Belfer Center Home > Publications > Articles and Op-Eds > Op-Eds > On Iran's Nuclear Program, Obama Should Take a Cue From JFK and 'Go First'

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

"On Iran's Nuclear Program, Obama Should Take a Cue From JFK and 'Go First'"

President Kennedy signs the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 7 October 1963

"On Iran's Nuclear Program, Obama Should Take a Cue From JFK and 'Go First'"

Op-Ed, Christian Science Monitor

Jun 10, 2013

Author: Matthew Bunn, Professor of Practice; Co-Principal Investigator, Project on Managing the Atom

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Managing the Atom; Science, Technology, and Public Policy


This is an excerpt from the op-ed that appeared today on the Christian Science Monitor website. Visit here for the full article.

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy delivered a commencement address at American University whose message echoes down the decades to the challenges America faces today – including the challenge of Iran.

Only months after the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the edge of nuclear war, Kennedy chose to speak of peace. This, as he faced a nuclear-armed Soviet Union that had a hateful ideology and was seemingly bent on world domination. The American president challenged those who saw peace as “impossible” or “unreal,” calling this “a dangerous, defeatist belief.” He spoke of a “practical” peace, based “on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements that are in the interest of all concerned.”

Strikingly, while upholding American values, he recognized that the United States, too, bore some responsibility for the cold war, and urged Americans “not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side.” He argued that “even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep” treaty obligations that serve their own interests.

Today, as the US faces an Iran whose government is also driven by an ideology alien to American values, seemingly bent on exporting that ideology and threatening Israel, Kennedy’s words carry a deep resonance. Can the US find a practical peace with Iran that verifiably keeps its still-expanding nuclear program from building nuclear weapons? Or are we doomed to a terrible choice between military strikes and acquiescing to Iran building a nuclear arsenal?....


For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.

Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Bunn, Matthew. "On Iran's Nuclear Program, Obama Should Take a Cue From JFK and 'Go First'." Christian Science Monitor, Jun 10, 2013.

Bookmark and Share

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.