During the month of October of 1962, the United States and The Soviet Union were accelerating rapidly toward nuclear war. How can one understand why these countries would jeopardize their countries and its citizens in such a way? One way to explain how decisions are made in international politics is the Rational Actor Model. The Rational Actor Model is used to understand the decisions that a nation-state or organization makes. This model uses as a basis for investigation that the persons involved are rational characters. With this basis, one can investigate and discuss the issues and decisions that were made during the Cuban Missile Crisis and even the decisions made prior to the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Ration Actor Model (RAM) makes many assumptions to deliver the best possible explanation of a nation’s actions. “Each assumes that what must be explained is an action, i.e., behavior that reflects purpose or intention. Each assumes that the actor is a national government. Each assumes that the action is chosen as a calculated slution to a strategic problem. For each, explanation consists of showing what goal the government was pursuing when it acted and how the action was a reasonable choice given the nation’s objective.” These assumptions help key in on the foundation of the RAM, which is that the actors are rational. This model only looks at the individual in charge of the country as the basis of development. This model does not include the role that the organization of the country or the politics of the country plays in the decision making of the nation-states. This model only recognizes the leader. The leader can then be examined for the decisions he makes assuming that he makes rational decisions. This foundation is “the assumption of rational behavior – not just of intelligent behavior, but of behavior motivated by a conscious calculation of advantage, a calculation that in turn is based on an explicit and internally consistent value system.” With this definition of a rational leader, one can easily determine the choices the leader will make.
The formal way of laying out the RAM is by using four key concepts. To determine the cause of a nations actions, one must analyze: (1) the Goals and Objectives of the Nation, (2) the Alternatives, (3) the Consequences, and (4) the Choice the nation made. With these four concepts, one can analyze the nation leaders development of making a decision by using the RAM.
In the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis these concepts work well to establish the cause and effects of the Crisis by looking at the nation leaders development of their decisions. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States’ leader was President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy heard that Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, had established nuclear missiles in Cuba, he knew that Khrushchev was challenging his own goals and objectives for the United States. The first concept of the RAM is to determine the Goals and Objectives of the nation. Kennedy’s goal was to prevent communism in the western hemisphere. Kennedy tried many times to overtly get rid of Castro and/or its government, but failed. Due to these threats from America, Castro called upon its larger ally, Khrushchev, to help him defend his small island from Kennedy. Khrushchev responded by sending a “180 SA-2 missiles to Cuba and a battery of Soviet coastal defense cruise missiles, along with trainers, and the deployment of a regiment of regular Soviet troops.” This government, alliance, and now a military buildup was in direct conflict with the goals of Kennedy. With Kennedy’s goals being challenged he had to respond.
In response to the Soviet missiles in Cuba so close to America, Kennedy had a couple of options. The first of which is just to do nothing. American, up till then, had always been under the target of Soviet missiles. In addition, America did not want to escalate to nuclear war. America did not want to make an action that would set off a chain reaction of events that would lead to such a catastrophe. A second option was to put diplomatic pressures on the Soviets. This option would entail giving Khrushchev an ultimatum or bringing up the issue to the United Nations or the Organization of American States to see if those organizations would get involved with getting rid of the missiles. A third option was to secretly approach Castro to defect against the Soviets. This would make sure that Castro understood that it was either “split or fall” to the United States. A fourth option was an invasion of Cuba. This was considered a last resort, but it would make sure that Cuba could not or would not be occupied by Soviets or their missiles. A fifth option was to conduct an air strike on the missile sites. This option would take out all defense sites as well as the missiles and the capabilities for the Soviets to launch those missiles. A sixth and last option was a naval blockade of the coast of Cuba. This option would not allow any ships to pass, especially Soviet ships, through a blockade, thereby stopping the flow of supplies for more Soviet troops or missiles into Cuba. Kennedy had many options at his disposal but to determine which one to choose, RAM must look at the consequences.
The third concept of RAM is to discuss the consequences of each alternative. The unfortunate thing about these alternatives is that since both countries were dealing with nuclear war, there was not much room for many different consequences. If everything went well with the option Kennedy chose, the missiles would be moved from Cuba and out of the western hemisphere peacefully. However, if the wrong option was taken Kennedy could lose not only the loss of the American people’s respect and support, but the lose of thousands in battle or the lose of millions in thermo-nuclear war. Both of those later consequences still did not guarantee the possibility of actually achieving the goal of getting rid of communism in the western hemisphere. The thirteen days it took to decide this confrontation was very stressful due the magnitude either could lose if Kennedy or Khrushchev made a wrong decision.
The fourth concept of RAM is to discuss the choice the nation state made. In the end, Kennedy decided to go with a blockade of Cuba. The following passage explains why Kennedy decided the blockade.
“Either way, the blockade had several advantages: (1) It was a middle course between inaction and attack, aggressive enough to communicate firmness of intention, but still not so precipitous as a strike. (2) It placed on Khrushchev the burden of choice for the next step. He could avoid a direct military clash by keeping his ships away. (3) No possible military confrontation could be more acceptable to the United States than a naval engagement in the Caribbean. At our doorstep, a navel blockade was invincible. (4) A blockade permitted the United States, by flexing its conventional muscles, to exploit the threat of subsequent non-nuclear steps in each of which the United States would enjoy significant local superiority.”
In the preceding passage, we understand why Kennedy made the decision he made. This is how the RAM helps an analyst find out why the decisions that are made between countries. By systemically going through the four concepts of the RAM, one can consistently understand international politics.
To prove the validity of this model, we can use these four concepts on another example. The RAM can be used on the events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg. In this example, the United States and the Confederate States of America were engulfed in a very costly war. The Actors in this Model were President Abraham Lincoln and President Jefferson Davis. Both felt their countries were tired of war. In addition, both felt that if they could not be decisive in battle soon, that the war would ravage much too long for either to be claimed the victor.
Using the four concepts of RAM we study the first concept being to look at the Rational Actors goals and objectives. Davis was especially exhausted of the war. Resources for the war were running low. However, he had in charge of his army a great and qualified general. General Robert E Lee motivated, inspired, and led the troops to accomplish goals the South did not imagine they would actually do. With these events, Davis’ goal was to end the war soon.
Davis had a couple options to fulfill his goal. First, he could give up the new nation and not fight any longer. Since the fighting had taken such a toll on the people and economy of the Confederates, a viable option was to dissolve the country. Another option was to contact Lincoln to start a treaty process by which peace could be finally settled on the discussion table instead of on the battlefield. And lastly, Davis could go for broke and destroy the United States by killing the Army of the Potomac and destroying Washington DC. These three options were different choices Davis as a rational actor had to decide upon.
The consequences of the alternatives were varied. If Davis gave up the notion of a new nation, he would be letting down his country and his people that supported him to deliver a new nation. If Davis went for a peace talks, the Confederacy could wind up with its own nation. And lastly, if Davis decided to continue the war but at a more intensive level, he could win and ruin the United States, lose miserably in battle, or continue the stalemate that had been going on for so many years.
The choice Davis made was to fight. Analyzing all the options Davis decided to wield his most trusted General to draw out the Army of the Potomac in open battle, crush it, and then sac Washington DC for a decisive and final blow to this war. Davis was confident due to past performance that his general could deliver another victory for the Confederates. In so doing, the Confederates and the Union met at the Battle of Gettysburg, which later became known as the turning point in the war. At this battle, under direction of President Davis, General Lee tried without avail to crush the Union. In this example, the RAM was used to determine the choices the leader made for his country.
The Rational Actor Model is a good tool for analysts to determine the choices and reasons behind those choices. Both in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Battle of Gettysburg, one can fully understand the event when one examines the rational characters involved and applies the four concepts to determine their goals and objectives, alternatives, consequences, and the choice the leaders made.