The Cuban Missile Crisis | Example International Relations Essay

The Cuban missile crisis occurred over five decades ago and, to this day, remains the closest that the world has come towards full nuclear conflict. This paper assesses the background dynamics that led to Cuba becoming a central issue within US strategic interest and, does so, initially, via assessing the development of US Monroe Doctrine, and the primacy that this policy had been given as part of this same policy platform. It was this policy, this paper argues, that saw the US first intervene in Cuba in the years following the Communist revolution and the covert attempts at regime change. Indeed, this particular theatre, this paper argues, became a front line on the Cold War berceuse of the US’ attempts at ensuring the Monroe Doctrine prevailed. Yet, with the US taking a proactive stance against the spread of Communism and the Soviet sphere of influence the reality of a Soviet missile presence on Cuban soil was sufficient to alter the nuclear balance of power away from the US to a point that the Soviets could strike at the USA without notice, and without time for a right of reply. That said, this paper indicates that it was the intervention of the international community that tilted the USA away from the possibility of a military strike against Soviet interests and, given that the Soviet military was not in a state of readiness, it is arguable that any first strike would have been at the behest of the USA.

The backdrop and events of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 are more politically charged than one would first consider. Whilst this crisis came to define and frame the early years of the Cold War, the reality is that it comprised the culmination of decades of geopolitical activity by the USA in what can be referred to as its region. For example, Smith (1994: 21-23) holds a premise that the Monroe Doctrine, which was aimed at concretising US influence in its southern space, created a self imposed mandate for political and military intervention in Central and South America. The policy agenda that resulted saw the USA intervene in the political dynamics of a number of Southern states and nations in order to help ensure that the the region was largely supportive of US actions, much of the consternation of more powerful political entities that lay outside of that immediate sphere; this Doctrine, therefore, acted as a check upon the expansionist ideals of European Empires and, as such, left Central and South America to the domain of US policy agendas (Langley, 1963).

As part of the continuation of the Monroe Doctrine, the USA occupied Cuba for roughly four decades, between 1989 and 1934, and occurred following a Spanish withdrawal from the region which occurred as an outcome of the US Monroe Doctrine which saw the Spanish cede Cuban territory to the USA (Langley, 1983: 3). These actions led to the USA being granted unfettered political power in the region and resulted in the USA aiming to effect a number of social and political changes within Cuba in which the intent comprised of a need to “Americanise the Cubans” (Wood, 1903: 1). Yet, any subsequent status that benefitted the possibility of Cuban residents becoming de facto US citizens had been undermined by a number of distinct legal judgements that undermined the possibility of Cuba being directly immersed into the US political systems and framework. For example, the Joint Resolution of Congress of 1898 expressly denied “any disposition or intention to exercise, sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over said island except for the pacification thereof’’ (Randolph, 1898 – 1900: 356). What occurred thereafter saw Cuba being an antipathy of US policy and undermined the ability of the US to control its neighbourhood, in line with the permanence of the Monroe Doctrine.

The fall of Cuba in 1959 to a political leadership that espoused a Communist ideology cannot be considered as a simplistic event of the Cold War namely because it offered itself as a direct challenge to the longstanding Monroe Doctrine. Indeed, by virtue, the USSR had been able to succeed where the previous Empire era was unable to do and resulted in the reality of the domino effect, as well as the US’ fear of encirclement becoming a reality. What occurred, in political terms, as a result of the rise of the Castro administration in Cuba also saw the USA increase its attentions across Central and South America in order to stop further conversions to Communism and saw the creation of a containment policy emerge within this geographic space (Peiper, 2014). At this juncture it is of note that the CIA sought to overthrow Castro’s government regime in order to reset the politics of the region in favour of the USA, as well as to undermine Soviet expansion in the region (History, 2014). This attempt at regime change resulted in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs and within a year the dynamics of the wider Cold War had began to define the importance of Cuba as a global issue.

Swedin (2010) argues that the resultant Cuban missile crisis of 1962 began when the USA recorded covert evidence that the USSR had began to place a number of ballistic nuclear missiles onto Cuban territory. This act, arguably, arose as a response to the USA expanding its overseas nuclear arsenal to Turkey with the result being that the USA possessed an advantage in the nuclear balance of power via being able to strike at the mainland USSR earlier and without warning. Placing materiel goods onto Cuban soil not only helped to rebalance this issue for the USSR but provided it with an unrivalled power balance in its favour given that the USA would have been unable to strike back prior to being eliminated as a military and political player in the Cold War (Swedin, 2010; Peiper, 2012). Added to this, the Cuban incident also indicated that the US policies of containment, as well as the Monroe Doctrine, had failed. What occurred following this realisation led to the Cold War almost evolving into a hot war.

Correll (2005) argues that with the USA having established a naval blockade around Cuba, as a way of preventing further missile deliveries to Cuban territory, the main intention was to provide an indication of the Soviet Union’s overall intent. Here, Correll (2005) argues that the US administration had hoped that Soviet forces would have been placed on imminent stand by for action in strategically important areas, such as Berlin. But, it is suggested, a Soviet response of this nature did not materialise. As part of the rhetoric that took place at the time, US officials demanded that the USSR dismantle their Cuban based weaponry and return them to Eastern Europe.  Eventually, an agreement was realised between the respective US and Soviet leadership teams that this dismantling would occur, but not before US rapid responses air teams had been providing emergency briefings and were readied for delivering nuclear payloads to Soviet and other enemy territories (Allison & Zelikow, 1999). This response from US nuclear delivery teams was in stark contrast to their Soviet counterparts whom, as stated, remained unmoved by events and did not instigate any emergency procedures (Correll, 2005). The reality was that the USSR had no intention of initiating a hot conflict with the USA and, in effect, the Soviet leadership was testing their US peers as part of a game of brinkmanship.

Latterly, the crisis began to dissipate when interventions led by the United Nations (UN) led to the USSR removing its weapons from Cuban soil (Allison & Zelikow, 1999). Allison & Zelikow 91999) also argue that this decision to remove these materiel goods formed part of an agreement in which the USA would also remove its weapons from Turkey, again as part of a UN sanctioned verification process. That said, there is an indication that US intelligence gathering systems failed to detect the entirety of the Soviet arsenal on Cuban soil and, having presented a list of weapons that were to be removed, it emerged that the list was incomplete, leaving the Soviet Union complying with the removal request by still possessing weapons on Cuban soil (Allison & Zelikow, 1999).  Arguably, the Monroe Doctrine had been restored as part of US regional policy; however relations with Cuba continued to be strained up to and after the death of the Cuban leader, Castro.

In conclusion, the Cuban missile crisis indicated that the arrival of a hot war can arise suddenly and unexpectedly. Nevertheless, there is sufficient information to suggest that a collective counter response via the international community can be sufficient in order to curtail the possibility of nuclear war and conflict. This was the case with the Cuban crisis. Although, in fairness, with the Soviet Union being evidenced as not being on a war footing, it is arguable how that crisis would have evolved had the Soviets taken a more proactive military stance. Yet, it is also arguable that had the Monroe Doctrine not have had sufficient primacy within US foreign policy it is feasible that the various US interventions into Cuba would not have occurred, or had allowed the USSR an opportunity to manipulate regional US grievances.

Example International Relations Essay


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Hayden, T., (2014), The Cold War That Threatens Democracy, (online), available at, (accessed on 23/09/17).

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Langley, L., D., (1983), the Banana Wars: An Inner History of American Empire, 1900-1934, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Peiper, M., (2012), Containment and the Cold War: Re-examing the Doctrine of Containment as a Grand Strategy Driving US Cold War Interventions, (online), available at, (accessed on 23/09/17).

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and the Western Hemisphere, Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

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Smith, G., (1994), the Last years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945-1993, New York: Hill and Wang.

Swedin, E., G., (2010), When Angels Wept: A What-If History of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Virginia, Potomac Books.

Wood, L., (1903), The Military Government of Cuba, (J), Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 21, pp. 1-30.

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