Fter seizing power in the Caribbean island nation of Cuba in 1959, leftist revolutionary Fidel Castro aligned himself with the Soviet Union. Under Castro, Cuba grew dependent on the Soviets for military and economic aid.
Both superpowers plunged into one of their biggest Cold War confrontations after an American U-2 spy plane making a high-altitude pass over Cuba on Oct 14, 1962, photographed a Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missle.
From that launch point,they were capable of quickly reaching targets in the eastern US.If allowed to become operational,the missiles would fundamentally alter the complexion of the nuclear rivalry between the US and USSR
The Soviets had long felt uneasy about the number of nuclear weapons that were targeted at them from sites in Western Europe and Turkey, and they saw the deployment of missiles in Cuba as way to level the playing field.
But Kennedy ultimately decided on a more measured approach.First, he would employ the US Navy to establish a blockade,or quarantine,of the island to prevent the Soviets from delivering additional missiles and equipment.
In a television broadcast on Oct 22,1962 the president notified Americans about the presence of the missiles,explained his decision to enact the blockade and made it clear that US was prepared to use military if needed.
An attempt by the Soviets to breach the blockade would likely have sparked a military confrontation that could have quickly escalated to a nuclear exchange. But the Soviet ships stopped short of the blockade.
Lthough the events at sea offered a positive sign that war could be averted, they did nothing to address the problem of the missiles already in Cuba. The tense standoff between the superpowers continued through the week.
During the crisis,the US and USSR had exchanged letters and other communications,and on Oct 26, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy in which he offered to remove missiles in exchange for a promise by US not invade Cuba.
Officially,the Kennedy administration decided to accept the terms of the 1st message and ignore the 2nd Khrushchev letter entirely.Privately, however,US officials also agreed to withdraw their missile from Turkey.
Both the Americans and Soviets were sobered by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following year, a direct “hot line” communication link was installed between Washington and Moscow to help defuse similar situations.