Cuban Missile Crisis 50th Anniversary Website Aims to Stimulate Debate on Lessons Learned

August 8, 2012
By Sharon Wilke, Belfer Center Communications

Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has launched a new website to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Designed to help policymakers, students, and interested citizens draw lessons from these critical events half a century ago, www.cubanmissilecrisis.org not only provides background on the crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster in October 1962 but also offers tools to understand how it can inform contemporary policy.
Visitors will be able to find key facts about the events of the crisis, explore the most important lessons drawn from it over the past 50 years, find materials to teach students about the crisis, and learn more about the nuclear threats that the world faces today. Visitors will also be able to sign up to receive advance notice of Belfer Center events commemorating the anniversary. The site will also host a contest inviting suggestions for what statesmen and women can learn from the Cuban Missile Crisis in order to better address challenges of war and peace today. Contest details will appear on the site shortly.
Belfer Center Director Graham Allison, whose book "Essence of Decision" continues to be the definitive analysis of the decision-making that prevented a nuclear catastrophe, comments on the significance of the 50th anniversary:
“Fifty years ago, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. During the standoff, President John F. Kennedy thought the chance of escalation to nuclear war was ‘between 1 in 3 and even,’ and what we have learned in later decades has done nothing to lengthen those odds. Such a war might have led to the deaths of 100 million Americans and over 100 million Russians. Fortunately, since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the risk of all-out nuclear war has shrunk dramatically. Yet the U.S. and the rest of the world still face other kinds of nuclear danger such as nuclear terrorism, which President Obama has described as ‘the most immediate and extreme threat to global security,’ or the collapse of the global nuclear order, which could be as fragile as the global financial order was four years ago, when conventional wisdom declared it to be sound, stable, and resilient.”
The Belfer Center has developed this website not only to mark the 50th anniversary of the moment when mankind came closest to nuclear oblivion, but also to stimulate debate on the lessons from that crisis that can be applied to critical situations facing world leaders today.

Belfer Center Director Graham Allison

Graham Allison, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs director

"During the standoff, President John F. Kennedy thought the chance of escalation to nuclear war was ‘between 1 in 3 and even," said Allison.

Ernest May (1928-2009), one of the leading historians of the Cuban Missile Crisis, teaching at Harvard.

Ernest May (1928-2009), one of the leading historians of the Cuban Missile Crisis, teaching at Harvard.

 


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