Brown: Cuban Missile Crisis Lessons for Iran
Andre de Nesnera
October 16, 2012
Historians agree that in October of 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy
and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev squared off in a showdown that
brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Sergei Khrushchev, son of the Soviet leader and a professor at Brown
University, says the crisis was ultimately resolved peacefully because
both leaders were rational men.
“We were very lucky that the two leaders were balanced and reasonable
and their policy was not shoot first then think, but first think, then,
second time, think and maybe don’t shoot at all,” he said.
Shortly after the missile crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev established a
“hotline” between Washington and Moscow providing for direct
communications between the White House and the Kremlin. It is in
operation to this day. The two men also signed a test ban treaty, ending
nuclear testing everywhere but underground.
“But then Kennedy was assassinated, then Khrushchev was ousted from
power,” said Professor Khrushchev. “I think that if these two leaders
would have been in power longer, it is a big possibility that the Cold
War would have been over. But history decided in a different way and we
returned to the Cold War and all this crazy arms race until the
Gorbachev time,” he said.
Experts such as Graham Allison of Harvard University say there are
lessons to be learned from the crisis, which even President Kennedy
“(Kennedy said) the lesson out of this is that we have to avert crises
that lead to confrontations in which an adversary has to choose between
humiliating retreat and war,” said Allison, adding that President Barack
Obama is facing a similar situation with Iran’s suspected nuclear
weapons program, which Allison calls a “Cuban Missile Crisis in slow
“The president is going to be faced with an option between acquiescing
in Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb — that’s one option,” he said. “Or
alternatively, attacking Iran to prevent it acquiring a nuclear bomb —
so attack or acquiesce.
“The implication of that for where we stand with Iran today is, if you
look at attacking Iran and the consequences of that, they look pretty
ugly,” he said. “And if you look at acquiescing to Iran becoming a
nuclear-weapon state and the consequences that will have in the very
volatile region of the Middle East — and likely trigger further
proliferation in other states like Saudi Arabia — that looks pretty
Allison said the U.S. administration must search for a third option, as
did President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“I would hope that immediately after the election, the U.S. government
will also turn intensely to the search for something that’s not very
good — because it won’t be very good — but that is significantly better
than attacking on the one hand or acquiescing on the other,” he said.
his part, Professor Khrushchev favors dialogue.
“We have to negotiate with Iran, not threatening them with different
sanctions, but negotiate on the highest level, American president with
Iranian president," said the professor. "And I don’t think that
President Kennedy loved Khrushchev more than President Obama loves
President Ahmadinejad, but they understood — Kennedy and Eisenhower —
that you have to talk with them, because if you are talking with your
enemy, you can influence them and you can better understand them.”
If the Iranian crisis cannot be resolved peacefully and it comes to war,
says Professor Khrushchev, the United States would win. But, asks the
son of the former Soviet leader, at what price?