International Relations Essay Example

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Effects of the Cuban missile crisis on U.S.-Russia relations

Introduction

After the World Wars, the U.S. and the USSR were engaged in an arms race, which led to buildup of nuclear weapons. None of the two countries was interested in having a nuclear war but they continued to build their nuclear weapons to counteract each other. Both sides were also unsure of how the other country would react in case the other started a nuclear showdown. The uncertainty did not last for long because the Cuban crisis followed shortly after. After the crisis, the U.S. and the USSR became convinced that each of them would do anything in their power to avoid a nuclear Armageddon, and thus they strived to avoid using atomic bombs in the wars that followed.

Recently, confrontations between Russia and the U.S. have resulted in threats and diplomacy reminiscent of the Cuban crisis. In the Syrian crisis, threats and diplomacy led the two countries to work together in a bid to destroy chemical weapons. In Crimea, the U.S. threatened military action but resorted to giving its assistance to the Ukrainian government. With regard to Iran’s nuclear program, the two countries are working together to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. This paper is an analysis of the effect of the Cuban missile crisis on relations between Russia and the U.S.

The Cuban missile crisis

During the start of the Cold War, the USSR grabbed every opportunity for expanding its buffer zone with the West. The USSR therefore expanded ideological influence in Poland, East Germany, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. There was fear in Kremlin circles that Capitalism would spread all over Europe and eventually get entrenched in the USSR.1 Similarly, America viewed USSR’s influence in East Europe as the start of a worldwide campaign to spread communism.

The U.S. first took an anti-Communist action in the year 1947, when it resolved to assist countries under communist pressure. In the year 1949, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was formed with an objective of countering communist influence and military operations.2 Meanwhile, the two countries were engaged in a nuclear weapons race that had began earlier in 1945 after the U.S. attacked Japan with an atomic bomb.3 Russia tested its atomic bomb in the year 1949. After three years, the U.S. developed a more powerful bomb, the H-bomb, and the USSR developed its own one year later. The two countries also competed for control over middle-Eastern countries, third world countries and countries that were divided by communism and capitalism like Germany.4 This led to USSR’s support for the Cuban revolution, leading to the missile crisis of the year 1962.

The USSR had set up missiles near the coast in Florida to prepare itself for U.S. invasion in Cuba. The U.S. threatened action if the Soviet Union would use Cuba as a military base. The USSR gave assurances that it did not intend to use Cuba as a strategic ally in offending the U.S. However, the USSR was concerned that the U.S. may decide to invade Cuba and therefore wanted to build Cuba’s defenses.5

In mid-October 1962, the U.S. undertook a reconnaissance flight over Cuba and discovered a military build-up. The U.S. therefore proved that the USSR had lied about its intentions in Cuba. Kennedy was faced with a challenging situation. If he backed away, he knew that the USSR would take over West Germany. An attempt to bargain the situation with the Soviets would lead to demands that the U.S. withdraws its missiles from Italy and Turkey and thereby compromise European safety. It was also feared that the Soviets would invade the U.S.6, but such an invasion was unlikely because it would lead to a nuclear war. Further surveillance showed installation of ballistic missiles with the capability of destroying Southern U.S.

Kennedy knew that implementing a naval blockade was akin to declaring war but he went ahead with the decision because it would not provoke Soviet action.7 The USSR promised not to make nuclear shipments to Cuba and demanded that the U.S. lifts the blockade. Kennedy responded that Cuba needed to remove its weapons from Cuba before the blockade was lifted, but USSR responded that the U.S. removes its weapons from Turkey. The U.S. declined. Finally, the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its nuclear weapons from Cuba under U.N. inspection.8 After this, conflicts between the two countries continued but both counties did their best to avoid any possibility of a nuclear war.

Effects on U.S.-Russia relations

Shortly after the Cuban crisis, the two countries’ commitment to avoiding a nuclear war was put to test in the Vietnam War. The war started in the early 60’s with communist North Vietnam fighting capitalist South Vietnam. The U.S. feared that North Vietnam’s victory would mean that other South Asian counties would completely become communist.9 The U.S. sent troops in the year 1961, which led to a war that lasted for almost a decade. The U.S. withdrew in 1973 and before two years ended, communist victory was declared in South Vietnam. Laos and Cambodia followed suit as the U.S. had predicted. Remarkably however, the USSR and the U.S. only fought for their communist and capitalist ideals using military action, and without using nuclear weapons.10

Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. and the USSR recognized the power of using nuclear weapons and avoided conflicts that they thought were likely to lead to a nuclear crisis. The Cuban crisis led to a cooperative relationship between the Soviet Union and the U.S.11 A hotline was established between the two countries for use during crises, culminating in a treaty on banning of nuclear testing in the year 1963.12 The Cuban crisis therefore set a precedent for relations between the U.S. and the USSR, which is arguably still in force in contemporary confrontations between Russia and the U.S. Some aspects of how the Cuban crisis was resolved can be seen in the Ukrainian crisis, the Syrian crisis and Iran’s nuclear program.

Ukrainian crisis

Tough talks by both Russia and the U.S. about the crisis in Ukraine have raised fears that the West and Russia are going back to Cold War days. Recent rivalries between the two countries have not helped matters either. The Ukraine crisis started after Yanukovych chose Russian trade ties over Western ties leading to U.S.-backed protests. Despite the fact that Russia was against the ouster of Yanukovych, the Russian populace managed to dethrone him, after which he sought refuge in Russia. An interim U.S.-backed government was installed and it has since clashed with Putin in many fronts. Russia withdrew its economic bailout program, an indication that the Poroshenko win in the recent elections will lead to cold relations with Russia.13 The Ukraine crisis has many features of the Cuban crisis. This is because the U.S. was against Fidel Castro while the Soviets supported him. In Ukraine, Russia supported Yanukovych while the U.S. was against him. In Cuba, the Soviets were looking to have ideological influence on the country while in Ukraine, the U.S. wants to have economic influence and alliance with Ukraine.

The most delicate issue with regard to the Ukrainian crisis is perhaps Russia’s annexation of Crimea.14 After a “yes” vote in the referendum held in March, Russia has successfully annexed Crimea. At first, Washington was furious about the move and Obama was threatening military action. However, just like in the Cuban crisis, no military action was taken. The U.S. is however supporting the Ukrainian government, and has recently issued a statement that it does not recognize Moscow’s seizing of Crimea. Military action by the U.S. in Crimea would have resulted to a full-blown war between Russia and the U.S., and it would have worsened both the situation in Ukraine and U.S.-Russia relations. Both Moscow and Washington do not want this result. Washington has however left the military option open, and it is arguably likely to engage Moscow in Crimea.

  • Syrian crisis

The Syrian crisis has seen a Cold War like standoff between Russia and the U.S., with Russia supporting the al-Assad regime and the U.S. supporting opposition forces. Russia has been supporting government forces with weapons while the U.S. has been supporting the opposition forces with weapons. Despite concerns that Syria would eventually turn to a battleground between the U.S. and Russia, the two countries have restrained from deployment of troops and avoided a war that could have had devastating ramifications on Syria and surrounding countries. Just like in the case of the Cuban crisis, the U.S. was furious with Russia’s support of Assad’s massacre of his own people. The U.S. wanted to intervene militarily but the stakes were too high. Military intervention in Syria would imply that the U.S. would engage in direct confrontation with Russia. The U.S. therefore chose to get involved indirectly by way of supporting opposition troops in Syria instead of carrying out Libya-like air strikes or deploying troops.15

The U.S. and Russia joined hands in promoting dialogue between the Assad regime and opposition forces. The two countries have also cooperated on implementing the UN-sanctioned destruction of chemical weapons in Syria. The cooperation between Russia and the U.S. has proved that, contrary to the views of many political commentators, Russia is still a superpower and it possesses invaluable potential to cooperate with the U.S. in achieving U.S.’s objectives.16

The areas of cooperation between Russia and the U.S. include global terrorism, arms control and resolution of security issues in European countries. Commendable actions by both counties include the fact that Russia had allowed the U.S. to use its Northern Corridor to access Afghanistan. Additionally, the U.S. has offered to use its technology to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in international waters while Russia has given security to the team of experts that is currently in Syria transporting the chemical weapons to a Syrian port.

  • Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs

Although Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs are not issues of major conflict between Russia and the U.S., the latter needs the former’s support in ensuring that nuclear programs are adequately controlled worldwide.17 The U.S. and Russia have been cooperating in efforts to end the nuclear program in Iran but in recent conflicts, Russia has threatened to change its stance as far as the Iranian nuclear program is concerned. Russia used the Iran card as a bargaining chip “after the U.S. and the EU announced sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region”.18 Russia’s threat is reminiscent of Cold War actions and counter-actions. For instance, Installation of missiles in Cuba by the Soviets was because of the failed invasion on Cuba by the U.S. However, Russia is unlikely to renege on its commitment to solve the issue in Iran because it does not want Iran to have nuclear power, and because the alternative to its joint diplomatic efforts with the U.S. are too costly.19

U.S.’s approach with regard to North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs is also consistent with Cold War decisions made by President Kennedy. The Obama administration has ensured that there is no clear red line with regard to the aforementioned nuclear programs. However, the U.S. has strongly hinted that there exists such a red line that when crossed could result to serious consequences. The U.S. has also made it clear that it will be willing to use its military tools in case such an intervention is necessary. Just like in the Cold War period and specifically during the Cuban crisis, the U.S. has ensured that it avails non-military options and it gives them priority over military options. Specifically, the U.S. has been looking for incentives that will make the Iranian government to stop its nuclear program. It has also rallied for support from the international community regarding Iran’s nuclear program in a bid to ensure that Iran stops its aspirations without military intervention.20 Russia and the U.S. have been working together in a bid to find a lasting solution to the nuclear program in Iran. This proves that both countries are aware of the stakes in case Iran succeeds in building nuclear weapons and thus they are willing to put down their rivalries to realize non-military solutions to this problem.

Conclusion

From the above discussion, it is apparent that the reason the world did not experience a nuclear World War III is because Soviet leaders and U.S. leaders handled the Cuban missile crisis prudently. The two countries knew that a nuclear attack would begin a series of nuclear attacks that would result in an Armageddon world over. Kennedy and Nikita therefore opted for threats and diplomacy and eventually resolved the Cuban crisis without a nuclear attack.

In the recent past, relations between the U.S. and Russia have been more or less modeled on the way the two countries resolved the Cuban crisis. This has been evident in the way the U.S. is handling the Ukrainian crisis. After Putin annexed Crimea, the U.S. threatened military action but no military action has been witnessed so far. The U.S. is supporting the Ukrainian government and employing diplomacy to solve the crisis. Additionally, Russia and the U.S. clashed with regard to the Syrian crisis with each supporting opposing sides in the conflict. With time however, the two countries have employed diplomacy and agreed on a disarmament mission for Syria’s chemical weapons. Lastly, Russia and the U.S. have agreed that Iranian nuclear program is a threat to international peace. Although Russia has been using Iran as a bargaining chip in diplomatic confrontations, the two countries are committed to ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

Bibliography

Chomsky, Noam. “Cuban missile crisis: how the US played Russian roulette with nuclear war”.

Theguardian. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/15/cuban-missile-crisis-russian-roulette

Cutmore, Geoff. “Putin: Russia looks East, will respect Ukraine poll”. Cnbc. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101700307

Gwertzman, Bernard. “Lessons From the Cuban Missile Crisis”. Cfr.

http://www.cfr.org/history-and-theory-of-international-relations/lessons-cuban-missile-crisis/p29318?cid=rss-americas-lessons_from_the_cuban_missile-102212

Hershberg, Jim. “Anatomy of a Controversy”. Gwu.

http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/moment.htm

Kaiser, Robert. “US-Soviet Relations: Goodbye to Detente”. Foreignaffairs. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/34592/robert-g-kaiser/us-soviet-relations-goodbye-to-d%C3%83%C2%A9tente

Legvold, Robert. “Cuban missile crisis 50 years on: Nuclear deterrence is still playing a major

role in the world”. Valdaiclub. http://valdaiclub.com/history/50060.html

Library of Congress. Revelations from the Russian Archives.

http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/sovi.html

Lozansky, Edward. “Building on the success of US-Russia diplomacy in Syria”. Us-russia. http://us-russia.org/1806-building-on-the-success-of-us-russia-diplomacy-in-syria.html

Maddux, Catherine. “US-Russian Relations Nosedive, Sparking Cold War Jitters”. Voanews.

http://www.voanews.com/content/us-russian-relations-nosedive-sparking-cold-war-jitters/1866712.html

Maloney, Suzanne. “Three Reasons Why Russia Won’t Wreck the Iran Nuclear Negotiations”. Brookings. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/iran-at-saban/posts/2014/03/22-russia-us-tension-sabotage-iran-nuclear-deal

Mankoff, Jeffrey. “Generational Change and the Future of US-Russian Relations”. Columbia.

http://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/generational-change-and-future-us-russian-relations/

Miles, David. “World History Shows US-Russia Relations Must Move Beyond Fear and

Conflict”. Huffingtonpost. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-miles/us-russia-relations-must-move-forward_b_5036263.html

Roeschley, Jason. “Nikita Khrushchev, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Aftermath”.

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Saradzhyan, Artur. “Cuban Crisis: 50 years later”. Globalaffairs.

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Sherwin, Martin. “The Cuban Missile Crisis at 50: In Search of Historical Perspective”.

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Strokan, Sergey. “The Cuban Missile Crisis: Five lessons for today”. Rt. http://rt.com/op-edge/missile-crisis-world-kennedy-236/

TheWorldPost. Russia Warns West It May Change Its Stance On Iran. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/19/russia-iran_n_4994670.html

Thompson, Janet. “Cuban missile crisis has crucial lessons for modern leaders”. Cbc. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/cuban-missile-crisis-has-crucial-lessons-for-modern-leaders-1.1154755

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1
Library of Congress. Revelations from the Russian Archives. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/sovi.html

2
Gwertzman, Bernard. “Lessons From the Cuban Missile Crisis”. Cfr.

http://www.cfr.org/history-and-theory-of-international-relations/lessons-cuban-missile-crisis/p29318?cid=rss-americas-lessons_from_the_cuban_missile-102212

3
Sherwin, Martin. “The Cuban Missile Crisis at 50: In Search of Historical Perspective”.

Archives. http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2012/fall/cuban-missiles.html

4
Roeschley, Jason. “Nikita Khrushchev, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Aftermath”.

Digitalcommons. http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1145&context=constructing

5
Legvold, Robert. “Cuban missile crisis 50 years on: Nuclear deterrence is still playing a major

role in the world”. Valdaiclub. http://valdaiclub.com/history/50060.html

6
Saradzhyan, Artur. “Cuban Crisis: 50 years later”. Globalaffairs.

http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/book/Cuban-Crisis-50-years-later-15702

7
Chomsky, Noam. “Cuban missile crisis: how the US played Russian roulette with nuclear war”.

Theguardian. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/15/cuban-missile-crisis-russian-roulette

8
US Department of State: Office of the Historian. Milestones: 1961-1968. History.state.gov.

https://history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/cuban-missile-crisis

9
Hershberg, Jim. “Anatomy of a Controversy”. Gwu.

http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/moment.htm

10
Mankoff, Jeffrey. “Generational Change and the Future of US-Russian Relations”. Columbia.

http://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/generational-change-and-future-us-russian-relations/

11
Kaiser, Robert. “US-Soviet Relations: Goodbye to Detente”. Foreignaffairs. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/34592/robert-g-kaiser/us-soviet-relations-goodbye-to-d%C3%83%C2%A9tente

12
Strokan, Sergey. “The Cuban Missile Crisis: Five lessons for today”. Rt. http://rt.com/op-edge/missile-crisis-world-kennedy-236/

13
Cutmore, Geoff. “Putin: Russia looks East, will respect Ukraine poll”. Cnbc. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101700307

14
Maddux, Catherine. “US-Russian Relations Nosedive, Sparking Cold War Jitters”. Voanews.

http://www.voanews.com/content/us-russian-relations-nosedive-sparking-cold-war-jitters/1866712.html

15
Tisdall, Simon. “Iran and Assad have won in Syria, say top Tehran foreign policy figures”. Theguradian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/11/syria-crisis-iran-assad-won-war-tehran

16
Lozansky, Edward. “Building on the success of US-Russia diplomacy in Syria”. Us-russia. http://us-russia.org/1806-building-on-the-success-of-us-russia-diplomacy-in-syria.html

17
Miles, David. “World History Shows US-Russia Relations Must Move Beyond Fear and

Conflict”. Huffingtonpost. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-miles/us-russia-relations-must-move-forward_b_5036263.html

18
TheWorldPost. Russia Warns West It May Change Its Stance On Iran. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/19/russia-iran_n_4994670.html

19
Maloney, Suzanne. “Three Reasons Why Russia Won’t Wreck the Iran Nuclear Negotiations”. Brookings. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/iran-at-saban/posts/2014/03/22-russia-us-tension-sabotage-iran-nuclear-deal

20
Thompson, Janet. “Cuban missile crisis has crucial lessons for modern leaders”. Cbc. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/cuban-missile-crisis-has-crucial-lessons-for-modern-leaders-1.1154755