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10-08-2015, 17:19

The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Move Toward Détente

The Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union reached frightening levels during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1959, a left-wing revolutionary named Fidel Castro (b. 1927) overthrew the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and established a Sovietsupported totalitarian regime. After the utter failure of a U.S.-supported attempt (the “Bay of Pigs” incident) to overthrow Castro in 1961, the Soviet Union decided to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Kennedy administration was not prepared to allow nuclear weapons within such close striking distance of the American mainland, despite the fact that it had placed nuclear weapons in Turkey within easy range of the Soviet Union, a fact that Khrushchev was quick to point out. When U.S. intelligence discovered that a Soviet fleet carrying missiles was heading to Cuba, Kennedy decided to blockade Cuba to prevent the fleet from reaching its destination. This approach to the problem had the benefit of delaying confrontation and giving the two sides time to find a peaceful solution. In a conciliatory letter to Kennedy, Khrushchev agreed to turn back the fleet if Kennedy pledged not to invade Cuba: We and you ought not to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied too tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it. . . . Let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.4 The intense feeling that the world might have been annihilated in a few days had a profound influence on both sides. A communication hotline between Moscow and Washington was installed in 1963 to expedite rapid communication between the two superpowers in time of crisis. In the same year, the two powers agreed to ban nu- clear tests in the atmosphere, a step that served to lessen the tensions between the two nations.