Cuban Missile Crisis: Why were missiles there?

Cuban Missile Crisis: Why did Khrushchev put missiles into Cuba?

The decision to place missiles on Cuba has been the subject of discussion amongst analysts and historians ever since the crisis. There was no one single reason why Khruschev made the decision to order missiles onto the island. It resulted from a number of different factors.

Berlin: Khruschev wanted to secure the Soviet hold on Berlin. Placing missiles on Cuba would give him a better negotiating position.

Economics: Some historians have suggested that the decision to place missiles on Cuba would have reduced the overall cost of Soviet nuclear defences, allowing additional spending to be made in other areas.

Politics: Khruschev had faced criticism from hard-liners within the Soviet Union that he was weak and appeasing the Americans. A message needed to be sent out that he was strong.

Strategic: Cuba is only 90 miles away from the US coastline and short / medium range missiles placed on the Island would be able to penetrate deep inside US territory.

Supporting an ally: After the revolution, Cuba was an ally of the Soviet Union. It had seen an abortive CIA backed attack occur at the Bay of Pigs and was perceived to be at risk of future attacks from the United States. Missiles would act as a deterrent against such an attack.

Turkey: The US had missiles in Turkey, which borders the Soviet Union. Placing missiles in Cuba would restore the balance of power.

Source A

Khrushchev to Kennedy, October 26, 1962

“Our purpose has been and is to help Cuba, an no one can challenge the humanity of our motives aimed at allowing Cuba to live peacefully and develop as its people desire. You want to relieve your country from danger and this is understandable. However, Cuba also wants this. All countries want to relieve your country from danger. But how can we the Soviet Union and our government, assess your action which, in effect, mean that you have surrounded the Soviet Union with military bases, surrounded our allies with military bases, set up military bases literally around our country, and stationed your rocket weapons at them? This is no secret. High-placed American officials demonstratively declare this. Your rockets are stationed in Britain and in Italy and pointed at us. Your rockets are stationed in Turkey.

You are worried over Cuba. You say that that it worries your because it lies at a distance of ninety miles across the sea from the shores of the United States. However, Turkey lies next to us. Our sentinels are pacing up and down and watching each other. Do you believe that you have the right to demand security for your country and the removal of such weapons that you qualify as offensive, while not recognizing this right for us?

You have stationed devastating rocket weapons which you call offensive, in Turkey literally right next to us. How does recognition of your equal military possibilities tally with such unequal relations between our great states? This does not tally at all.”

Source B

Khruschev’s son talking about the motives for placing Nuclear Missiles on Cuba:

“not only the government but the people viewed the Cubans as heroes, being next door to the huge neighbour but having the audacity to disagree with him. We decided that we should give Cuba modern weapons to respond to the next US aggression, which at that time was considered absolutely inevitable.”

Source C

Boris Surikov, Soviet Missiles Expert

‘Khrushchev and his Defence Minister, Rodion Malinovsky, were at Khrushchev’s estate on the Black Sea. They went for a walk and Malinovsky pointed in the direction of Turkey and said: ‘That’s where the American rockets are pointing at us. They need only 10 minutes to reach our cities, but our rockets need 25 minutes to reach America.’ Khrushchev thought for a while and then said: ‘Why don’t we instal our rockets in Cuba and point them at the Americans? Then we’ll need only 10 minutes, too.’

Source D

Alexander Alexeyev, reporting what happened when Castro was told the missiles were intended to ‘save the Cuban Revolution’

(Catro replied) ‘Well, in the interests of strengthening the socialist camp, I agree.’ You see, he understood Khrushchev’s motivations better than I did. But then Fidel said he wanted the rockets brought in openly. When I told Khrushchev this he said: ‘No. Do it like they did to us in Turkey. Confront them with an established fact. The Americans are a pragmatic people. They’ll accept it, like we had to in Turkey. Then we’ll be able to negotiate with America on a basis of parity.

Source E

General Maxwell Taylor

“a launching base for short-range missiles against the United States to supplement their ICBM system.”

Source F

Abel, suggesting that once the missiles were in place Khruschev would:

“Let the western powers get out of Berlin in exchange for the removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba.”

Source G

Nikita Khruschev

“…equalised what the west likes to call the balance of power.

…the main thing was that the installation of our missiles in Cuba would, I thought, restrain the United States from precipitous military action against Castro’s government.”

Cold War  
Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam ConferencesStalin and Truman: ideological differencesSoviet Satellite States
Cominform and ComeconUS Involvement in Europe Post WW2Truman Doctrine
Marshall PlanBizoniaBerlin Airlift
NATO: Origins and HistoryThe arms race and Mutually assured destructionSoviet rule in Hungary
DestalinizationHungarian RevolutionBerlin: Refugee Crisis
Khruschev's challenge to the west over Berlin1960: Paris SummitKennedy and the Berlin Crisis
Berlin WallPresident Kennedy visit to BerlinCuban Missile Crisis: Why were missiles there?
Cuban Missile Crisis: Why did Kennedy respond as he did?Cuban Missile Crisis: Resolution and analysis