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American History

Cuban Missile Crises and Political Decision Making Paradigms of the US

By December 25, 2017 No Comments
cuban missile crisis political decision making

Cuba as a country till the day has kept to its own, and remains communist, hurting its own people. A definite threat to peace had evolved with its inclination towards Soviet Union back in 1962, for the U.S. Cuba has been a pain ever since. In April 1962, Khurshchev started placement of medium range missiles in Cuba intending Cuba could deter potential U.S. attack against Soviet Union and serve their interest. In September 1962, the Soviet Union began to deploy nuclear missiles. On October the Fifteenth, American U-2 aircraft detected Soviet activity in Cuba.

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Cuban missile crisis is an application to known profits in Governmental organization. Soon after the implementation of the Quarantine, the Soviet Premier writes to Kennedy that this quarantine:

constitutes an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war.

JFK adopted Trollope Ploy, where the administration accepted first message and ignored the second thereby compromising secretly over the wish of Soviet Union to remove missiles from Turkey. Graham Allison presented three models in particular that he thought were the prevailing models that analysts would use at the time. In this paper, we are analyzing the retrospect of Graham Allison’s study to discover political paradigms in the U.S.

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Berlin Question

In those days of conflict, former President of the United States Kennedy was working on the Vietnamese war in the background and avoided launching formal attacks by focusing on his party’s Senator’s election campaign. Unmoved he later on visited Illinois for this specific purpose. In June 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khurshchev meets Kennedy at a Summit where he walked away unimpressed past the president of the U.S. to demonstrate a body language of dominance. As President JFK had kept his cards close to his chest, he ordained to take gradual first step of blockade rather than preempt offensive air strike. Later on, it became the final approval to only opt for naval blockade and evict any serious consequences.

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In October 1962, U-2 plane was shot down in Cuba and Khurshchev demanded withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey in exchange for Soviet missiles in Cuba. The matter of shooting of reconnaissance planes that were flying over Cuba and later on the seizure that took place was unlike the Berlin blockade by the Soviet Union. At 10 a.m. Oct 24th, 1962, 63 ships were sent for fallout protection to enforce quarantine of Cuba. This had greater diplomatic implications. The U.S. president had promised to allow access to basic necessities of life contrary to Berlin blockage of 1948. JFK said, “our goal is not the victory of might but the vindication of right”. He also said, “not peace at the expense of freedom but both peace and freedom”.

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The role of Soviet Foreign Minister Grumiko

In the meanwhile, the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had denied any possibility of knowing any new developments such as Soviet Military buildup that his country was doing in Cuba. His remarks were, that commitment of Soviet Union “pursued solely the purpose of contributing to the defense capabilities of Cuba”. Also, he further disposed any allegations regarding the capacity building of Cuba by commenting that, “training by Soviet specialists of Cuban nationals in handling defensive armaments was by no means offensive”. By the time, the president Kennedy was informed of these installations, an EXCOMM, a group of most important presidential advisors, met for seven days to issue act of Quarantine. The committee comprised of prominent people like Robert Kennedy; the Attorney General and Dean Rusk; U.S. Secretary of State.

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Graham Allison Study – Seminal Event

There you have a case of international dispute crisis that almost led to war and the kinds of actions that occurred during this conflict. Allison, does this interesting thing which is very emblematic in terms of applying multiple theories to the same phenomena and cutting to very different perspectives of it. And in so doing, he comes to a deeper understanding of what happened that could inform policy experts and people involved in such crises.

1. Rational Actor – A logic of Consequence

When we use the Rational Actor Model we assume every action has a purpose or goal behind it. And we reconstruct action accordingly, thinking people are intentional. First, if we look at the actor, we know that the Unified National Actor is the United States in this case from Allison’s perspective. The problem which motivates action is that Soviet move into Cuba with missiles and bombers requires a response. Now, we then look at as action as a rational choice, we have to break it down further according to Allison. So here, we look at the goals and objectives and the clear objective here is security. The options and their consequences basically, concern the courses of action available, the ones they consider, and the results that could arise from them.


It was the time of advantage for U.S. as Soviet missile could only reach Europe but U.S. missiles could reach Soviet Union. The establishment of Soviet Military and their control over Cuba was perceived as clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to peace. With the national televised address by the President of the United States, things had taken a worse turn of fear and turmoil. So much so, students had been told to practice hiding under the desks in the civil defense drills. If Armageddon occurred, the costs to that are so high that even if it is highly improbable, it’s likely that the actors will not select that as their choice. From a rational actor model, we can see somewhat how to interpret the series of events and the eventual decision or choice through this kind of heuristic.

One option is do nothing and there’s a cost here. The Soviets outflank the early warning system, they reverses the United States’ advantage of power at that point. America loses credibility in Europe, and so on. Second, we have another option, which is we can make a diplomatic response and the cost here is that the UN veto is probable because the Soviets hold a seat. Time matters and the missiles are already deployed, so we can’t really wait. A third option is that we approach Castro. And the cost here is that the Soviets are in control of the missiles in Cuba, so Castro’s influence is somewhat moot, it seems. The fourth option is to invade. And the cost here, are that the Soviets could parallel with an invasion in Berlin or retaliatory strike is possible with nuclear weapons.

A fifth option is an airstrike and here their cost is the probability of knocking out all the nuclear weapons. It’s 90 percent since they’re spread out all over the island. Moreover, retaliation is highly likely and a massive strike would be needed to make that succeed, so, there is big risk there. The sixth option is a blockade. The cause of the blockade is that they could retaliate with the blockade of Berlin. The benefits are that you get extra time, you can get to think and consider that a nuclear holocaust is possible here. And last, enable engagement in the Caribbean actually favors the United States in this circumstance.

2. Organizational Process – Logic of Appropriateness

There are multiple organizations involved here and each has their own identity and standard operating procedures by which they handle different parts of this problem that the United States was confronting. The actors are really a constellation of loosely allied organizations, not a unitary actor. In addition, the problem isn’t confronted as one thing, it’s confronted as something that parsed up or cut up and parceled out to various organizations. An example of this model occurring is that it took a long time for the report on sighted missiles to reach the President. The information was lost in tons of inaccurate information and the transfer took a long time because people follow standard operating procedure within their organizations.

The organizational objective, you should think of them as a constraint that define acceptable performance. So each group is going to have their own missions, objectives, and meeting them defines whether they did it right or not. The organizations heavily rely on standard operating procedures, which means they have these built in routines that they tend to train on and they follow repeatedly. And they get good at it. Their programs are clusters of these standard operating procedures, so fighting for example, entails a series of these tasks that are coordinated.

The organizations engage in uncertainty avoidance, so they kind of ignore details, have systematic tagged and conventionalized means of processing information. All of this leads to a kind of distorted information that they get. So what the CIA gets or what the Navy gets its information is distorted through their channels and their routines. They didn’t performed kind of problem directed searches and this is lead by an organizational routines. And it kind of has a local neighborhood focus they focus on kind of what they’re used to seeing and what is common to them.

An example of organizational process model was when the EX COM leaders are acting as organizational representatives. Each one is asked their opinion in those meetings and they respond as a representative of say the Navy or the Air Force and what not. And they state what someone, as a representative, would do so, of course, the Air Force people would say an air strike and the Navy says blockade. And there are problems with each proposal, of course and the Air Force can’t guarantee success, only 90%, and Kennedy has an identity issue with Pearl Harbor. The Navy could do a blockade but they did it their way, 500 miles out, the way they had trained to do it instead of 180 miles off the coast has commander. And even after the President got angry about the fact that they were in the wrong place, that was difficult to change. So simply put, the Navy followed their standard operating procedures.


The Role of CIA

The first sighting of the missiles was on September 12 and then September 19th information suggests that the presence of the missiles they started to report it more. And in October 4th, they think the missiles are there and then there is a territory dispute between the Air Force and CIA as to which one will get to do the fly over. And then there’s a mechanical delay that they have to ground the plane only to have an October 14th flight that finally confirms the presence of these missiles. And they inform the President, that’s a full month that was lost there (McAuliffe Oct 1992).

3. Bureaucratic Politics – Coalition Theory

The bureaucratic’s politics model assumes a variety of views and their alignments in the different camps. The Air Force and Army had very different views of the atomic bomb. The Air Force saw this something positive and the Army saw this something negative. Probably cause the Army has to go in after and the Air Force sees it as some kind of effective success that they had in the past, of course these are relative judgments. All these players contribute pieces to this puzzle and they’re compiled over time into different arrangements and outcomes. The outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis probably would have been different had the timing of series of events that pushed consensus or the decision process, that might have also altered the outcome as well.

The military on the other hand, wanted to reprise the Bay of Pigs and succeed. So, what arose there were in this series of events was two coalitions of sorts. One formed around the decision to go for a blockade and another that formed around an air strike. And one coalition was formed when the secretary voiced that a Holocaust was a potential result. And so, the President RFK, Robert Kennedy, his brother McNamara, Secretary of Defense and Sorensen are all for the blockade. In contrast, you have six chiefs of staff including McCone, Rush, Nitsky and Atchison and they all wanted an air strike. And this other coalition fell apart due to a lack of guarantee, the problem of retaliation. And Kennedy’s concern, a parochial concern, to a great extent, of mirroring Pearl Harbor. So you have these kind of politics going on and the interests align in odd ways.


Leaders with real characters have no egos when things need attention to fixing. Especially when these things are affecting humankind. Without question the most complicated moment of the cold war, the Cuban missile crisis could be considered the first war on terrorism. Over decades have past but it continues to fascinate and haunt U.S. history. Kennedy’s weak spot was that he had sent in the military to the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and it was a fiasco, it was a disaster. Kennedy had parochial interest at stake which was he wanted to get reelected and he couldn’t fail, and seem weak on Cuba again. So, quite a bit of the behavior in this kind of event or cycle of events was guided by organizations doing what they do. They follow their routines. The existence of conflicting goals across these organizations or even in accomplishing the tasks leaves them to give things sequential attention. A key feature of the Bureaucratic Politics Model were points of leverage, as well as the personalities and various interest coalitions that form to create this kind of politic. Thereby, allowing prevention of 100 million deaths due to national government decision where the chance of failure of JFK policy was thought to be one-thirds or one-halves.

Cuban Missile Crises has remained among the gravest political events from US history that changed the discourse of American politics. In this analytical research paper, we try to make sense of what happened, why and what will happen using implicit conceptual models that have significant consequences for the -way we see and treat to problems.

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