As the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) plans for expansion plays out on Russia’s borders, the question of sovereignty and defense could be recalled through the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
Cuba’s request for USSR protection from U.S. imperialist interventions was not unfounded. Only the year before, in April 1961, the U.S. had suffered a spectacular defeat at the Bay of Pigs, when the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-funded paramilitary operation to overthrow Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution was thwarted in less than 72 hours and 1,200 mercenaries were taken prisoner by the Cubans.
The plan was carried out by the Kennedy administration, although concocted by the CIA during the Eisenhower administration. Following the U.S. defeat, Kennedy proposed social and economic aid for Latin America under the Alliance for Progress programme – a plan which the U.S. hoped would bring the region under increased dependence on Washington and possibly prevent other socialist revolutions in Latin America.
As Fidel stated in his autobiography, “He [Kennedy] realized that social and economic factors in the region could well lead to a radical revolution across the continent. There could be a second Cuban Revolution, but on a continent-wide scale, and perhaps even more radical.”
Fidel’s acceptance of having medium-range missiles in Cuba was, in his words, “a measure meant to protect Cuba from a direct attack and simultaneously strengthen the Soviet Union and the Socialist camp.
The missiles were detected by the UN on the night between the 14th and the 15th of October 1962, with the then U.S. President John F. Kennedy warning that the Soviet Union should withdraw the missiles or face a nuclear war. Kennedy also imposed a naval blockade on Cuba, preventing the installation of further missiles on the island.
A declassified U.S. document following the discovery of the missiles on Cuban soil warned, “I assume you will recall that President Kennedy said a year and a half ago that only two points were non-negotiable between the Western Hemisphere and Cuba – the Soviet tie and aggressive actions in Latin America.”
The U.S. threat was renewed on September 13 by Kennedy: “If at any time the Communist build-up in Cuba were to endanger or interfere with our security in any way… or if Cuba should ever… become an offensive military base of significant capacity for the Soviet Union, then this country will do whatever must be done to protect its own security and that of its allies.”
On October 25, the U.S. proposed withdrawing its missiles from Turkey, which posed a threat to the Soviet Union, in return for the Soviet Union’s withdrawal of their missiles from Cuba. Notably, the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey was kept secret, in an attempt to twist the outcome as a U.S. victory over the USSR during the Cold War.
Fidel considered the compromise as diverting attention away from the issue of Cuba’s sovereignty and the right to defend itself against U.S. imperialist interventions. One major reason for the political discord on behalf of Fidel would have been the agreement being reached without consulting the Cuban government.
For his part, Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy reiterating that the Soviet Union’s installation of missiles on Cuban territory was done “because Cuba and the Cuban people were constantly under the continuous threat of an invasion of Cuba.” Khrushchev also outlined that the Soviet Union’s actions were defensive not offensive – the latter being the U.S.’s misrepresentation.
Letters exchanged between Khrushchev and Fidel indicate that the Soviet Union sought guarantees that the U.S. “not only will not invade Cuba with their own forces, but will not allow their allies to do so.” However, Khrushchev warned, “Since an agreement is in sight, the Pentagon is looking for a pretext to thwart it.”
A reversal of roles in the current scenario between Russia and Ukraine has NATO and its allies escalating hostile diplomacy. On what grounds is guarding a nation’s borders from NATO violence a security threat?