The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) has released a new paper that offers lessons on avoiding nuclear war, in light of the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis.

“Armageddon was a hair’s breadth away in October 1962,” say James Blight and janet Lang, authors of Zero: The Surprising and Unambiguous Policy Relevance of the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro exhibited just enough cautious statesmanship, just in time, to pull the rabbit out of the hat,” and avoid nuclear war. Blight and Lang argue that with 19,000 nuclear weapons still held by nine countries and the presence of at least seven “what-if” nuclear scenarios, “the threat of nuclear war … is more multi-dimensional than ever, requiring sustained attention by the world’s leaders and citizens.”

What is needed, according to Blight and Lang, is “an optimal quotient of fear and loathing that motivates people, their leaders and the mechanisms of global governance to move decisively and rapidly to zero nuclear weapons.” The Cuban missile crisis —by focusing more on the “nearness to doomsday” and less on the avoidance of war — plays an important psychological role in encouraging the international community to invoke global governance mechanisms designed to dismantle nuclear arsenals.

Blight and Lang offer the following recommendations in Zero: The Surprising and Unambiguous Policy Relevance of the Cuban Missile Crisis:

  • Armageddon must be made impossible through the abolition of nuclear weapons as swiftly and safely as possible. However, political will, currently absent, must be present to make this happen.
  • Armageddon must be remembered, and to do this the United Nations, along with its constituent and associated agencies should establish October 27, the anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, as a global day of meditation.
  • The risk of Armageddon must be nipped in the bud. To this end, larger countries should focus on the security needs of adversaries or allies who are smaller and weaker, in cases where weapons of mass destruction may be involved.

Zero: The Surprising and Unambiguous Policy Relevance of the Cuban Missile Crisis was published on the same day as a CIGI-Balsillie School of International Affairs policy brief by the same title and authors. To read these research papers, visit


James G. Blight is the CIGI chair in foreign policy development and professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA) and the Department of History at the University of Waterloo. janet M. Lang is research professor at the BSIA and the Department of History at the University of Waterloo.  Blight and Lang are the authors or co-authors of six previous books on the Cuban missile crisis. Their newest book, The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy/ Khrushchev/Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis, was published in September 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield.


Kevin Dias, Communications Specialist, CIGI
Tel: 519.885.2444, ext. 7238, Email: [email protected]

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank on international governance. Led by experienced practitioners and distinguished academics, CIGI supports research, forms networks, advances policy debate and generates ideas for multilateral governance improvements. Conducting an active agenda of research, events and publications, CIGI’s interdisciplinary work includes collaboration with policy, business and academic communities around the world. CIGI was founded in 2001 by Jim Balsillie, then co-CEO of Research In Motion, and collaborates with and gratefully acknowledges support from a number of strategic partners, in particular the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. For more information, please visit



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