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Graham Allison’s Rational Actor Model

In writing Essence of decision making, Allison had the notion that rational expectation theories from economics had been borrowed largely by fields of political science and international relations. He assumed that states, after considering all they had, acted rationally to maximize their usefulness. In this, he proposed that analysts must ignore the most basic facts to have their analysis fit their expectations. The Rational Actor Model has no regard for the law of falsifiability. It uses international relations as its tool for analysis and states the sole unit of analysis; narrowing the decision-making model to states only. The steps involved in this model include first identifying and prioritizing goals. Next, the alternatives to these goals are sought. Possible consequences of each alternative are predetermined and fourth each of the alternatives is analyzed depending on the goals earlier identified. Last, the alternative that presents the highest utility or that which maximizes profits is chosen (Clarke, 1989, p. 27).

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The Rational Actor Model seeks to satisfy national interests while maintaining reasonable costs and risks. Its greatest merit is that the observer is not burdened with a lot of informational demands. The model has enabled state actions to be based on the interests and priorities of its subjects, not the few individuals making decisions, while also taking into account all rules connected to the decision to be made. It is logically simple and this has made it persist and influence decision making even under criticism. This model involves comprehensive analysis in which an individual weighs the options that are best suited to the already set goals. It applies political intelligence as opposed to mere economical concepts (Rhodes, 1994, par. 3).

The model emphasizes near-perfect results. It may seem unrealistic because of its requirements like relevant, adequate, and accurate information, then there is no doubt that decisions made are accurate as well, explaining why to-date, people apply analytical techniques of the rational model even in businesses (Birkland, 2005, p. 212). It is best exemplified in the Cuban Missile Crisis decision-making. Kennedy had six options to consider; first, he could choose to do nothing. Second, he would apply diplomatic pressures. A secret approach to Castro was also a viable option. Fourth they would invade, and finally, a surgical airstrike was possible, and sixth a blockade on the Soviets was an option. After analysis and determining there was more to gain, which is the essence of a rational model, his administration settled for a blockade. This criterion presented an aggressive and firm action yet not as abrupt as say an invasion would have been. The decision left Krushchev with the burden of choosing the next course of action, which clearly showed political maturity on Kennedy’s part. It also gave the US ‘competitive edge’ over the soviet and Cuba on subsequent threats and the possibility of a naval confrontation in the Caribbean (Docstoc, n.d., p 2-8)

A blockade did not cost the Kennedy regime much, and so economically it was advantageous. It was geared towards a goal already set, which was to bring an end to the war, something that was attained. The model used (rational) involved a thoughtful analysis of the scenario, one that put possible risks, costs, and benefits into consideration. The rational actor model however criticized has made a basis for other models and its adoption presents more to gain than lose.


Birkland, T. (2005) Policy Process: Theories, concepts and models of public policy making, New York: M.E Sharpe, Inc.

Clarke, M (1989) The Foreign Policy System: A framework for Analysis, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Docstoc, (n.d.). How credible is Graham Allison’s bureaucratic politics model of decision making. 2010. Web.

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Rhodes, E. (1994). Do bureaucratic politics matter? some disconfirming findings from the case of the US Navy, Access my Library. Web.

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