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The Essence Of Decision: Explaining The Cuban Missile Crisis By Graham T. Allison And Phillip David Zelikow


The Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis is a book by Graham T. Allison and Phillip David Zelikow. This book provides three different models to answer the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which created a critical situation between the powers of America and the USSR. There are three models: the Rational Actor Model, the Organizational Behavior Model, and the Government Politics model. These models provide possible reasons for the tension that was created in 1962 and provide different answers to why this situation occurred. In the previous assignment, we focused on the Rational Actor Model and its relation to the politics of both countries. This report will focus on the organizational behavior model and will provide evidence on how it can be a possible answer to the crisis.


The third chapter focuses on the second model, i.e., “The Organizational Behavior Model. This model is the second most suitable model presented to answer the reasons behind the Cuban Missile Crisis. This model describes that decision makers of an organization are bound to take actions that involve minimum risk and achieve the main goal. This approach does not result in the selection of the best choices every time, but it is in the best interest of the organization to achieve a little rather than to take huge risks and suffer the consequences. The organizational model focuses on the following four factors:

  1. The type of organization and its people.
  2. The amount of information available.
  3. The definition of task, essential stages, and risk involved.
  4. The ability of the individuals to complete that task.

This model is used to predict the decisions of organizations in times when there are very few options available and achieving goals is important. Allison and Zelikow, by presenting this model, describe that countries that were involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis had very little information about the intentions and planning of the other countries. They made their decisions based on their best understanding while keeping the risk to their own stability to the minimum. The authors state that this model provides a possible answer to the crisis by giving us a way to think about why the US government made those decisions.

The fourth chapter describes how this model can be applied to answer the crisis. As evidence of this claim, the authors suggest that nearly all the decisions in the crisis were made by sensitive organizations like the CIA or the Armed Forces, and the decisions they made were thought to be in the best interest of the United States. While deploying missiles in Turkey, President Kennedy had little knowledge of the situation that may arise due to the crisis. When the Soviet Union explicitly deployed missile bases in Cuba, it left President Kennedy with little choice, and he decided to deploy his nuclear program in Turkey. The decisions Kennedy made regarding the naval blockade and test flights over Cuban airspace are explained to be not the best option of the time but the most reasonable according to the current situation.


The Organizational Behavior Model (OBM) explains the decisions made by organizations based on limitations, risks, and the best option available. Decisions made by organizations have proven to be the best in terms of international relations. Organizations select the option that can achieve the best results and are in their best favor. Because of these reasons, it is only logical that organizations, while making decisions related to international affairs, choose the most diplomatic solution and have negotiations with the opposite party.

The OBM rejects the power of decision towards only one individual of the country, i.e., the president, and provides influence of organizations like the CIA, the Army, or the bureaucracy to hold power and influence over sensitive political decisions. This model explains the Cuban Missile Crisis as a combined effect of decisions made by American and Soviet Union organizations. What is meant by “organization” is explained by Whyte and Levi as a joint committee that was controlled by President Kennedy and advised by ministers who were experts in war tactics (Whyte, G., & Levi, A. S). Allison describes the Cuban missile crisis as an act of bureaucracy in which rational approach and consequences are considered, and the government takes action by analyzing the choices, and the choices made reflect the process that organizations followed in coming to that decision. According to Allison, the organizations are a combination of sub-organizations whose combined analysis is presented as a solution to the problem (Allison, p. 699). With the help of this claim and the intelligence organization’s part in the decision for Cuban missile deployment, we can say that President Khrushchev took advice from Russian intelligence and that the deployment of missiles was not just a decision made by the president himself. Similarly, President Kennedy’s decision seems to have been influenced by experienced bureaucrats and policymakers who advised Kennedy to play it safe and encouraged him to deploy missiles in Turkey and Blockade the Cuban port.

Another argument for organizational behavior in the case of the Cuban MisCrisisrises is the fact that the Soviet government explicitly deployed missiles in Cuba. Based on the rational approach any individual while planning a takeover to a country will ensure secrecy, which in case of Soviet government was not opted. Allyn claims this lack of camouflage of missile deployment was a deliberate act of the Soviet high command, and it was a strategic approach made by Soviet governance to let the American government know about this deployment (Allyn, p. 153). This fact further solidifies the claim for organizational decisions from both sides.

The example of the Blockade in Cuba and air surveillance ordered by President Kennedy, as well as the lack of camouflage by Soviet missile deployment, indicates that both parties were under huge influence by their “think tanks” despite the fact that there is too little information of intention of both sides. The deliberate actions of Ex-Com can be claimed to be the result of organizations, and they opted for what they thought to be the best option based on their experience and knowledge of the issue. The application of the organizational model with the rational model provides us insight into how organizational decisions can influence international relations and change the course of history.

Works Cited

Allyn, Bruce J., James G. Blight, and David A. Welch. “Essence of revision: Moscow, Havana, and the Cuban missile crisis.” International Security 14.3 (1989): 136-172.

Brenner, Philip. “Cuba and the missile crisis.” Journal of Latin American Studies 22.1-2 (1990): 115-142.

Blight, James G., Bruce J. Allyn, and David A. Welch. Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse. Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

Graham, Allison, and Zelikow Philip. “Essence of decision: explaining the Cuban missile crisis.” Boston: Little, Brown, and Company (1971).

Whyte, Glen, and Ariel S. Levi. “The origins and function of the reference point in risky group decision making the case of the Cuban missile crisis.” Journal of behavioral decision making 7.4 (1994): 243-260.



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