Tag Archives: Allison

70 – The Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Allison, 1971)


Allison, Graham T.
The Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis
Little, Brown, Boston, 1971 (Ch. 1, 3, 4 and 5)


Summary and citations:

o Treating national governments as if they were centrally coordinated, purposive individuals provides a useful shorthand for understanding problems of policy. But this simplification –like all simplifications- obscures as well as reveals. –p3
o 1-Professional analysts of foreign affairs (as well as ordinary laymen) think about problems of foreign and military policy in terms of largely implicit conceptual models that have significant consequences for the content of their thought … 2- Most analysts explain (and predict) the behaviour of national governments in terms of one basic conceptual model, here entitled Rational actor or “classical” Model (Model I). …3) two alternative conceptual models, here labelled on Organizational Process model (Model II) and a Governmental (Bureaucratic) Politics Model (Model III), provide a base for improved explanations and predictions. – p5

1.- Model I: The Rational Actor
o Thomas Schelling: In a situation of mutual deterrence the probability of nuclear war is reduced not by the “balance” (the sheer equality of the situation) but rather by the stability of the balance, i.e. the fact that neither opponent in striking first can destroy the other’s ability to strike back. –p12
o For every analyst, enemy reactions constitute a critical but elusive factor. … the analyst think about what he would do if he were the enemy – p19
o Sovietology: the inference is from a physical fact –the Soviet failure to acquire a substantial first-generation or second-generation ICBM force-to what they “must have believed”.-p21
o …assumption of rational decision making. This assumption is central to the classical model. –p22
o Most analysts attempt to understand a nation’s force posture as the chosen means of implementing strategic objectives and military doctrine. –p24
o The less the information about the internal, affairs of a nation or government, the greater the tendency to rely on the classical model. –p24
o Lack of strategic doctrine and a coherent military policy as the cause of the deterioration of our position in the world –p25
o The Theory explores 1) the sociological influences on the “stakes of the conflicts among states, and the goals which the participants choose, 2) the international systems or diplomatic constellations in which states pursue these goals, and 3) the historical characteristics of the present international system
o What rationality adds to the concept of purpose is consistency: consistency among goals and objectives relative to a particular action; consistency in the application of principles in order to select the optimal alternative. – p29
o In economics, to choose rationality is to select the most efficient alternative, that is, the alternative that maximizes output for a given input or minimizes input for a given output. –p29
o The basic concepts of these models of rational action are: 1) goals and objectives; 2) alternatives; 3) consequences; 4) choice. –p30
o Rationality refers to consistent, value-maximizing choice within specified constraints. –p30
o Comprehensive rationality, limited rationality , “optimal choice”…-p31
o The likelihood of any particular action results from a combination of the nation’s 1) relevant values and objectives, 2) perceived alternative courses of action, 3) estimates of various sets of consequences (which will follow from each alternative) and 4) net valuation of each set of consequences .. Two propositions: A. An increase in eh costs of an alternative…. reduces the likelihood of that action’s being chosen; B. A decrease in the costs of an alternative… increases the likelihood of that action’s being chosen.
o Specific propositions: A. Deterrence: 1. A stable nuclear balance reduces the likelihood of nuclear attack. 2. A stable nuclear balance increases the probability of limited war. –p34
o A second type of analysis focuses not upon nations in general, but rather upon a nation or national government with a particular character – p36

3.- Model II: Organizational Process
o A government consists of a conglomerate of semi-feudal, loosely allied organizations, each with a substantial life of its own. –p67
o At any given time, a government consists of existing organizations, each with a fixed set of standard operating procedures and programs.
o This approach… relation between the Organizational Process Paradigm for international politics and models of other types of organizations. –p69
o Organizational theory: march and Simon, Simon, “comprehensive rationality”; ‘Bounded rationality” –p71
o Simon: 1) factored problems; 2) satisficing; 3) search; 4) uncertainty avoidance; 5) repertoires
o Cyert and March: 1) Quasi-resolution of conflict; 2) problemistic search; 3) organizational learning
o Organizational Process Paradigm:
1. Basic units of analysis: governmental action as organizational output.
2. Organizing concepts: A) Organizational Actors; B) Factored Problems and fractionated power; C) Parochial priorities and perceptions; D) Action as Organizational Output; 1) Goals: constraints defining acceptable performance; 2) sequential attention to goals; 3) standard operating procedures; 4) programs and repertoires; 5) uncertainty avoidance; 6) problem-directed search; 7) organizational learning and change: a) budgetary feast; b) prolonged budgetary famine; c) dramatic performance failures; E) Central coordination and control; F) Decisions of Government Leaders;
3. Dominant Inference Pattern
4. General propositions: A) Organizational implementation; 1) SOPs; 2) programs; 3) repertoires; B) Organization options; 1) Alternatives built into existing organizational goals; 2) alternatives requiring coordination of several organizations; 3) alternatives in areas between organizations; C) Limited flexibility and incremental change; D) Long-range planning; E) Goals and tradeoffs; F) Imperialism; G) Options and Organization; H) Administrative feasibility
o Model II thus brings into question the traditional (Model I) conception of an “arms race” between the USA and the Soviet Union… Military organizations tend to keep doing what they are doing… at least until a catastrophe in war occurs. – p98

4. – Cuba II: A second Cut
o 22.000 Russians. There can be no doubt that the Soviets were engaged not only in a provocative, but also in a really massive, military build-up in Cuba.-p106
o Why the Soviets were so insensitive to the possibility of U2 observance of their operational
o Why the soviets failed to coordinate the timing are still inexplicable p 106. Behaviour of the Soviet military personnel in Cuba seems mildly schizophrenic. Though they made considerable effort to disguise their identity…indelible signals… p109
o That there was a deep split between the Party, especially Party boss Khrushchev, and the military, is no secret. –p112
o At 7pm on October 22, 1962, President Kennedy delivered the major foreign policy address of his career. –p117
o The ten-day delay constitutes some form of “failure”. –p123
o “Pearl Harbor in reverse” : surgical air strike
o Organizations defined what the President believed US military equipment and personnel were capable of performing in the Cuban missile crisis. – p124
o Interesting meeting of McNamara and Anderson (“It’s all in here”)
o As the climax of the crisis drew near, developments were, in the American phrase, “approaching a point where events could have become unmanageable” –p132
o The soviet decision to place missiles in Cuba must have been taken within a very narrow circle and implemented with utmost secrecy. –p135
o President Kennedy had initiated the course of events, but he no longer had control over them. –p137
o Established, rather boring, organizational routines determined hundreds of additional, seemingly unimportant details –any one of which might have served as a fuse for disaster. –p139
o …strike against a single SAM site. But now that the time had come to implement that decision, killing Russians in the process, and possibly leading to war, the President reconsidered…”wait one more day… –p140
o At this point …murmuring about American “fold-in” –p140
o Was he, the President of the United States, in charge of this incredible machine called the US government or not? –p142
o The Turkish missiles had “stickability”.
o Soviet leaders announced that they were withdrawing their missiles in Cuba, without reference to eh Turkish missiles.

5. – Model III: Governmental Politics
o Men share power. Men differ about what must be done. The differences matter. This milieu necessitates that government decisions and actions result from a political process. – p 145
o …is that you can no more divorce government from politics than you can separate sex from creation. (James Forrestal, Secretary of Defense)– p147
o Presidential power is the power to persuade – p148
o This model directs attention to intra-national games, the overlap of which constitutes international relations. –p149
o Almond and Lindblom: American foreign policy as pluralist politics… character of bargaining…incremental muddling as opposed to comprehensive choice.
o A Governmental (Bureaucratic) Politics Paradigm
1. Basic Unit of Analysis: Governmental Action as Political Resultant
2. Organizing Concepts: A) Who plays 1) Players in Positions; B) What determines each player’s stand? 1) Parochial Priorities and Perceptions; 2) Goals and Interests; 3) Stakes and Stands; 4) Deadlines and Faces of Issues; C) What determines each players’ impact on results? 1) Power; D) What is the game? 1) Action-channels; 2) Rules of the game; 3) Action as Political Resultant
3. Dominant Inference Pattern
4. General Propositions: A) Political Resultants ; B) Action and Intention; C) Problems and Solutions; D) Where you stand depends on where you sit; E) Chiefs and Indians; F) The 51-49 Principle; G) Inter- and Intra-national Relations; H) The face of the issue differs from seat to seat; I) Misperception; J) Misexpectation; K) Miscommunication; L) Reticence; M) Styles of Play
5. Specific Propositions: A) Nuclear Crises; B) Military Action
6. Evidence
o Nuclear Strategy: Rather than the Model I’s focus on balance and stability, or Model II’s focus on organizational routines, a Model III analyst is concerned with the features of the internal politics of a government that might produce this decision. –p183
o The “kings” are partners in the game against nuclear disaster. Both will be interested in private communication with each other. If channels can be arranged, such communication offers the most promising prospect of resolution of a crisis. –p184

Personal comments, interesting issues and findings:

o This book makes us think about many fields, not only management and decision making but also US foreign politics, international relations…
o Model II does not justify the “arms race” but the routine of the militarisation. In fact, after the communism debacle, the US has been looking for other enemies in order to avoid stopping the militarization and the decrease of the weapon industry.
o The story is only from the US side. It would be interesting to hear the Cubans’ and the Russians’ versions of the crisis. But we can imagine that it was also chaotic: the Russian “forgot” to claim the Turkish missiles when withdrawing their missiles for Cuba!
o What is amazing is the big amount of failures on both sides (did Russians want to keep the secret with 22,000 soldiers in Cuba? Bases with the same shape as the missile bases in URSS? Without hiding the bases? What about the story of the Castro’s drunk pilot? Truth is stranger than fiction). The American failures are also inexplicable (concentration of the planes on the US military bases, the pilot flying over the URSS).
o It is frightening the separation between the politicians and the militaries. On both sides, in URSS and USA. Do really politicians have the control on the military staff? I.e. Kennedy’s order about the Turkish missiles was ignored.

Commonalities of Bower and Allison:

o Bower, as well as Allison (in first part of his book), consider the organization (the country in the case of Allison, the company for Bower) as monolithic. Bower says:”in almost all financial theory, the firm is considered to be a unitary monolith managed in the interests of its ownership”. They both later consider the organization ruled in a big extend by “Bureaucratic politics”