Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis

Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis

by Graham T. Allison

By examining it first through one set of conceptual lenses, then through a second, and finally through a third, he explores some of the fundamental yet often unrecognized choices among the categories and assumptions that channel our thinking and thus influence our decisions and the outcomes in situations such as the missile crisis.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 4.01
  • Pages: 432
  • Publish Date: January 29th 1999 by Pearson
  • Isbn10: 0321013492
  • Isbn13: 9780321013491

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The other book explains the Cuban missile crisis through each of the above models.

A Model I analyst can generate various hypotheses about why the Soviet Union decided to send nuclear missiles to Cuba: to defend Cuba, rectify the strategic nuclear balance, or provide an advantage in the confrontation over Berlin. But as the Model I analyst includes still more information about Khrushchev, his personal stakes and commitments, and what he said and thought at the time (much of it newly available), the story acquires a new shape, linking the missile power hypothesis to a strategy for success in Berlin. The American decision to respond with a blockade reflects, for the Model I analyst, Kennedys reasoning, revealed for the first time by the secret tapes. For the Model I analyst the Soviet decision to yield follows logically from the United States combination of strategic and theater military superiority, once American resolve becomes evident. Kennedy sets his military forces in motion to signal Khrushchev, but the Model II story again sets in motion vast organizational actions that interact with others in frightening ways that the president can barely imagine (try as he does, for example, in the case of the Emergency Defense Plan for Turkey). Model III uncovers subtle differences between perspectives shared by Kennedy and Khrushchev and views of their colleaguesdifferences that proved decisive in finally resolving the crisis. To explain the blockade, the Model I analyst examines the U.S. strategic calculus: the problem posed by the Soviet missiles, relevant American interests, the relation to other commitments like the defense of Berlin and U.S. capabilities versus those of the Soviet Union. The Model III analyst makes vivid the action of players in the relevant games that produced pieces of the collage that is the blockade. Bargaining among players who shared power but saw separate problems yielded: discovery of the missiles on a certain date in the context of a given policy debate; definition of the problem in a way that demanded action; emphasis on subsets of options from the menu of possibilities; and imagination in analyzing some issues and weakness in analyzing others.

In this update of the Ernest May original, Graham Allison and Philip Zelikows Essence of Decision offers three different models through which to interpret the Cuban Missile Crisis. Put simply, they pronounce their biases of political and diplomatic theory by espousing models based in western economic logic. Yet these models are applied to a situation in which the other side, the USSR, based its political ideology in opposition to such western based economic theories. Yet these comments reveal an unforeseen argument inherent in Essence of Decision: It is a work that offers no conclusive advice on how to approach policymaking, yet Allison and Zelikow have utilized modernity-based models and economics to endorse a sort of post-modern inconclusiveness.

I went into this book knowing about the Cuban Missile Crisis in only a vague sketchy way. I definitely disagreed with, or found unhelpful, with a bunch of the theory The book alternates theory chapters with analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis through the lens of the previous chapter's theory. IMHO, the book's strongest section was the analysis of the Missile Crisis under the first mode. In the first section, the book makes a compelling case that Khrushchev's decision to place missiles in Cuba had nothing to do with protecting Cuba. Rather it was an attempt to change the balance of missile power (despite having run on the idea of a 'Missile Gap', the US actually had a tremendous nuclear advantage over the USSR at this point) and ultimately strengthen Khrushchev's hand when a conflict was anticipated to emerge over Berlin later in the year. The organizational behavior section, while an absolute dumpster fire in terms of theoretical content (as far as I can tell it just argues that organizations should be modeled predictively, and then proceeds to make a list of things that 'might go wrong' in the transmission of leaders' intent) lists how some of the most important events in the missile crisis were not the result of high-level decision making. The organizational behavior theory section comes off as a long list of 'shit that organizations do sometimes' (the governmental politics section also has one of these long ass lists). Based on my previous knowledge of the Cuban Missile Crisis (especially the discussion of brinksmanship in Games of Strategy) this is a glaring ommission.

While the treatment of the Cuban Missile Crisis is fascinating, the book's greatest value is its presentation of multiple lenses for analyzing decisions: the rational actor model, the organizational model, and the political model.

Explains that to truly analyze, explain and predict decisions in a foreign relations setting, more than the standard Rational Actor Model is necessary.

He is renowned for his contribution in the late 1960s and early 1970s to the bureaucratic analysis of decision making, especially during times of crisis. Allison is best known as a political scientist for his book Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (1971), in which he developed two new theoretical paradigms an organizational process model and a bureaucratic politics model to compete with the then-prevalent approach of understanding foreign policy decision making using a rational actor model.