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Decision Making and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Discuss Khrushchev's decision to put missiles into Cuba. What was he trying to achieve and what were the flaws in his analysis? Use Allison's level of analysis approach to explain.

Discuss Kennedy's reaction to finding the missiles. What were his options and why did choose the one he did?

Discuss the difference between the doctrine of massive retaliation and flexible response. Why did the Kennedy administration switch from one to the other?

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In hindsight, Khrushchev's decision to put missiles in Cuba can be seen as a direct attempt to counter American missiles in Italy and Turkey. With Italy and Turkey being geographically close to the boundaries of what used to be the USSR, Khrushchev chose Cuba as a location that was similarly close to the US. In simple terms, it was reciprocity - a 'tit for a tat' strategy: US puts missiles in USSR sphere of influence - USSR puts missiles in US sphere of influence. However, Khrushchev seemingly neglected to include the Monroe Doctrine (1823) into his calculations, which held that attempts by states in Europe to interfere with states in the western hemisphere would be considered as acts of aggression. Although Monroe hardly envisioned that his doctrine would hold two hundred years later, it has remained as one of the central tenets of US foreign policy and figured greatly in to the US response to Soviet missiles in Cuba. In between reciprocity and the Monroe Doctrine, the US was also worried about Cuba's influence in the spread of Stalinism which led to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Operation Mongoose and an economic embargo. Thus it was apparent to Khrushchev that the US considered Cuba a threat and if left unchecked, would continue to undermine Cuba. The embarrassment of the Bay of Pigs and the resulting damage to US credibility in Soviet perceptions should not be underestimated, as it may have led Khrushchev to take ...

Solution Summary

This solution interprets the decisions made by Khrushchev and Kennedy in light of Graham T. Allison's framework for decision making.