The Essence of Decision, A Book Analysis – part iv

The previous parts of the essay are here: part i, part ii, part iii

In the last part of the chapter, Allison unveils the Govermental Politics paradigm. The unit of analysis is what he calls governmental action as political resultant, distinct from results, because “what happerns is not chosen as a solution to a problem but rather results from compromise, conflict, and confusion of officials with diverse interests and unequal influence” . So when trying to understand a government’s action, knowledge of that government’s internal power struggles and politics is vital. Metaphorically, it is like a quarterback (president) coordinating a single play with ten other individuals (chiefs), who each have their own duties (jurisdictions), but they all possess a common goal (national interest).

Chapter 6, Cuba II: A Third Cut, is primarily a case of Kennedy’s ExCom, and how they reached the decision to blockade Cuba. Allison notes how Kennedy’s failure in the Bay of Pigs crisis limited the choices available: anything short of a forceful reaction would have sunk his presidency . Even though the ExCom identified six options, the only two that fit this forceful framework were the air strike or blockade, thus constituted the only choice from the start. Allison also takes into account the interests and viewpoints of each member of the ExCom, and explores how they allied with each other to influence Kennedy. The second part of the chapter explains the “bond” between Kennedy and Khrushchev, as they both understood the precarious nature of the conflict and mutually sought to avoid nuclear escalation . Allison also takes the time to point out, that a large portion of any possible escalation would have quickly gone out of the executives’ hands once the escalation started. This was a poignant portrayal. Allison also examines the domestic political scene, and how the Republican criticisms of Kennedy in regards to Cuba, followed by Khrushchev’s missile deployment hampered his options even further.

In his Conclusion, Allison realizes that Model II and Model III, though important, sometimes aren’t possible given the amount of information they require, whereas Model I allows more leeway for inference and extrapolation. A current example today would be the study of Chinese foreign policy, as current information is difficult to obtain. He doesn’t argue that one model is superior to another, though, and his study shows that each brings value to the table of ideas. What he does argue, however, is that they are supplemental, and when employed together can offer a much fuller understanding of an organization, its principle actors, and the outcomes they produce. In the Afterword, he explores how his study and the models they put forward, could be used in other areas, in particular, in public administration. He suggest how questions like how government can more effectively translate intentions into outcomes, how explanations of international events can be better produced, and how studying bureaucracies more intensively can lead to the development of better theories. He proposes further integration of the three models, particularly for foreign relations studies.

General analysis is, and always will be, an important tool in the analysts kit, but when supplemented with structural and interpersonal analysis, much fuller, more accurate, and enlightening is the result. Allison clearly achieved his goals in this book, and the world now has a much better understanding of the causes, and solutions, of the Cuban missile crisis.


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