Fifty Years after Cuban Missile Crisis, Nuclear Threat Still Looms

(Washington, D.C., October 16, 2012) — Fifty years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union spent two weeks on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, the threat of a nuclear crisis remains more dangerous and complicated than ever. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) today launched a new interactive resource about the 1962 crisis and called on the United States and Russia to lead new global security efforts to address today’s urgent dangers.  

Today, the makings of nuclear crises still exist worldwide. Nine countries hold some 20,000 nuclear weapons—enough to destroy the planet hundreds of times over. In many of these places—the Middle East, Northeast Asia and South Asia—bitter regional rivalries pose clear and present nuclear threats. With more weapons and materials comes more risk that terrorists will get a nuclear weapon. A half-century after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and Russia still keep thousands of nuclear weapons ready for immediate launch against each other. This alert posture unnecessarily raises the risk of an accidental or unauthorized launch of a nuclear ballistic missile—either through technical failure, human error or malfeasance.

“Luck played a role in preventing catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Joan Rohlfing, NTI president and chief operating officer.  “And 50 years later, we still rely too much on luck. With U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons remaining on hair-trigger alert, we depend on ‘fail-safe’ systems to prevent them from being launched by accident, mistake or an unauthorized person. But people make mistakes, technologies fail and systems break down. Can we bet on these systems always working perfectly? One day our luck may run out.  It’s time to eliminate this unnecessary risk by taking these deadly systems off of their hair trigger.”

Across the globe, all countries must do more to create a safer world: Nuclear stockpiles must be reduced, nuclear materials must be kept secure from terrorists and regional conflicts must be addressed. All states must do more, and NTI calls on the United States and Russia to lead these efforts. Other steps all countries must take to reduce nuclear threats include:

  • Work with leaders of countries with nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise.
  • Discard the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons for U.S. and Russian forces to reduce the danger of accidental, mistaken or unauthorized launch.
  • Substantially reduce nuclear forces in all countries that possess them.
  • Develop a new international system to manage the risks associated with producing fuel for nuclear power.
  • Redouble efforts to resolve regional conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers.

The NTI interactive resource includes historic video, audio and photos featuring presidents John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush. It looks at how the Cuban Missile Crisis continues to color global security issues today. NTI urges everyone to get involved by sharing the interactive, reading the additional resources, sharing their own stories from the Cuban Missile Crisis, and learning more about key steps to reduce nuclear threats. View the interactive and learn more at

About NTI: The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a mission to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and to work to build the trust, transparency, and security that are preconditions to the ultimate fulfillment of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s goals and ambitions. Learn more at

Contact: Cathy Gwin (202) 454-7706, [email protected]

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