Analysis of President Kennedy’s response to evidence of Soviet missiles in Cuba
Before the end of the year 1962, Nikita Khrushchev, a Soviet politician that was in charge of the Soviet Union during the Cold war as the secretary to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union expected the United States to invade Cuba and uproot Fidel Castro from office. Khrushchev plotted to stop the invasion by secretly sending offensive nuclear weapons to Cuba. This was done to show the entire world that the Soviets could go up against the United States in terms of missile power. This article is going to look at how President Kennedy responded to the information obtained in regards to the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. An American U-2 spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba. President Kennedy did not want the Soviet Union and Cuba to know that he had discovered the missiles. He met in secret with his advisors for several days to discuss the problem. After many long and difficult meetings, Kennedy decided to place a naval blockade, or a ring of ships, around Cuba. The aim of this “quarantine,” as he called it, was to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. He demanded the removal of the missiles already there and the destruction of the sites. On October 22, President Kennedy spoke to the nation about the crisis in a televised address.
In response to the missiles crisis, the United States president hoped to achieve a peaceful resolution to the problem, which was the main objective. Despite the grave consequences that would have been experienced, president Kennedy managed to remain calm and focused on delivering a peaceful outcome. There were situations where his advisors called for much more brutal action or response to the crisis. Still, the president picked an in between the extremes decision to buy time for more negotiations and peaceful resolutions to the crisis. The other objective was to act in terms of the strategic interests of the United States; however, in consideration of what impact actions are taken will have on the nation in the long term. Whatever decision was to be taken had to put into consideration the interests of the welfare of the nation whatever was deemed to compromise or put at risk the future of the nation was considered an extreme action that would only be chosen if there was no other alternative provided. President John F. Kennedy also sought to be creative in coming up with solutions and realized that the right inputs would lead to the right outputs. He constantly reassessed the circumstances and options available with every new information that was at his disposal. This meant that he consulted widely and instructed the experts to be on high alert and inform him of any new developments that would provide room for much more peaceful negotiations. He also had numerous plans put in place in case of a failure of the decision that was taken. Lastly, he managed intra-executive branch politics to make sure that what was planned was executed properly and results realized. To avoid any misinformation on a matter that is very sensitive. The president ensured that politics was not at the core of whatever was decided and that the decisions made would be rational and directly from him.
From the start of his presidency, Kennedy feared that the Pentagon brass would overreact to Soviet provocations and drive the country into a disastrous nuclear conflict. The Soviets might have been pleased—or understandably frightened—to know that Kennedy distrusted America’s military establishment almost as much as they did. The Joint Chiefs of Staff reciprocated the new president’s doubts. Limiter made no secret of his discomfort with a 43-year-old president who he felt could not measure up to Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the former five-star general Kennedy had succeeded. The Limiter was a West Point graduate who had risen in the ranks of Eisenhower’s World War II staff and helped plan the successful invasions of North Africa and Sicily. The 61-year-old general, little known outside military circles, stood 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, with a bearlike frame, booming voice, and deep, infectious laugh. Limiter’s passion for golf and his ability to drive a ball 250 yards down a fairway endeared him to Eisenhower. More importantly, he shared his mentor’s talent for manoeuvring through Army and Washington politics. Also, like Ike, he wasn’t bookish or particularly drawn to grand strategy or big-picture thinking—he was a nuts-and-bolts sort of general who made his mark managing day-to-day problems.
To Kennedy, Limiter embodied the military’s old thinking about nuclear weapons. The president thought a nuclear war would bring mutually assured destruction—MAD, in the shorthand of the day—while the Joint Chiefs believed the United States could fight such a conflict and win. Sensing Kennedy’s scepticism about nukes, Limiter questioned the new president’s qualifications to manage the country’s defence. Since Eisenhower’s departure, he lamented in shorthand. No longer was “a Press with mil expels available to guide JCS.” When the four-star general presented the ex-skipper with a detailed briefing on emergency procedures for responding to a foreign military threat, Kennedy seemed preoccupied with possibly having to make “a snap decision” about whether to launch a nuclear response to a Soviet first strike, by Limiter’s account. This reinforced the general’s belief that Kennedy didn’t sufficiently understand the challenges before him.
Admiral Raleigh Burke, the 59-year-old chief of naval operations, shared Limiter’s doubts. An Annapolis graduate with 37 years of service, Burke was an anti-Soviet hawk who believed that U.S. military officials needed to intimidate Moscow with threatening rhetoric. This presented an early problem for Kennedy, in that Burke “pushed his black-and-white views of international affairs with bluff naval persistence,” the Kennedy aide and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. later wrote. Kennedy had barely settled into the Oval Office when Burke planned to publicly assail “the Soviet Union from hell to breakfast,” according to Arthur Sylvester, a Kennedy-appointed Pentagon press officer. The latter brought the proposed speech text to the president’s attention. Kennedy ordered the admiral to back off and required all military officers on active duty to clear any public speeches with the White House. Kennedy did not want officers thinking they could speak or act; however, they wished.
Kennedy’s biggest worry about the military was not the personalities involved but rather the freedom of field commanders to launch nuclear weapons without explicit permission from the commander in chief. Ten days after becoming president, Kennedy learned from his national-security adviser, George Bundy, that “a subordinate commander faced with a substantial Russian military action could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his initiative.” As Roswell L. Gilpatric, Kennedy’s deputy defence secretary, recalled, “We became increasingly horrified over how little positive control the president had over the use of this great arsenal of nuclear weapons.” To counter the military’s willingness to use nuclear weapons against the Communists, Kennedy pushed the Pentagon to replace Eisenhower’s strategy of “massive retaliation” with what he called “flexible response”—a strategy of calibrated force that his White House military adviser, General Maxwell Taylor, had described in a 1959 book, The Uncertain Trumpet. But the brass resisted. The stalemate in the Korean War had frustrated military chiefs and left them inclined to use atomic bombs to ensure victory, as General Douglas MacArthur had proposed. They regarded Kennedy as reluctant to put the nation’s nuclear advantage to using and thus resisted ceding him exclusive control over decisions about a first strike.
The NATO commander, General Lauris Norstad, and two Air Force generals, Curtis LeMay and Thomas Power, stubbornly opposed White House directives that reduced their authority to decide when to go nuclear. The 54-year-old Norstad confirmed his reputation as fiercely independent when two high-profile Kennedy emissaries, thought to be Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, visited NATO’s strategic military command in Belgium. They asked whether Norstad’s primary obligation was to the United States or its European allies. “My first instinct was to hit” one of the Cabinet members for “challenging my loyalty,” he recalled later. Instead, he tried to smile and said, “ ‘Gentlemen, I think that ends this meeting.’ After that, I walked out and slammed the door.” Norstad was so clearly reluctant to concede his commander in chief’s ultimate authority that Bundy urged Kennedy to remind the general that the president “is boss.”
Interest and capacity are usually among the driving factors when deciding whether to go to war or not. Any leader must look at and consider the state of the country in terms of what they are going to fight for or stand to lose in any given fight they choose to take. The other thing, ability or otherwise considered as capacity to engage in war is equally important. The president did not fall for the bluff that Khrushchev pulled in the first instance because he had an assumption that was a provocation move. The general assumption was that there was a ploy to get the United States to engage with the Soviet Union in a war. The president was however aware of the capacity of a united soviet union warning his military personnel that they could not handle a united force of the soviet union which will outmuscle and outnumber them (Allison, 1971). The nuclear capacity that they had was also very powerful and would lead to massive destruction if used, this information was brought forth to the president and analyzed by experts. They even had plans in place to bomb the nuclear site. Khrushchev had rallied for support and acquired military equipment such as guns to aid in the war in case it got to that point. Soldiers would also have been provided by the Soviet Union member states to aid him in the war against the United States.
Public opinion played a huge role in what decision was taken by President Kennedy in regards to the crisis of nuclear missiles. The crisis came when the elections were almost happening, and Kennedy did not want to create a state of panic in the nation or be seen as a president who failed not only to prevent a war in his nation but a potential war across numerous nations which would see over 100 million people lose their lives (Zagare, 2019). With these things in mind, he avoided making rational decisions and confrontations even when provoked and resorted to diplomatic resolutions. The only extreme order he gave was a naval blockade to make sure that nuclear materials would not be allowed into Cuba. He used the presidential address to bring to light what was happening to the American people and also appeal to the Soviet Union. In a televised speech of extraordinary gravity, President John F. Kennedy announces on October 22, 1962, that U.S. spy planes have discovered Soviet missile bases in Cuba. These missile sites—under construction but nearing completion—housed medium-range missiles capable of striking several major cities in the United States, including Washington, D.C. Kennedy announced that he was ordering a naval “quarantine” of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from transporting any more offensive weapons to the island and explained that the United States would not tolerate the existence of the missile sites currently in place (Stern, 2012). The president made it clear that America would not stop short of military action to end what he called a “clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace. This move eased the tension that Khrushchev had created, resulting in significant allies of Cuba pulling out by not executing requests to bomb the United States. The country might have been “in even a worse position” if the world had known more about what the US was doing at the time. It was only recently learned that, six months earlier, the US had secretly deployed in Okinawa missiles virtually identical to those the Russians later sent to Cuba. These were surely aimed at China, at a moment of elevated regional tensions. Okinawa remains a major offensive US military base, over the bitter objections of its inhabitants – who, right now, are less than enthusiastic about the dispatch of accident-prone V-22 Osprey helicopters to the Futenma military base, located at the heart of a heavily-populated urban centre (Stern, 2003). In the deliberations that followed, the US pledged to withdraw the obsolete missiles from Turkey, but would not do so publicly or in writing: Khrushchev needed to be seen to capitulate
John F. Kennedy, throughout the crisis, consulted widely and kept his options open. He was a man that sought to do what another person would not dare think of. A master in crisis resolution and management. Remaining calm in an extremely serious and provocative situation by using every available resource to conclude. This meant that the President’s decision was greatly influenced by both bureaucratic procedures and interest of military departments within government. He used official departments to communicate with Castro and Khrushchev in trying to resolve the issues at hand. In some instances, the determination by the military to launch an attack helped the president settle for a more sober decision which would limit damage to both nations and come to a peaceful conclusion. The vast knowledge in terms of information and possible action courses enabled the president plan for contingencies and be confident in going for a more sound decision with the confidence of numerous plans in place in cases where things do not turn out as expected.
The authors best fit to tackle these questions are Graham T. Allison and Michael Dobbs. Two very insightful and respected authors who over clear and detailed explanations to the topic of conflict management. The approach that Michael Dobbs would take will be one based on theoretical models and analysis on why the things that happened did take place the way they did and the psychological explanations behind the decisions taken. He will seek to appeal to reason in terms of how he answers and also challenge previous explanations on the same issue. When it comes, Graham, the key concept behind explanations and answering questions is asking why things happened the questions lead to a direct line of thought that gives one the answers they are seeking. Scientific and statistical theories will also be applied in answering the questions to expound on the explanation of the content provided. Both the two authors do give in-depth and detailed answers that have supporting evidence and research that can be deemed to support the answers that they give, which means their answers are very convincing. As a reader and researcher information that is usually backed with explanations and examples to support the thinking behind the answer is usually very convincing as it aims to prove that the answers provided are well thought out and researched.
On October 28, Khrushchev announced his government’s intent to dismantle and remove all offensive Soviet weapons in Cuba. With the airing of the public message on Radio Moscow, the USSR confirmed its willingness to proceed with the solution secretly proposed by the Americans the day before. In the afternoon, Soviet technicians began dismantling the missile sites, and the world stepped back from the brink of nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis was effectively over (Nathan, 1992). In November, Kennedy called off the blockade, and by the end of the year, all the offensive missiles had left Cuba. Soon after, the United States quietly removed its missiles from Turkey. The Cuban Missile Crisis seemed at the time a clear victory for the United States, but Cuba emerged from the episode with a much greater sense of security. The removal of antiquated Jupiter missiles from Turkey had no detrimental effect on U.S. nuclear strategy. Still, the Cuban Missile Crisis convinced a humiliated USSR to commence a massive nuclear buildup. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union reached nuclear parity with the United States and built intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking any city in the United States. The response depicted by Kennedy throughout this process proved to be vital in the manner in which the crisis was resolved. This is part of the country`s history that should be focused on more for studies and researches that look into crisis resolution. It was a master class performance from John F. Kennedy.
Throughout the crisis, JFK kept his cool, even when criticized. The hawks viewed JFK as indecisive or, worse, spineless. Hardly. He was evaluating his choices. The world could not afford another Bay of Pigs. Air Force chief of staff General Curtis LeMay challenged JFK, saying “You’re in a pretty bad fix, you’re in there with me,” Kennedy shot back kept his sense of humor in the face of unimaginable tension: “I hope you all realize that there isn’t enough room in the White House Bunker for all of us. “He kept his own counsel; confident the Constitution was on his side when decision time arrived. To succeed, Kennedy’s high-stakes negotiation had to convince the Russians that the United States sought a way out while emphasizing a military response was equally possible. On Thursday, October 18, the Executive Committee remained divided on its move, and at 5p.m. JFK met with Soviet Minister Andrei Gromyko, who lectured him about the Bay of Pigs. Because a decision wasn’t finalized, JFK resisted showing Gromyko the missile photos. “Black Saturday” was the most nerve-racking of the 13-day crisis as the chance of nuclear war escalated. Soviet troops in Cuba shot down an American U-2 spy plane, and JFK held back his generals. Aboard a Soviet submarine in the Caribbean, cool heads prevailed as American destroyers circled above. Kennedy decided on a blockade.