FAILURE OF NUCLEAR DETERRENCE IN THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
AIR WAR COLLEGE MAXWELL AFB United States
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Most of the attention and scholarly analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis focuses on 13 days, specifically 16-28 October 1962. However, crucial events months prior to October 1962 provide a defining perspective and analysis of how US nuclear deterrence performed. The notion that US nuclear deterrence kept the world from catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis cannot be substantiated. The opportunity for nuclear deterrence to have saved the day came and went without much notice on 17 September 1962. The fact that nuclear weapons were not used during the crisis lends itself towards the convenience of a nuclear deterrence success, but a closer look at the actual events and covert letters between Kennedy and Khrushchev prior to October 1962 support the notion that nuclear deterrence failed. The purpose of this essay is to make the case for how possession of nuclear weapons alone does not always lead to deterrent success by examining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedys lack of resolve, explicitly communicated to Khrushchev, was the cause of the deterrent failure. Moreover, if US nuclear deterrence has not had a perfect record of success, the implications on US national strategic policy, based primarily on deterrence, are profound. The decisive lesson from this failure in deterrence seems to have been missed by senior US leaders of late, especially in response to high-level pressure towards nuclear weapon abolition.
- Nuclear Weapons