Annoucing a New FP Contest

Foreign Policy and the Kennedy School's Belfer Center have a challenge for you: Tell us the single most important lesson for today of the world's most dangerous nuclear confrontation.

For the 50th anniversary of what historians agree was the most dangerous moments in human history, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Foreign Policy magazine are sponsoring a contest for scholars and citizens to reflect on the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and its lessons for challenges the U.S. faces today.

Your challenge is straightforward: In 300 words or less, contestants should present the most persuasive, original lesson flowing from the confrontation that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war over 13 days in October 1962. What can statesmen learn from the most dangerous confrontation in human history to better address challenges of war and peace today?  Harvard’s Belfer Center and Foreign Policy magazine are inviting policymakers, scholars, students, and members of the public to think about this question and propose lessons.

Contest Question: What can statesmen learn from the most dangerous confrontation in human history to better address challenges of war and peace today?


  • Participants submit a proposed lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis that answers contest question.
  • The text of the submission must be no more than 300 words.
  • When writing proposed lesson, participants should try to distill lesson into one topic sentence; remainder of submission should provide supporting evidence and argument.(See below for an example.)
  • Entry must be original: not merely repeating a lesson already noted by analysts, scholars and statesmen in the past.
  • When constructing your lesson, please reference the list of lessons catalogued by the Belfer Center to ensure your lesson’s originality.


  • Belfer Center and Foreign Policy will accept submissions until October 15, 2012.
  • Winners will be announced on October 19, 2012.


  • New 64 GB iPad (wifi only) or cash equivalent ($699).
  • Publication of entries on Belfer Center’s Cuban Missile Crisis website and on Foreign Policy‘s Cuban Missile Crisis website.
  • Free subscription to Foreign Policy for one year.


  • The Belfer Center will select ten top finalists in each category. Those finalists will be submitted to a Board of Advisors nominated by Foreign Policy magazine and the Belfer Center. The Board will pick one winning entry in each category.
  • The judges’ decision will be final.


  • Contestants will be judged in one of three categories:

Middle and high school students: Grades 6 through 12 (students aged 11 to 18).

Practitioners/scholars:  this category includes (1)  individuals currently pursuing a Masters or PhD; (2)  individuals who have a PhD in a relevant subject; or (3) individuals who have or are currently serving in a government or international organization or at an agency/organization involved in international affairs (the Belfer Center reserves the right to determine what constitutes an agency working in international affairs).

General public: all other entrants, including those that have received a masters-level degree and have not been employed by a government agency dealing with international affairs.

  • Employees of the Harvard Kennedy School (and their family members), and of Foreign Policy (and their family members) are ineligible to enter the contest.


  • The subject line of the email must be "Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis."
  • The entry should be included in the body of the email. Please do not include attachments. Any Word documents submitted will not be considered.
  • Please include at the end of your submission: a brief description of your background, age, academic qualifications (degree or highest level of education achieved), and current (or past) occupation (if relevant to aforementioned categories), as well as a word count. This information will not be counted against your word allowance.
  • All contest enquiries should be sent via email only.
  • Only one entry per person.

Example of Proposed Distillation of Lesson

Adapted from comments made by the late Ernest May in 2001. The Belfer Center has taken his lesson and converted it into a format suitable for submission to this contest.

Lesson: During crisis, it is necessary to have deliberate, thoughtful and unrushed discussions on possible solutions.

My lesson from the crisis is that presidents must not allow themselves to be hustled into premature decisions. In 1962 it took time for people to work out the possibilities, to see options that they didn’t see, even for President Kennedy to cool down, because he was prepared in the initial sessions to resort to an immediate attack, which we now know could have been catastrophic.

This is a difficult lesson to acknowledge today, in an era of 24-hour media, because there is almost no chance that any president of the United States will have that leisure to deal with a crisis of that magnitude in the future.

Ernest May, Professor of American History, Harvard University"


The board of advisors of this initiative includes Graham Allison, Nicholas Burns, Michael Dobbs, David Rothkopf and Philip Zelikow. Allison and Zelikow are co-authors of Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2nd edition, 1999; Dobbs is the author of Foreign Policy‘s blog on the Cuban Missile Crisis and author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War; Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy, as well as CEO and President of Garten Rothkopf, an international advisory firm; former US Under Secretary of State Burns is Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics and Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Questions should be sent by email only to

Please no phone calls to the Belfer Center or to Foreign Policy magazine. launched The Cuban Missile Crisis +50, a special section of its award-winning website curated by journalist and noted historian Michael Dobbs, to provide innovative coverage of the crisis through Dobbs’s "On the Brink" blog and Twitter feed @MissileCrisis62 dedicated to live-tweeting the key developments of the months and weeks leading up to the 13 days in October. Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War, provides readers with a gripping history of the crisis through a modern-day lens. 

The Belfer Center has created a website,, providing a wealth of source materials, including video and audio recordings from the 13 days of the crisis over the Soviet Union’s secret program to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, and the American response to halt that deployment. Among the documents are excerpts of secret tape recordings by President John F. Kennedy of his administration’s tense deliberations. The Belfer site also provides links to dozens of lessons from the crisis drawn by former presidents, scholars and political analysts. The website also provides tools to teachers who want their students to use the 50th anniversary to think about the dangers the crisis posed and how they were averted.


 Twitter: @caraparks

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