Cuba, Intelligence, and the Cold War
Intelligence is very important to the military and also to the safety of U.S. civilians. As such, it has been used for hundreds of years to try to protect people and find out what other countries and organizations were doing. Two of the most important topics for intelligence in the past involved Cuba, and they were the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The intelligence aspects of these events must be addressed in order to show how intelligence works and does not work when used to its fullest extent, and how it sometimes fails even if all precautions against that are taken.
Intelligence can play a critical role in the strategic interests of the U.S., but only if it is utilized correctly and consistently. Whether this was done in the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis will be discussed here. It would be easy to say that the Bay of Pigs invasion failed so the intelligence must not have been good, but that is not necessarily the case. There are other reasons why invasions can go awry and sometimes the intelligence that is given – and that is accurate – is also not acted upon in the way that it should be. These kinds of problems and others all affect the events that take place and that are related to intelligence.
Discussing both the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, however, should show that there were serious intelligence concerns regarding both of these events, which took place in the 1960s. Has intelligence in this country gotten better since then? It would certainly seem so, and many people would hope so, but there are still intelligence lapses that lead to disasters and problems. This would indicate that the intelligence that the U.S. receives is not as complete and accurate as would have been hoped. Events like September 11, 2001 and the misguided beliefs that started the Iraq War – that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction – have shown that intelligence can still be wrong and that it is not always thorough enough.
Mistakes can still be made and problems can still arise. Nothing is perfect. That does not mean that the use of intelligence by the U.S. is not important, though, or that it should not continue. Every effort must be made to make sure that good intelligence is received, that it is timely, and that it is as accurate as possible. Getting this kind of good intelligence on a consistent basis is something that is very difficult and that must be worked for. There are various channels through which intelligence is funneled to the people who need it, and that can sometimes be cause for concern.
There have been breaches of intelligence before, some of these resulting in loss of life. This is naturally something that should be avoided at all costs, but there are times where this avoidance is simply not possible. The common good overrules the fate of a few human beings when it comes to trying to protect the country, but what about invading other countries? What about calling their bluff or stepping in when there are disputes between others? These can both result in serious problems for the U.S., and the Cuban Missile Crisis came dangerously close to leading to a nuclear war.
Because the U.S. was involved in the Cold War at the time, this had a strong impact on the way intelligence was addressed, making the cold war important to discuss, as well. Having the proper intelligence – and thorough intelligence – can indicate to those who are involved with these things how serious the situation actually is and what needs to be done to diffuse potentially devastating events from escalating.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion
In 1961, the Bay of Pigs invasion was designed to overthrow the Cuban Government, led by Fidel Castro (Hagedorn, 2006). A force of American immigrants who had been exiled from Cub and trained by the U.S. were used in that attempt. The attempt was unsuccessful, and the immigrants were supposed to invade southwest Cuba (Hagedorn, 2006). They were given help by the U.S. Air Force. The invasion planning had begun in 1960, and the funding for it began at that time, as well. However, the actual invasion was not carried out until April of the next year (Hagedorn, 2006).
The way that the invasion was planned relied heavily on intelligence. A battalion of people cannot just go into a country and try to overthrow it without some planning. They have to have some idea of what they are doing and why they are doing it, and they also need to know what tactics should be employed, where the best place to strike can be found, and where to locate any other people who they might be looking for. These kinds of things are what intelligence is for and one of the main reasons behind it. However, getting that intelligence – and getting it correctly – can be a serious issue for a lot of country both during war time and when things are mostly peaceful.
One of the main reasons that the Cuban issues were so significant as they related to the Cold War was that the troops that managed to defeat the U.S. invaders were trained and equipped by the Soviet Union (Lynch, 2000). That meant that the Soviet Union was essentially working against the U.S. And when relations were already strained that was not something that many people were happy about or comfortable with (Lynch, 2000). All the public knew was that relations were strained, but they were blissfully unaware of just how much strain was on them or how close they were to snapping under that strain.
The defeat was particularly bad, because it took place in only a few days and was not something that the Americans were particularly proud of (Lynch, 2000). They did not expect to be defeated by the Cubans because they had a perception of the Cubans as easier targets than that. Apparently, their intelligence into what they would be up against was not as good as it should have been (Lynch, 2000). Had it been better they might have decided not to attack, to attack at a different time or place, or to involve more troops and more funding into the effort.
Regardless of what could have happened, however, what did happen was that the U.S.S.R.-trained Cuban troops were ready for anything that the Americans could throw at them and it was over very quickly (Faria, 2002). Fidel Castro stayed in power and the Cuban nation went on as it always had, until the next year when something else happened (Faria, 2002). That was the year that saw the Cuban Missile Crisis and brought the world literally to the brink of nuclear war (Faria, 2002).
The Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was much more serious than the invasion that took place at the Bay of Pigs (Faria, 2002). It is one of the most serious confrontations to come out of the Cold War and is regarded by many as bringing the world very close to an actual nuclear war. That was a very unfortunate and difficult time in history.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was stopped very quickly because the U.S. was poorly organized when it came to moving forward from their starting point, but the Cuban Missile Crisis was much more severe (Faria, 2002). Once the Bay of Pigs fiasco had ended, Castro declared that Cuba was a satellite state of the U.S.S.R. And he believed that the U.S. would try to invade Cuba again to finish what it started (Faria, 2002).
Unlike the single event that marked the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a prolonged time that was made up of many different events and operations (Dobbs, 2008). Many operations were started by the U.S. In order to try to get Cuba to back off on their stance of siding with the U.S.S.R. It was a violation of the Monroe Doctrine and it was problematic in many more practical ways, as well, because the U.S. was very worried that Cuba might try to attack them, as well (Dobbs, 2008). The U.S.S.R. began to grow stronger and by extension Cuba was able to gain strength, making it more dangerous-based partially on its proximity to the U.S. (Faria, 2002; Dobbs, 2008).
Economic embargos were put into place as well as other sanctions, but they did not stop the U.S.S.R. And Cuba from working together (Dobbs, 2008). There were covert operations very often, but there were no overt operations addressed. They were considered, but doing something overt could have caused the U.S.S.R. To retaliate against the U.S. with potentially devastating consequences (Diez Acosta, 2002). There was eventually an agreement reached with the Soviets stating that they would dismantle the missiles in Cuba and the U.S. would not invade. The reason that the crisis ended so quickly was partially due to intelligence that showed that the Soviets were building missile bases in Cuba (Diez Acosta, 2002).
The U.S. realized how devastating that could be, but yet the country still had enough power to work with the U.S.S.R. And Cuba to reach an agreement (Frankel, 2005). If it were not for intelligence that indicated that those bases were being built, the U.S. might not have known what was taking place there and the missiles could have been fired, which would have destroyed much of the United States.
Who knows, at that point, what would have happened to the world? Much of the intelligence that was provided to the U.S. during that time came from people and organizations that were already in place because of the Cold War (Frankel, 2005). Had they not been there, things might have gone much differently, so the Cold War was a vital part of the intelligence that was provided during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Cold War – Its Role in Cuban Intelligence
Whether the cold war was inevitable, or whether it could have been avoided, is something that has plagued historians and researchers for many years. It was going on during the problems with Cuba, and it affected the intelligence that was given to the U.S. And the way that the country reacted to the Cuban problems.
In this section, the position will be taken that the cold war was indeed inevitable because of all of the issues and problems that came before it, and this is discussed in order to show that the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis were not isolated incidents. They came during a tense time in history where two superpower nations – the U.S. And the U.S.S.R. – were already at odds with one another. This changed those events and made them more significant, as well as changed the way that they were handled, because there were more things going on than most people were aware of.
By the time the cold war started in 1947, there was little that could have been done to avoid it (Gaddis, 1997). The cold war originally came about due to a strong breakdown in the post-war relations that were seen between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II. These two powerful nations were the main victors in WWII, and they both stated in 1945 that they were committed to showing cooperation and unity (Gaddis, 1997). While most people knew that the relations were breaking down, only those who were privy to the intelligence that the U.S. had realized to what extent that was taking place.
However, this agreement that the U.S. And the U.S.S.R. had did not last long, as blame was quickly placed regarding the breakup of what was then called the allied coalition. This coalition had defeated Hitler, and each side began to blame the other side for the generation of ideological, political, and military rivalry (Roberts, 1999). These various rivalries worked to divide Europe into several competing blocs and created a strong and dangerous power struggle between liberal democratic capitalism and communism (Roberts, 1999).
This power struggle seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, and there was little that many people could do to stop it. By the time anything could have been done to stop it, the cold war was already happening, and once it really began there was no realistic way that the United States and the Soviet Union were going to end it rapidly, and no realistic way that either country was going to say that it was in the wrong and change the way that the country did things to avoid further problems.
As soon as the cold war began, historians and researchers began to debate what had caused it. There were several phases for these debates, and they came with different time periods (McCauley, 1990). For example, from the time the cold war started through most of the 1970s, American foreign policy was the focus of the issue (McCauley, 1990). Some believed that the cause of the cold war was the fact that America resisted the expansion that the Soviet Union was trying to make (Roberts, 1999). Others were more critical of America and argued that the cold war actually came about because the United States was both unreasonable and aggressive after WWII, which provoked the Soviet Union (Roberts, 1999).
By the time that the 1970s were drawing to a close, most of those that had argued strongly on one side or the other were prepared to compromise and state that the cold war was not the fault of the Americans or of the Soviet Union, but merely occurred because both countries were pursuing what was believed to be foreign policy and security interests that they saw as legitimate (Roberts, 1999). Because of this, historians then generally believed that unavoidable clashes and mutual misunderstandings between the Soviet Union and the United States were what actually led to the cold war and the problems that it caused (Roberts, 1999).
By the time that the 1980s were moving along, there were other suggestions that were being made regarding the cause of the cold war (Painter, 1999). The smaller players in the war such as France, Britain, and West Germany came under closer scrutiny and there were opinions that dealt with the idea that Churchill, Bevin, Adenauer, and Bidault were politicians that had a strong influence on American foreign policy during that time (Painter, 1999). Because of this, the blame was expanded from the fault of one particular country, to no one’s fault, to the fault of a specific set of countries (Roberts, 1999).
By the 1990s, the opinions on the cold war had changed yet again. Soviet foreign policy appeared to be the focus during that decade (Painter, 1999). Even though the foreign policy of that country was thoroughly studied, the largest opinion once again became the idea that there was really no specific country that could be blamed for the cold war (Painter, 1999).
In essence, it was everyone’s fault and no one’s fault, as opposed to being the fault of a specific country or person. This is the opinion that largely still holds today (Roberts, 1999). While this is significant, it does not really address the belief of whether these same historians felt that the cold war was inevitable, or whether they felt that something could have been done to stop it, and that is an important concern.
Despite the lack of historians weighing in on the issue, it still appears that the cold war was inevitable. The reason that this appears to be the case is not because the United States was right or wrong, or because the Soviet Union was right or wrong, or because any of the other countries that were lesser players in the issue were right or wrong. Instead, the reason for the inevitability of the cold war is largely due to the simple fact that there is such an inherent difference between democracy and communism. Because of this difference, the disagreements that take place are not those that can be resolved by sitting down around a table and hashing out a compromise. At least, it is unlikely that they could be solved this way.
Communism and democracy are so very different that there are very few things that they can agree on or compromise on. The United States and the Soviet Union were also the two most powerful nations in the world at that time and therefore the struggle was ongoing to see who would be more powerful. It appeared that neither country wanted to share the ‘most powerful’ designation with the other, and this is also part of what led to the cold war.
This lack of willingness to share is something that most people associate with young children and not with large countries, but it is something that belongs to many individuals, and those that run families, corporations, and even countries are no exception to this rule. Avoiding the cold war would have required the backing down of one country or another, and the unwillingness to do this made the cold war inevitable.
It is plain to see that there was much more to the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis than was seen by most people who were not privy to the insider information that intelligence brings. While there were definitely reports in the media and other ways that the information could be given out these were not complete and comprehensive compared to the knowledge that the government had. When it comes to having a strong understanding of why these events took place and how they were seen in the context of the cold war, only intelligence can show that there were larger reasons behind things than many people thought.
Events like the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis are forever etched into the history of the U.S., and through the Cold War they are forever etched into the history of Cuba and other countries, as well. The Cold War did not start or end with either one of these events, but because it was already going on when these events occurred it made things much more difficult and made the gathering of intelligence a lot more vital for people who were involved in these events and for the rest of the people in the affected countries.
When it comes to these events and the Cold War that was going on while they were taking place, the intelligence that the government had went much deeper when it came to what was taking place and how dangerous it really was. The public was not privy to a lot of the information that the government was given, but this is generally the case so it was not something that was really all that new or surprising. Intelligence, however, is clearly critical when it comes to these kinds of events because there is so much about them that otherwise will not be learned.
A person or an organization or a country cannot make good decisions if they do not know all of the facts, but whether intelligence can really give them all the facts is still debatable. It appears that it has certainly gotten better since the 1960s but also that there are still problems with it. Until these problems are worked out and resolved there is little to no chance that intelligence gathering will be able to move forward in the way that would be hoped for so that people in all countries can be kept safe and knowledgeable about what is going on in their world.
The intelligence that was used with the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, though, shows that there was much more going on with both of those – especially the latter one – than most people were aware of. If it were not for the people who were able to provide that intelligence, Cuba could have had Soviet-built missiles.
Even if they did not use them the idea that they were there would have changed the way that the U.S. worked with Cuba and would have affected the course of the Cold War and potentially the entire course of history as well. The idea that things would have been impacted in a positive way is very unlikely, so most people are very grateful that these events took place, even if they seemed at the time to be very upsetting and very dangerous. Having good intelligence kept them from being nearly as dangerous as they could have been to the American people and the world.
Diez Acosta, T. (2002). October 1962: The ‘Missile’ Crisis as Seen From Cuba; Pathfinder Press, New York.
Dobbs, M. (2008). One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War; Alfred a. Knopf, New York.
Faria, M.A., (2002). Cuba in Revolution — “Escape from a Lost Paradise. Hacienda Publishing, Macon, Georgia.
Frankel, M. (2005). High Noon in the Cold War; Ballantine Books, 2004; Presidio Press (reprint).
Gaddis, C.L. (1997). We Now Know: Rethinking the Cold War. Clarendon Press.
Hagedorn, D. (2006). Latin American Air Wars & Aircraft. Hikoki.
Lynch, G.L. (2000). Decision for Disaster: Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs. Potomac Books, Dulles, Virginia.
McCauley, M. (1990). The Origins of the Cold War. Longman.
Painter, D.S. (1999). The Cold War: An International History. Routledge.
Roberts, G. (1999). The Soviet Union in World Politics: Coexistence, Revolution, and the Cold War, 1945-1991. Routledge.
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