JFK: Foreign policies :: On April 17, 1961, Kennedy gave orders allowing a previously-planned invasion of Cuba to proceed. The operation's official name is in dispute, however some sources claim it was called Operation Zapata. With support from the CIA, in what is known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1,500 U.S.-trained Cuban exiles, called "Brigade 2506" returned to the island in the hope of deposing Castro, but the CIA had overestimated popular resistance to Castro, made several mistakes in devising and carrying out the plan, and the exiles did not rally the Cuban people as expected. By April 19 Castro's government had killed or captured most of the exiles and Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release for the 1,189 survivors. After 20 months, Cuba released the exiles in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medicine. The incident was a major embarrassment for Kennedy, but he took full responsibility for the debacle (See Bay of Pigs Invasion for more information).
On August 13, 1961, the East German government began construction of the Berlin Wall separating East Berlin from the Western sector of the city, due to the American military presence in West Berlin. Some claimed this action was in violation of the "Four Powers" agreements. Kennedy initiated no action to have it dismantled, and did little to reverse or halt the eventual extension of this barrier to a length of 155 km.
The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 14, 1962 when American U-2 spy planes took photographs of a Soviet intermediate range ballistic missile site under construction in Cuba. Kennedy faced a dire dilemma: if the U.S. attacked the sites it might have led to nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. If the U.S. did nothing, it would endure the perpetual threat of nuclear weapons within its region, in such close proximity, that if launched preemptively, the U.S. may have been unable to retaliate. Another fear was that the U.S. would appear to the world as weak in its own hemisphere. Many military officials and cabinet members pressed for an air assault on the missile sites but Kennedy ordered a naval blockade and began negotiations with the Russians. Instead of "blockade", the word "quarantine" was chosen to address the issue, since international law defines a blockade as an act of war. A week later, he and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev reached an agreement. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles if the U.S. would publicly agree never to invade Cuba, and also secretly agree to remove U.S. ballistic missiles from Turkey within six months. Following this incident, which brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any point before or since, Kennedy was more cautious in confronting the Soviet Union. The promise to never invade Cuba still stood as of 2005.