Allison, G. T. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Little, Brown, and Company, Boston.

1971
Introduction
- Some Questions Allison wishes to answer: - Why did the Soviet Union place strategic offensive missiles in Cuba? - Why did the US respond with a naval quarantine (blockade) of Soviet shipments to Cuba? - Why were the missiles withdrawn? - What are the lessons of the missile crisis? The General Argument - “When we are puzzled by a happening in foreign affairs, the source of our puzzlement is typically a particular outcome” (2) or, put differently, Why a particular outcome occurred. - In searching for an explanation, one typically puts himself/herself in the place of the nation, or national government, (i.e. the actor) confronting a problem of foreign affairs and tries to figure out, from that perspective, why the nation made its choice.. (3) - Treating national governments (or any other organization) as if they were centrally coordinated, purposive individuals provides a useful shorthand for understanding problems of policy. - Of course, this carries with it a number of assumptions which could prove deleterious. - These can be summed up in three propositions: 1. Professional analysts of foreign affairs (as well as ordinary laymen) think about problems of foreign and military policy in terms largely implicitly conceptual models that have significant consequences. (4) - In sum, a more detailed analysis is required. What’s necessary is an analytic approach to the narrative to find the dependent and independent variables to in turn establish a chain of causality. 2. Most analysts explain (and predict) the behavior of national governments in terms of one basic conceptual model. here entitled the Rational Actor or Classical Model (Model 1). (4) - Laymen personify rational actors and speak of their aims and choices. - Theorists of international relations focus on problems between nations in accounting for the choices of unitary rational actors in the absence of an actor. - General Procedure: Fix the unit of analysis. Focus on certain concepts, like goals and objectives of the nation or government, Invoke certain patterns of inference: i.e. if the nation performed

. . this time through the lens of Model 3 to analyze the Cuban Missile Crisis: 1) Frame the Puzzle: Which results of what kinds of bargaining . procedures. that behavior resulted from existing organizational features. 2) Large acts result from innumerable and often conflicting smaller actions by individuals at various levels of bureaucratic organizations in the service of a variety of only partially compatible conceptions of national goals.Model 1’s implication that important events have important causes must be balanced with an appreciation that: 1) Monoliths are black boxes covering various gears and levers in a highly differentiated decision-making structures. (5) . . organizational goals.In Model 2. . In the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis: 1) Frame the Puzzle: From what organizational context and pressures did this decision emerge? (6) 2) Fix the Unit of Analysis: Organizational output.Model 3 focuses on the politics of a government.The Model 2 analyst uses the same General Procedure outlined above.A Model 2 analyst has “explained” the event when he has identified the relevant Soviet organizations and displayed the patterns of organizational behavior from which the action emerged. 3.an action of this sort.Again.Model 1’s grasp of national purposes and of the pressures created by problems in international relations must confront the intra-national mechanisms from which governmental reactions emerge. 3) Focus Attn on Certain Concepts: The strength. and repertoires of organizations. Events in foreign affairs. it must have had a goal of this type. provide a base for improved explanations and predictions. . 4) Invoke Certain Patterns of Inference: If organizations produced an output of this kind today. according to this model. the Organizational Process Model. standard operating procedures. using the same General Procedure. here labeled an Organizational Process Model (Model 2) and a Governmental (Bureaucratic) Politics Model (Model 3). and political objectives. . are understood neither as choices nor as outputs.In Model 3. what Model 1 analysts characterize as “acts” or “choices” are thought of instead as outputs of large organizations functioning according to regular patterns of behavior. what happens is characterized as a resultant (result) of various bargaining games among players in the national government. . and repertoires. Two alternate conceptual models.

. strategies.Diplomatic History . behavior that reflects purpose or intention. and maneuvers of the players. as with most books. Model 1. explanation consists of showing what goal the government was pursuing when it acted and how the action was a reasonable choice. introductory portion. to the narrative of the Cuban Missile Crisis.A Model 3 analyst has “explained” this event when he has discovered who did what to whom that yielded the action in question. } . motivations.among which players yielded the critical decisions and actions? (6) 2) Fix the Unit of Analysis: Political resultant [result]. power. given the nation’s objective.” (13) [Emphasis added] The Classical Model Illustrated { Pages 15-28 contain a number of highly specific subheadings.The analyst begins by considering various preferences that the Soviets might have in mind. Chapter 1. Each assumes that the actor is a rational government.“What is striking about these examples. that action was the resultant of bargaining among players in games.e. i. 3) Focus Attn on Certain Concepts: The perceptions. Here. Each assumes that what must be explained is an action [emphasis added].. I will only give particularly interesting. states ~all of the relevant theory in the beginning. 4) Invoke Certain Patterns of Inference: If a government performed an action. &c. the relevant players. or poignant bits from the text. relevant. Each assumes that the action is chosen as a calculated solution to a strategic problem. Predictions are generated by identifying the game in which an issue will arise. are the similarities of various analysts when they are called upon to produce explanations. Including: . For each. but nothing too specific. (10) { Allison gives some examples “from the literature”. (6-7) .. This cluster of assumptions characterizes the Rational Actor Model. I withhold the bulk of the chapter to avoid tautology. Determining Soviet preferences would differ w/r/t the particular IR theory one uses to ascertain preferences. Model 1: The Rational Actor { Please keep in mind that this. positions. and their relative power and skill.Strategy . } . It is basically concerned with applying the tenets of the Rational Actor Model.

(19) .Theory with a Capital ‘T’ In spite of a thorough reading. little was distilled from these sections that will be of use here.Strategic behavior influences an actor’s choice by working on his expectations of how his behavior is related to his adversary’s. The general definition of a rational actor states that RA’s will make choices which maximize expected utility. A Rigorous Model of Action { This section begins with a rehashing of the axioms we discussed in class.Sovietology [!] . the Rational Actor Model. the greater the tendency to rely on the classical mode. the less information about the internal affairs of a nation or government. In decision theory. (29) 2) Alternatives: The rational agent must choose among a set of alternatives displayed before him in a particular situation. 2) The means available to them for pursuing their own objectives.American Foreign Policy . } .One advantage of the Rational Actor Model is that it provides an inexpensive approximation by letting the analyst think about what he would do if he were the enemy.Sinology [i. 3) Consequences: To each alternative is attached a set of consequences or outcomes of choice that will ensue if that particular alternative is chosen. Although. these are presented as a decision tree. 3) The principles that guide their employment of their distinctive styles of political warfare. . Variations are generated at this point by making different assumptions about the accuracy of the decision-maker’s knowledge of the consequences that follow from the choice of each alternative. below can be found a couple relevant points.The basic concepts of these models of rational action are: 1) Goals and Objectives: The goals and objectives of the agent are translated into a “payoff” or “preference” or “utility” function. 4) The constraints under which they operate in conducting the struggle.In general. 4) Choice: Rational choice consists simply of selecting the alternative whose consequences rank highest in the decision- . } .Analysis of Soviet (or any nation’s/organization’s) policy actions can be done through determining four pieces of information: (20) 1) The foreign policy objectives of the contending powers.e. study of the Chinese] [!!!] .. (15) .

as I’d just be re-typing the chapter. including the lead-up to it. and (2) it seems unlikely that we’d be asked to recall this on an exam. DOMINANT INFERENCE PATTERN IV. ORGANIZING CONCEPTS A. But I do recommend reading it. it is outlined in broad strokes. Action as Rational Choice 1. It’s a quick read. National Actor B. Here. Choice III. applies Model 1 in detail. } . (30) A Rational Actor Paradigm { Allison. as it is unlikely that (1) an outline would not help explain it. Consequences 4. “Model 1: The Rational Actor”. I will not outline it here.maker’s payoff function. } I. The Problem C. GENERAL PROPOSITIONS V. value maximizing choice within specific constraints. It is an application of the Rational Actor Model to the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I encourage you to read it. A First Cut { Chapter 2 introduces no new theory. Goals and Objectives 2. . Static Selection D.Rationality refers to consistent. It is from page 32 to 35. Cuba II. in summary of Chapter 1. SPECIFIC PROPOSITIONS Chapter 2. BASIC UNIT OF ANALYSIS II. Options 3.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful