How the Cuban Missile Crisis Unfolded

Possessing a background in international relations at Harvard University, Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez has spent much of his career researching and writing about the Latin American political landscape. He has been on the editorial board of various journals, including Political Science Quarterly and Cuban Studies. Dr. Jorge I. Dominguez has also authored and edited numerous books on the US-Cuba relationship, which experienced a dramatic shift in the early 1960s.

As explored in an NBC piece and numerous books and articles, the Cuban Missile Crisis has defined US-Cuba policy since taking place 60 years ago. Cuba’s government had entered into an alliance with Soviet leaders, expropriated billions of dollars of US assets, and fought a U.S.-sponsored Cuban exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs..

In 1962, USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev made good on his long-standing promise to supply Fidel Castro with Soviet arms. Allied intelligence learned that missile components were being sent to Cuba by ship. At the same time, US U-2 spy plane pictures confirmed that missile facilities were being built in Cuba capable of harboring a nuclear threat that could reach the United States.

Upon learning that the additional Soviet materials for ballistic missiles were en route by ship, President John Kennedy convened with the National Security Council. After considering offensive options such as an air strike targeting missile sites, Kennedy finally opted for a naval blockade, or “quarantine,” which would prevent arms shipments from reaching Cuba.

Ultimately, this defensive approach proved successful, as Khrushchev blinked first and announced that missile parts already delivered to Cuba would be sent back and no more work would take place on missile sites. In turn, the U.S. withdrew its Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Moreover, the long-term impact of this incident was strict US sanctions against Cuba that have lasted until the present.

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