The Cuban Missile Crisis, to some the most intense confrontation of the Cold War, developed shortly after the discovery that Soviet missiles were on the ground in Cuba. While Khruschev insisted that there were no offensive intentions against the United States, the Kennedy administration demanded that the missiles be dismantled and removed.
This despite the fact that Gartoff says “the installation of the missiles in an allied country with its approval had been entirely in accordance with international law and was consistent with American practice.”
A naval blockade was imposed by the United States.
As the world remained tense, faced with the threat of nuclear confrontation, Kruschev agreed to “remove these weapons systems from Cuba under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision, and undertake, with suitable safeguards, to halt the further introduction of such weapons systems into Cuba.” This according to Robert F. Kennedy in his book Thirteen Days.
President Kennedy insisted, in return, on assurances that Cuba “itself commits no aggressive acts against any of the nations of the Western Hemisphere,” thereby expressing his determination that the US be the principal guide of Latin America’s destiny.
Khruschev and Kennedy reached their final agreement without consulting Castro.
The Cuban Missile Crisis served as a reminder, particularly to China, of the bipolarity of the postwar world. It also solidified Khruschev’s determination to avoid nuclear confrontation in the Third World.
Importantly, Khruschev publicly served notice to the Chinese that while “‘imperialism today is no longer what it used to be, those who had described it as a ‘paper tiger’ (meaning, of course, the Chinese) should know that ‘this paper tiger has atomic teeth. It can use them and it must not be treated lightly.'”
Castro was publicly humiliated by his exclusion from negotiations. At the onset of the crisis, “he seemed to have a blind belief in the Soviet military machine and shrugged off any doubts by saying that it was the Russians who were calling the tune [not the United States]. He felt like one of the powerful, as if he were involved in world-changing events.”
This perception was short-lived, however, for although Cuba’s military had received large shipments of conventional weapons and supplies preparatory to the introduction of the missiles, Soviet personnel and equipment had remained under the control and ownership of the Kremlin throughout the crisis.
Castro had not been consulted about the removal of the missiles and, facing a loss of prestige, he soon began to doubt the commitment of the Soviets to Cuba and its revolutionary project.
This realization was reinforced when the Soviets distanced themselves from Cuba before resuming and expanding their role as Castro’s economic and military supplier.
Castro acted to assert his independence from the Soviet bloc by giving added momentum to his drive toward “internationalism,” a policy designed to gain reliable foreign allies.
China, also, was aggravated by Moscow’s unilateral actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and they were further irritated by clashes over the appropriate communist response to the wars of liberation so ardently supported by Castro.
China’s apprehensions were especially consequential in view of Kennedy’s worries regarding superpower rivalry in the Third World. Shortly after the Bay of Pigs debacle Kennedy remarked:
The great battleground for the defense and expansion of freedom today is the whole southern half of the globe — Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East — the lands of the rising peoples. Their revolution is the greatest in human history ….
[The] adversaries of freedom did not create the revolution, nor did they create the conditions which compel it. But they are seeking to ride the crest of its wave — to capture it for themselves.
Yet their aggression is more often concealed than open …
It is a contest of will and purpose as well as force and violence — a battle for minds and souls as well as lives and territory. And in that contest, we cannot stand aside.
The President’s remarks clearly indicate his concern that the US was losing the Third World and, in doing so, the Cold War. Such feelings were closely related to Brezhnev‘s ideas about the “correlation of forces,” which were said to provide a measure of who was winning the worldwide struggle at any one point in time.
Counterinsurgency techniques designed to subvert revolution and independence movements in the emerging nations thus became a national priority.
Models were developed to offset the losses represented by Greece, Cuba, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam. Efforts to counteract growing guerilla warfare were emphasized.
At the same time, Kennedy intended to build on Khruschev’s concern that the Third World remained economically dependent on the West, and declared the 1960s the “Decade of Development.”
Academic theories of economic development were adopted, and institutions were established to implement their tenets — the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress, and the Agency for International Development, all designed to unify such diverse activities as technical assistance and food aid.
Meanwhile, America’s activities in Vietnam became a test case for the administration’s understanding of guerilla warfare.