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Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Series: Borderlines
Volume: 12
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Constructing National Interests
    Book Description:

    Not simply an “event” or merely an “incident,” the 1962 standoff between the U. S. and the Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba was a crisis, which subsequently has achieved almost mythic significance in the annals of United States foreign policy. Here, Weldes analyzes the so-called Cuban missile crisis as a means to rethink the idea of national interest, a notion central to both the study and practice of international relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8893-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: The Problem of National Interests
    (pp. 1-20)

    For most Americans, at least, the so-called Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 plainly revolved around the Soviet deployment of nuclear-capable missiles in Cuba. But is this really so obvious? Though the Soviet installation of medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba provided a referent to which the Kennedy administration and others could articulate the notion of a “crisis,” of a severe threat to U.S. national interests, the mere fact of the missile installation does not, and cannot, determine that meaning. To be sure, the detonation of a nuclear warhead in a populated area will result in the loss of human life....

  5. 1 Representing Missiles in Cuba
    (pp. 21-40)

    Benedict Anderson has argued that what we know as the apparently self-evident event called the French Revolution is in fact a social construction. After it had occurred, he asserted,

    the overwhelming and bewildering concatenation of events experienced by its makers and its victims became a “thing”—and with its own name: The French Revolution. Like a vast shapeless rock worn to a rounded boulder by countless drops of water, the experience was shaped by millions of printed words into a “concept” on the printed page, and, in due course, into a model. Why “it” broke out, what “it” aimed for,...

  6. 2 The View from the ExComm
    (pp. 41-96)

    The National Security Council’s Executive Committee (ExComm), made up of the president and a select group of his advisers, debated U.S. policy options in the Cuban missile crisis under conditions of strict secrecy.¹ For the members of the ExComm, the situation faced by the United States in mid-October 1962 was in its essence quite simple. The Soviet Union had begun secretly to install missiles with offensive nuclear capabilities in Cuba. Because of these offensive capabilities, the missiles posed a “threat to peace” (Kennedy, October 27: 49 ) and their deployment was “intolerable and not acceptable” (Rusk, October 16: 172 ).²...

  7. 3 Constructing National Interests
    (pp. 97-120)

    To explain the historically contingent and culturally specific meaning of the national interest is to show how concrete elements of the security imaginary come together to produce representations of the state, the international system, the particular situation or threat faced by the state, and plausible courses of state action. In the case of the Cuban missile crisis, this means explaining how, that is, through what concrete processes or mechanisms, the missiles came to mean an intolerable threat to the United States such that there emerged an unquestioned national interest in their removal. It is through particular practices of representation, grounded...

  8. 4 Constructing the Cuban Missile Crisis: Cold War Representations
    (pp. 121-164)

    Both the missile crisis myth and the description of the situation that emerged in the ExComm discussions issued from the postwar U.S. security imaginary. The orthodox story of the missile crisis became and has remained dominant because it represents events as occurring in a world of familiar objects and familiar threats, themselves forged out of conventional, already familiar articulations. Its commonsense character was and is secured by interpellating most Americans into familiar and acceptable subject positions. In the same way, the members of the ExComm represented the events of October 1962 so as to generate the “obvious” U.S. national interest...

  9. 5 Constructing the Cuban Missile Crisis: The Problem of Cuba
    (pp. 165-196)

    Before 1958, the United States had not been “particularly interested in Cuba affairs” (Robert C. Hill, in Morley, 1987: 61) largely because U.S.-Cuban relations were proceeding quite smoothly according to well-established and accepted patterns. Nor did the Cuban civil war or insurrection initially cause excessive distress. In 1958 , for example, it was still thought that “the insurgents” led by Castro “were plainly neither Communists nor under Communist influence” (Stebbins, 1959: 356).¹ Instead, it appeared that the “main strength” of Cuba’s revolutionary movement was “drawn from the rising Cuban middle class. Washington thus saw no reason to depart from its...

  10. 6 Identity and National Interests: The United States as the Subject of the Cuban Missile Crisis
    (pp. 197-224)

    At the center of the vision of the world constructed through the U.S. security imaginary is a particular understanding of the object or, more accurately, the subject “the United States.” A now classic story from the ExComm meetings nicely illustrates the importance of U.S. identity to the construction of the U.S. national interest in the Cuban missile crisis:¹ During debate over the possibility of launching an unannounced air strike against the missile bases in Cuba, Robert Kennedy is reported to have written a note in which he claimed that “I now know how Tojo felt when he was planning Pearl...

  11. 7 National Interests and Common Sense
    (pp. 225-242)

    As Benedict Anderson said of the French Revolution, its apparently self-evident “it-ness” (1991: 81) was in fact the product of an extended process of social construction. The same is true of the Cuban missile crisis. The events of October 1962, whether in their representation in the popular myth or in U.S. state officials’ understanding of them, were not simply apprehended objectively by participants, by later analysts, or by other observers. They were not, as the realist injunction has it, “problems of international politics” that decision makers could see “as they are” (Morgenthau, 1951: 7). Instead, the self-evident “it-ness” of the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 243-280)
  13. References
    (pp. 281-308)
  14. Index
    (pp. 309-316)