In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Cuban Missile Crisis

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Game-Theoretic Explanations
  • Documents and Transcripts
  • The Bay of Pigs Crisis
  • Kennedy and Excomm
  • Participant Accounts
  • Khrushchev and the Soviet Union
  • Castro, Cuba, and Cuban-American Relations
  • Berlin
  • Intelligence and Covert Action
  • Military, Command and Control, and Civil Defense
  • The International Context
  • The United Nations and International Law
  • Latin America Regional Policies

International Relations The Cuban Missile Crisis
Jonathan Colman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0096


The Cuban Missile Crisis—known as the Caribbean Crisis in Russia and the October Crisis in Cuba—was a dramatic confrontation from 22 to 28 October 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union over the Soviet stationing of nuclear missiles in Cuba. The episode is widely regarded as the closest the world has come to nuclear war, and it was certainly the most dramatic standoff in the Cold War. Fortunately, Washington and Moscow had the sense to recognize how matters could escalate dangerously out of control, with the result that a deal was made in which the missiles would be withdrawn in exchange for a US pledge not to invade Cuba and a secret arrangement in which the US government would remove comparable missiles from Turkey. The aftermath saw bickering over the terms of the settlement, and strained Soviet-Cuban relations, alongside a more cordial climate of Soviet-American relations that brought arms control measures. The confrontation is one of enduring fascination and drama, and, accordingly, it has generated a massive and still-growing literature, examining diplomacy and crisis management, secret intelligence, civil defense, command and control, international law, and even linguistic analysis of the talks within the White House. Decades after the event, many aspects of the crisis remain contested, and knowledge still grows with new interpretative frameworks and with the continued release of official documents. Greater openness from the US government has meant that knowledge of the American dimension is by far the fullest, but the end of the Cold War brought greater access to Soviet documentation and generated oral history testimony from participants. Unfortunately, Cuban documentation is practically nonexistent, although historians acknowledge that Cuba was an actor as well as acted upon. Without the Cuban decision to accept the missiles, for example, a missile crisis would not have occurred. The latest wave of scholarship explores the international dimensions of the episode beyond the actions of the three protagonists.

General Overviews

The Cuban Missile Crisis is well served by recent general overviews, most of which strive to incorporate Soviet and Cuban perspectives as well as American ones. The most substantial are Dobbs 2008 and Naftali and Fursenko 1997. Both books are engagingly written accounts that draw extensively on fresh sources. Colman 2016 draws on documents from archives across the world to place the missile crisis in its wider international and chronological context. The analysis in Garthoff 1989 is enriched by the author’s experience as an official providing guidance to the White House. George 2013, Munton and Welch 2012, and White 1997 are well suited to undergraduates, as is the political science classic Allison and Zelikow 1999 (originally published in 1971). Holsti, et al. 1964 provides another important political science account.

  • Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2d ed. New York: Longman, 1999.

    Updated version of a political science standard, presenting three theoretical models for understanding what went on.

  • Colman, Jonathan. The Cuban Missile Crisis: Origins, Course and Aftermath. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.

    Presents the crisis as international event beyond the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba, and explores some of the aftereffects up to 1970.

  • Dobbs, Michael M. One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War. New York: Knopf, 2008.

    Draws on extensive new research to provide a compelling day-by-day account of the crisis, including revelations such as Soviet preparations to destroy the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

  • Garthoff, Raymond L. Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1989.

    Emphasizes the dangers posed by “uncontrolled occurrences,” seeks to do justice to the Cuban role, and reproduces a number of US documents.

  • George, Alice L. The Cuban Missile Crisis: The Threshold of Nuclear War. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    Detailed account of the missile crisis that sets the episode in its broader Cold War context, and maintains that the war in Vietnam stemmed from a misplaced belief in Washington after October 1962 in the American ability to impose its will.

  • Holsti, Ole, Richard Brody, and Robert North. “Measuring Affect and Action in International Reaction Models: Empirical Materials from the 1962 Cuban Crisis.” Journal of Peace Research 1.3–4 (1964): 170–189.

    DOI: 10.1177/002234336400100303

    An early influence on crisis researchers.

  • Munton, Don, and David Welch. The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    A cogent narrative highlighting areas of historical debate, as well as omissions in the record.

  • Naftali, Timothy, and Aleksandr Fursenko. “One Hell of a Gamble”: Khrushchev, Castro, Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1958–1964. London: John Murray, 1997.

    A comprehensive multi-archival survey. One of the arguments is that Khrushchev’s chief motive for stationing missiles in Cuba was to defend the regime there.

  • White, Mark J. Missiles in Cuba: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro and the 1962 Crisis. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997.

    A lucid and engaging introduction, which uses Soviet and Cuban alongside American materials.

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