When Americans were holding their breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis, they probably never thought their country would be on the brink of nuclear disaster once again.
Students debated the applicability of lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis in the current U.S.-North Korean nuclear standoff in a class on mediation law led by Prof. Rocco Scanza, industrial and labor relations.
“The study of conflict resolution involving international disputes has never been more important than it is today,” Scanza told The Sun. “The concerns over nuclear missile proliferation involving North Korea is the best but not the only example.”
In class, students analyzed the underlying conflict driving the Cuban Missile Crisis and debated which model of mediation would best resolve what one student described as “the closest time the world has come to nuclear war.”
In particular, students debated the impact of the presence or absence of the U.S. president, the Soviet premier and other key U.S. and Soviet players on the negotiation outcome, while one student advocated the inclusion of Cuba and its leader Fidel Castro in negotiations.
Scanza and the students also highlighted several factors that influenced both sides. Among other factors, U.S. negotiators had to consider the impact of the negotiation on the upcoming elections, while their Soviet counterparts needed to avoid appearing “weak.”
Scanza then asked students whether their analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis can be applied to the current U.S.-North Korean tensions.
One student argued that it is “premature to apply things from Cuban Missile Crisis,” as U.S. tensions with North Korea have not escalated to such an extent yet.
Another agreed, adding that there is a “role for mediation later on, but open lines of communication, the use of non-inflammatory language and public awareness are factors important today on both sides.”
Scanza also asked students whether “current leaders have the capacity of John F. Kennedy or Khrushchev to resolve conflict.”
A student pointed out that today’s leaders have never “had a true relationship” with North Korea or experienced a major international crisis like World War II, making it difficult for them to negotiate with each other.
When a student suggested that the U.S. should leave the mediations to Russia and China, Scanza’s response both drew laughs and was a dark reminder of terrifying possibilities.
“God forbid they hit San Francisco then. Or Ithaca,” he said.