Heather Hurlburt: Cuban Missile Crisis ... Are We Safer Now Than We Were 50 Years Ago?

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Heather Hurlburt is executive director of the National Security Network in Washington, DC.

Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis, three generations of American policy-makers have cut teeth on those events that brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink in October 1962. This generation is now winding its way upwards as twenty- and thirtysomething speechwriters, special assistants, reporters and congressional candidates.
The basic outline of what they have been taught remains the one canonized by Harvard's Graham Allison some 25 years ago, in four lessons. First, "nuclear war is really possible." Second, "the principal risk of nuclear war arises from the uncontrollable" events that take place during genuine crises – such as simple mistakes or errors of perception – and not from the risk that rational human beings will intend war as a matter of policy. Third, "the reality of nuclear interdependence" means that states depend upon other states to avoid war for their own survival. Taken together, these "perils of crisis management" in the nuclear age ultimately teach that "crisis must be prevented."
In other words, if it is true that the only way to win a nuclear war is not to play, the only way to guarantee we don't find ourselves in an accidental pick-up game is to prevent crises before they occur.
These lessons still hold; but they are far less obvious than they were in 1987, when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact still existed, Osama bin Laden was fighting alongside US allies, email was for universities and Twitter was for the birds.
Is nuclear war really possible?...

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