Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2nd ed. New York: Longman.’

‘Allison, Graham and Philip Zelikow. 1999. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban

Missile Crisis, 2nd ed. New York: Longman.’

1. ‘Essence of Decision was originally published in 1971 and quickly had a major impact on the study of foreign policy—especially in the field of IR. This is a

landmark work in the area of bureaucratic politics and foreign policy

decision-making. The authors improve on Allison’s original three models to

explain the Cuban Missile Crisis. The models include the rational actor,

organization behavior and government politics models—each of these models represents a facet of the levels of analysis problem. The goal of the book is to ”

examine the central puzzles of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

2. ‘The core concepts of the rational actor model include goals and objectives, alternatives, consequences and choice of the main actors during the crisis (p.

18). Rationality is defined as ” consistent, value-maximizing choice within

specified constraints” (p. 18). Herbert Simon, for example, draws a distinction

between comprehensive and bounded rationality. Comprehensive rationality

denotes that the actor has ” a utility function that consistently ranks all

alternatives the actor faces and to choose the alternative that achieves the

highest utility” (p. 20). This contrasts with bounded rationality—which accepts

the limits of the individual actor to make decisions. That is, there are ”

inescapable limitations of knowledge and computational ability of the agent”

(p. 20).

3. ‘Moving on to Model II (Organizational behavior), Allison and Zelikow indicate that this model is about organizations and explained in terms of

organizational goals ” common to the members of the organization” (p. 144).

This model underscores five points. First, organizations are collections of

people that are ordered in a systematic manner. Organizations are also put

together with definite united action. Next, ” organizations create capabilities for

achieving humanly-chosen purposes and performing tasks that would

otherwise be impossible” (p. 145). Organizations also constrain the behavior of

its individuals—in other words, organizations define how a problem will be

addressed. Fourthly, organizations have a specific culture that shapes ” the

behavior of individuals within the organization in ways that conform with

information as well as formal norms” (p. 145). Finally, organizations are hubs

of technology where specialists apply their skills.

4. ‘The final model, or Government Politics Model, contends that national governments are made up of central arenas for decision-making. In effect, ”

political leaders at the top of the apparatus are joined by officials who occupy

positions on top of major organizations to form a circle of central players,

central in relation to the particular decision or outcome the analyst seeks to

explain” (p. 255). Beyond this arena are concentric circles of activity that

includes lower level officials, government departments, IGOs, NGOs and the

citizenry. Thus, ” ongoing struggles in outer circles help shape decision

situations among players who can affect the government’s choice and action

in the case in question” (p. 256). ‘

‘ Each of these models help to explain some facet of the Cuban Missile Crisis:

 ‘” The American decision to respond with a [naval] blockade reflects, for the

Model I analyst, Kennedy’s reasoning. He sees his choice as one between a

nuclear crisis over Cuba in October or a nuclear crisis over Berlin—and

under less advantageous circumstances—in November. An attack on Cuba could

provoke a riposte against Berlin. A blockade (applied only to items not being

transported to Berlin) seems logical middle ground” (p. 380).

 ‘” For the Model II analysts, Kennedy’s choice of a [naval] blockade is a choice

foreshadowed by the preexisting capacities of large organizations: an Air

Force that cannot deliver the strike Kennedy wants and a Navy that can organize a

blockade that achieves Kennedy’s goals” (p. 381).

 ‘” In the final resolution of the crisis, Model III helps us see new dynamics.

Khrushchev’s assessments flip practically 180 degrees from one day to the

next, tugged by new bits information—some true, some false. Soviet officers

deliberately shoot down a U-2, killing its American pilot. The Americans imagine

that Moscow gave the order but Khrushchev does not even grasp that his own

government’s forces fired the SAM…. For Model III, Kennedy and Khrushchev

remain key characters in the story” (p. 383).’