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Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis Graham T. Allison Harper Collins 1st edition

30th July 2011 History Books 27 Comments

“A lively updating of a classic, in many ways superior to the original.” — Richard K. Betts, Columbia University

“A page turner-the review of relevant literature is comprehensive, thoughtful, and original.” — Diane Vaughan, Boston College

“More than a revised edition, this is a new book, with the most recent empirical material and sophisticated theorizing. Important as it was, the original Essence of Decision now appears to have been a first draft; this version was worth waiting for.” — Robert Jervis, Columbia University

“The revised edition updates both the theory and the history in a compelling manner. It is an impressive achievement.” — Scott Sagan, Stanford University –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

One of the most influental political science works written in the post World War II era, the original edition of Essence of Decision is a unique and fascinating examination of the pivotal event of the cold Cold War. Not simply revised, but completely re-written, the Second Edition of this classic text is a fresh reinterpretation of the theories and events surrounding the Cuban Missle Crisis, incorporating all new information from the Kennedy tapes and recently declassified Soviet files. Essence of Decision Second Edition, is a vivid look at decision-making under pressure and is the only single volume work that attempts to answer the enduring question: how should citizens understand the actions of their government?

“A lively updating of a classic, in many ways superior to the original.” — Richard K. Betts, Columbia University

“A page turner-the review of relevant literature is comprehensive, thoughtful, and original.” — Diane Vaughan, Boston College

“More than a revised edition, this is a new book, with the most recent empirical material and sophisticated theorizing. Important as it was, the original Essence of Decision now appears to have been a first draft; this version was worth waiting for.” — Robert Jervis, Columbia University

“The revised edition updates both the theory and the history in a compelling manner. It is an impressive achievement.” — Scott Sagan, Stanford University –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis

Theory of International Politics

“This is one of the seminal texts in international relations. I’m thrilled to see it in print again. Thank you so much for committing to it!” — Christopher Moore, Bethel University

The seminal text on neorealist analysis! From Theory of International Politics: National politics is the realm of authority, of administration, and of law. International politics is the realm of power, of struggle, and of accommodation. . . . States, like people, are insecure in proportion to the extent of their freedom. If freedom is wanted, insecurity must be accepted. Organizations that establish relations of authority and control may increase security as they decrease freedom. If might does not make right, whether among people or states, then some institution or agency has intervened to lift them out of nature s realm. The more influential the agency, the stronger the desire to control it becomes. In contrast, units in an anarchic order act for their own sakes and not for the sake of preserving an organization and furthering their fortunes within it. Force is used for one s own interest. In the absence of organization, people or states are free to leave one another alone. Even when they do not do so, they are better able, in the absence of the politics of the organization, to concentrate on the politics of the problem and to aim for a minimum agreement that will permit their separate existence rather than a maximum agreement for the sake of maintaining unity. If might decides, then bloody struggles over right can more easily be avoided.

TABLE OF CONTENTS: 1. Laws and Theories 2. Reductionist Theories 3. Systemic Approaches and Theories 4. Reductionist and Systemic Theories 5. Political Structures 6. Anarchic Orders and Balances of Power 7. Structural Causes and Economic Effects 8. Structural Causes and Military Effects 9. The Management of International Affairs

Theory of International Politics

  • 27 responses to "Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis Graham T. Allison Harper Collins 1st edition"

  • David Tawil
    13:01 on July 30th, 2011
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    I first read this book in my International Politics class in college almost ten years ago. It fascinated me then and it fascinates me now to read through Allison’s three models. He peels away the layers of behavior and motivation with each model and, in doing so, he exposes the strengths and weaknesses of everyone involved–from Kennedy to Castro to Khrushchev. And every time, you learn something new, some important fact or angle that turns everything just a little on its head. Required reading for anyone interested in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also an excellent primer on the intricacies of decision-making. Still a very good read.

  • cjinsd
    19:36 on July 30th, 2011
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    I have never seen the different concepts of organizational behavior put into a books this clear.

    A must-read for anyone who has to understand why organization end up doing what they do.

    A must-read for anyone interested in the missile crisis.

    The only nitpick is that I think the title is not chosen well. This book does so much more than what the title implies.

  • PaulTheZombie
    20:45 on July 30th, 2011
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    Reading “Essence of Decision” resonates with Kurosawa, or maybe Stoppard. We have a central story – one of the great non-events in human history, the moment when the Soviet Union and the United States “came eyeball to eyeball” (as Dean Rusk is said to have said) before someone blinked. We hear it three times: one, from the standpoint of the “rational actor;” second from the internal logic of organizations; and third, from the perspective of politics where people more or less rub along together.

    It’s an event that bears retelling and, with qualification, the device works. The upshot is that we get some insight into the missile crisis. But not at all incidentally, we get some insight into the academic study of politics (I resist calling it “political science”), and a whiff of what it might have to offer for our better understanding of the world.

    Aside from the Kurusowa effect, there is another structural innovation. We have, in a sense, two books interleaved, like Faulkner’s “Wild Palms.” The even-numbered chapters tell (and retell) the basic story. The odd-numbered chapters offer a framework of “theory.”

    I suppose you might read just the even-numbered chapters – indeed the authors themselves suggest as much, though rather half-heartedly. And indeed, the odd-numbered chapters can be heavy going. One cannot help recalling the old canard about the sociologist as a person who gets a government research grant to find the bordello next door. You are tempted to say that their theory is what sophisticated people know anyway, and the clueless will probably never figure out.

    But there is an answer to this dismissal. That is: most (or at least) a lot of history gets told from the standpoint of the “rational actor.” A survey of the competing approaches makes it clear just what this approach leaves out. And if the polyphonic approach is so obviously superior to the single narrative line, then why have historians from Thucydides to Henry Kissinger been willing to do without it? One answer might be: for all their talents, they simply haven’t learned the way to tell a story in any other way.

    So on the whole, retelling works. But not, perhaps, as well as it might. Another reviewer has said that this isn’t really a case to illustrate “organization” theory here because this is not a case that highlights organizations – rather, at least for the United States, the response to the Cuban missile crisis was the work of a small group of men, working together in close cooperation. There is some merit to this view: concededly, you do not get the clash of bull elephants that you might have got at another time when Defense makes war on State, and both work together to fend of Intelligence. But you get a taste of it: we find that the Joint Chiefs were most hospitable to an invasion; that State thought that maybe we could talk it through; and that John McCone from the CIA was the one person who most clearly anticipated the threat. Moreover, you see the “organization” problem in a somewhat different light, when you see how the President’s orders were massaged or modified by the military (sometimes, even, within the military).

    But perhaps in any event, I need not get too distracted by the framework. Along the way, there are any number of nuggets that stand pretty well on their own. I liked in particular, for instance, the discussion of the role of committee work. We tend to stick up our nose at any project done by committee. But, argue our authors, in World War II it was Churchill, high-handed as he was, who worked through committee-and virtually always followed the committee’s advice. The “strong leader” who kept things close to his vest, was Hitler.

    But more generally – I was already an adult at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, and I remember it well. Specifically, I remember how frightened were so many people in my surroundings. I wasn’t that frightened; I figured that one way or another, we would rub along. In the end, of course, I was right – we did rub along. But I think in retrospect, it was I who was kidding myself and the Nervous Nellies who had the right attitude. We did rub along, but as Wellington said about the Battle of Waterloo, it was a near thing. I particularly like Robert Kennedy:

    “The fourteen people [in the American inner circle] were very significant-bright, able, dedicated people, all of whom had the greatest affection for the U.S. … If six of them had been President of the U.S., I think that the world might have been blown up.”

    [Final technical note: one or more of the other reviews appear to be discussing the first edition of this book. The (current) seocnd edition is not a mere cosmetic update, but substantially a new book].

  • Ripel
    22:38 on July 30th, 2011
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    I read this book in the mid-1970′s, but have re-read several times. The author reviews the history and basics of three decision-models: the rational actor, organizational, & bureaucratic. Then he takes each in turn and applies it to the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, one reads three separate case studies, all of the same event, but through different theoretical glasses. Events can be explained in more than one fashion. Humility is an asset to an analyst. My book shelves hold around 250 books, so some books are given away so new ones can be added. Allison’s, Essence of Decision, has remained for a quarter century.

    Historical Note: The Cuban Missile crisis happened in October, 1962. The Soviets had been installing medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba. Upon discovery, the Kennedy administration had to decide what to do and how to do it. Many believe that the actions between the US and the USSR during these 10 days in October are as close as we have ever come to a nuclear war.

  • Juana Cruz
    1:58 on July 31st, 2011
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    1. Waltz or `Politics without Policy’

    The primary goal of Kenneth Waltz in developing a structural theory was its desire to make realism `scientific’. The classical realists had argued that the ultimate cause of war had to with man’s evil, power-seeking nature: states formed by men inherently tend to seek power and this entails conflict among them (Morgenthau 1964, 4). However, for Waltz, this was a subjective (unfalsifiable) and thus unscientific argument to account for international politics. Like the classical realists, Waltz start by assuming that states are the major actors in international politics: “non-state actors must “rival” the states to be taken into account (1979, 88-9). He then focuses on the structure of the international system and emphasizes the difference between international and domestic systems. Unlike the domestic systems, the international system does not have an authority above the nation states to enforce the rule of law. Therefore, contrary to the `order’ in domestic systems, it is “anarchy” that reigns in the international system (111). And it is this anarchic nature of the system that induces states to be always concerned about security and that leads them to seek power to ensure their survival (85). At a minimum, states seek their own preservation and, at a maximum they drive for universal domination (116). Hence, in Waltz’s realism, `prudence’ takes the place of `human nature’ as the source of power-seeking behavior that which eventually results in conflict. “Anarchy” is therefore the key concept in Waltz’s structural realism because all his following arguments derive from the assumption that the international system is anarchic.
    Like the classical realists, Waltz assumes that states are rational entities as well (106). Rationality in realist understanding refers to being capable of making cost/benefit analysis and ranking the available options accordingly. Rationality of states combined with the anarchic nature of the international system leads Waltz to his third assumption: egoism. Rational states under anarchy become “self-seeking entities”, because altruism brings self-destruction (107). It is “meaningless” for a state to think of others when this has a potential to hurt oneself (ibid).
    The combination of anarchy, rationalism, and egoism takes Waltz to another crucial concept of structural realism: self help. In an anarchic world comprised of self-seeking entities, no one but the states themselves are responsible for their own security. States must rely on the means they can generate and the arrangements they can make for themselves (108). Thus, the international imperative is “take care of yourself,” (103). This self-help character of the international system leads states to be concerned for “relative gains”: it is the distribution, not the production, of wealth and power that is at stake in an anarchic world (Waltz 1964, 178). This then induces the states to perceive international politics as a zero-sum game: one’s gain becomes another’s loss. As a result, states rarely cooperate among each other (103) and conflict becomes the norm in international politics.
    Waltz’s reasoning, which starts from anarchy and ends in the absence of cooperation, can be shown in a chart as such:

    ANARCHY ‘ Concern for Survival ‘ Egoism ‘ Self-help ‘ Concern for relative gains ‘ NO COOPERATION

    The final point in Waltz’s neorealism is the “balance of power” argument. Waltz argues that in non-cooperative systems states maintain relative stability and order only by balancing one another’s powers. Thus, Waltz concludes that balance-of-power politics prevail in anarchic systems that are populated by units wishing to survive (120). Indeed, Waltz believes that balance-of-power theory explains why a certain similarity of behavior is expected from similarly situated states (122).
    In addition to the above assumptions and arguments, Waltz assumes the states as unitary (unit-like) actors with same function yet differing capabilities: “we abstract from every attribute of states except their capabilities,” (94) because “the units of an anarchic system are distinguished primarily by their greater or lesser capabilities for performing similar tasks,” (92). Actually, this is a natural outcome of the preceding assumptions. In an anarchic and self-help world, which makes the security concerns take precedence over all other “low” issues and which creates a non-cooperative environment, it is the capabilities of states that determine foreign policy not their idiosyncratic characteristics.

    2. Criticizing Waltz: An Irresistible Temptation for Scholarship

    Almost all of Waltz’s assumptions as well as his leaps from one assumption to the other have been criticized by numerous IR scholars so far. I divide the criticisms into two main categories: ontological ones (by which I mean the ones that address directly to Waltz’s assumptions) and epistemological ones (by which I mean the ones that target Waltz’s leap from one assumption to the other).

    A. Ontological Critiques of Waltz or “Unrealistic Realism”
    a.1) Anarchy that wasn’t…
    Because Waltz’s structural realism is based upon his conceptualization of `anarchy’, the critiques that challenge to the assumed anarchic nature of the international system take precedence over others. First, Cox (along with other Marxists of all types) argued that neorealism’s emphasis on anarchy is misleading in that it disregards the hierarchical nature of the international system. “Vertical dimension distribution of power” is as important a determinant in world politics as the horizontal dimension of rivalry (1981, 215). In line with Cox’s argument, Wallerstein argued that the core-periphery dichotomy within the world-system helps create a relatively stable international environment (1974). Second, the English School has been a harsh critique of the anarchy assumption as well. Contrary to realism’s understanding of the international system as a system of states formed by separate entities, the English School tended to view the international system as a society of states, which are bound together with common interests, common values, rules, laws, and institutions (Bull 1995, 13). Bull maintained that anarchy is just one element of the international system, neither the only nor the predominant one. States purposively try to limit the negative effects of anarchy by working together to preserve a sufficient level of order to attain their `higher’ goals (20). The most challenging argument of Bull was that war and great power politics, which are associated with conflict by neorealism, many times play positive roles with respect to the preservation of the international order. Third, neoliberal institutionalists argued that the international system was only `conditionally’ anarchic (Millner 1991; Robert Powell 1991). Milner pointed out the interdependence and balance-of-power politics among states. She criticized Waltz for ignoring these features of the international system that help preserve the global order and thus exaggerating the anarchic nature of the system. Finally, along with other constructivists, Wendt (1992) argued that there is no such thing as “the logic of anarchy” and that self-help does not follow from the anarchic nature of the international system: “If states find themselves in a self-help system, this is because their practices made it that way. Changing practices will change the intersubjective knowledge that constitutes the system,” (407).

    a.2) The state, they…:
    The unitary state assumption of both realism and neorealism has been a target of harsh criticisms as well. Although Keohane pointed out the need for studying “internal-external interactions” to provide a better account of state behavior (1986, 191), neither him nor his institutionalist followers went into this area; they rather centered their studies on the role of international institutions in cooperation among states.
    After accounting for the different domestic structures of states and the importance of these differences with regard to foreign policy making, Putnam (1988) and Allison & Zelikow (1999) argued that any explanation that excludes the influence of the “second image” on foreign policies of states is bound to be partial and indeterminate (Putnam, 430; Allison & Zelikow, 401). According to these scholars, states are not homogenous entities with a priori interests, but coalitions of different interest groups with only partially-overlapping preferences. Foreign policy of a state is shaped with the bargains, compromises, and accommodations of these interest groups (Putnam, 442; Allison & Zelikow 257). Therefore, Putnam suggests that we should treat the term `state’ as a plural noun: not “the state, it…”, but “the state, they…” (432).
    Moravcsik’s reformulated liberalism (1997) argues for the primacy of societal actors, i.e. individuals and groups, in foreign policy making of a state as well. He maintains that preferences of a state are “constructed and reconstructed” by the state-society interactions (518). States are “functionally differentiated” from one another, because the trade-offs between different groups that constitute a society yields different foreign policies which reflect “different combinations” of security, welfare, and sovereignty preoccupations (519).
    The critique of Waltz’ structural theory as to its failure to account for changes in the international system is also related to neorealism’ downplaying the role of domestic structures in international politics. Ruggie (1983) argued that “structural change itself ultimately has no source other than unit-level processes,” (152). Thus, Waltz’ theory of international politics contains only a “reproductive logic”, but no “transformational logic,” (ibid).

    B. Epistemological Critiques or “Irrational Realism”

    b.1) Self-help or “I self-help you”?

    The most concrete and convincing criticism of Waltz were the ones that were directed against his logical leap from anarchy to self-help. Neoliberal institutionalists argued that international anarchy combined with the egoism of states do not necessarily create a non-cooperative, self-help environment; rather, “rational egoism” often times induces states to cooperate. Thus, realist assumptions about world politics “are consistent with formation of institutionalized arrangements, containing rules and principles, which promote cooperation,” (Keohane 1984, 67) Following Kant’s “rational devil” analogy, Keohane maintained that egoistic governments “can rationally seek to form international regimes on the basis of shared interests (ibid, 107). The “shadow of future” (Axelrod 1984) makes states forward-looking and thus forces them to cooperate. Only a “myopic self-interest” understanding prevents states from cooperating when it is actually in their interest if the issue is evaluated with other issues (Keohane 1984, 99).
    Keohane has emphasized the role of international regimes in promoting cooperation and in mitigating the anarchical nature of the international system. International regimes are valuable not because they enforce binding rules on others, “but because they render it possible for governments to enter into mutually beneficial agreements with others,” (ibid, 13). He argues that by providing principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures, regimes “prescribe certain actions and proscribe others,” (ibid, 59). Keohane opposes neorealism’s argument on the insignificance of international institutions and argues that regimes can effect the interests and policies of states by influencing their “expectations and values,” (ibid, 63). Although he accepts that international regimes are not “beyond the nation-state,” he maintains that they are not pure “dependent variables” as argued by neorealist, but rather “intervening variables” with semi-independent effects on states’ behavior (ibid, 64).

    b.2) When zero is positive…
    The issue of relative vs. absolute gains is actually deeply related with the self-help argument; however, given its central role in many discussions among IR scholar, it seems more appropriate to address it specially. Liberals and neoliberal institutionalists opposed neorealism’s argument that relative gains concern is central to foreign policy-making; by contrast, they argued that the importance of relative gains is contingent upon the context of relation, the issue at hand, and the number of participants.
    First, Robert Jervis (1978), Robert Axelrod (1984), and Robert Powell (1991) argued that relative gains do not matter in “repeated games.” The “shadow of future” changes the payoffs of outcomes and thus increases the likelihood of mutual cooperation. Powell also maintained that relative gains do not matter if the use of force is not at issue (229). In non-security issues like trade, development, health, communication, and the environment, states tend to compromise their relative gains preoccupations and focus more on their own gains. After all, the ultimate end of a state is not only the preservation of its citizens but also the prosperity of them (Waltz 1964, 173).

    To me, Morton Kaplan’s (1957) argument that “states measure relative gains against the system, not against each other” has been the single best argument that illuminates the relative vs. absolute gains dispute without making a security/non-security split. In case of cooperation with another state, states are more concerned with the `net’ gains of this cooperation with respect to their status in the international system than with their `relative’ gains or losses with respect to the state they cooperate with. For instance, the US was not highly concerned with its relative loss vis-à-vis Europe in its reconstruction of the European economies in the aftermath of WWII, because this relative loss would bestow her high gains with respect to its relations with the Soviet Union. Similarly, the US was not so much worried about whether Mexico’s incorporation to NAFTA would put the US in a relatively better or worse situation vis-à-vis Mexico; what the US was more concerned about was the potential benefits regarding the maintenance of the competitiveness of the US firms vis-à-vis those of Japan and the East Asian NICs. Duncan Snidal (1991) furthers this point by arguing that as the number of participants (n) increases, states become less concerned with relative gains than absolute gains (171). The neorealist case for relative gains concern is thereby weak outside tight bipolar world.

    C. A Personal Critique: Neorealism or the End of Politics as We Knew It
    Aside from all its logical and substantive flaws, the most-bothering aspect of neorealism, to me, has been its apolitical character. Given the neorealist assumptions, we do not need to study politics, because rational billiard balls who seek power in an anarchic world are bound to behave in a predestined way anyway. As Ashley put, politics in neorealism becomes “pure technique: the efficient achievement of whatever goals are set before the political actor” (1984, 292). Interestingly though, neorealism (like other realist theories) deals with how states should act as well as how they act. And this gives us enough reason to suspect that even the realists themselves are not `true believers’ of their own arguments.

    Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow (1999). Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2nd ed. New York: Longman.

    Ashley, Richard K. (1984). “The Poverty of Neorealism.” Reprinted in Neorealism and Its Critics. pp. 255-300.

    Axelrod, Robert (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.

    Bull, Hedley (1995). The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Cox, Robert W. (1981) “Social Forces, States, and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory.” Reprinted in Neorealism and Its Critics. Robert O. Keohane (ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. 1986.

    Jervis, Robert (1978). “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics, 30(2): 167-214.

    Kaplan, Morton A. (1957). System and Process in International Politics. New York: Wilev.

    Keohane, Robert O. (1984). After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton University Press.

    ———–. (1986). “Theory of World Politics: Structural Realism and Beyond.” In Neorealism and Its Critics. pp: 158-203

    Lake, David, and Robert Powell (1999).”International Relations: A Strategic-Choice Approach.” In Strategic Choice and International Relations. Lake & Powell (ed.). Princeton University Press.

    Mearsheimer, John (2001). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. Norton W. W. & Company.

    Milner, Helen (1991). “The assumption of Anarchy in International Relations Theory: A Critique”. In Neorealism and Neoliberalism. David A. Baldwin (ed.).New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. pp.143-169.

    Moravscik, Andrew (1997). “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics,” International Organization, 51(4): 513-553.

    Morgenthau, Hans (1964). Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 5th ed. New York : Knopf.

    Morrow, James D. (2000). “The Ongoing Game-Theoretic Revolution.” In Handbook of War Studies II. Manus I. Midlarsky (ed.) Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. pp. 164-192.

    Powell, Robert (1991). “Absolute and Relative Gains in International Relations Theory.” In Neorealism and Neoliberalism. pp. 209-233.

    Putnam, Robert (1988). “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organizations, 42(3): 427-460.

    Snidal, Duncan (1991). “Relative Gains and the Pattern of International Cooperation.” In Neorealism and Neoliberalism. pp. 170-208.

    Wallerstein, Immanuel (1974). “The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis.” Reprinted in The Essential Wallerstein. New York : New Press. pp. 71-105.

    Walt, Stephen (1987). The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Waltz, Kenneth N. (1964). Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis. 3rd ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

    ————-. (1979). Theory of International Politics. Partly Reprinted in Neorealism and Its Critics. Robert. O. Keohane (ed). New York: Columbia University Press. 1986.

    ————-. (1999). “Globalization and Governance.” PS: Political Science and Politics, 32(4): 693-700.

    Wendt, Alexander (1992). “Anarchy is What States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics.” International Organization, 46(2): 391-425.

  • John Baxter
    4:53 on July 31st, 2011
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    The only thing you can complain about this book is its PRICE!!

  • eliteuser
    10:54 on July 31st, 2011
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    Only Waltz and other writers he refers to in his book as being the theoretical base to his approach, had made any scientifically meaningful progress , up to our days , in an attempt to start decoding one of the phenomena connected with the sociological activity of the human race – the realm of international politics.
    I had an unpleasant feeling all along my studies for my bachelor’s degree of international politics, and stopped my studies for the master degree after a few weeks, because I did not encounter any approach, in the scientific field of international politics, that met even partially, standards required by the philosophy of science. Those approaches can’t explain satisfactorily events in world politics, and of course can’t allow us to forecast the shape events are going to take, let alone, allowing us to influence the future, possibilities that are the ultimate tests of a useful theory.
    Scientists of international politics are always enthusiastic to be interviewed about events in the International realm and even give their advice what to do, but never ever would be prepared to forecast events to come, claiming that an envision of the future is ability given only to prophets. But theories can be tested only if events to come can be deducted from past and the current situation, according to laws derived from the theories. Giving advice about the future is impossible if you cannot assume the way events will develop in the future, and that is exactly what all other scholars are not prepared to do.
    Waltz’s approach rests on a solid logical base, imbedded in the philosophy of science, and therefore can give rise to numerous testable theories, something lacking in writings of other scholars of international politics.
    It seems that all those who reviewed the book in this internet site, no matter what their opinion of the book is, including scholars in the field of international politics, fail in their understanding of science and its meaning. They don’t seem to know much (to put it mildly), about the standards of the philosophy of science, or of its importance. The moment anyone reflects on the book using the concept of schools of thoughts in international politics you can be sure that he did not understand fully what he read in the first chapter of the book, if he read it at all.
    Really understand the first chapter (philosophically); otherwise there is no point in continuing to read.

  • Satish KC
    15:34 on July 31st, 2011
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    Venturing into big corporations is sometimes an obscure science. You do not understand how or why things get done. This book helps you understand the intricacies of organizations. It starts with the usual logical model, goes on elaborating until it develops a model, which does a better job explaining the “unexplainable” actions of organizations. The Cuban Missile Crises is the vehicle to illustrate all three models. The reading of the first edition was a bit dull, but got better in the second edition.

  • PaulTheZombie
    16:43 on July 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    I was an exiled Cuban teenager working in Key West when the October missile crisis exploded.
    Jets flying over our heads day in and day out, missile launchers deployed all over the keys from Key Largo to Key West, the only highway connecting to the mainland solely dedicated to troop tansport. What a nightmare!

    In those days I considered Nikita Kuruschev an irresponsible head of state, and a peasant bully with no brains by putting the world on the brink of nuclear war.

    Today I consider the Russian Prime Minister a political genius. Why?

    The Russians knew perfectly well that a missile base ninety miles away from the US will be totally unacceptable to the Americans and thus a crisis of major proportions will ensue as a result.
    But the truth is that Kuruschev only wanted the Soviet Union to have a political presence in the hemisphere and nothing else.
    He also knew that following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, more attempts to depose the Castro brothers will continue to be made by Cuban exiles with the help of the US government. This was unacceptable to the Russian Prime Minister. Their presence in Latin America was an incredible achievement and they were not going to let it go.
    Today I see the missile crisis as nothing but a poker game between a savvy politician and a naive and inexperienced president.
    After much fist shaking, the Russian prime minister finally agreed to withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba on condition that the US government never again will interfere in Cuban politics or allow any insurgent group to undermine the Cuban government from American shores.
    Fifty years later, and thanks to President Kennedy and his advisors, not only communism is alive and well in Cuba but it has also spread to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and more on the way.
    Our former president in order to clean his deplorable foreign policy record decided to engage in a war of liberation against North Viet Nam.
    One blunder after another has cost thousands of American lives, socialist ideas are thriving in Latin America and hatred against our country has never been worse.

    Andrew J. Rodriguez
    Award-winning author: “Adios, Havana,” a Memoir

  • Obladi Oblada
    22:19 on July 31st, 2011
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    I suppose that this book might be a bit dry. I can remember the first time that I read it, my eyes about bled at both its aridness and at how theoretical it actually was. And yes, it is also THE seminal text on neorealist analysis. If you disagree with many of the premises of realism or neorealism (as, quite obviously, the L.S.E reviewer did, not entirely unexpectedly–) quite possibly because one 1)misunderstands them 2)finds them hygenically amoral, etc. you’re going to hate the text.

    Beyond that, it is brilliant. No other book sets out such a clear method to understand deviations from rationality in the construction of foreign policy. THIS BOOK MAKES SENSE.

    There are few other books which do what Waltz tries to. Allison’s ‘Essence of Decision’ makes an attempt at it (I’ve not read the newer version….), this takes that analysis and trumps it, bar none.

    I might have a bit of bias here. I was weaned on realism at ol’ SUNY-Harlem (nee Columbia)– the bastion of neorealism on the Hudson….

    If one were going to dislike a book because of what one believed its conclusions led to, Waltz is not the place to start. The analysis is harsh: in reality, outside of this text, he comes across as fairly dovish…. and brilliant….

  • TrafficWarden
    22:44 on July 31st, 2011
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    As the reviews of Theory of International Politics (TIP) clearly demonstrate, Waltz’s work inspires strong emotions: from hostility to great praise. Whatever else can be said, TIP has helped define debates about international relations for over two decades. Nevertheless, many of his critics and supporters misunderstand the work.

    It is true that Waltz’s theory is devoid of much of the “politics” we associate with international relations, which can make it a sterile read. He has next to nothing to say about morality, personality, or any number of other factors. But Waltz’s argument is not that these factors are irrelevant to the practice of international politics. Rather, Waltz seeks to explain a basic puzzle: what is the source of a basic regularity in international relations, the continuing formation of a dynamic balance of power that prevents any one state from coming to dominate all others? His argument is that the lack of a common authority in international politics creates structural pressures on its “units” (states) to balance power. However, these structures do not determine any particular state action, they merely “shape and shove” the typical inputs of state policy, such as morality, personality, domestic factionalism, ideology, and so on. Anarchy sufficiently conditions units to seek their security that while many may neglect to balance power, the ultimate tendency in the system is that a sufficient number will do so and thus perpetuate anarchy.

    There are a lot of reasons why Waltz’s theory is flawed, and even more why his particular argument that bipolar distributions of power–in which a system contains only two great powers–are more stable than multipolar systems is probably wrong. Many of its core assumptions rest on questionable methodological decisions and approaches to systemic theorizing that we should probably abandon. It is also true that his conception of structure is not sufficiently sensitive to other cultural and material patterns that also profoundly shape international politics. The list of flaws is long, but they do not detract from the fact that (1) within the theoretical space Waltz operates, his argument is both elegant and persuasive and (2) it is frequently devasting with regards to attempts to understand international political order solely with reference to the attributes of actors, their rational calculations, and so on. For what it is, TIP is a great argument. Most critics are upset about what kind of argument it is not, and I think they have an important point.

    Many readers criticize Waltz for his supposed “ontological” commitments, in other words, his assumptions about the nature of being. The key ontological commitment in his book is that structures are not “real” in the sense that they are only an analytical construct used to encapsulate the self-reinforcing dynamics of patterns of interaction. Many scholars influenced by epistemic realism dispute this neo-Kantian position, and argue that if a theoretical construct has demonstrable effects then it must refer to something real. Regardless of who is right, Waltz never tries to ‘have his cake and eat it too.’ He is a committed analyticist with respect to theoretical terms.

    Finally, this is not a book for those without some interest in dense theory. It is not appropriate for a general audience, and if you fall into this category there are, indeed, better places to find summaries of the kind of argument contained in TIP. Keep in mind, however, that supposed summaries of Waltz may not accurately capture his argument.

  • John Baxter
    1:38 on August 1st, 2011
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    Wonderful book- very thorough analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Provides a novel framework for understanding historical and political events.

  • eliteuser
    7:39 on August 1st, 2011
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    This book uses the Cuban missile crisis to highlight the role that organizational politics plays in producing the policy goals we observe in real life. Allison’s main argument is the organizational politics create an environment in which one person will not shape policy, but rather one organization will shape outcomes by identifying some goals as legitimate, and others as illegitimate. To add credibility to his analysis, Allison contrasts what would have occurred in this crisis if organizational politics were not the dominant force in producing these outcomes. As the conclusion of that exercise, we see that his view is very strong. We also see that organizations are powerful, so powerful the can overwhelm individual personalities.

  • Satish KC
    12:19 on August 1st, 2011
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    Theory of International Politics is truly a five-star book when it comes to academic impact; I give it four stars only because the writing can be obtuse. Nonetheless, and despite criticism from other Amazon reviewers, Waltz’s book lays the foundation of the theoretical paradigm that is dominant among international relations scholars. Anyone wishing to understand the current academic debates among international relations scholars should read at least excerpts of Theory of International Politics.

    The reason Waltz’s book carries such weight, despite flaws, is that Waltz lays out a simple, theoretically “testable” version of a much broader and older theory (Political Realism). Political Realism, as perhaps best laid out by (the German-turned-American) scholar Hans Morganthau, views nations as the unitary actors in international affairs (in much the same way as Marx viewed economic classes as unitary actors in the political sphere): states have “interests” that they will act on, regardless of the interests, ideologies, cultures, religions, etc. of individual state leaders or even of the individuals who make up a state. This interest is “power,” understood as control over one’s own destiny and (perhaps incidentally) the destiny of others. It is a very broad idea has a certain gut appeal. After all, the Athenians of Thucydides were Realists when they replied to the Melians’ “international law” arguments by saying, “The strong do what they will, the weak do what they must.”

    Despite this appeal, Morganthau’s argument has serious theoretical and historical problems. First, power is so broadly defined that the theory is “untestable.” Was Hitler power-hungry? Yes, but that’s not Morganthau’s argument: Germany would have sought to aggrandize its “power” even if it had been led by Gandhi. Second, the idea, while perhaps empirically appealing, is largely assumed: why power? why not wealth? Perhaps countries do not seek power, but the wealth that power brings?

    Waltz’s “Neorealism” inserts “national security” where Morganthau had “power,” and, while this may sound equally broad and vague, it actually is a more theoretically robust (if factually more problematic) concept. Whereas Morganthau had “black-box” (i.e., functionally identical) states pursuing power for reasons of “human nature,” Waltz has black-box states pursuing national security for essentially Darwinian reasons. Leaders of states will invariably pursue policies that enhance their nations’ security, or else they will be forced out of office (through votes, assassination, etc.) If the state-as-the-collective fails to do this, it risks annihilation (at worst) or subjugation (in one form or another). (Against the criticism by some like Paul Krugman that countries “do not go out of business,” I would ask him to first check the opinions of the leaders of the Republic of South Vietnam or pre-WWII France).

    Of course, pursuing national security can take many forms–it may mean forming alliances with erstwhile enemies (the U.S. with the Soviet Union in 1941, or China with the U.S. in the 1970s), or it may even mean sucking up (in one form or another) to the biggest potential threat (Finland to Russia during the Cold War, or perhaps Canada to the U.S. today). Consequently, alliances will be fragile and can be disgarded on a moment’s notice, regardless of culture, ideology, etc. International trade can also be problematic, because even a “win-win” situation may be a loser if your trading partner/potential adversary wins more than you do and can convert the economic benefits into political or military power.

    Neorealism may sound simplistic, but the theory, understood in broad terms, has proven remarkably powerful and, I would argue, is the closest thing political science has to an international relations theory that can actually be predictive. A Realist/Neorealist such as Henry Kissinger could predict that China, despite Communism, would part ways with the USSR and ally with the United States. A Neorealist such as Jim Baker might predict that an Arab-U.S.-Israeli coalition would hold together against Iraq, despite an eternal dream of pan-Arab unity. Looking forward, it predicts that the political differences between the United States and China will grow, and that Europe will continue to use trade as a weapon to undermine America’s influence in the rest of the world and, regardless of whoever comes to power, Russia will not return to an adversarial relationship with the United States, but may, in fact, seek it as an ally against China and the EU.

    Of course, there have been uncounted objections to Waltz and Neorealism. Yet Waltz’s Theory of International Politics stands as an important work because the other powerful theories–Neoliberalism, Institutional Theory, et al.–all begin as an attempt to plug the theoretical gaps allegedly found in Waltz. A book and an idea that all feel compelled to address should not be dismissed so readily.

  • PaulTheZombie
    13:28 on August 1st, 2011
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    This book is important, but it’s not nearly all it’s cracked up to be. First, it’s very poorly written… At times, the sentence structure actually requires grammar diagramming to understand. Next, it pretends to be scientific, but doesn’t actually follow through with it. Waltz criticizes Kaplan without telling us why, except to say Kaplan’s writings were undeveloped and lacking rigor. Huh? Comparing Kaplan to Waltz I’d have to give the Scientific Rigorousness Prize to Kaplan, hands down. Waltz also claims Rosecrances’ theories are simply reductionism in the guise of systems theory. However, Waltz points out that neither cybernetic systems theory nor general systems theory will work for international politics. Then on the next page he says systems theory is still the only option. What Waltz actually claims is the savior of IP is sociology’s Structuralism Theory, which he repeatedly and erroneously calls “systems theory”. Thus, Waltz is doing the same kind of thing he criticizes Rosecrances for. Why do people let him get away with knocking Kaplan, but pretending that structuralism is scientific systems theory? Because Waltz does something highly original for the field: he spends the first two chapters waxing intellectual about the virtues of the scientific method. This technique then fools the reader into thinking Waltz is actually applying this methodology, though all he does is use historical case studies and a few ex post facto statistics to support his views. Now I can’t be too harsh, because this did inspire others, including Kaplan, to be even more rigorous and scientific, which is a good thing. Waltz also does have some very interesting points. For example, he thinks both dependency AND interdependency produce instability, and that only through self-sufficiency and some level of independence can a nation be free of instability’s manipulating effects. He also correctly predicted the nostalgia that would be felt for good old bipolarism if the Cold War ever ended. Boy, was he right on that one.

  • pop frame
    16:19 on August 1st, 2011
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    This book is Graham Allison’s take on the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he’s far from the only author to try and tackle this event. What makes “Essence of Decision” different, however, is that Allison adopts no one, definitive answer to the “main questions” of the crisis, but rather offers three ways of interpreting the event, all with their merits and drawbacks.

    Allison’s main argument is that many foreign policy experts, laymen and experts alike, depend on “rational choice” theories. For an armchair analyst, using game theory or assuming one person is making all the decisions is indeed an easy way to explain the world. However, as Allison demonstrates, people simply don’t work that way.

    To fill this gap, Allison gives two alternate theories: a bureacratic-organization model (where information and decisions are limited by pre-existing structures) and a political process method (where those with close social links to the key decisionmakers have a decisive advantage). Allison makes a good case for these alternate theories, noting that one must discard a lot of facts to construct a “rational” model, and that, in his own words, anyone with a good imagination can construct a rational model (which, incidentally, violates the scientific law of falsifiability).

    This book seems to be a deliberate attack on the “rational models” most academics use, which is its primary virtue. I myself first encountered it in a sociology class, as the basic theories Allison created to help explain the missile crisis are applicable to many things, from foreign policy to product marketing.

  • susies
    4:19 on August 2nd, 2011
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    I made a bit of a mistake when I read this book; I should have waited until I got a chance to pick up the second edition. The first edition is a little dated, both in examples and language, and Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC from here on out) experts would not doubt find plenty of out of date facts. However, for me, the point of the book was not to explain every facet of the CMC, but to use examples from the CMC to illustrate the different models of decision making. I won’t go into details about the models (if you want a general overview check out the Wikipedia article on the book).

    While “Essence of Decision” discusses decision making in a governmental context, I find that it is useful in explaining decisions many other contexts, including corporate decisions. I feel like the overall point is that no decision is made completely in the dark and no decision is made completely in the light. When trying to explain something like Enron or Countrywide, it is easy to demonize a few people but it is more important to realize that a lot of smaller decisions allowed these catastrophes to occur. Although “Essence of Decision” is limited to the Cuban Missile Crisis, it is easy to see examples of complex decision making on the news and at work every day. I found the book to be very helpful in understanding the inner-workings of everyday life and would highly recommend it to others interested in gaining a greater understanding of why things happen the way that they do.

  • John Baxter
    7:14 on August 2nd, 2011
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    This is the groundbreaking book that defined the Neorealist concept of International Relations.Some of the propositions set forth by Waltz are indisuputable: The results of anarchy on state behavior and how it limits interstate competition; How the system forces states to behave in certain ways, making the unit-level factors much less important. Also included is why security considerations always outweigh economic ones, and the benefits of internal balancing versus external balancing. Some of his precepts are more subject to critisicm: The benefits of bipolarity of multipolarity. N Nonetheless, this is the book that made the field of IR a real social science rather than a history-like humanities study. Any real student of International Relations needs to start here to understand both the academic discipline, and the real world of interstate relation.

    Eric Gartman

  • eliteuser
    13:14 on August 2nd, 2011
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    This book is not only the best I’ve seen concerning the Cuban missile crisis, but it also provides an excellent veiw of international policy making. Many other books concerning the crisis don’t illustrate nearly as many implications that the various power centers had to deal with. It also gives an excellent portrayal of presidental decision making.

  • Satish KC
    17:55 on August 2nd, 2011
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    Delivered early. Great condition. Good delivery info provided. I’ll do it again.

  • PaulTheZombie
    19:04 on August 2nd, 2011
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    TIP is the standard target or starting point — depending upon your own theoretical bent — for almost all current IR theory. That being said, TIP does have problems. It *is* sterile. It *doesn’t* say much about statesmen, morality, and so forth. It *does* abstract from reality. That’s the point. Waltz is offering a theory; an attempt to simply and parsimoniously describe how international politics works IN GENERAL. Waltz is not particularly interested in what Country A or B might do in a given situation. Rather, he sets out to describe how the structure of international politics — the distribution of power and capabilities in the international system — affects the types of policies states can pursue. Don’t buy this book if you want to know about world “politics” — what the British or the Japanese or the Palestinians are doing *today.* TIP is for IR theorists and those who want their own understanding of world politics to be informed by IR theory. If you don’t like theory, broadly understood, you won’t like TIP. TIP is about politics in the most general sense of the word. But there is very little “political” about it.

  • pop frame
    21:55 on August 2nd, 2011
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    This is the book that sucked me into IR; it was a transformative addition to my toolkit for understanding the world. Theory is a tool, not an explanation.

    I suspect the readers that reject Waltz’s treatment of human nature were never in a schoolyard fight. Anything that can explain coalition behavior on a playing field AND be usefully applied to understanding the ’91 Gulf War is a mighty fine tool (ooooh, theory of utility!!).

    I have to laugh about the complaints of denseness and unreadability – you would have hated Waltz’s lectures. Isn’t that always the complaint of people that didn’t finish the reading??

  • Juana Cruz
    1:15 on August 3rd, 2011
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    To illuminate the puzzle of why states form alliances with other states, if they (according to his theory) are necessarily “selfish”, Waltz first makes the necessary distinction between domestic and international politics. This distinction is necessary so that Waltz can show us how alliance formation follows a fundamentally different logic in an anarchic system than it does in a system with some form of central authority (hierarchy) like the state, because the state monopolizes legitimate violence, so that a domestic system is not self-help – one can appeal to the state for defense. While it is debatable that all or even the majority of states have enjoyed a true monopoly on legitimate violence throughout history, we must grant Waltz this axiom if the remainder of his arguments are to hold.

    Waltz then takes the domestic/international comparison into the realm of economics and interdependence, arguing that within the state, actors are “free to specialize because they have no reason to fear the increased interdependence that goes with specialization” (104). Because the state guarantees security, all can be most concerned with their own (absolute) gains. However, in a self-help system, worries about survival in anarchy make units more concerned with relative gains. States do not want to be dependent on other states, which hinders the benefits of specialization. Interdependence, instead of enriching all, becomes a threat to survival, because it creates vulnerability. This is a result of the structure of the anarchic system, despite the best intentions of those who want cooperation. “Structures cause actions to have consequences they were not intended to have” (107). Thus, the only thing that can change these effects is structural change.

    Against those who would argue that the international system is not a pure anarchy because we see alliances, Waltz would argue that they confuse structure with process. He does admit that states sometimes cooperate, obviously, but “only in ways strongly conditioned by the anarchy of the larger system” (116). The primary way of doing this, captured by balance-of-power theory, is “moves to strengthen and enlarge one’s own alliance or to weaken and shrink an opposing one” (118). Interestingly, Waltz claims that his theory does not require rationality on the part of the actors – they simply emulate more successful rivals, or else they perish. Thus, “balances of power tend to form whether some or all states consciously aim to establish and maintain a balance” (119).

    Why should we expect to see alliances balancing one another, as opposed to bandwagoning onto a winning alliance? Again, the structural logic does the explanatory work. Because the international system is self-help, “balancing is sensible behavior where the victory of one coalition over another leaves weaker members of the winning coalition at the mercy of the stronger ones” (126). In other words, nobody wants anybody except themselves to “win”, and so states gang up against a likely winner, meaning that the structure induces security (not power per se) as the primary concern. Waltz even characterizes this induction as a kind of sociological process, positing that the “socialization” of nonconformist states (he gives the Soviets as an example) is inevitable, given that isolationism is not an option: “one party may need the assistance of others. Refusal to play the political game may risk one’s own destruction” (128).

    For Waltz, then, the only important changes are structural ones. Since anarchy will not disappear, the only structural changes that can happen is changes in the distribution of state capabilities. Given that Waltz has solved the puzzle of alliances and balancing by showing how they are structurally necessary if states hope to survive, he then goes on to link changes in the distribution of state power with the question of the likely configuration(s) of alliances that will arise from these changes. In order to do so, he first establishes how to measure power and “polarity” (number of alliances/powers in the system). After rather sarcastically rebutting critics who think the world is not bipolar, and arguing that his theory boils down to “common sense”, Waltz predictably defines power as the total and combined distribution of material capabilities across states, meaning that only the U.S. and the Soviet Union qualify. For Waltz, this bipolarity is a normatively good thing, because his argument touts its peace-enhancing characteristics. Since interdependence is dangerous, and since interdependence decreases as the number of powers decreases, security is enhanced, and uncertainty is reduced. Waltz even goes so far as to claim: “now governments are more involved in their national economies than they are internationally. This is fortunate” (159).

    The key point to highlight here, for Waltz’s theory of alliances, is that alliances are formed and balanced in response to structural conditions. Preferences, costs and benefits to individual states do not matter, because the structural properties of unitary states, anarchy, and the distribution of power determine the configuration that assures outcomes. If the distribution of power happens to be in a certain configuration, meaning that states only make gains or losses relative to that overall distribution, then the likely resulting alliance pattern is pre-ordained. Any “deviant” path taken by any state will result in certain defeat for that state, and thus states will avoid taking this path in the first place.

    Of course, rationalist or strategic choice theorists would say that Waltz neglects the role of calculation and doesn’t provide microfoundations, while constructivists would proclaim that Waltz ignores the role of identity. However, by ignoring these (probably important) factors, Waltz reaps a large payoff in terms of parsimony and explanatory leverage.

  • John Baxter
    4:10 on August 3rd, 2011
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    This is a political-sciency version of the closest we came to a nuclear war, in effect using the crisis to introduce the reader to a methodology on how people make decisions. The authors see three ways that things get decided, and when observers confuse them, dire consequences may follow. First, there is the rational-actor who does things for explicit reasons, as if there were one decisionmaker who controls everything from conception to implementation. Second, there is the political decision, often made for purposes of manipulation rather than for stated goals and hance are harder to read. Third, there is bureaucratic decison-making, according to which actors on the ground carry out orders in the way that they are trained (i.e. by standard operating procedures, or SOPs).

    Basically, in my reading, they argue that these modes were mixed in the Cuban Missile Crisis – the US thinking that there was a (rational actor) policy to militarise Cuba with nuclear weapons when in fact much of the provocatively appearing construction was due to SOPs of the military who installed the missiles. Thus, the US had less to fear, but its political reality made an over-reaction inevitable.

    Now, these are very useful distinctions and the analysis is interesting. However, they do not make for very interesting reading or very good history. That makes this book a slog, which limits its appeal to academics rather than the general reader. I read this for a class – otherwise, I would never have gotten through it.

    Recommended on balance, but go elsewhere if you are looking for a good story rather than a rather staid acadeimic analysis.

  • nedendir
    5:36 on August 3rd, 2011
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    A great number of books and articles has been published attempting to explore and explain the Cuban missile crisis that had brought the world to the brink of a thermonuclear world war. Allison and Zelikow, in Essence of Decision, explain the Cuban missile crisis through three different lenses, that is, The Rational Actor Paradigm, Organizational Behavior Paradigm and Governmental Politics Paradigm, each of which is based on a different set of assumptions, each of which has a distinct bundle of organizing concepts and, each of which brings different general/specific propositions for the issue under question. Allison and Zelikow investigate the Cuban missile crisis through the lenses of three models in turn by asking three simple questions:

    1. Why did the Soviet Union decide to place offensive missiles in Cuba?
    2. Why did the United States respond to the missile deployment with a blockade?
    3. Why did the Soviet Union withdraw the missiles?

    The analyst looking to Cuban missile crisis through the lens of “rational actor model” conceives of governmental action as a “choice” made by a unitary and rational nation or national government. In this model, national government is treated as if it is an “individual” identifying problem, producing solution alternatives and picking one of those alternatives up whose result would satisfy the expected utility function of the nation best based on the “purpose” of the nation. The rational actor model analyst generates hypotheses, for example, about why the Soviet Union decided to send nuclear missiles to Cuba: to defend Cuba, rectify the nuclear strategic balance, or provide an advantage in the confrontation over Berlin? The virtue of the model comes from its power of explanation especially in case it is able to expose the “purpose” of the nation/state. So all the puzzling pieces of the relevant issue under question are to be tied into a coherent and satisfactory story.

    The rational actor model falls short of fully understanding of the issue under question in that it does not take account of other equally important considerations. Admittedly, the rational actor model neglects the organizational processes and capabilities that structure the issue or problem under question, and, limit or extend the policy alternatives available to “rational” policy actors. In final instant, it is manifest that policy executives have to decide policy alternative from the “menu” that current organizational technologies and capabilities write. In organizational behavior model, the analyst investigates, for example, the standard operating procedures (SOP) of government organizations in order to understand which policy alternatives are available to political actors and which one is chosen and why. So, the organizational behavior paradigm closes the gaps of the rational actor paradigm.

    Finally, the governmental politics model conceives of governmental policy under question not as a rational actor choice or organizational output but as a “resultant” of bargaining along regular circuits among players positioned hierarchically within the government. In this model, the political actors and their intentions, positions and interests, their relative power, the action channels through which the political actors input and exert their influence, decision rules and similar matters stand to the fore in analysis.

    The three models, according to Allison and Zelikow, are complementary to each other. “Model I fixes the broader context, the larger national patterns, and the shared images. Within this context, Model II illuminates the organizational routines that produce the information, options, and action. Model III focuses in greater detail on the individuals who constitute a government and the politics and procedures by which their competing perceptions and preferences are combined” (p. 392). Rather than giving different answers to the same question, each of the three models illuminates one corner of the issue and contributes to our understanding. By integrating the factors identified under each lens, the authors argue, explanations can be significantly strengthened.

    The final chapter of the book in which the authors hypothetically demonstrate how the interaction of the factors identified under each lens can lead to a nuclear war should be perused by those who firmly believe that after the collapse of the Soviet Union there no longer exists the precipice of a nuclear slaughter.

    Though I believe this book is a must-read for everybody (not necessary to mention all the fields), I recommend this masterpiece especially to students of strategic management who have read Strategy Safari by Mintzberg et al. (1998) for which I believe Essence of Decision will be an excellent field book and to students who have read Case Study Research by Robert Yin for which I think Essence of Decision will be a perfect workbook.

    Overall, this book is a living example of a dedicated and illuminating scholarship. Highly recommended.

  • Satish KC
    10:16 on August 3rd, 2011
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    I read _Essence of Decision_ for a class, and if it hadn’t been for that, I probably wouldn’t have read all of it. The chapters detailing the Cuban Missile Crisis were interesting, especially the way the authors arranged it, so that the further you read on, the more and more unstable the whole siutuation seems to be.

    The chapters detailing Alison and Zelikow’s ways of looking at the Missile Crisis were interesting, but they did not serve to trap me.

    For a shcolarly work, it is interesting, though I reccommend picking and choosing the chapters you read.

  • webdiva
    19:47 on August 3rd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    This is a very great book, and very useful for my Master Thesis.
    I highly recommend it to anyone interested.

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