The Cuban Missile Crisis – A Model of Crisis Management

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A Biblical proverb says, “… by wise guidance, and in the abundance of counselors, there is victory.” 1 It is obviously believed by many leaders, especially when faced with situations or problems that demand expedient, careful, thorough analysis and thought to aid the decision-making process and render the appropriate response or solution.

This style of crisis management has been a recurring theme with American leaders and our presidents when faced with crises. In 1962, President Kennedy, also followed suit by establishing the ExCOM group to garner advice and counsel, formulate plans, and devise the appropriate response to learning about the nuclear missiles that Russia had secretly shipped and installed at sites in Cuba, a mere 90 miles from the United States border.

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Caldwell states that, “… following the crisis, analysts characterized President Kennedy’s behavior during the event as a paragon of crisis management.” 2 In conjunction with this thinking, American foreign policy outcomes began to be formulated following the of outcome of this event which resulted in the Nuclear Arms Treaty, and contributed to other policy developments. Based on research, however, it has been found that the critical factor in determining how to perform during a crisis is premised on how prepared we are prior to its occurrence.

Anticipation and advance preparation are crucial to perform well during a crisis. It was not until we learned that Russia had secretly shipped nuclear missiles to set up missile sites in Cuba, including the threat that they posed and the possible incineration of almost 180 million Americans, that spurred our leaders to begin formulating a plan of action, response, and solution. In fact, we later learned that the President had earlier knowledge of the missile build-up, and initially ignored the implication of a potential threat to U.S. borders. The first shipment of the missiles arrived in Cuba in July 1962. Though only intended as a threat, three months passed before the U.S. The government acknowledged the magnitude and potential danger that could result in a nuclear war.

A strong leader of any organization, public and private, would be trained and have an awareness that potential crises can occur at all times. Why is it that ExCOM was not a standing committee of America’s governmental and military leaders meeting regularly to conduct “what-if” scenarios and other such activities in regard to crisis management, as well as other national, international, and global governmental issues of this time period’s world history?

There were key events that preceded and/or precipitated the situation – the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by the U.S. and the installation of U.S. missiles in Turkey. These two events served to provoke Russia into pursuing an alliance with Cuba and using that alliance to threaten and/or tempt the U.S. into a nuclear war. What was the true impetus? Was Russia flexing its nuclear power muscle? Was it out of fear, or to provoke fear? Did Krushchev desire to incite nuclear war? What was Cuba’s true role in the crisis? In reading other materials relative to this crisis, it was revealed that both Kennedy and Krushchev were aware of each others’ opposing policies and attitudes. Cuba served solely as a pawn in the crisis.

As we have studied and learned of Mitroff and Pondy’s five approaches to policy analysis, we can realize alternatives, these approaches present when applied to this case. Even more, as we viewed the movie, the documentary, and read the articles, several of these inquiry modes were evident as President Kennedy and the ExCOM group grappled with the crisis. The fact that effective crisis management is systemic, which is the production or interaction of all of the critical pieces and activities of a crisis,3 Mitroff and Pondy’s Singerian-Churchmanian Inquiry System (SC-ISS) can be applied to solve this crisis. One rule of thumb, which was violated by President Kennedy, who secretly taped the ExCOM meetings, is that there should be no secrets in crisis management, because responses to the issues will always be discovered and most likely publicized. Today, we have found this to be true of this crisis.

The SC-ISS, is integrative and interdisciplinary, and does not promote a process that would reduce the fundamental entities of a crisis to a single set of inquiry activities. Rather, it presents a “whole” systems view for problem solving, where each of the inquiry systems is dependent upon one of the other systems. Therein lies the strength to realizing a solution that will result in policy outcomes that can be fully implemented, from conception to reality.

In view of public policy outcomes, the SC-ISS is a system that can effectively serve the problem-solving process when decisions will affect a broad and varied populace, humanistically and globally. Even more, this system lends itself to the importance of implementation, even though it does not consider implementation to be the only important aspect of the inquiry. Mitroff and Pondy explains, “… that the SC-ISS inquiry arises directly out of the tradition of American pragmatism. For the pragmatist the ‘truth’ of a model is not to be identified solely with its formal structure or formal truth tests of the model, but rather with the ability of the model to effect significant social action, i.e., implementation.”4 It appears that the initial response of our leaders utilized an inquiry system that deals with total conflict, the Hegelian IS or dialectical IS (DISS). Underlying assumptions were evident, and intense division and strong conflicting views were exhibited on how to solve the problem – removal of the Soviet nuclear missiles. Leibnizian IS reduces the inquiry to the formal, mathematical aspect of the issue – model. The Lockean IS promotes communication and fosters consensus – solving the model.

Each of the aforementioned IS should be employed to constantly interact and strengthen the decision-making process, none can be considered as an independent mode when responding or solving a crisis. Compartmental inquiry is entrenched in old paradigms that can never address all of the issues that require treatment when managing a crisis. The SC-ISS will allow for paradigm shifts where other IS can be brought into the system and interdependently aid the decision-making process.

Therefore, to manage and solve the crisis, and provide safeguards against recurrences, the chosen IS model can be followed in order to:

  • Assess events which can provide early warning signals that a crisis may occur – the failed Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba and the U.S. missiles in Turkey. These alone provoked fear of invasion by the U.S. both for Kruschev and Castro.
  • Then, as a result of the event be prepared – conduct likely to worst case scenarios that can occur with root causes of how, when, and why.
  • Identify key stakeholders and the role they play in crisis plans.
  • What are their capabilities – internal and external?
  • Entreat help to develop a diplomatic approach to moderate missile competition, prior to a crisis.
  • Proactively lead cooperative dialogue towards resolution, whether its containment, isolation, removal, or neutralization, for example the quarantine (naval blockade) imposed upon Cuba, which was joined by other OAS states to establish a regional self-defense under international law. This proved to be an effective, diplomatic, and strategic coup for the U.S.
  • Conduct post-crisis audit, reviewing key assumptions, courses, lessons learned, and not learned.
  • Recognize and identify the impact of decisions upon future public policy outcomes.

In applying the SC-ISS model to solve the crisis, the information that each IS would reveal is crucial, since the solution is interdependent on each revelation of the “whole” system. Indeed, intelligence played a key role in the outcome of the crisis, it was manifested in several forms, and greatly helped to avert nuclear war. Having a proactive and integrative approach crisis management is the determinant that can more closely predict the outcome.

Preventing chaos and promoting stability should be key before, during, and most critically in the immediate post-crisis period. Since the threat of crisis has been potentially always there, a continuum of crisis management exercises premised on the SC-ISS inquiry mode, would significantly increase readiness and foster the decision-making process that could lead to better policy solutions. Critical thinking, an ability to see problems from multiple perspectives, expose and challenge underlying assumptions, and formulate arguments, is a basic and fundamental skill required of any and all leaders.


  1. The Holy Bible, Proverbs 11:14b, NRSV.
  2. Caldwell, Dan, “The Cuban Missile Affair and the American Style of Crisis Management”, Parameters, March 1989.
  3. Mitroff, Ian I., Christine M. Pearson, and L. Katharine Harrington, The Essential Guide to Managing Crises, Oxford University Press, 1966.
  4. Mitroff, Ian I. and Louis R. Pondy, “On the Organization of Inquiry: A Comparison of Some Radically Different Approaches to Policy Analysis”, Public Administration Review, September/October 1974.

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The Cuban Missile Crisis – A Model of Crisis Management. (2018, Jun 20). Retrieved from

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