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Alternatives to Realism and Idealism

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Decision Making Models
Lsn 5
Rational actor
Bureaucratic process
Organizational process
Small group
Social constructivism
Case Study: Cuban Missile Crisis
• Why understanding decision-making is difficult…
– No single decision-making process exists
– Decisions are seldom final and tend to lack concrete
beginning and ending points
– There is an imperfect link between the policy process
and the policy outcome
• Thus any decision-making model is likely to
oversimplify the problem
• Still models offer analytical tools which can be
combined to provide useful insights
Rational Actor Model
• Foreign policy is viewed as a calculated
response to the actions of another actor
• That causes a calculated response from
the first actor which leads to reevaluation
and readjustment by the second actor
• Throughout this process, the state is seen
as unitary and rational
– Domestic politics, governmental organization,
and personalities are discounted
Rational Actor Model
• Goals are clearly stated
and ranked in order of
• All options are considered
• The consequences of
each option are assessed
• A value-maximizing code
is made
• A very useful tool during
the Cold War
Rational Actor Model
Rational Actor Model
U of M
Rational Actor Model
• In the rational actor model, decisions are based
on the pursuit of national interests at reasonable
costs or risks
• It’s attractiveness is that it places few
informational demands on the observer
• It’s criticism is based on the same fact and the
realization that decision-making is much more
complicated than just weighing external factors
– Domestic, personality, and organizational influences
all have an impact
Rational Actor Model
• The model assumes “important events
have important consequences”
– Downplays the role of chance, accident, and
– Clausewitz’s “fog of war”
– In reality goals are seldom clearly stated and
rank ordered, and options are often not fully
Rational Actor Model
• Nonrational factors
– Threat perception
• Determining threat capabilities and intents
• Dangers of “worst-case analysis” and “wishful
– Specific and cumulative historical experiences
– Xenophobia
– Personal present circumstances
• “Where you stand depends on where you sit”
– Groupthink
Bureaucratic Politics Model
• Bureaucratic politics is the “process by
which people inside government bargain
with one another on complex public policy
• This model sees decisions as being the
product of conflict-resolution rather than
problem solving
Bureaucratic Politics Model
• Power is shared
• The individuals who share power disagree on
what should be done because they are located
at different places in the government and see
different aspects of the problem
– The Secretary of State may view a problem primarily
from the diplomatic perspective while the Secretary of
Defense has a different view because his troops may
be used while the President must also concern
himself with domestic fallout
Bureaucratic Politics Model
• Rarely do problems
enter or leave the policy
process in a clearly
definable manner
• They get entangled with
other issues
• Not everyone
participates in every
Bureaucratic Politics Model
• Therefore some underlying concept of
national interest is not how decisions are
• How the problem first surfaces and how it
interacts with other issues greatly
determines how the decision will be made
Organizational Politics Model
• Because time is short to do a lot of
bargaining, many decisions are based on
existing organizational standard operating
procedures (SOPs)
• Governments are complex entities
consisting of large organizations among
which responsibilities for particular areas
are divided
Organizational Politics Model
• Governments are not monolithic
– They are merely constellations of loosely
allied organizations on top of which the
government leaders sit
– The constellation acts only as component
organizations perform routines
• In order to coordinate the behaviors of
large numbers of individuals performing
these routines, SOPs are used
Organizational Politics Model
• Therefore decisions within the
organization are largely determined by
routines established by SOPs before the
particular instance or problem even occurs
• To ensure predictable performance, the
“standards” are often limited, unduly
formalized, and sluggish
• They may also be inappropriate
Organizational Politics Model
• The inflexible and blunt nature
of these routines and
procedures reinforces the
tendency to accept change
only around the margins
• If the problem is non-standard
and an existing SOP is not
available, the organization is
forced to undergo the painful
search for a new SOP
Small Group Model
• Many decisions are made by neither an
individual or a large organization
• Advantages over the bureaucratic model might
– Fewer opinions to reconcile and therefore fewer
significant conflicts
– A free and open exchange because there will be no
organizational interests to protect
– Swift and decisive action
– Possible innovation and experimentation
– The possibility of maintaining secrecy
Small Group Model
• Types of small groups
– Informal group that meets regularly but lacks
a formal institution base
– An ad hoc group created to respond to a
specific problem
– A permanent group with an institutional base
created to perform a series of specified
Small Group Model
• Dangers of the small group model
– Groupthink: the “deterioration of mental efficiency,
reality testing, and moral judgment” that increases the
likelihood of the group’s making a potentially defective
– Tips to avoid groupthink
• Encourage impartial and wide-ranging discussions of
• Establish multiple groups for the same task
• Appoint a “devil’s advocate”
• Schedule a “second chance” meeting to reconsider decisions
one final time
Elite Model
• Vitally concerned with the identities of
those who make foreign policy and
the underlying dynamics of national
power, social myth, and class
Elite Model
• Foreign policy is made as a
response to demands
generated by the economic
and political system
– Not all demands receive equal
attention and those that receive
the most attention serve the
interests of only a small sector
of society
– Special interests are
transformed into national
John Conyers and other
members of the
Congressional Black
Caucus had a significant
impact on President
Clinton’s decision to
intervene in Haiti
Elite Model
• Those outside of the elite are relatively
• Public reactions are often “orchestrated”
by the elite rather than being expressions
of independent thinking
• Stresses the ties that bind policy makers
together rather than the issues that
separate them
Pluralism Model
• Power is fragmented and diffused
• Many groups in society have power
to participate in policy making
• No one group is powerful enough to
dictate policy
• An equilibrium among groups is the
natural state of affairs
• Policy is the product of bargaining
between groups and reflects the
interest of the dominant group(s)
• The government acts as an umpire,
supervising the competition and
sometimes compelling a settlement.
Pluralism Model
• Power resources are not evenly distributed
throughout society and merely possessing
the attributes of power does not necessarily
equate to actually possessing power itself
– Power resources may be substituted for one
• Numbers can offset wealth
• Leadership can offset numbers
• Commitment can overcome poor leadership
• etc
Social Constructivism
• Seeks to understand
how it was possible to
imagine certain
courses of action and
relationships as being
possible in the first
• What social practices
enabled people to act,
frame policies as they
did, and wield power
as they did
How did Manuel Noriega
become redefined from an
anticommunist ally to a drug
dealer, thus making the
invasion of Panama possible?
• Individuals do not weigh all outcomes and select
the strategy that will offer the highest expected
• Instead they tend to value what they have more
than what they do not have
– Leads them to value the status quo and be risk
adverse with respect to gains and risk accepting
when it comes to losses
• Take more risks to defend the state’s international
position than to enhance it
• After a loss, take excessive risks to recover their
• Policy makers adopt more than one decision
rule in making foreign policy decisions
• Begin with an “avoid a major loss principle” that
stresses the importance of domestic
considerations in surveying initial options
• Then evaluate the remaining options in terms of
what offers the best net gain in terms of values
they hold to be most important
• As an analytical tool, models can be
combined by:
– Shifting from model to model as the focus of
the analysis changes
• Pluralist and bureaucratic models help explain why
policy makers act as they do once they are “in
place,” but tell us little about how they got there
• Elitist and rational actor would offer better insights
on how the actors arrived at the values they bring
to bear in addressing a problem
Integration (cont)
• As an analytical tool, models can be
combined by:
– Recognizing that some models are more
appropriate for analyzing some problems or
issue areas than others
• The more open the policy process and the longer
the agenda is on the policy agenda, the more
useful will be the bureaucratic and pluralistic
• The more closed the process and quicker the
response, the more useful will be the rational actor,
elite, and small group models
Integration (cont)
• As an analytical tool, models can be combined
– Shifting from one model to another as the policy
develops over time
• Rational actor to analyze US entry into Vietnam
• Bureaucratic to analyze key decisions during the course of
the war
• Pluralist to analyze the decision to withdraw
– Picking the model based on the values that guide
one’s analysis
• Be careful about assumptions though
Case Study
Cuban Missile Crisis
Fidel Castro
• In 1959 Fidel Castro was
able to mobilize the
disaffected rural peasants
in Cuba and topple
Fulgencio Batista’s USsupported and
anticommunist regime
• Castro assumed
dictatorial powers and
announced his goal was
to create a society based
on Marxist principles
A Cuban crowd listens to Castro
after his takeover
Bay of Pigs
• The US could not accept the
presence of a revolutionary
Marxist government so close to
its borders and President
Eisenhower authorized planning
for a force of anti-Castro
Cubans to invade Cuba and
overthrow Castro
• When Kennedy became
president he authorized the
invasion but stipulated that the
US not be involved in the
landing itself
Bay of Pigs
• The invasion took place at the
Bay of Pigs in April 1961 and
proved to be a disaster
• Instead of rallying to the
invaders, the local population
supported the Castro
• The failure embarrassed the
US and weakened President
Kennedy in the eyes of the
Soviet Union
– However, it strengthened
Kennedy’s personal
resolve to act more
vigorously in any future
Castro helping to repel the
Cuban Missile Crisis
• Castro feared the US
would try again to
overthrow him and he
called for additional support
from the Soviet Union
• Soviet Premier Nikita
Khrushchev responded by
sending medium-range
bombers and missiles to
Cuba to help defend Castro
and threaten the US
• In Oct 1962, US spy planes
discovered missile sites
under construction in Cuba
Map used to brief the range of missiles
and bombers being deployed to Cuba.
Kennedy’s Response
• Kennedy
demanding that the
Soviets remove the
missiles and
bombers or face
their destruction by
air strikes or
• He also imposed a
naval “quarantine”
of Cuba
The US destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy stops, boards, and inspects a dry-cargo
ship of Lebanese registry under Soviet charter to Cuba on Oct 26, 1962
US Victory
• On Oct 28,
Khrushchev agreed
to remove the
• “Eyeball to eyeball,
they blinked first.”
– Dean Rusk, US
Secretary of State
• It was a major Cold
War victory for the
US and a major
loss of face for the
Soviet Union and
1962 British cartoon showing Kennedy and
Khrushchev arm wrestling on top of
nuclear weapons
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
• The Rational Actor
– Kennedy considered six
• Do nothing
• Diplomatic pressures
• A secret approach to
• Invasion
• Surgical air strike
• Blockade
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
• After considering the pros and cons of
each action, Kennedy chose the blockade
because it had the comparative
advantages of:
– Being a middle course between inaction and
attack– aggressive enough to communicate
firmness of intention, but not so precipitous as
a strike
– It placed the burden of choice as to the next
step squarely on Khrushchev
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
– No possible military
confrontation could be
more acceptable to the
US than a naval
confrontation in the
– By flexing its
conventional muscle,
the US could exploit
the threat of
subsequent nonnuclear steps in each
of which the US would
have significant
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
• The Organizational Process Model
– Many describe the Soviet placement of
missiles on Cuba as an “intelligence failure”
for the US
– The available intelligence was the product of
established routines and procedures of the
organizations that constitute the US
intelligence community
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
– On Sept 19 the US Intelligence Board (USIB)
concluded that the Soviet Union would not
introduce offensive missiles to Cuba
– In fact, on Sept 12 a CIA agent had observed
the rear profile of a strategic missile, but
transmission time to Washington of such
information routinely took 9 to 12 days and
was not available for the USIB to consider
• Decreasing the transmission time would impose
severe cost in terms of danger to subagents,
agents, and communication networks
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
– On Oct 4, the decision was made to conduct a special
flight over west Cuba
• The USAF and the CIA squabbled over who should
perform the flight
• The USAF argued that the increased danger of the
U-2 being shot down necessitated a uniformed
rather than a CIA pilot
• The CIA countered that as an intelligence flight, the
operation lay within its jurisdiction and its U-2s had
been modified in ways the USAF’s planes had not
been in order to decrease their likelihood of being
shot down
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
– The State Dept
joined the argument
suggesting less risky
alternatives such as
– After 10 days it was
finally decided that
USAF pilots would
be trained to fly the
CIA planes and
conduct the mission
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
• The Organizational Process Model also
impacted the discussion of options
– The Navy saw issue as implementing the
blockade without meddling and interference
from political leaders
– The President wanted to manage the pace of
operations in order to give the Soviets time to
see, think, and blink
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
– Trying to slow the Navy down in response to
President Kennedy’s concerns, Secretary of Defense
McNamara asked Chief of Naval Operations Admiral
George Anderson a series of “what if?’ questions
– Anderson picked up the Manual of Navy Regulations,
waved it in McNamara’s face, and shouted, “It’s all in
– McNamara replied, “I don’t give a damn what John
Paul Jones would have done; I want to know what
you are going to do, now.”
– The argument concluded with Anderson saying, “Now,
Mr. Secretary, if you and your Deputy will go back to
your office the Navy will run the blockade.”
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
• The Elite Model
– Cuba was Kennedy’s “political Achilles heel”
– The Bay of Pigs had left Kennedy looking weak
– Khrushchev had directly challenged Kennedy where
he knew the President was most vulnerable after
assuring him he wouldn’t
• “He can’t do that to me!”
– Republican Congressional leaders had already
announced that Cuba would be “the dominant issue
of the 1962 campaign”
– All these factors made the “do nothing” option
personally unpalatable for Kennedy
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
• Small Group Model
– President Kennedy
convened the
Executive Committee
of the National Security
Council (EXCOM) to
advise him on the
Cuban Missile Crisis
– The EXCOMM was
formally established by
National Security
Action Memorandum
196 on Oct 22, 1962
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
• National Security Council Members
– John Kennedy President
– Lyndon Johnson, Vice President
– Dean Rusk, Secretary of State
– C. Douglas Dillon, Secretary of the Treasury
– Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense
– Robert Kennedy, Attorney General
– McGeorge Bundy, National Security Advisor
– John McCone, Director of Central Intelligence
– Maxwell Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
• Other members
– George Ball, Under Secretary of State for
Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs
– Llewellyn Thompson, Ambassadior to the
Soviet Union
– Roswell Gilpatric, Deputy Secretary of
– Ted Sorensen, Special Counsel to the
Cuban Missile Crisis Decision
– Robert Kennedy
recalled, “The fourteen
people involved were
very significant… If six
of them had been
President of the US, I
think that the world
might have been blown
• Traditional Actors and Other Actors
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