Graham T. Allison

Allison, Graham T. "Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis." American Political Science Review 63, no. 3 (Sep. 1969): 689-718.

The author here establishes the analytic framework for his classic Essence of Decision (1971). Don't want to tackle the book? Then, read this article.


Allison, Graham T. "The Cuban Missile Crisis at 50: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy Today." Foreign Affairs 91, no. 4 (Jul.-Aug. 2012): 11-16.

"Five decades later, the Cuban missile crisis stands not just as a pivotal moment in the history of the Cold War but also as a guide for how to defuse conflicts, manage great power relationships, and make sound decisions about foreign policy in general."

James A. Nathan, "Diplomacy, Not Derring Do," Foreign Affairs 91, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 2012): 163-165, argues that "Allison's account of the crisis as a case study of presidential resolve emphasizes the calculated use of threats over the more fundamental task of structuring a bargain" or compromise, which id what President Kennedy did. Graham T. Allison, "Allison Replies," Foreign Affairs 91, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 2012): 165-166, notes that his article considered presidential resolve, threats, restraint, and compromise are all required for success.


Allison, Graham T. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1971. Allison, Graham T., and Philip Zelikow. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2d ed. New York: Longman, 1999.

Clark comment on 1st edition: This scholarly work continues to offer a unique theoretical perspective on the crisis. I recommend it for people seriously interested in developing their analytical skills. However, many of the substantive details of the crisis have been substantially enhanced since Allison's work.

Clark comment on 2d edition: In a move carrying some risk, Allison's classic work has been substantially revised to take into account comments similar to those above about the availability of new substantive material on the Missile Crisis. Additionally, the authors seek to both extend and add depth to the theoretical framework that was the centerpiece of the original. However, as the authors note in the "Preface," the basic structure of the book remain the same: "Three conceptual chapters each state and develop a conceptual model or lens through which analysts can explain, predict, and assess situations.... Each of these chapters is followed by an account of the Cuban missile crisis that uses the conceptual lens from the prior chapter to analyze the crisis."

Ikenberry, FA 78.3 (May-Jun. 1998), calls the second edition a "superb update of a classic." Indeed, the new edition "actually improves on the original." For Rosati, International Studies Review 3.1, the second edition "is much stronger in several areas," but "the extensive revisions to the chapter on governmental politics unfortunately have made this revision inferior to the original.... [T]here is no doubt that the Cuban missile crisis receives an updated and fresher interpretation"; however, "the revised explanations ... are difficult to follow compared to those of the original."

See David A. Welch, "The Organizational Politics and Bureaucratic Politics Paradigms," International Security 17, no. 2 (Fall 1992): 112-146.


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