet intentions. He had suggested that the Soviet Union stop all shipments to Cuba and that the United States lift the quarantine. The logic behind such action was that it would aid the negotiation process if each side halted hostile actions for “two or three weeks”. On 25 October Khrushchev responded to the initiative with great enthusiasm for it would generously bolster the Soviet position in the process and even allow the USSR to finish the construction of their ballistic missiles to make them operational and potentially even still have the bargaining chip of the fait accompli come November at the UN. Khrushchev in regards to this UN proposal was putting out “feelers” as Mr. Goldgeier defines it, and took a more accommodative (Stalin-like) approach at this juncture because, he was more careful when offering concessions than when trying to bully his opponents. For example, Goldgeier writes, “Stalin was much more personally involved when offering false concessions than when pushing a hard line, while Khrushchev was more personally involved when issuing fake threats than when signaling  a possible interest in accommodation.”

Desperate and Secret Plea of Khrushchev to Kennedy

On October 26 Khrushchev sent a rather personal and rambling letter to Kennedy stating that the USSR would withdraw the missiles if it pledged never to invade Cuba. One section of the letter even seemed that Khrushchev was literally pleading with Kennedy to help him find a way out while warning that war might be unleashed despite their efforts, suggesting that the Politburo had Khrushchev, ‘by where it counted’ and that the threatening initial position of the Soviet Union was partly to blame for the overall crisis scenario and backing out could not be a feasible option, the section of the letter stated,

If you have done this as the first step toward unleashing war – well then – evidently nothing remains for us to do but to accept this challenge of yours. If you have o lost command of yourself and realize clearly what this could lead to, then, Mr. President, you and I should not now pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the harder you and I pull, the tighter this know will become. And a time may come when this knot is tied so tight that the person who tied it is no longer capable of untying it, and then the know will have to be cut. What that would mean I need not explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly what dread forces our two countries possess.

Following this was the entrance of Turkey into the overall equation. Khrushchev wrote that the Soviet Union would remove the missiles from Cuba that US deems offensive if the United States would remove the missiles from Turkey. As this was being contemplated an American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down later that day (eventually called “Black Saturday”), and Khrushchev responded to American’s angry questioning of the action as an accidental use of force, stating that he had not ordered such a command.

On Octber 24, the day after the start of the US quarantine the US Strategic Air Command had raised their alert level to DefCon 2. All battle staffs were placed on twenty-four hour alert duty, B-47 bombers were dispersed, B-52s were put on airborne alert, all leaves were cancelled, and ninety Atlas and forty-six Titan intercontinental ballistic missiles were put on a heightened state of readiness. Soviet submarines were on their way toward Cuba as of 26 October and the CIA had confirmed that by October 27 the twenty-four medium-range ballistic missile launchers appeared to “have reach full operational readiness”.

The End of the Crisis

Yet the crisis ended abruptly on 28 October; believing that a letter would take too long for Kennedy, Khrushchev had his acceptance of Kennedy’s terms (that had been conducted in secret with special confidants) out loud on the Moscow radio. Khrushchev later wrote in a letter,

I regard with great understanding your apprehension and the apprehension of the people of the United States of America over the fact that the weapons which you describe as offensive are indeed terrible weapons.

Khrushchev tried to put the best face possible on the settlement package. After all, he had made, through the use of his threats and bluff bargaining system, to place the missiles on the island of Cuba, and yet he had also made the decision to remove them. He attempted his back-track to look like a political victory in the end stating “the motives which prompted us to give aide… to Cuba no longer prevail, ” but his political clout was destroyed at home and it later cost him dearly.


Therefore when comparing the events and political style of Khrushchev, the traditional story does not amount to total accuracy. JFK was not singled-out and targeted by Khrushchev but rather simply a victim of his comfortable and highly utilized political bargaining style. Secondly, JFK handled the situation before the crisis poorly. I commend the JFK administration in how it managed the actual crisis, but I do believe with more prudent action and understanding of the USSR and its leaders would have prevented this situation altogether (yet I do recognize the easy ability to say this with such hindsight and information in 2011). What JFK should have known was Moscow’s extreme sensitivity to any type of invasion to Communist Cuba and that they escalated the shipment of Soviet missiles to the island by continuing to demonstrate to the Soviets their desire to invade again potentially in the future.

Khrushchev was acting as he had down to gain political success at home in the international arena, yet this time he had to back down to the severity he recognized in “toying” with nuclear weapons and what that would mean to the security and ultimately health of the world. JFK handled the crisis well but was poorly informed and mislead on many initiatives before the crisis that help perpetuate the scenario overall. I believe that to better serve the world, (in learning a valuable lesson) and to better help the future political scientists and security analysts of the future, a more accurate depiction of the account must be consistently brought to focus. In a world were mutually assured destruction will exist for the rest of humanity’s existence, it becomes imperative to formulate proper study of these events and trends in order to better serve the security of nations and of humanity now and in the future.


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