"The closest we came to nuclear war:" New Insights about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1995 Black Brant event



Benoît Pelopidas, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Date and Time

January 28, 2016 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

Abstract: The 1995 launch of a sounding rocket from Andoya in Norway allegedly misinterpreted as an attack in Russia and the so-called "Cuban Missile Crisis" in 1962 have one thing in common: they have both been referred to as "the closest we came to nuclear war." The 1962 crisis has mostly been studied from an American perspective due to the availability of documentary evidence and of the Kennedy tapes, until the 1990s when Cuba and the Soviet Union were given a voice, with the rest of the world still largely absent from the understanding of the event. The 1995 close call has been controversial and is remembered in conflicting ways: an alarmist and an untroubled one.

In this presentation, I will offer new findings on those two cases, based on previously untapped primary sources on the experience of and threat perception during the so-called "Cuban Missile Crisis" in 13 countries worldwide and on an oral history workshop I organized in London for the 20th anniversary of the 1995 "Black Brant event", which gathered for the first time Norwegian, American and Russian participants in the event. By focusing on those two events as exemplary cases of near use of nuclear weapons, I will outline a research program on such cases and its implication for social sciences and for the teaching of post-1945 world history to the next generations.


About the Speaker: Benoît Pelopidas is a CISAC affiliate and lecturer in International Relations at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS), University of Bristol. He was a postdoctoral fellow at CISAC for the 2011-2012 academic year.

He received his Ph. D. in political science from Sciences Po (Paris) and the University of Geneva in 2010 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in 2010-2011. Since 2005, he has been teaching international relations at Sciences Po (Paris), the University of Geneva and the Monterey Institute of International Studies (Graduate School of International Policy and Management).

In 2010, he won the "outstanding student essay prize" from the Doreen and Jim McElvany Nonproliferation Essay Competition and in 2011, he was awarded the "Best Graduate Paper 2010" from the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association. Also in 2011, he won the SNIS Award 2010 for the Best Thesis in International Studies from the Swiss Network for International Studies. A book based on his dissertation is forthcoming in French by Sciences Po University Press.

He published When Empire Meets Nationalism: Power Politics in the US and Russia (with Didier Chaudet and Florent Parmentier; Ashgate, 2009) as well as articles in The Nonproliferation Review, the European Journal of Social Sciences, the Swiss Political Science Review, and the French Yearbook of International Relations. His research focuses on epistemic communities in international security, renunciation of nuclear weapons as a historical possibility, the uses of nuclear history and memory and French nuclear policies.

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