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Why did the Soviet Union take the risk of deploying missiles to Cuba, which precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Why did the Soviet Union take the risk of deploying missiles to Cuba, which precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis?


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During the Cuban Missile Crisis both sides risked further escalation into a WW3. However, under MAD, Wikipedia says:

By the time of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, both the United States and the Soviet Union had developed the capability of launching a nuclear-tipped missile from a submerged submarine, which completed the "third leg" of the nuclear triad weapons strategy necessary to fully implement the MAD doctrine. Having a three-branched nuclear capability eliminated the possibility that an enemy could destroy all of a nation's nuclear forces in a first-strike attack; this, in turn, ensured the credible threat of a devastating retaliatory strike against the aggressor, increasing a nation's nuclear deterrence.

So all that risk of escalation that resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis appears to have served no real purpose, strategically? Then why did they do it?


The Wikipedia article may have painted an overly simplified impression. In the age of the nuclear arms race, the scale of a capability was a vital aspect of consideration. As unthinkable as it may be to us, destroying one city vs destroying one hundred cities is not a trivial difference in military strategic planning.

What the passage you cited failed to mention is that, at the time, the US had a massive advantage in first strike capabilities. Despite the panic over a supposed "missile gap", the US in fact had many times more operational ICBMs than Russia: some 170 vs perhaps 20. Moreover, the US had missiles deployed in Turkey - right under Russia's underbelly. True, they could not eliminate a submarine based second strike, in the unthinkable event that a thermonuclear war breaks out despite MAD, the US would've had a major advantage.

Deploying the missiles to Cuba was, therefore, a way for the Soviets to even the scores a bit, so to speak - the Soviet answer to American missiles in Turkey, if you will. Due to Cuba's proximity to Florida, the missiles put most of the Continental US within the range of Soviet nuclear missiles (as opposed to the unreliable and numerically limited ICBMs).

Furthermore, Soviet leadership reasoned that this gave them a bargaining chip to demand concessions in exchange for leaving. And in the event, the Kennedy administration agreed to retire the US missiles in Turkey.



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