In international relations, the “crisis” is the turning point between war and peace. If not resolved properly, it will escalate into a much more serious conflict and even war. The difficulty in constructing foreign policy is that it is not easy to integrate complex national actions. The areas involved do not only include the single aspect of war and peace. The Film Thirteen Days brings the audience back to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. It reconstructs the struggles behind the decision-making process from the perspective of President Kennedy’s leadership. In the crisis decision theory, it is particularly important to predict and judge the crisis, include various variables that affect the decision, and the process all elements of the crisis into the decision. From the film, President Kennedy has demonstrated highly strategic thinking and rational leadership skills, effective balancing the domestic and international forces, and preventing the crisis from evolving into a nuclear war.
As far as the United States is concerned, its major fear comes from concerns about the Soviet missile threat. Although U.S. officials plunged before the missile crisis with the “myth” of the Soviet nuclear forces fabricated by Khrushchev and the so-called gap between the United States and the Soviet Union, the United States still had great worries. After discovering the missiles of the Soviet Union in Cuba, Kennedy had convened consultants for a full day of consultations. At the meeting, they basically reached following consensuses: Soviet missiles in Cuba pose a direct threat to the security of the United States. It is an unacceptable disturb to the balance of power. The intention of the Soviet operation is to improve its strategic disadvantage. A preemptive military action should be taken before the missile become usable. It is clear that the missiles of the Soviet Union were a serious threat to the national security of the United States, and this threat was urgent.
However, large-scale and costly full-scale invasion will force the US military to directly engage the USSR. This will be a direct face-to-face battle between the two superpowers since the Cold War. This solution more than any of the other alternatives put the world at risk of a nuclear war. At least it is very likely that the Soviet Union will completely occupy West Berlin to take revenge. The deep fear of nuclear war has caused policy makers in both the United States and the Soviet Union to dare not take the risk of war and take very intense military actions. The full-scale invasion does not meet the most urgent goal of the United States to immediately expel Soviet missile threats. Apparently, President Kennedy showed full awareness of such a situation in the film. This restrained psychology has played a key role in the solution to the crisis.
With such considerations, ExComm gradually shifted towards political solutions under the President’s lead. In the end, President Kennedy decided to adopt the blockade approach. This is mainly because a blockade is a middle road between inaction and nuclear war. It is a more restrained and low-key military operation than air strikes. The possibility of retaliation is minimized. The flexibility of the blockade allows the United States to take the initiative in controlling the development of the situation. It can upgrade or slow down its operations in accordance with the needs of the situation. The so-called “surgical” air attack on the military is unrealistic, and there are no winners in the nuclear war. Politically, the blockade left Khrushchev with an option and did not push the opponent to desperation. It can also receive maximum support from the allies.
The Kennedy Administration’s Flexible Response strategy were smart, indeed. In the Cuban missile public crisis, President Kennedy spent a lot of time thinking about the possible impact of U.S. operations on the Soviet Union. When making decisions, it is not sufficient to simply consider the use of threats. It may instead force the opponent to the corners and force the other party not to choose to surrender, but to raise the public crisis. In order to prevent the adversary from raising the public crisis, the decision-makers must deter threats and compromises, and use Stick and Carrot approach. This is why Kennedy offered a promise to cancel the US missile system as an exchange. Also, communication channels with the other party should be maintained to reduce the misunderstanding between the two parties.
Meanwhile, President Kennedy also handled the domestic military forces well as they were intending to elevate the crisis. He kept the focus on the political resolution and successfully repressed the intentions of some ExComm members to start a war. Kennedy gave a brilliant public television speech on the issue, which demonstrated the leadership styles of calmness, firmness, and control. Kennedy stressed that the United States must maintain patience and restraint, but the United States must also take action to deal with this incident. This televised speech conveyed to the public such a message that the two superpowers came to the verge of nuclear war. Kennedy declared that launching missiles from Cuba against the United States would be considered by the United States as an invasion of the United States by the Soviet Union. This actually served as an indirect way to communicate to the USSR and a means of warning. Kennedy concluded that he had urged Khrushchev to withdraw missiles deployed in Cuba and prevent the Soviet Union from bringing the world into the devastating consequences of nuclear warfare.
Eventually, the Soviet Union understood the strategic intentions of the United States in the prevention of nuclear wars. Khrushchev decided to turn back the Soviet ships sailing to Cuba and cooperated with the United States to resolve the crisis. In the telegraph, Khrushchev sincerely proposed to the United States to resolve the crisis. Khrushchev promised to withdraw missiles from Cuba with peaceful conditions. The Kennedy administration greatly appreciated this gesture, and the Cuban missile crisis was successfully resolved. In conclusion, President Kennedy has demonstrated tremendous talent of leadership despite the lack of experience. His strategic approach to the USSR, the American people, the US allies, and the domestic military forces effectively reduced the tension in the crisis, leading to the final peaceful solution.