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Decision Making (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
Here is a short non-fiction piece I wrote for class, that I felt like sharing.

The case in Richard J. Stillman II’s book Public Administration that best parallels the bureaucratic behavior exhibited during the Cuban Missile Crisis is the case entitled, “The Decision to Bomb the Serbs”, by Elaine Sciolino and Ethan Bronner. The reason that these two cases exhibit bureaucratic similarities is that they deal with military situations. In both cases, military solutions were what eventually resolved the crises. The NATO bombing campaign was much more aggressive than the blockade of Cuba, yet both solutions signaled the resolve of the United States and its leaders to deflate these crises. While the decision to prevent genocide and the decision to prevent a nuclear holocaust may not have an exact, literal connection, the national security decision-making process utilized to reach those decisions, in these particular cases at least, is similar.
The context of the two situations is quite similar. Both Kennedy and Clinton faced “irrational” adversaries. Khrushchev committed an irrational act by placing missiles in Cuba in the first place. According to the theory, a “rational” Khrushchev would not have placed missiles so close to the United States because this act puts his nation at risk of an American nuclear attack. While the blockade was a much less aggressive response than could be expected, it still signaled that the United States would not back down when threatened. Milosevic acted irrationally in failing to prevent the NATO bombing of Bosnia. A rational leader would not have brought a bombing campaign to his country. This is exacerbated further by the fact that NATO had warned him that they were going to bomb if he did not cease his ethnic cleansing operations and allow observers and peacekeepers into the country. Yet, he was committed to removing the ethnic majority from Bosnia and therefore willing to irrationally bring a NATO bombing campaign down on his own country.
The same basic options were discussed during the Cuban Missile Crisis as were discussed during the decision to bomb the Serbs. The “do nothing” option was not plausible in either case. Kennedy did not want to have nuclear-armed ballistic missiles sitting 90 miles of the coast of the United States while it did nothing. This was both an impractical and unpopular option. Since the intentions of the Soviets were extremely unclear, Kennedy did not want to sit idly while the Soviets established a presence in the Western Hemisphere. The most obvious reason that a “do nothing” option was impractical was that the Soviets could theoretically launch a nuclear strike at the United States while the United States was still preparing to deploy its own nuclear weapons, provided that the survived the initial strike. In addition, because of the Bay of Pigs failure, Kennedy’s Administration was sensitive to the political backlash that could result from a wrong decision. Especially sensitive was the possibility that the United States would lose credibility in Europe if it let the Soviets take Berlin.
The Clinton Administration could not afford to have an ethnic cleansing occur in Europe for two reasons: the Administration’s image was already tarnished through the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment hearings and it could not afford to lose any more credibility by failing to prevent genocide in Europe. In addition, the legitimacy of NATO as a viable regional power was at stake, if NATO did not respond then the purpose of the alliance would be called into question and NATO would lose credibility with its own member nations and with the rest of Europe.
Diplomatic pressures were considered in the Cuban Missile Crisis and were actually used during the Kosovo situation. This was another politically sensitive option for Kennedy. The Administration could not give concessions to the Soviets, such as the removal of missiles in Turkey, because the Soviets would then have gained political advantage, and, at the same time embarrass the United States. This option was also seen as too weak. The Administration felt that a much stronger response would be necessary to the Soviet missile buildup in Cuba.
In the months leading up to the NATO bombings, diplomatic negotiations had been exhausted. Holbrooke, Clark, and various other United States and NATO representatives attempted to convince Milosevic to capitulate; yet Milosevic was unwilling. As in the Cuban Missile Crisis, if the United States and NATO gave concessions to Milosevic or failed to act upon their threats, they would lose credibility and would give Milosevic the advantage in further negotiations.
Invasion was an option that was actually planned for in both cases. They were both ruled out because they required a very large commitment of ground troops, according to initial estimates. However, the Kennedy Administration was further dissuaded from choosing invasion as an option because of the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which left a blemish on the record of both Kennedy and the CIA. With the memory of this failure still fresh, Kennedy was less apt to choose it as a viable option. In Kosovo, the estimated ground commitment was over 200,000 troops, with the United States supplying most of them. The specter of Somalia had haunted the Clinton Administration for the last five years. The Administration did not want a repeat of Somalia, which, with a force of over 200,000, could have been repeated on a much larger scale.
Air strikes were ruled out during the Cuban Missile Crisis because of several factors. First, Kennedy did not want to risk the political backlash that would result from killing Soviet soldiers in a public manner. Khrushchev would most likely retaliate with strikes of his own, thus escalating the situation from one of tensed peace to full-scale war. Second, the Air Force could not guarantee that all of the missile sites would be destroyed. If sites remained they could launch a nuclear counter-strike against the United States. In Kosovo, air strikes were the option chosen because it was the lesser of a few evils. Air strikes were cleaner than a full-scale invasion, they put less lives at risk, and with the precision-strike technology that was available the chance of inflicting massive collateral damage was lessened.
Each Administration in these two crises faced relatively similar situations; they both had to deal with irrational adversaries, and they both had to consider the same basic options to deal with those adversaries. Why Kennedy chose to blockade and Clinton chose to strike was a function of their domestic and political environments. Both Presidents had experienced failures early in their careers and were adverse to publicly unpopular solutions. They both had to react in the best manner possible to situations that were thrust upon them in order to elicit the most beneficial outcome.