The main events of the crisis

The crisis begins

The Cuban Missile Crisis is generally considered to have taken place over 13 days, between the 16th and 28th of October, 1962.

The crisis was triggered by the Soviet Union's establishment of secret missile launch facilities in Cuba - a nation within striking range of major US cities. The Soviet missiles’ arrival in Cuba was kept secret for a month, which was considered an achievement considering the large number of troops and the heavy, large equipment transported. However, the missile sites were eventually difficult to disguise – even though at ground level they could be hidden somewhat, they were recognisable from above.

One of the missile sites was discovered on 14th of October, 1962, when an American aircraft took photographs of the site, confirming the existence of offensive missiles in Cuba.

On 16th of October, President Kennedy was informed about the discovery. He immediately assembled a committee – known as the executive committee or ExCom – that would handle the diplomatic crisis. The situation was seen as dangerous because the missiles were so close to the US and improved the Soviet Union’s position in its nuclear rivalry with the US.

ExCom had a difficult task– the question was how to handle the situation without causing a bigger conflict or even a nuclear war. Several courses of action were considered, such as an invasion of Cuba or bombing the Soviet missile sites.

Kennedy’s and Khrushchev's approach to the crisis

As the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded, US President Kennedy’s advisors thought the best course of action was to invade Cuba, believing that the Soviets would not oppose this.

Kennedy was sceptical of this plan, as he wanted the US’s response to be firm but not to provoke the Soviets, realising that there was a strong possibility of a retaliatory attack using nuclear weapons.

Kennedy also interpreted the Soviet presence in Cuba as a sign of a future Soviet move to take over control of West Berlin (which was under Western influence). Khrushchev had previously ex...

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