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Cuban American Relations During The Cold War History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Even prior to Fidel Castro coming to power in The Republic of Cuba in 1959, Cuba had been viewed as a major security threat and political irritant to the United States. Throughout the two nation’s tumultuous history with one another, the United States has primarily treated the Caribbean nation as a powerless land to be politically and economically dominated. Since the Cold War conflicts, America largely has refused to normalize relations or allow trade with Cuba. There are different arguments as to why the two nations have never been able to manage long-standing, effective diplomatic relations. One argument is that the Cuban-American rivalry stems from a conflict of ideologies, with Cuba’s refusal to embrace Democracy and denounce Communism. Another argument is that Cuba’s influence in the Cold War nearly caused the U.S.-Soviet power balance to shift in favor of the Soviet Union as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It could be stated that these two irritating factors in U.S.-Cuban relations are complimentary rather than contradictory. The balance of power concerns made a state of tension between the United States and The Republic of Cuba inevitable, but ideological hostility greatly aggravated this tension, turning what might have been a distrustful peace into the closest the world has ever been to nuclear holocaust during the Cold War.

It is necessary to first examine America’s foreign relations with Cuba prior to 1962 in order to understand the distinct role of Cuba within the Cold War. According to Central Washington State Professor Lester D. Langley, the immediate roots of the conflict lay in the Cuban-American clash that began with Fidel Castro’s government in January, 1959. Castro’s government declared the nationalization of foreign-owned property, called for trials of former Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista’s henchmen, and avowed Marxism-Leninism in December, 1961. Each time the Cuban government nationalized American properties, the American government took countermeasures, resulting in the prohibition of all exports to Cuba on October 19, 1960. Consequently, Cuba began to consolidate trade relations with the Soviet Union, leading the US to break off all remaining official diplomatic relations. This laid the foundation for the Soviet satellite in the Americas. Those more understanding of Castro, placed much of the blame for his desertion to the Soviet bloc on the United States. The American people had waged war against Spanish colonialism in 1898, but post-1898 policies towards Cuba demoted the country to a subservient role politically and economically (Langley vii). Castro, it has been argued, merely liberated Cuba from the American orbit.

In 1968, Castro personally assumed the planning and execution of economic policies, transforming himself into an arrogant imperialist ideologically, socially, and economically, in absolute disregard of the experiences of other men and other societies, but also in contemptuous rejection of many Marxist and Soviet views. On the brink of national bankruptcy, Fidel Castro declared a drastic revolution in Cuba and furthered the nationalization of the entire retail trade sector, maybe feeling the need to instill a new ideological fervor in the Cubans.

Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the existence of an unpredictable Communist regime only 90 miles of the Florida coast was a matter of fear and concern in the eyes of the CIA. America had long since been fighting dictators and communism worldwide, and Cuba’s refusal to submit to American political ideologies has proved to be a major thorn in the side of the United States. A primary reason that the CIA feared Communist Cuba was as a result of the American belief in the democratic peace theory. According to John J. Mearsheimer, the theory “claims that democracies do not go to war against other democracies” (Mearsheimer 447-53). Further, a lack of institutions between Cuba and the U.S. to stipulate acceptable forms of behavior decreased “the prospects of cooperation among states and thus significantly reduce the likelihood of war” (453-60). The presence of a unruly communist nation was simply unacceptable to the United States not only in terms of ideology, but also as a possibly threat to national security and the nation’s Western hegemony.

In order to keep a direct eye on Castro’s Cuba, the CIA utilized headquarters in Miami, Florida to direct thousands of Cuban agents in different actions, with a budget of more than $50 million a year. In 1961, United States President John F. Kennedy announced the Alliance for Progress, a program thought to be in direct response to the threat of Cuba. It was originally meant to prove to the world that legitimate social change could take place in Latin America without a rebellion or socialism. The program would eventually come to include the continuous efforts of the CIA to discredit the Cuban government.

Throughout the Cold War, American intelligence attempted to assess the military capabilities of the Cubans by monitoring their activities. This was accomplished through the use of Cuban agents, spy planes and satellites flying over Cuban territory, and the monitoring of ships, planes, and other outside means of travel and communications (Kornbluh 256). The intelligence information served to indicate the potential threat from Cuba and particularly the threat of Soviet missiles that might be fired from Cuban soil. Kennedy was aware that the military strength that threatened the power status of the United States rested within the Soviet Union; however any real threat to national security would come from the Soviets by way of Cuban cooperation and land.

The unyielding interest of the CIA into Cuban foreign relations can be directly linked to the Cold War power struggle between The United States and the Soviet Union.

The two nations went from wartime allies, to prospective adversaries, and on to intensely stanch power-opponents. After the end of World War II, the U.S. had the opportunity to follow British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s lead in acknowledging a tactic Soviet sphere of influence in return for an equal Soviet acceptance of a Western (American) sphere of influence. However, by March 1946, Churchill also realized the idealistic pitfalls of that tactic and announced during his infamous “Iron Curtain” speech that only a forceful stance toward Soviet leader Joseph Stalin would be able to regain control of the situation:

From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness. For that reason the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound. We cannot afford, if we can help it, to work on narrow margins, offering temptations to a trial of strength. If the Western Democracies stand together in strict adherence to the principles will be immense and no one is likely to molest them. If however they become divided of falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all. (Churchill “Sinews of Peace”)

With the thoughts of the Second World War still fresh in their minds, Americans realized that the existence of an Iron Curtain across Europe was motivation and proof that Cold War mobilization was inevitable.

The underlying reason for this state of confrontation between the United States and The Soviet Union/Cuba was ideological on one side. Stalin and Castro ideologists believed that the Soviets and the West could not exist in balance without one side triumphing and the other failing. Contrastingly, Western leaders believed that their democratic, capitalist way of life was threatened unless communism was eliminated or heavily checked. Luckily, post-Stalin Soviet leaders, like Premier Khrushchev, proved to be far easier to negotiate with.

Tensions between The United States and Cuba during the Cold War respectively were partially a result of America’s failed attempt at Cuban invasion in The Bay of Pigs.

For the Eisenhower administration, U.S. relations with Cuba seemed past the point of repair. Not seeing any other options, President Eisenhower authorized the training of Cuban exiles to prepare for an invasion of Cuba in order to overthrow Castro by inciting a popular uprising. The planners assumed that once the invading force gained traction in Cuba, an anti-Castro rebellion would establish a new government that would replace the dictatorship of Castro and would then gain the support of the rest of the Cuban people. The plan focused on invading the south coast of Cuba, about 97 miles outside of the Cuban capital of Havana, known as the Bay of Pigs. In the meantime, President Eisenhower announced that diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were terminated. Before Eisenhower’s Bay of Pigs was carried out, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as President of the United States. Inheriting the Cuban invasion plan, which was changed to involve a conventional military force instead of guerrilla attack, the new President was initially disturbed about the CIA’s tactics and the decision to use American military force. Despite any reservations, President Kennedy continued with the plan in part because Cuba was strengthening their ties with the Soviets (Blight, Allyn, Welch 101) .

  On April 17, 1961, Eisenhower’s planned invasion of Cuba at the Bay of

 Pigs occurred. Right from the start, the invasion was a failure. Those who had planned the invasion had seriously underestimated the size of Castro’s land forces, which now included Soviet tanks and artillery. Furthermore, the supposedly-destroyed Cuban air force sank a major supply ship, stranding the Cuban exiles who were to overtake the country without food, water, or reinforcements. When the fighting ended on April 19th, all of the invaders either became prisoners of war or were killed (Kornbluh 118). While the tragedy of the Bay of Pigs marked a low point in the United States international prestige and ongoing battle with its Communist neighbor, it only served to boost Castro’s. Proud that he had defeated one of the world strongest military forces, Castro was inflated by his triumph. His image, which had been tarnished somewhat by revolutionary laws and justice, was strengthened immensely. Invaded by a world superpower, his ability to successfully oppose the United States was proven; an especially significant point when prior U.S.-Cuban relations revolved around Cuban weakness and U.S. dominance.

After the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban-Soviet alliance was secured. The new leader of the Soviet Union, Premier Khrushchev, recognized the need for a strong Cuban alliance if all-out war with the U.S. was going to happen. For Castro, the support of a great power in the ongoing battle between the United States meant the potential of freedom from American economic dependence and political pressure. On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy announced in a televised address the findings of “large, long range, clearly offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction” off the coast of Cuba. Familiar with the Cuban-Soviet alignment, the President declared that Cuba’s possession of nuclear weapons signified an “explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas” (Kennedy “Full Retaliatory Response”). In response to the secretive Soviet military buildup, the President also announced a full naval quarantine of Cuba. Additionally, on October 24th, the Strategic Air Command alert level was raised to Defense Condition 2, the highest threat level ever declared, as Fidel Castro authorized Cuban air defense forces to fire on all U.S. aircraft within range (Blight, Allyn, Welch 198). Four days later, Cuban antiaircraft snipers shot down an American U-2 plane, killing the pilot. For the United States, the Soviets were to blame for the Crisis when they authorized the construction of nuclear warheads in Cuba. The only solution they would accept was a full dismantling of the weapons or total warfare with the Soviet Union and Cuban forces. To Cuba, though, a full protracted war was expected, with its citizens prepared to die in the name of their independence from America. As Cuban forces prepared to battle of their homeland, Soviet aid was considered a warranty.

If the Bay of Pigs proved anything, it convinced Khrushchev that the young, seemingly inexperienced American President would back down if confronted. The incident also may have given the Soviet Premier the idea that not only did Cuba desire Soviet protection from the U.S., but it was necessary in the face of another possible invasion. Aside from helping Cuba, the decision to use Cuba as a launching point for Soviet missiles was primarily strategic. At the time, it was a widely-held assumption that the Soviets lagged behind the U.S. in “missiles, bombers, and deliverable nuclear warheads” (Kort 66) . At the time, analysts believed that the Soviets had “no more than 44 operational intercontinental ballistic missiles and 155 long-range bombers, while the United States had 156 such missiles, 144 sub-launched Polaris missiles, and 1,300 strategic bombers” (69).

    The presence of missiles capable of reaching the United States in Cuba gave Soviet forces a significant increase in the number of warheads that could reach the United States (Parker 435). It is likely that the Soviets intentions were not focused on nuclear war with the West. Rather, Khrushchev simply hoped for an equality of defenses with America, since there were U.S. missiles kept in Turkey. A missile alliance with Cuba seemed to be the surest way of leveling out the nuclear balance of power. After reconnaissance photographs proved to the Kennedy Administration that the Soviets indeed had missiles ready to attack the U.S. from Cuba, the administration generated the myth that the entire United States was within target and the possibility of nuclear war was upon them (466).

      The Cuban Missile Crisis is one of the primary and most obvious reasons why Fidel Castro was not trusted and unwelcomed by the U.S. government. While other nations have sought some accommodation with the U.S. and achieved it, propositions for peace from the Cuban nation have been refused until the election of Barack Obama, who may be open to peace talks with Fidel Castro’s successor, Raul Castro.

From the prospective of the United States, the influence of Cuba in the Cold War nearly caused the US-Soviet power balance to shift in favor of the Soviets, creating a peak in Cuban-American tensions. Many past leaders of the United States have held the assumption that as long as there is confrontational, non-democratic nation off the coast of their land, American national power and security will be threatened. Despite this argument, some scholars, like John J. Mearshimer, suggest that

The post-Cold War world is unipolar, which is another way of saying that the United States is a global hegemon…If true, there would be hardly any security competition in Europe and Northeast Asia… This is certainly the state of affairs in the Western Hemisphere, where the United States is the only great power, and it is not involved in security competition with any of its neighbors. Canada and Mexico, for example, pose no military threat whatsoever to the United States. Nor does Cuba, which is a minor political irritant, not a serious threat to American security. (6007-14)

Despite the commonly-held notion that the United States views Cuba as a threat to national security, or belief in a threat due to the immediacy of nuclear warfare as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the real reason for America’s distaste for Cuba probably stems from their ever-present desire to democratize the world. The small nation of Cuba has become the first hemispheric nation to project power overseas and to actively engage in hostilities to support the foreign policy objectives of a major adversary of the United States. The Republic of Cuba’s refusal to concede to democracy by means of denouncing communism, when the nation is only 90 miles outside of the American boarder, serves as a constant reminder to the leaders of the United States of America that communism and tyranny will not go down easily.

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