The Cuban Missile Crisis

This topic guide will help you work with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as History or Social Studies. 

The guide is designed to give you a good overview of these 13 intense days of diplomatic tension between the US and the Soviet Union. You can also find specific suggestions for texts to use as reference points, as well as ideas for further thematic perspectives. 


One of the most dangerous aspects of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was the ever-present risk of nuclear war. The Soviet Union gained access to nuclear weapons soon after the Second World War (the US already had them), and both superpowers began to build their arsenals while testing more and more advanced warheads, coupled with more and more far-reaching missiles. 

In 1960 the Soviet Union entered a trade agreement with Cuba, which had recently been taken over by Fidel Castro following the Cuban Revolution. The agreement led to a closer relationship between the Soviets and Cuba, which the US regarded as a very alarming development, since Cuba is dangerously close to the southern coasts of America. 

In 1962 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev began a secret project focused on creating hidden missile facilities in Cuba. The facilities remained hidden for a while, but were eventually photographed by an American spy plane. The news of the secret facilities was brought to the US President John F. Kennedy on October 16th - the first day of the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

Kennedy's advisers believed that the only possible solution was to invade Cuba and remove Castro from power. Kennedy went against the proposal, however. In contrast to his advisers, he was convinced that the Soviets would view such an attack as a clear provocation, which would probably lead to a violent retaliation - and thereby a situation which could potentially escalate into all-out nuclear war.

The 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis saw a dramatic series of tense negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union, alongside military operations on both sides, preparing for the worst case outcome. Although none of the superpowers wanted the situation to end in nuclear war, the world came dangerously close to disaster on several occasions.

On October 28th, Kennedy and Khrushchev entered an agreement, where the Soviet pledge to remove their missiles from Cuba if the US pledged not to invade the island. The agreement also involved the removal of American missiles in Italy and Turkey - but that aspect of the deal remained secret for a time. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis is still an intensely studied period of world history, because it came terrible close to becoming a global disaster on an almost unimaginable scale. Recently the crisis has received renewed attention, because President Trump has pulled the US out of a nuclear agreement with Iran, and has further announced that they intend to abandon one of their important nuclear agreements with Russia, which was meant to encourage mutual nuclear disarmament. This development could potentially lead to a new nuclear arms race between the US and Russia. 


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The Cuban Missile Crisis

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