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Cuban missile crisis provides lessons on Iran, scholars say

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Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, 11:15 p.m.
 

Fifty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the resolution of that conflict is relevant today as the United States and Israel weigh how to handle Iran's development of nuclear weapons, Cuban missile crisis scholars said during a panel discussion on Monday.

For 13 days in October 1962, America and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war because an American spy plane took aerial photographs showing Soviet missile sites on Cuba, just 90 miles from the United States.

Declassified documents and oral histories garnered in the last 50 years have depicted the resolution of the crisis as one of compromise, not brinksmanship, Peter Kornbluh, director of Cuba and Chile Documentation Projects at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said during a discussion held at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Under the compromise that ended the missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy agreed not to invade Cuba and to remove nuclear weapons from Turkey if Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev would remove the Soviet's nuclear weapons from Cuba.

“Small countries that feel threatened do act to defend themselves,” Kornbluh said. “The main lesson is that compromise and diplomacy and finding a way to make sure your adversary gains something that that country needs in terms of its security, is very, very important.”

Kornbluh said some scholars consider Iran's nuclear development “a Cuban missile crisis in slow motion” because it is taking years to build to the point at which the United States or Israel must decide whether or not to attack Iran.

Kornbluh said he doesn't think the lessons of the importance of diplomacy “are lost on people like President Obama.”

That can be seen in the way the Obama administration “has pushed hard so far on Israel to continue the diplomatic route, the economic sanctions route,” Kornbluh said.

But crises are far more complex today than they were 50 years ago, said Phil Williams, director of the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

“The greatest thing about the Cold War was its simplicity,” said Williams.

In contrast, a 21st-century crisis is waged on multiple fronts with more information coming at decision makers faster and with more pressure from the media, Williams said. Unlike past conflicts, nations are not the only players; terrorists are participants, too, he said.

“The question is, will nuclear weapons make Iran more rational, more secure? Or will it make (Iran) more reckless?” Williams said. “I don't think anybody knows the answer.

Kornbluh will deliver the keynote address during a conference examining the Cuban missile crisis at the University of Pittsburgh's University Club beginning at 9:30 a.m. today.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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