The "Thirteen Days" of the Cuban Missile Crisis were, at that point, the closest the superpowers came to war. How severe this would have been is impossible to know. That this is the case was due in a large part to serendipity and the patience and understanding of the leaders. The lessons of this stand-off were not lost on either side. There were several key after-effects of this confrontation:
• The setting up of the Direct Communication Link (DCL)
• A dramatic decrease in tension between the two superpowers
• An almost as dramatic increase in tension in Sino-Soviet and Sino-US relations
• There were also domestic implications for both sides
Following the narrow avoidance of annihilation, the leaders of both countries agreed to establish a permanent teletype link between their two nations. During the crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev were forced to communicate with each other through clumsy diplomatic channels. The rapid, minute-to-minute changes in posture and intent could not be articulated quickly enough to guarantee that there would be no misunderstanding. The need for more efficient communication between the superpowers to avoid the prospect of accidental war was cited in the Soviet request of 1954 for a direct link. There are numerous references in transcripts to leaders discovering seemingly vital information, by chance, from newspapers. On October 16, Secretary of State Rusk asked Kennedy, “You saw the [New York] Times story yesterday morning that high Soviet officials were saying, ‘We’ll trade Cuba for Berlin?’” This reliance on second hand print news had serious implications in a situation where events were changing rapidly and the effects of these events were unprecedented.
As a result, the two powers agreed to set up a Direct Communications Link between Washington and Moscow. It was informally known as the ‘hotline’, and was responsible for preventing confrontation on several occasions in the ensuing decade. However, this is also reflective of the notion that ideas after the fact are far easier to process. Hindsight is 20:20. Of course, the advantages of the system were clear when it was in place. For example, in his memoirs Lyndon Johnson stated that he believed that confrontation would have been a distinct possibility in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, if the hotline had not allowed America to keep the USSR updated with events.
Kennedy and the USA gained prestige from the victory. According to Arthur Schlesinger, who was Kennedy's personal historian, Kennedy's 'feelings underwent a qualitative change after Cuba: a world in which nations threatened each other with nuclear weapons seemed to him not just as irrational but an intolerable and impossible world.' There was a renewed confidence in the President's ability to deal with the Soviets. The debacle of the 1961 Vienna summit was forgotten, and Kennedy had gained a reputation for being a Cold Warrior, thus giving him more leeway from those in Washington to pursue co-operation...