Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Discussion Paper 2012-14
Simon Saradzhyan and Artur Saradzhyan
Summary: This paper will explore which lessons of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis Armenian and Azeri leaders should consider institutionalizing if they wish to prevent reheating of their conflict over Nagorno Karabakh into a war. Using the October 1962 crisis as an example, the paper will demonstrate how dangerously mistaken national leaders could be when they place their bets on their ability to control conflict escalation. What a leader may perceive as an incremental step – that he is taking to up the pressure on the opponent – can set off a chain of actions on international, national, organizational, and even personal levels, the confluence of which could lead to an armageddon.
Specifically, the paper will describe cases when contingency routines developed by organizations at the time of the 1962 crisis could have pushed conflicting sides into a war against wishes or even explicit orders of national leaders, and how that possibility may arise in the Karabakh conflict. The authors will also argue that escalation of the Cuban missile crisis could have acquired its own logic, pre-determining a sequence of events that may have ultimately resulted into an all-out war and how the same can happen with the Karabakh conflict. The paper will also highlight how damaging absence of direct communication between supreme leadership of conflicting sides could be in times of crisis.
This paper will seek to prove how difficult it may be to achieve de-escalation of a conflict in absence of either overwhelming superiority by one side or fear of mutually assured destruction on both sides. The authors will also make a case for how vital it is to avoid cornering your opponent or yourself, and how important it is for the opponents to factor in interests of other key stakeholders. Using Soviet actions in 1962 as an example, the paper will argue that poor execution can ruin most brilliant plans and cost the author of these daring designs his career. The paper will conclude with a number of recommendations for Armenian and Azeri leaders interested in preventing a new war over Nagorno Karabakh..