Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Rational Policy, Organization Process, and Bureaucratic Politics

by Graham T. Allison

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An analysis of the proposition that the maker of governmental policy is not a rational, unitary decisionmaker but rather a conglomerate of large organizations and political actors, and of the implications of this argument for foreign policy analysts. Three conceptual models are developed and applied to the same problem: the Cuban missile crisis and the U.S. decision to impose a blockade on Cuba. Model I (Rational Policy) examines the U.S. strategic calculus: the problem posed by the Soviet missiles and relevant U.S. values and capabilities. Model II (Organization Process) emphasizes organizational constraints in choice and organizational routines in implementation. Model III (Bureaucratic Politics) emphasizes the games, power, and maneuvers of the principal players within the leadership group. The alternative explanations that emerge illustrate the differences that result from the formulation of alternative frames of reference and the opportunities that such formulations offer the analyst in foreign policy research.

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