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Cuban Missile Crisis: a Foreign Policy Analysis

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The Cuban Missile Crisis was an exceptionally significant event in history that became the closest confrontation leading to a possible nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. This thirteen-day confrontation’s major occurrences will be analyzed by the rational actor model and how the leaders John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev made rational decisions that led to the avoidance of nuclear annihilation. In addition to the rational actor model, the organization process model and the politics model will be presented for further comparison between the process in which major decisions are made.

The major events in the Cuban Missile Crisis presented are exceedingly significant when analyzing the strategic calculated costs and benefits of the crisis that lead to a deterring end. In 1960, the Bay of Bigs Operation failed. This operation was the unsuccessful attempt of Cuban exiles trained by CIA operatives in order to invade southern Cuba in an effort to remove Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader. In 1962, the “Missile Gap” was claimed untrue by Kennedy. The missile gap was a term used in order to scare the U.S because the U.S.S.R highlighted some of their technological achievements regarding nuclear missiles. However, it was proved by the CIA that the U.S still maintained a significantly greater number of missiles than that of the Soviet Union. In July 1962, the Soviet Union placed nuclear weapons in Cuba secretly because the U.S had placed nuclear weapons in Turkey in 1961. At once, the United States sent an ultimatum to the U.S.S.R to withdraw their weapons or they will wage war against them. The United States later chose a naval blockade to send a threat to Cuba and depict their preparation to attack. The U.S.S.R had eventually backed down and removed their missiles from Cuba in the condition that the United States removed their missiles from Turkey.

The rational actor model approach conceptualizes the state as a unitary actor making the decisions taken by the leaders seen as the decisions of the state. Based on the rational choice of the decision maker, all decisions are made on the rational assessment of costs and benefits. Therefore, as Kennedy and Khrushchev’s seem to be analyzed–in fact their role as the head of state are taken into considerable importance. This is treated so because according to realist arguments, leaders act consistently with regard to national interest–depicting that the decision made lies in the national interest U.S and U.S.S.R. With regard to promoting and protecting these national interests of the U.S and U.S.S.R, the heads of state must act as rational actors with roots relying on tremendously basic decision-making. The Cuban Missile Crisis placed the heads of state in positions in which they would choose among alternative decisions when particularly uncertain issues arise. Their actions with regard to the crisis were strategic pursuing most importantly, national interest.

With regard to the specific events mentioned regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy was sure that the Soviets did not have primacy in nuclear weapons and needed to announce so in order to restore national prestige after the failure in the Bay of Pigs operation. Khrushchev, the other rational actor, thought to restore Soviet prestige by placing missiles in Cuba reiterating the failure of the United States intervention in Cuba previously and proving their reluctance. Therefore, it is assumed that he should invade Cuba again, yet, rationally he cannot because it could fail again as it once did. Kennedy calculated the costs and benefits of an air force raid versus a naval blockage and realized that the air force would cause too much damage and the naval blockade is much less costly. By doing so, he assumed that the Soviets would retreat because it is presumed that the Soviets would act rationally as well by calculating the costs of benefits of retreating versus waging war. It is illustrated that the threat of war is an exceptionally greater cost than the benefit of national prestige by the U.S.S.R. However, in order to gain more from their retreat, the Soviet Union pressured the United States to remove their missiles from Turkey. These decisions taken by the heads of state are tremendously rational, strategic, and tremendously influenced by regime interest.

Another process model that will analyze the same event is the organizational process model in which organizational habits are emphasized. In the organizational process model, any foreign decision made is always divided into sub-issues and assigned to a particular government institution or organization and each will act to its pre-set rules, plans, strategy, or previous actions. It is very unlikely that the organization will change its plans or rules when faces with different issues. This circumvented Kennedy and Khrushchev to maneuver while being confined to what their governmental organizations are able to accomplish. When the Soviets placed the nuclear weapons in Cuba, it was very easily detected because of their logos or markings and therefore it was easily discovered. Thus, Kennedy constrained by what the U.S organizations can already do, he was torn between the naval blockade and the air force. However, the air force did not have plans for selected bombardment but rather extensive bombardment leading to possible severe casualties. In order to alter this huge investment and save time in making a new air force plan, Kennedy chose the navy, an organization that had a pre-set plan to blockade any country. It is illustrated that the organizational actor model takes the heads of state into consideration regarding decisions, yet constrains them by what their country’s organizations are capable of.

The final model analyzing the Cuban Missile Crisis is the governmental politics model in which the entire issue or event is about politics, the competition for power, and the ability of the decision maker to accommodate conflicts between different power centers and interest groups in his system. When Kennedy revealed that the Soviets did not have missiles, the Soviets became antagonistic and thus Khrushchev appeased them by sending missiles to Cuba. Furthermore, Kennedy had to appease the Republicans after the embarrassing failure of the Bay of Pigs Operation. He also had pressure from the navy for a naval blockade, the CIA for an invasion, and the air force or an air strike. Kennedy made a decision based on the weight of each pressure group. He ignored the CIA because they lost their credibility with the failure of their previous operation. There was significant pressure from the state department and his brother Robert Kennedy in choosing the naval blockade. Therefore, to satisfy the military and certain political groups, Kennedy chose the naval blockade. However, because the U.S.S.R was forced to remove their missiles, they chose to bargain with the U.S in order to remove their missiles from Turkey. All these decisions relate to satisfying their governments because this process model places great importance on power politics.

Illustrated are three processes that depict the possible reasons as to why the events in the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded in the way it did. These processes vary tremendously and place greater emphasis on separate aspects. It could be said that the process models are only most effective when all three are used to understand the reasons an event unfolded in the direction that it did. However separately, they seem to be too simplistic and weak. The rational actor model places to much importance on the individual even though it claims that he is the voice of national interest. The organizational model places too much importance on a government’s institutions and the politics model places too much significance on pleasing ones government. The reason all three of these models were presented for the same event is to depict the importance of all of the models on single events. It is not just one aspect of a government that leads to important decisions. It is the combination of all their features and explanations that provide the greatest insight on how and why a crisis occurs or was averted.

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