1999 High School Essay Contest Winning Essay

Diplomacy and the Resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis


Many remember President Kennedy's Oct. 22, 1962, address to the world as one of the most terrifying experiences of their lives. As the presence of medium-­range ballistic missile sites on Cuba became certain, the United States and its citizens were thrust onto the brink of nuclear war for the first time, bring­ing to full throttle the fears and uncer­tainties that underscored the Cold War. Resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis will probably be remembered as the Kennedy administration's great­est accomplishment, but it was not without the work of U.S. diplomats that the affair was successfully and swiftly ended. Without a doubt, they accomplished their obligation under the Foreign Service Act of providing the "first line of defense" in safeguard­ing the security of our nation. Through their efforts to influence worldwide opinion and ensure international cooperation, they provided the presi­dent and his advisors a toehold from which to act.

Although the United States was rec­ognized as the leader of the "free world," it was evident that the international community had to be convinced that the crisis was far more than an exercise of American paranoia. With this goal, the USIA distributed propaganda leaflets and set up clandestine radio stations that carried Kennedy's message throughout Cuba. This was followed by the televised confrontation between U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson and his Soviet counterpart Y.A. Zorin. Calling the evidence "clear and incontrovertible," Stevenson used U-2 photographs to prove that the Soviets had lied to the world. As Robert Kennedy put it, the "dumbfounded" expression of Zorin convinced even the most skeptical of British newspapers that the United States was not exaggerating. More importantly, however, the U.N. pre­sentation successfully swayed once­ doubtful worldwide popular opinion solidly to the American side. As a result of such efforts, the crisis became not a standoff between two powerful states, but rather a fight between a united front of determined people and an isolated Communist regime.

After securing public opinion, U.S. diplomats were faced with the more daunting task of assuring the cooperation of both allies and neutral states. Indeed, President Kennedy was powerless without the explicit support of our Latin American allies, who, Dear Rusk warned, would be hostile if the United States attacked Cuba without warning. With Assistant Secretary Ee Martin at the helm, an entourage of American representatives addressed the OAS and gained that body's approval for the naval blockade; hac this support not been granted, the USSR would surely have disregarded the quarantine. In a single move, the United States was transformed from an outlaw acting in violation of inter­national law to a champion acting ir accordance with 20 allies. This suc­cess followed our ambassadors to Africa, where they convinced the governments of Guinea and Senegal to prohibit Soviet cargo jets from refuel­ing, a remarkable accomplishment given those nations' sympathy for the USSR. With startling moves like these American representatives gave their government's policies the appearance of legitimacy. With political support from over 50 nations, the U.S. faced little resistance when it turned to the United Nations for backing.

As Kennedy considered the possi­bility of removing the Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy as a possible con promise with the Russians, the White House desperately needed to know how the affected states would react. Thus, the Foreign Service set out to assess and report on political condi­tions in the affected states. The State Department asked the embassies throughout NATO to assure the vari­ous governments that the United States was not compromising their security. It was Ambassador Hare's telegram explaining the Turkish government's anger that convinced the White House that such a move would endanger NATO solidarity. With such knowledge the negotiate in Washington and Moscow avoid­ed a potential bargain that might have backfired strategically if not politically as well.

Foremost was the diplomatic corps' role as a messenger and a direct mediator between the United States and the USSR. Given the phys­ical separation between the key play· ers and the absence of satellite communication, the primary role of nego­tiation was directed to the diplomats, who facilitated the interchange and allowed the two sides to comprehend each other's terms. It was only through the American ambassador's frequent "courtesy calls" to the Soviet chairman and his foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, that lapses in communication and misunderstandings with President Kennedy did not esca­late into warfare. In addition, unable to communicate with Castro directly, the State Department arranged to use the Brazilian envoy to Havana as an intermediary. In a telegram to the embassy in Brazil, the Stale Department directed American agents to instruct Ambassador Luis Balian Pinto to appeal to Castro "in such a way as to make ii abundantly clear [the appeal] was a solely Brazilian initiative." Without such efforts the exchange of letters and telegrams between Khrushchev and the American chief executive would never have succeeded so smoothly and with such efficiency.

In the closing remarks of his Oct. 22 address, John F. Kennedy stated, "Our goal is not the victory of might but the vindication of right - not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom." The combined efforts of his administra­tion and U.S. diplomats abroad in resolving the crisis proved that the United Stales was, indeed, commit­ted to preserving its principles while defending its people. Although the threat of nuclear conflict persisted - in fact, the Cold War had bare­ly begun - Americans at home were instilled with a feeling of opti­mism and confidence that a system was in lace lo provide security in times of heated conflict. Today, as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of terrorism in our cities escalate, Americans still remain committed to preserving our role as leader of the ''free world" despite the dangers on the home front. Never, since the autumn of 1962, has this determi­nation faltered.