Crisis of the Cold War – The Peaceful Co-Existence & Cuban Missile Crisis

Crisis of the Cold War – The Peaceful Co-Existence & Cuban Missile Crisis

The Peaceful Co-Existence

GCSE History Revision - The Peaceful CoexistenceBy 1955, the Cold War had been rumbling on for the best part of a decade. Under Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s replacement after his death in 1953, the Soviet Union decided it would try out a policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the West (the term by this point used to describe the USA and its European allies). As a symbolic demonstration of this new outlook, Khrushchev attended international diplomatic events such as the Geneva Summit of 1955.

However, between 1955 and 1970 there were several different international flashpoints that brought East and West to conflict – though never direct war – once more.

On the Brink of World War III


GCSE History Revision - Fidel CastroOn 1 January 1959, the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro welcomed in the New Year by seizing power over Cuba from General Fulgencio Batista, a dictator whose regime was very close to the US government and businesses. This detail is important, as when the Soviet Union offered support to Castro, it was able to argue that it was simply helping a man who had overthrown an evil dictator who America had helped to repress the people of Cuba. Although Castro was arguably not actually a communist in the beginning, he was definitely opposed to US capitalism, and soon received warm support from the Soviet Union, including economic aid.

Bay of Pigs

The United States was furious that a pro-Soviet Union country had appeared less than 100 miles from the US coast. It made secret plans to overthrow the Castro regime by giving money, weapons and training to Castro’s opponents. This ended in the Bay of Pigs Crisis of April 1961 when these forces attempted to invade Cuba by landing at the Bay of Pigs, but were easily defeated.

But that wasn’t the end of Cuba’s role in the Cold War. After the Bay of Pigs Cuba was more strongly supported by the Soviet Union than ever. In return for plenty of economic and military aid, Cuba agreed to let the Soviet Union build nuclear missiles launch sites on the island.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

GCSE History Revision - Cuban Missle CrisisThis was a massive, massive threaten to the USA; it meant Soviet nuclear weapons could easily reach American cities. The USA discovered the sites in October 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis – the most dramatic point of the Cold War, which brought the world to the brink of a real nuclear war – began.

* On 16 October, Kennedy created a National Security Council to examine the situation, and a week later told Americans of the threat. US planes carrying atomic bombs were put on the highest alert.

* The United States set up a naval blockade to try and stop Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles from reaching Cuba. Khrushchev told his ships to carry on to Cuba anyway, creating a dramatic showdown.

*Both sides made a very public show of standing up to the enemy.

*But in spite of this, and the dramatic, terrifying suspense of it all for pretty much the entire world, both sides were secretly keen to bring the crisis to a peaceful solution.

Khrushchev told Kennedy on 26th October that he would remove the missile bases if the USA promised not to invade Cuba, and the next day also demanded he get rid of American missile bases in Turkey that threatened Russia. Kennedy publicly promised not to invade, and in secret also agreed to dismantle the Turkish bases. Khrushchev accepted the offer on 28th October, and a nuclear war was narrowly avoided.

Cuban Missile Crisis: the Consequences

What were the effects of the crisis:

* Both sides claimed victory, but because the deal involving Turkey was kept secret, in the West it looked like a victory for the USA.

* At the same time, Khrushchev looked like the weaker man, and in 1964 he resigned as leader of the USSR.

* The incident caused both sides to become more cooperative. In the end, neither power wanted to start a nuclear war. The crisis can be seen as directly responsible for encouraging the American and Soviet leaders to negotiate the 1963 and 1968 nuclear treaties described above.