GCSE Modern History/Cuba

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The Cuban Revolution[edit]

How did the USA react to Batista's government being overthrown?[edit]

  • Initially, there was a frosty relationship but with no direct confrontation.
  • In 1960, the USA banned buying of Cuban sugar (July) and then banned all trade with Cuba (October).
  • In January 1961 the USA broke off diplomatic relations.
  • After the takeover, Castro took over American businesses, but let them keep the naval base.
  • In April 1961 the USA supported an invasion of Cuba by exiles (the Bay of Pigs). It failed.

The Bay of Pigs[edit]

Why was the Bay of Pigs invasion a failure?[edit]

  • The CIA underestimated Castro's popularity - the Cubans did not rise to support the invasion.
  • The invasion convinced Castro that the USA was an enemy and made him look to the USSR for support and protection.
  • Kennedy claimed that there was no direct American government involvement, but Castro and Khruschev knew the CIA had planned it and trained/armed the exiles.
  • The failed invasion made Castro even more popular.
  • Because of the failed invasion, Khruschev was able to put missiles on Cuba claiming that they were for defensive purposes.
  • A force of 1400 exiles landed in Cuba and were killed/captured by 20 000 Cuban troops.

The Cuban Missile Crisis[edit]

Why did the Soviet Union put missiles on Cuba?[edit]

There are a number of theories as to why the Soviet Union decided to put missiles on Cuba. Some of these are:

  • To get the upper hand in the arms race.
  • They genuinely wanted to defend Cuba.
  • To bargain with the USA (e.g. make them remove their missiles in Turkey).
  • To test the USA.
  • They wanted to trap the USA.

Why was the USA concerned about Soviet missiles on Cuba?[edit]

The estimate was that within a few minutes of [the missiles] being fired 80 million Americans would be dead.

Robert Kennedy, Thirteen Days

There are a number of reasons for which the USA was concerned about Soviet missiles on Cuba. Some of these are:

  • There was the potential for a nuclear war that would have destroyed the USA.
  • Cuba was becoming a powerful country in their 'sphere of influence'
  • The USSR could use the missiles to bargain with the USA and make them remove their nuclear missiles from Turkey.
  • They were worried that the USSR was trying to draw them into a nuclear war.
  • It was a test that would show how strong the USA really was.
  • It was a threat to USA supremacy in the arms race.

The USA's Actions[edit]

Kennedy had a number of choices as to what course of action to take. The main ones were:

  • Doing nothing would make the USA seem weak and ineffective, and would not solve the problem. However, there would be no risk of war.
  • A blockade would prevent more nuclear weapons arriving but did not solve the root of the problem, and would make the USA seem weak if it failed.
  • An invasion of Cuba would get rid of Castro but risked starting a war with the Soviet Union.
  • Diplomatic pressure would not risk the outbreak of war, but would make the USA seem weak if it failed.
  • A surgical air attack would result in a Soviet response (Berlin?) and could not guarantee the destruction of all the missiles.

The Outcome[edit]

We behaved with dignity and forced the United States to demobilise and to recognise Cuba.

Khrushchev in his memoirs (1971)

President Kennedy will be remembered as the President who helped bring the thaw in the Cold War.

— Kennedy's obituary in The Guardian (1963)

There has been much debate about who came out victorious of the Cuban Missile Crisis. You should draw your own conclusions, but keep the following points in mind:

  • After the failure with the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy was able to claim a success.
  • Khruschev's reputation was damaged, and he was overthrown by his opponents in 1964.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis made some steps towards better relations:
    • A 'hot line' was set up to allow better communication between the leaders.
    • In 1963 a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed.
  • Cuba remained Communist and highly armed, and was a useful base for Soviet operations in South America.
  • Khrushchev claimed that he had ensured the safety of his ally, and made peace.
  • Khrushchev got the USA to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey, but this was kept secret so it couldn't be used for propaganda purposes.

Was the Cuban Missile Crisis really a threat to world peace?[edit]

Historians argue whether the Cuban Missile Crisis was really a threat to world peace. Some points to think about are:

  • Both leaders were ready to negotiate. After the crisis, they even set up a direct telephone line to discuss future crises
  • If Khruschev was to be believed, the missiles were only for defensive purposes.
  • Advisers on both sides were suggesting a war.
  • Castro wanted Khrushchev to open fire first, but Khruschev wanted to negotiate with the USA.
  • Neither leader wanted to start a war.