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Rational Choice Analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis. PO 326: American Foreign Policy . Questions About the Crisis. Following from Allison and Zelikow, we will focus on how each theoretical perspective addresses these questions:

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questions about the crisis
Questions About the Crisis
  • Following from Allison and Zelikow, we will focus on how each theoretical perspective addresses these questions:
  • 1. Why did the USSR decide to place offensive missiles in Cuba?
  • 2. Why did the US respond to the deployment with a blockade?
  • 3. Why did the USSR withdraw the missiles?
why were missiles deployed
Why Were Missiles Deployed?
  • Recall tenets of rational choice theory (RCT)
  • Most US officials firmly believed that the Soviets would not place missiles in Cuba; based on rational analysis of Soviet actions, motives, and position
    • Non-offensive weapon pledge by USSR
    • Kent’s analysis: Deployment would benefit USSR, but would constitute abnormal, extremely risky behavior
    • Discovery came as shock, because it deviated from rational analysis
why were missiles deployed1
Why Were Missiles Deployed?
  • After discovery, meetings generated four RCT hypotheses about reasons for deployment
  • 1. Cuban Defense from US invasion
  • 2. Political Maneuver (harm US global position by exploiting previous Kennedy weakness, rapprochement with China)
  • 3. Rectify nuclear imbalance (counter US IRBMs in Europe, Turkey)
  • 4. Force a favorable settlement of the Berlin crisis by springing surprise – “win, trade, or trap” (election ploy)
why were missiles deployed2
Why Were Missiles Deployed?
  • All RCT hypotheses are plausible, but there are reasons to believe that each may not be supported:
  • 1. Deterrence already accomplished; less drastic means could have been employed to accomplish nuclear defense; timeline of deployment inconsistent with defense
  • 2. American strength concerning world politics likely reestablished; too large to be a probe of US resolve; deployment was in US stronghold
  • 3. Could have waited for ICBM force to equalize balance with much less risk
  • 4. Deployment seemed too slow and sloppy to present US with fait accompli regarding Berlin (no camouflage, U-2s allowed to spy despite SAM installations)
why were missiles deployed3
Why Were Missiles Deployed?
  • In the end, the Berlin scenario was the one adopted by US as the working assumption concerning the reasons the missiles were deployed, but other factors (e.g. missile power) were considered important as well – still maintained RCT view at outset
why blockade
Why Blockade?
  • ExComm deliberated for nearly two weeks about possible responses. There were several scenarios considered:
  • 1. Do Nothing
  • 2. Diplomatic Track
  • 3. Minimal Air Strikes to Remove Missiles
  • 4. Large-Scale Air Strikes followed by Invasion
  • 5. Secret Approach to Castro (disavow USSR or face invasion)
  • 6. Blockade
why blockade1
Why Blockade?
  • There were several benefits and drawbacks associated with each option
  • 1. Doing nothing averted crisis (move may have been insignificant anyway), but steep domestic and international political costs
  • 2. Diplomacy could avert nuclear war, but would concede point to USSR and compromise allies
  • 3. Minimal air strikes would show resolve, but might not remove all missiles and would cause Soviet casualties, guaranteeing escalation (Cuba and Berlin)
  • 4. Invasion would remove missiles and Castro, but at immense cost and certain escalation (Berlin)
  • 5. Secret approach would avert war and embarrass Soviets, but Castro highly unlikely to go for it
  • 6. Blockade would show resolve while diminishing risk of escalation, but would not remove missiles and would put US out of position
why blockade2
Why Blockade?
  • In the end, Kennedy opted for the blockade as a first step (with the real possibility of escalation), as it would effectively signal US resolve and intentions while reducing the potential risks and costs in the short-term
why were the missiles removed
Why Were the Missiles Removed?
  • The fact that the blockade was only an initial step, and that Kennedy made this point clear, likely signaled to Moscow ample US resolve
  • In essence, then, US resolve to utilize its nuclear superiority and conventional superiority in the region seem to be primary factors in the decision to back down
  • Still, Khrushchev apparently sought to push the US toward a more favorable settlement (continued defiance, requesting immediate trade, shootdown of U-2) before finally settling for the non-quid pro quo Jupiter deal
lessons from the application of rct to the crisis
Lessons from the Application of RCT to the Crisis
  • RCT can often provide an accurate guide to explaining foreign policy actions (e.g., blockade)
  • However, using RCT to understand adversaries’ actions in a strategic setting is greatly complicated by uncertainty of their intentions (e.g., why the USSR deployed missiles)
  • In this context, actions that may not be the result of rational, unitary calculation – but that are seen as the result of such calculation by others – may lead to disastrous reactions (e.g., U-2 shootdown)
  • It is possible that other perspectives are necessary to fully understand foreign policy decision-making