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Name of Book: '''''Essence of Decision'''

Author: 'Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow'

Author’s background, profession, or known biases:

- Allison is director of Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He served as special advisor to the SECDEF under Pres. Reagan and ASD for Policy & Plans under Pres. Clinton.

- Zelikow is professor of History at the Univ of Virginia. He helped w/the 9/11 commission from ’03-’04. Has a law degree from Univ of Houston.

Publisher & date: New York: Longman, 0-321-01349-2; first published in ‘71



Thesis: (Ways to conduct analysis)

During a period of extensive “rational actor / expectation” theories. Allison developed three lenses in which international relations/politics & policy could be reviewed/enhanced if used. Rational Actor model, Organizational Behavior model, and Governmental Politics model.

Major Arguments:

- Model 1: Rational Actor Model (or Classical Model): Unitary decision maker (284) & Analytical Paradigm (23). Runs on a “logic of consequences”. Action based on rational choice; seek to maximize value.

o Explains foreign policy behavior through an analysis of interests at stake. What must be explained is an “action”; that actor was a “national government”; each action is a calculated solution to a strategic problem; intends to show what the Gov’t was pursuing when it acted and how that action was a “reasonable choice” for the nation’s objectives. (15)

o Key concepts for “rational” actor: Goals/objectives, alternatives, consequences, & choice (18)

o Must explain an “action/behavior” that reflects purpose or intention. The Gov’t is the actor (15)

o Universality: Does not take into account cultural differences

- Model 2: Organizational Behavior Model: Bounded rationality / Bounded Actions

o Assumes routines/processes of national security organizations shape pursuit of national goals

o Emphasizes distinctive logic, capacities, culture, and procedures of the large organization that constitute a Gov’t (5)

§ Logic of appropriateness

o Behavior of organizations can be determined primarily by routines established prior to the instance (144)

- Model 3: Governmental Politics Model – Foreign affairs are neither as unitary choice or as organizational outputs. Logic of Power

o Gov’t behaviors are a result of “bargaining games” amongst the principals of national Gov’t (255). The players in Gov’t “represent” a department of agency (256)

o If a Gov’t performed an action, that action was the result of bargaining among players in the game (6)

o Unit of analysis is the “group of actors” who are close to the deciding power

§ Who’s got access to power (the President)

§ The group output is collective, but not a result of what any one individual would have developed

· Based on bargaining to achieve the result

Supporting Evidence to Argument:

- Model 1: Rational Actor Model

o Classical Realism: Humans are motivated to seek domination of others (26); making politics amount nations a struggle for power – realpolitik

o Neorealism (Structural Realism): Bad things happen when even good states find themselves in bad spots. Strong tendency towards “Balance in the System”, (31)…Waltz

o International Institutions: Insist international institutions are necessary to explain state action (34). Focus on system-wide institutions and interactions as cause for state cooperation.

o Liberalism: Democracies don’t war against other democracies (36)

- Model 2: Organizational Behavior Model

o Gov’ts can be understood less as deliberate choices and more as “outputs” of large organizations functioning according to a standard patter of behaviors.

§ Organizations, created capabilities, constrain behavior, organizational culture shapes behavior, organizations less analogous to individuals than to technology or bundles of tech (145-146)

- Model 3: Governmental Political Model

o Sees “no unitary” actor but many actors as “players”: Players not focused on a single issue but diverse international problems; make decisions not by a single, rational choice but pulling/hauling of politics (255)

o Leaders are influenced by their place (power) and peculiar responsibilities, the singular burden that falls on one person with ultimate authority (383)



Conclusions: (pg. 230)

The need for all three lenses exists for the strategist. When searching for answers to a puzzle, limiting the options to achieve potential outcomes may create unintended consequences and create “paradigm analysis paralysis”.



Why is this important to me as a Strategist?

May help shape foreign policy, policy making and analysis based on a decline of shared conceptual values and interests, and weight of government bureaucracy, interest groups, and their advocates within the Executive and Congress (389). Helps create baseline standards for theorists looing to use this model

Like the Cuban missile crisis – best to use all three lenses to help discern what happened and potentially why…to potentially help shape future actions/response when the need arises.

If reviewing an issue, may be best to create 3 separate groups and have one evaluate each area: individual, organization, and closest to the decision maker. May bring a broader perspective.

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