A Young Brother at the Forefront of a Nuclear War: The Role of Robert F. Kennedy in the Resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The event of 1962 known as the Cuban Missile Crisis was the conglomeration of a series of diplomatic negotiations, maneuvers resembling a chess game which was more complex than it appears today. In this complexity, though his own views evolved throughout the ExComm meetings, Robert F. Kennedy had undoubtedly the key role in many aspects as the brother and the closest advisor to the President John F. Kennedy. As the meeting facilitator during the discussions of ExComm with his flexible views and as the secret messenger and negotiator of his elder brother with the Soviets, influenced the process and the dissolution of the crisis positively. This study will argue the significance of Robert Kennedy’s role in decision making and the resolution steps of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Robert Francis (Bobby) Kennedy was an American politician, a Democratic Senator from New York, and a well-known civil rights activist. Referred as an icon of modern American liberalism, he was the younger brother of John F. Kennedy, i.e., the President’s confidante and acted as his closest advisor along with his influential post as the US Attorney General. His role in such a significant event during the Cold War was also an indicative of how the US President at that time ruled American Foreign Policy and his country, which resembled a series of meetings of a board of trustees for a big private company. Another pinpoint of Kennedy administration concerning the crisis was that being a dominant foreign policy issue, Cuba, as physically the closest but everlasting enemy to the States, was at one of its peaks during Kennedy administration. On the one hand, communist led Castro administration was aligning with the Russians and requesting for military protection from Moscow; but on the other hand, Kennedy and his team were planning either to overthrow Castro or to invade the island to turn it into a place where they assumed the Cuban island would be immune to communism. Their understanding would appear itself as the famous `quarantine` term during the crisis. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation between the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States in October 1962, during the Cold War. In September 1962, the Cuban and Soviet governments began to build bases in Cuba for a number of medium and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles with the ability to strike most of the continental United States. The Soviets publicly balked at the U.S. demands when the crisis became a public issue, but in secret back-channel communications involving Bobby Kennedy and initiated a proposal to resolve the crisis. Two weeks later the confrontation ended when on October 28, 1962 President John F. Kennedy and the United Nations Secretary-General U Thant reached an agreement with the Soviets to dismantle the missiles in exchange for an agreement to never invade Cuba. In his negotiations with the Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy informally proposed that the Jupiter missiles in Turkey would be removed within a short time after this crisis was over. Cuban Missile Crisis proved how important the flexible and unorthodox way of crisis management was. In this particular crisis management, many actors were involved ranging from Soviet leader N. Khrushchev to McNamara and from ExComm to Former secretary of State Dean Acheson with various and time to time controversial ideas. However, one of the most striking and significant ones came from Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General and the younger brother of the President. Although the Cuban Missile Crisis was a very complex issue involving nuclear war, back door diplomacy, ExComm meetings, containment policy and superiority race of the big powers, it taught us some lessons. Robert F. Kennedy emerged as one of these lessons by demonstrating how rigid and hawkish ideas may end up with rather dovish and moderate ones when country and humanity were concerned as well as proved how brotherhood, trust may help the crisis to resolve. Evolution of Robert F. Kennedy’s ideas, even within a month period, indicated his adoption capacity to new situation in world politics, which in fact originated as very fix and rigid views. As personal characteristics of Robert F. Kennedy, flexibility, intelligence, brotherhood, idealism all contributed to help resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis. When the world was right on the brink of a nuclear war, these traits along with the trajectory of the crisis worked hand in hand for the solution of a serious problem and more towards a positive direction. This stood as a permanent model and should be used as examples even for today’s complicated political and humanitarian issues.
International Congress on Social and Education Sciences (INCSES-2019), 13 - 15 Aralık 2019


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Citation Formats
İ. Yorgun, “A Young Brother at the Forefront of a Nuclear War: The Role of Robert F. Kennedy in the Resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Adana, Türkiye, 2019, p. 150, Accessed: 00, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.insackongre.com/incsesproceedings.