Conceptual models and the Cuban missile crisis

TitleConceptual models and the Cuban missile crisis
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsAllison, GT

The principle purpose of this essay is to explore some of the fundamental assumptions and categories employed by analysts in thinking about problems of governmental behavior, especially in foreign and military affairs.

The general argument can be summarized in three propositions:

1. Analysts think about problems of foreign and military policy in terms of largely implicit conceptual models that have significant consequences for the content f their thought.

2. Most analysts explain (and predict) the behavior of national governments in terms of various forms of one basic conceptual model, here entitled the Rational Policy Model (Model I)

3. Two "alternative" conceptual models, here labeled as Organizational Process Model (Model II) and Bureaucratic Politics Model (Model III) provide a base for improved explanation and prediction.


Formulation of alternative frames of reference and demonstration that different analysts, relying predominantly on different models, produce quite different explanations should encourage the analysts's self consciousness about the nets he employs. The effects of these "spectacles" in sensitizing him to particular aspects of what is going on --framing the puzzle in one way rather than another, encouraging him to examine the problem in terms of certain categories rather than others, directing him to particular kinds of evidence, and relieving puzzlement by one procedure rather than another -- must be recognizes and explored.