University of Pittsburgh
October 11, 2012

Oct. 16 Pitt Conference Marks 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Peter Kornbluh of The National Security Archive, author of The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, will deliver keynote address
Pitt historian Peter Karsten will share his experience in the cryptography room of the USS Canberra
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—Fifty years ago during the Cold War, the world came the closest it ever has to an exchange of nuclear weapons between the Soviet Union and the United States. President John F. Kennedy was briefed on Oct. 16, 1962, about a Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missile being assembled for installation in Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. For more than 10 days, President Kennedy and his team wrestled with a diplomatic crisis of epic proportions.

Pitt Professor of History Peter Karsten also wrestled with the crisis, but from a cryptography room on the USS Canberra. Then a legal officer with the Navy, Karsten was responsible for decoding orders for the admiral aboard his ship who commanded the destroyer screen during the crisis. Karsten will share his personal story on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at “Cuban Missile Crisis: 50 Year Anniversary,” a conference hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security. 

The one-day conference, which will re-examine the Cuban Missile Crisis and consider diplomatic challenges ahead, will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Ballroom B of Pitt’s University Club, 123 University Place, Oakland. Although the lectures are free and open to the public, those wishing to attend must register in advance by e-mailing Beverly Brizzi at 

“The Cuban Missile Crisis was probably the most important confrontation between the United States and the Soviets during the 45-year period of the Cold War,” said Phil Williams, director of the Ridgway Center and Pitt professor of public and international affairs, who will give introductory remarks at the conference. “We’re using this conference not only to think about the past, but also about the future. What crises might arise during the 21st century?” 

The keynote address, titled “The Cuban Missile Crisis Revisited,” will be delivered at 9:45 a.m. by Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst and director of the Cuba and Chile Documentation projects at The National Security Archive—an independent, nongovernmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Kornbluh is the author of the Archive’s The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

Additional presentations by Pitt faculty will follow the keynote address.  

  • 11 a.m. “The New Context for International Crises” 
    Dennis Gormley, senior lecturer of public and international affairs
  • 11:40 a.m. “Escalation Dynamics in 21st Century Crises” 
    Forrest Morgan, adjunct professor of public and international affairs and senior political scientist, RAND Corporation 
  • 1 p.m. “Civil-Military Relations in Crises” 
    Ryan Grauer, assistant professor of public and international affairs
  • 1:40 p.m. “The Missile Crisis and Beyond” 
    Panel discussion chaired by Charles Gochman, associate professor of political science 
    Panelists include all presenters and Peter Karsten, professor of history

For additional information, call 412-624-7884 or visit