Cuban Missile Crisis to Anxious Ukraine War

by Kiri Vadivelu | 4 min. read war

The impact of 13 days Cuban missile crisis is felt today after 60 years but NATO Ukraine confrontation with Russia may supersede all

The build up of nuclear arm race between United States and Russia did not eliminate threat nor protected anyone but only escalated to a point of no return. Today, nuclear warhead nations are operating under great deal of anxiety with no ability to negotiate peace. One miscalculation of either nation may wipe out entire humanity on this planet. Yet, NATO continue to push for war mongering efforts as Ukraine have taken the bait to face the consequences.

Biden and Putin with Nuclear Heads
Biden and Putin with Nuclear Heads | © Kiri Vadivelu

Sixty years ago this month, the United States and Soviet Union faced off in, arguably, the most dangerous superpower nuclear confrontation of the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved in 13 days. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove Russian missiles from Cuba.

Contrary to folklore, the Cuban Missile Crisis was provoked by U.S. President John F. Kennedy, not Khrushchev. Kennedy ran for president vowing to reverse the so-called missile gap. In reality, the USSR lagged far behind America in nuclear weaponry. Long before Kennedy took office in January 1961, Khrushchev had been slashing defense, shifting scarce rubles to the civilian sector.

Kennedy immediately started a massive nuclear and conventional defense buildup, authorizing the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion that April. Khrushchev's response attempted to mollify his angry generals and preserve his spending priorities. By secretly installing short-range nuclear missiles in Cuba that could target Washington and New York, Khrushchev believed America's overwhelming nuclear superiority would be outflanked without a costly arms race. He was wrong.

Today, Ukraine is not Cuba. Cuba was a Soviet ward, 90 miles off Florida. Ukraine borders its enemy Russia and NATO. NATO was not engaged in the Cuban crisis. NATO is totally engaged in Ukraine.

Putin's "special military operation" is failing on the ground. But with winter looming, that Putin retaliated against Ukrainian energy infrastructure after the Kerch bridge was struck suggests a long-term strategy to break Ukrainian will as Russia is unable to achieve that with Ukraine's army.

Russia is also not the USSR. Russia is a nuclear superpower. In 1962, the USSR was not. Putin understands that. Indeed, those who live outside of United States finds Putin as more credible source than his counterparts. Ironically, the anxious nature of corporate media to provide Americans with disinformation about Russia only shoots itself in the foot. Although, Putin may not be achieving the victory as the pace he started, the odds are clearly in his favour. Real twist is, the slow pace victory bring more benefit to Putin than a quick one. It allows Russia to build the momentum for the future of Russian people. Meanwhile, NATO lost the credibility by engaging in the conflict instead of pursuing diplomacy.

Putin is not Khrushchev. Khrushchev had a Politburo that would fire him two years after Cuba. Putin is not so constrained. However, Khrushchev was not inflicted with civil unrest as the missile crisis was brief. Ukraine is far from over.

Khrushchev believed Kennedy would have no choice other than to accept the Cuban fait accompli. Putin believes he can win over the long term. But Kennedy gave Khrushchev a way out. Today, what is the off-ramp for all parties?

For Khrushchev, Cuba was not existential nor worth a world war. Putin views Ukraine far differently if his nuclear threat is no bluff. Should Putin decide to use nuclear weapons, assuming that might be limited to only one or two would be a grave mistake. Suppose he used 10, 20 or more?

Kennedy aggressively responded to Soviet missiles in Cuba, unaware of his role in provoking the crisis. Forming a secret executive committee of experts for advice and disregarding Moscow's first threatening hotline message were perhaps Kennedy's two most important decisions of the crisis. Kennedy also made all the intelligence public at the United Nations.

Putin's strategy is clear and long term. Break the alliance with threats. Accept the current situation on the ground as Putin believes Russia ultimately will prevail because Ukraine and NATO cannot stay the course.

If the United States has a strategy, it is to bleed Russia into concessions. Hence, refuse negotiations and cease-fires until a total Russian withdrawal from Ukraine and a firm commitment for reparations are achieved. However, that is very unrealistic, short-term and may provoke dangerous escalations.

What must be done? First, a long-term strategy for ending the war on favorable terms is essential. To derive that strategy, Biden should establish an executive committee drawing in more Russian expertise. Second, he should set up a discreet communications link with Moscow through appropriate intermediaries. Third, barring an outright victor, concessions by all parties will be required. What are they?

Clever diplomacy resolved Cuba. Resolving the Ukrainian crisis will need more than clever diplomacy. A comprehensive, long-term strategy is crucial if the Ukrainian crisis is to end as peacefully as Cuba did in 1962.

Credits: Harlan Ullman,

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