The U.S. Military Intervention Decision-Making Process

Who Participates, and How?

Published in: Journal of Political and Military Sociology, v. 32, no. 1, Summer 2004, p. 19-43

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2003

by Christopher Paul

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This article seeks to explain both who participates in military intervention decisions and how they participate. The article argues that participation is strongly conditioned by the primary characteristics of the intervention, along with the organization and institutions of U.S. government bureaucracy. These organizational and institutional influences exist within a larger framework of structured contingency, which also conditions participation, and contributes to an impression of capriciousness and unpredictability in the military intervention decision-making processes. Drawing on the decisions for four U.S. military interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean since WWII as examples, findings indicate that two primary characteristics (crisis vs. premeditated, secret vs. public knowledge) condition the character and level of participation at all levels of the bureaucracy, The existing institutional structure of the U.S. government, the important role played by the personal proclivities of the president, and often unexpected impact of personalism at the lower levels of the bureaucracy create numerous contingencies (or seeming contingencies) in the decisional process.

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