W5.08 To the Brink (1)
Hi, welcome back. Make yourself comfortable. In this presentation, we're going to to see how the world came to the edge of global nuclear war. The context is a period of time between about 1958 and 1962 that historians think of as the years of maximum crisis during the Cold War. A curtain raiser for that is in 1957, when the Soviets begin demonstrating their capability to launch heavy missiles and put things into space. The first thing they put into space in 1957 is an earth orbiting satellite called Sputnik. That the Soviets could do this, was of course, the cause of great excitement in the United States, as you can see from this banner headline. Or you can see in this cartoon by Edwin Marcus, the beep beep from the Russian satellite is definitely shaking Uncle Sam out of his complacency. In 1958, there are a series of crises. In Iraq, for example, the monarchy that had long been supported by the British and by the Americans was violently overthrown, the ruler murdered. What takes its place is a nationalist dictatorship. The Americans are worried that this will create an opportunity for Soviet meddling in the Middle East. They even land troops in Lebanon in 1958. No opposition there, but just to kind of show American support for some of the existing governments, as America is trying to balance how to stay on the right side of Arab nationalism while also supporting its other friends and building up a new anti-communist bulwark against Soviet penetration there. And then there's a new crisis as communist China and the exiled government of the Republic of China are in a military stand-off over some islands in the Taiwan Straits. The United States, defending the Republic of China with its treaty of alliance and its warships, finds itself in a low-grade military confrontation to deter a communist Chinese attack. The communist Chinese, meanwhile, are secretly pleading for the Soviet Union to give them nuclear weapons so they'll be in a better position in this confrontation. The Soviet refusal to give them those nuclear weapons intensifies the split between Mao and Khrushchev. And then there's a crisis over Berlin. Berlin, remember, is that great city of Germany, sitting divided in the middle of a new communist East German state. Here's an image of divided Berlin. Remember, surrounding Berlin is a Communist state, East Germany, supported by the Soviet Union, ringed by Soviet and East German forces. These Western military zones of occupation are again feeling beleaguered, as Khrushchev and the East Germans say we're going to liquidate the postwar status of West Berlin and make all of Berlin part of East Germany. Because right now, West Berlin is a kind of hole in the East German state through which more and more Germans are leaking away, fleeing to the West. Khrushchev wants to convert this embarrassment to East Germany into a triumph for Soviet power. By forcing the West out of Berlin, he'll have forced the West to symbolically climb down from this exposed position, showing his power and influence. In effect, the new Communist leaders of the late 1950s have come out of their crisis period in the mid 1950s, after Stalin's Death, with some grand designs. In Mao's China, he's has a new revolutionary goal of a Great Leap Forward, I talked about that in the last video Presentation, convulsing his country in an effort to rapidly industrialize it, with more tense relations with all of his neighbors, including India. Meanwhile, Mao's revolutionary ambitions are colliding with Khrushchev's goals. Khrushchev doesn't want Mao to get in a war with the United States. He doesn't trust Mao enough to give them Soviet nuclear weapons that would just be turned over to the Chinese, giving the Chinese the technology. And Khrushchev wants himself and the Soviet Union to remain the leader of the international communist movement. The result of these tensions is a Sino-Soviet split, largely in secret, but which breaks open by 1960. That creates a kind of dangerous triangle, United States and its allies, Soviet Union, China, because the Soviets and the Chinese are now competing with each other to show who is the true inheritor of the great Communist legacy. Who should lead the communist movement? And as Khrushchev travels around the communist world, visits the United States, he's increasingly developing his own grand design. If you want to understand Khrushchev's grand strategy in these crisis years, his grand design, let's break it down into four pieces. In other words, this is the solution to his problem. His problem: How do I demonstrate leadership with the communist world? How do I reinvigorate my country? How does he solve these problems? One, increase his nuclear missile power, or at least the appearance of his nuclear missile power, to make the Soviet Union look strong. Use this to win a huge symbolic victory over the exposed Western position in Berlin. Meanwhile, cut spending on the huge Soviet military, the conventional Forces, which make up make up most of the spending in his military budget. And, with that money released, devote more attention to developing the Soviet economy, providing more consumer goods, and actually maybe even allowing a bit of a thaw in Soviet domestic and literary life. So, it kind of creates a bit of a paradoxical image. Here's Khrushchev brandishing his missiles, trying to have a showdown over Berlin. But partly, so that he can release funds in other parts of his military establishment and actually reinvigorate and renew the Soviet experiment. Khrushchev and Eisenhower are headed toward a summit in Paris in the spring of 1960, where they're going to have it out over a number of issues, principally Berlin, when the Soviets shoot down an American reconnaissance flight, secretly taking photographs to try to understand just how many missiles the Soviets do have. The Soviets keep the shoot down a secret. The Americans don't acknowledge that it's happened. Then Khrushchev triumphantly unveils that he actually has captured alive the CIA contract pilot who'd been flying the aircraft, now a Soviet prisoner, Francis Gary Powers, later returned in a spy exchange. And here you see him inspecting the wreckage of the downed American aircraft. The summit with Eisenhower is canceled, Khrushchev waits for the next American president to bring his plans to fruition. Meanwhile, one of the background factors in 1961 is yet another crisis over the new revolutionary regime in Cuba. Fidel Castro's Cuba more and more tightly aligned with the Soviet Union. The Americans, hostile now to this new Communist bastion right off their shores, sponsor, secretly, an attempted invasion of Cuba by a group of Cuban exiles, because, of course, a lot of Cubans were deeply disillusioned by the way Castro, they thought, had hijacked their revolution. The Cuban exiles invade Cuba. They're defeated by Cuban forces. The Americans who had been backing them do not come to their aid. They allow the exiles to be rounded up, slaughtered, and captured. But it's a huge embarrassment to the Kennedy Administration which has to acknowledge its sponsorship of this misbegotten venture in April of 1961. Castro comes out of this believing that the Americans are going to be after him somehow. And Khrushchev comes out of it thinking that his alliance with Cubans helped deter the Americans from doing anything to invade Cuba with their forces. Kennedy, for his part, wants little to do with Cuba as possible. He thinks Cuba as an annoyance, a distraction from the great superpower issues. But members of his administration continued to be obsessed with it, coming up with scheme after scheme to try to use the intelligence services to get rid of Castro in some way. Khrushchev and Kennedy then have their summit meeting. It takes place in Vienna, June 1961. The summit meeting is a complete failure. Khrushchev browbeats Kennedy, Kennedy comes away convinced that the superpowers are heading toward an even greater confrontation centered on Berlin. In the fall of 1961, Khrushchev and the East Germans actually build a physical wall cutting off West Berlin from East Berlin, shooting down anyone who attempts to climb over the wall to escape to freedom in West Berlin. A grim symbol of the Cold War, that Berlin Wall, but that doesn't end the Berlin Crisis. It's cauterized the communistic wound, but it hasn't eliminated it. And indeed Khrushchev is going forward in 1962 determined to get his triumph on Berlin. Alright as if this were not enough, here's one more compelling factor. The American's are realizing that the Soviet brandishing of their missile power is kind of a bluff. The Soviets don't have as many long range missiles as the Americans feared they might. Khrushchev, trying to show off his power in other ways, ends a moratorium on open air nuclear testing with an astonishing series of test nuclear explosions in the fall of 1961, which the Americans follow in turn. Indeed, the largest nuclear weapons ever detonated in human history were detonated by the Soviet Union in the fall of 1961. You remember in an earlier presentation, I showed you the effects of a one megaton Soviet nuclear blast. The Soviets are testing devices with 50 megatons of explosive power and beyond. So all of these interlocking issues, Cuba, Berlin, whether or not the Soviet missile power can be believed, all converge in a set of decisions that Khrushchev makes in May 1962 to try to reverse the course of the Cold War. Khrushchev's master plan is this: He's going to secretly deploy scores of nuclear ballistic missiles, intermediate range ones called IRBMs and medium range ones called MRBMs, and actually tens of thousands of Soviet troops to defend the bases and defend Cuba. He's going to deploy them to Cuba, making that a missile base right off shore with credible striking power in the United States. Why? What good would that do? It would mean the United States could no longer effectively defend Berlin. Wait, stop, what do you mean by that? The United States could not defend Berlin with conventional forces. Everybody knew that. Berlin's right in the middle of East Germany. The only way the United States defends Berlin is with this threat: If you attack Berlin, that will be general war. If you attack Berlin, we, the United States, will escalate to using nuclear weapons. We, the Americans, will use nuclear weapons first. That's the bluff that defends Berlin. So, how do you checkmate the American bluff to start a nuclear war in defense of Berlin? The way you checkmate that is saying, if you threaten to start a nuclear war, I've got these dozens of missiles in Cuba right off your shores that can devastate your country. That cancels out the American ability to start that because the Soviet retaliatory capability is just minutes away. At that point, the United States bluff that defends Berlin, the bluff everyone was debating about, becomes manifestly incredible. The western position in Berlin, therefore, diminishes and Khrushchev works out a plan in which, after the missiles are deployed, in November 1962, he's going to whip the covers off, show the missiles, bring the Berlin issue to a triumphant conclusion. He actually explains to the Americans, later in 1962, that he is going to bring the Berlin issue to a head in November. He just doesn't tell the Americans that when he brings the issue to a head in November, he plans to have these missiles unveiled in Cuba as part of that move. That's Khrushchevï¿½s extraordinarily ambitious plan, but you might then think, why would the Cubans go along with this plan? The Cubans, after all, aren't asking for nuclear missiles. Their worry is that that will make them a target, it won't help defend them. But Khrushchev is convinced that because he's giving so much other help to the Cubans to defend their country, in return the Cubans will do this for the Soviets.