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force invasion of Cuba and overthrow of Castro.

The Withdrawal

Why did the Soviets remove the missiles from Cuba? There are several arguments for what factors were decisive in resolving the crisis without a war:

The Balance of Conventional Forces: Many of the key American decision makers involved in the crisis—Secretary of Defense of Robert McNamara and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, for example—believed the nuclear balance was irrelevant and that the crisis ended on terms favorable to the United States because of its overwhelming conventional superiority over the Soviets in the Caribbean. The evidence, however, is mixed. Why didn’t a similar if not larger Soviet conventional balance around Berlin allow it to prevail against the United States during the previous four years? Furthermore, many of the arguments made about the conventional balance and the Cuban Missile Crisis were made during contentious debates over controversial U.S. nuclear policies during the Reagan presidency.

The Balance of Strategic Nuclear Forces: One of the most controversial issues from the crisis is calculating what the precise balance of strategic nuclear forces actually was and what role this imbalance played in determining the outcome. There is little doubt that the United States possessed an overwhelming superiority in deliverable strategic nuclear capability, as much as seventeen to one in some estimates. To what extent did this superiority matter? Many scholars have argued it is impossible to translate nuclear superiority into effective coercive power, while others have argued the opposite. For the Cuban Missile Crisis, this question turns on whether both sides in the crisis believed the United States could have launched a first strike that would have destroyed the Soviets’ ability to respond in kind—the so-called splendid first strike—and whether these perceptions influenced each side’s behavior during the crisis.