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Throughout generations of history now, the United States have often been presented with complicated and unique political challenge. One of history’s largest dramas and near misses to all out world war, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a time where two men had the power in their hands to end civilization forever. President Kennedy had said, “It is insane that two men, sitting on opposite sides of the world, should be able to bring an end to civilization ”. In contrast, the 2014 Ukrainian revolution proved to be what appeared to be a completely different political challenge, with the opponents in both respective cases in vastly contrasting positions. With these two crises in mind, the paper will discuss how the ability to understand one’s enemies, gain public support, and effectively utilize nuclear weapons presents a significant challenge for the US to leverage its military power to accomplish its political objectives.
Significant to the Cuban Missile Crisis was at the roots of the US involvement, starting with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. One of the most known US policies towards the Western Hemisphere, it was evident that the US considered the entire Western hemisphere, including Cuba, inside its sphere of influence. Through the US intervention during the Cuban War of Independence and the declaration of war on Spain in 1898, America’s intent to gain control of the Caribbean was apparent. By having the right to intervene in Cuban affairs whenever US’s personal interests were at risk, although they did not possess Cuba directly, it was explicitly under their control. An example of the enforcement of the Platt Amendment came in September 1906, during the Second Occupation of Cuba.
The US continued to exert its dominance and influence over Cuba up until January 1959, in which Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba, enabling the beginning of Fidel Castro’s reign as the Prime Minister of Cuba . Following months of political tension between Cuba and America, the US officially severed formal diplomatic ties in January 1961. In April 1961, 1400 US sponsored Cuban exiles attempted to topple the Castro regime in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Fidel Castro was concerned the United States would once again invade Cuba. In May of 1962, the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev provided the deterrence to Cuba when he decided to secretly install Soviet nuclear missiles capable of striking the US in Cuba. The Soviet decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis. For the US, this was a huge setback to its prestige. Cuba, only 90 miles from the Florida Keys, had long been considered under the sphere of influence of the US was suddenly a Communist country seeking support from the USSR.
The initial obstacle the United States faced was to understand the motives and objectives that the Soviet Union had. In the time before the establishment of the crisis, US intelligence had considered the possibility of missiles being deployed by the USSR into its borders as extremely unlikely. After all, the USSR had never placed offensive missiles outside either its own or the Warsaw Pact countries’ borders. However, Khrushchev considered President Kennedy to be a young and extremely inexperienced leader. Convinced of the superiority of communism, he decided to balance the nuclear power race by placing several medium range nuclear missiles within striking distance of the US, urged on by his mindset of Kennedy as supremely weak. At the time, the US was outpacing the USSR in the nuclear race, with more than 170 in comparison to the USSR’s meagre 75 Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Although the placement of 40 missiles in Cuba reduced the gap, it did not provide parity. Increasing the aggregate power for the USSR would increase their likelihood of success in a future war with the US.
By using deception , the Soviets started to increase their arsenal on the proximity of the US by beginning to establish more threats such as submarine bases. Furthermore, on 6 October 1962, the Soviets told Robert Kennedy to assure President Kennedy that “no missile capable of reaching the United States will be placed in Cuba”. Although the US had credible human sources, the intelligence committees favoured technical sources more. However, the Soviets continued deceiving the US, as on 18 October, when the Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko assured President Kennedy that offensive missiles would not be placed in Cuba.
Had the United States correctly assessed the Soviet’s intent, there may have been other coercive and military measures taken to avoid the crisis altogether. However, due to their failure to understand the enemy’s intent in time prevented the utilization of the US military might in order to achieve its own objectives. During the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy cancelled effective air cover on D-Day as a way to downplay US involvement.
On the contrary, support from the public during the Cuban Missile Crisis was extremely high with the expectation that the President would react strongly to the USSR. There was a variety of official courses of action for the response, from doing nothing to an all out invasion. In the opinion of the Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, doing nothing would not seriously alter the balance of power. The US had over 5,000 strategic warheads while the Soviet Union had less than 300. A soviet increase to 340 would not substantially alter the balance. Less than a month prior to the crisis, the President assured the American people that “if Cuba should possess a capacity to carry out offensive actions against the United States, that the United States would act”, with his high public support allowing him to utilize substantial military power to achieve political objectives.
Although it would achieve the US’s goals, a full-scale invasion of Cuba would require too much public support. On 22 October 1962, President Kennedy increased the alert posture of US forces to DEFCON 3. Military forces started to move into formation as the US prepared to land an invasion onto Cuba . The next few days proved momentous and tough for both the Americans and the Soviets, as Kennedy soon realised the cost of the invasion would result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of innocent people as a result of nuclear war. President Kennedy stated “They can’t… permit us to take out their missiles, kill a lot of Russians and then do nothing. If they don’t act in Cuba, they certainly will in Berlin”. In the end, President Kennedy decided on a more limited option to accomplish his political ends, by signing the order for a naval quarantine on Cuba. However, the term blockade was not used as it could have been considered an act of war requiring a legal declaration of war. The quarantine, although only a limited subset of President Kennedy’s political objectives, helped coerce the USSR to reassess its actions and bought time for the US. However, the American public shower strong support as they were unwilling to sustain millions of American deaths.
The last challenge is both an ends and a means; the Cuban Missile Crisis stemmed from a struggle for nuclear supremacy. On 28 October 1962, Khrushchev removed the missiles from Cuba, brokering a deal with the US to secretly remove their missiles from Turkey. The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated that the use of military nuclear power as a deterrence could not achieve the desired political outcomes without reducing military means. Although it was unique in its own way and presented several intriguing decisions at the time, the Cuban Missile Crisis increased the prestige of President Kennedy. Through all the complexity that it contained, the resolution was simple. It had appeared that the USSR had backed down to the US pressure, whilst Castro began to lose touch with the USSR due to being ‘left out’ of the US and Soviet negotiations .
As a conciliation prize, the USSR was willing to provide Castro with about 100 tactical nuclear weapons which were shipped along with the missiles. However, when realising the unstable state Castro was in, USSR withdrew their nuclear weapons from Cuba, leading to a desirable political end state for the US as they had accomplished both their goals without the use of nuclear power.
In the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US was in close proximity to Cuba which heightened the desire to limit Soviet influence so close to home. In comparison, however, the situation is refereced when going to the Ukraine Revolution. Russia becomes the focal attention, with a desire to lessen the influence of the West close to their own borders.
To analyse the crisis in Ukraine in extent, the beginning of the Russian influence must be observed. The two nations were closely tied together ; even Nikita Khrushchev had worked in the Ukrainian mines as a teenager before joining the Communist party, marrying a Ukranian woman and considering Ukraine “One of his native lands” as well in accordance to his great-granddaughter, Nina Khrushcheva .
In 1954, the Soviet Union transferred the region of Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic to Ukraine to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s union with Russia. At the time, the transfer caused little uproar as the internal borders of the Soviet republics were merely a formality similar to borders between US states; they were all part of one Nation. Even though part of the Ukraine, Crimea remained primarily Russian. Even in 1993, 99.7% of general education and all higher education were taught in Russian .
Following the downfall of the Soviet Union, the borders between Russia and Ukraine became important. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed by Ukraine in December 1995, in which Ukraine relinquished its arsenal of nuclear weapons in exchange for guarantees from The United States, United Kingdom, and Russia manifested in the Budapest Memorandum. These included: respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders, refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and to refrain from economic coercion to subordinate Ukraine’s sovereignty .
Ukraine remained close to Russia, tied both economically and culturally. Eastern Ukraine primarily speaks Russian and identifies themselves as Russia. Ukraine was clearly in the Russian sphere of influence, as they provided an extremely important network of transferring gas, which in turn supplied industrial goods essential to the Roughen Economy.
In 2013, Ukraine experienced severe financial instability. Russia offered $15 billion in loans and discounts for natural gas in an effort to pull Ukraine closer to the European Union. At the same time, the EU offered a free trade agreement and a smaller loan. The country was torn between closer ties to Russia and the EU. In November 2013, the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, withdrew from the EU deal and signed a $15 billion deal with Russia. The people of Kiev, who identified themselves as closer to the EU, stormed Maidan Square to protest the decision by the government. On 17 February 2014, Russia released the second round of funds which sparked additional outrage and a swarm of protesters returned to Maidan Square. Following intense clashes between the protesters and the government, on 21 February 2014, President Yanukovych fled Ukraine and relinquished control of Ukraine to the pro-west revolutionaries. For Russia, this was a huge setback to its prestige. Ukraine had long been considered under its sphere of influence and suddenly Ukraine was looking for support from the EU and the USA.
The change of government in Ukraine from pro-Russian to a pro-West sparked the current Ukrainian crisis.
Similar to the US in the Cuban missile crisis, Russia was concerned about its shrinking sphere of influence. In a pure realist international relations view, the loss of an alliance with Ukraine will reduce Russia’s power. It may be seen as realism, as it helps explains headlines at the time in pro-Kremlin Russian online news website including: “NATO exists to contain Russia”; “Can Russia break dollar’s spine”; “Aggression against Russian citizens will be considered attack against Russia”. Massive movements of Russian troops to Belarus and the borders of Ukraine express Moscow’s determination to keep Ukraine close – just like the US did with its blockade of Cuba.
In contrast, the modern US policy leans more towards liberalism, with the expectation of economic interdependence and the Democratic spread seemingly creating lasting peace and stability . Foreign aid further tightened the alliance between the US and Ukraine as requested by Ukrainian presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko when she addressed Congress , but it is unlikely to create lasting peace – similar to the USSR providing aid to Cuba.
Similarly to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the resolution again involved the bargaining of ‘chips’ in order to satisfy both political interests. Just like the US in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russia spent significant resources to keep US interests at bay. To accomplish their wanted political objectives, public support is always demanded when the topic of military personnel and equipment arises, and although often there will often be a multitude of deployment of military personnel and equipment, there will always be a limit to the amount of military gear moved before public interest interferes, often leading to one nation unwilling to match the build-up of another countries’ forces, often overshadowed by the lack of public support causing a major barrier for superpowers to achieve all their political goals.
There have been multiple instances in history now where the ability to understand your enemies, gain public support and make the most out of nuclear weapons have helped create barriers to translate military power into political objectives, and although the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Ukrainian Revolution both avoided any horrific catastrophes to occur, countries’ reputations have been destroyed and relationships severed, showing the implications that nuclear warfare is always have on our society.
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