Florida International University
American History – AMH2020
January 30th , 2024
During the Cold War, the question of whether U.S. foreign policy was significantly influenced by domestic factors has been a topic of debate. While conventional wisdom often suggests that domestic considerations played a substantial role, Moore and Lanoue challenge this notion in their 2003 article, “Domestic Politics and U.S. Foreign Policy: A Study of Cold War Conflict Behavior.” This essay aims to explore their rational expectations theory and its implications in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a pivotal moment in Cold War history.
Moore and Lanoue’s 2003 study, “Domestic Politics and U.S. Foreign Policy: A Study of Cold War Conflict Behavior,” introduces a rational expectations theory that challenges the prevailing belief in the dominance of domestic influences on U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. This theory is rooted in the concept of rational expectations, a framework often used in economics but applied by Moore and Lanoue to the realm of international relations. Rational expectations theory posits that individuals make predictions about the future based on all available information, and these predictions are optimal given the information at hand. Applied to foreign policy, this means that policymakers are assumed to make decisions based on a rational assessment of international conditions, without being disproportionately swayed by short-term domestic considerations. Moore and Lanoue’s rational expectations theory generates hypotheses that contradict the prevalent belief that U.S. foreign policy behavior during the Cold War was significantly shaped by domestic factors. These hypotheses suggest that international politics played a more central role in determining U.S. foreign policy actions. The theory challenges assertions, such as those made by Ostrom and Job (1986), that attribute the use of force by U.S. presidents during the Cold War to fluctuations in their domestic approval ratings. To support their rational expectations theory, Moore and Lanoue conduct empirical testing, examining historical instances of U.S. foreign policy behavior during the Cold War. Their findings are reported to be consistent with the predictions of their theory and inconsistent with the conventional belief in strong domestic influences. This rigorous empirical approach strengthens their argument and positions rational expectations as a viable framework for understanding Cold War foreign policy decisions. The rational expectations theory presented by Moore and Lanoue holds normative implications, particularly in contrast to democratic peace literature. If U.S. presidents during the Cold War indeed made decisions based on rational assessments of international conditions rather than attempting to manipulate foreign policy for domestic political gain, it challenges normative assumptions about the democratic peace theory. This theory generally asserts that democracies are less likely to engage in conflict with each other.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 stands as one of the most intense moments of the Cold War, featuring a dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union that brought the superpowers perilously close to nuclear conflict. To understand the nuances of this historic event, it is essential to delve deeply into its unique characteristics. The crisis emerged against the backdrop of the broader Cold War rivalry, with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 intensifying tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. In July 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban Premier Fidel Castro reached a secret agreement to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba as a deterrent against future U.S. invasion attempts. The discovery of these missiles by U.S. intelligence in October 1962 marked the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A distinctive feature of the Cuban Missile Crisis was the centralization of decision-making at the White House and the Kremlin levels, with relatively limited input from the usual bureaucratic processes involved in foreign policy. President John F. Kennedy and his closest advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, grappled with a range of options in response to the crisis, reflecting the gravity of the situation and the need for swift and decisive actions. The crisis was characterized by both direct and secret communications between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. President Kennedy’s public address informed the nation about the discovery of the missiles and the imposition of a naval “quarantine” on Cuba. Simultaneously, secret back-channel communications between the White House and the Kremlin, facilitated by ABC News correspondent John Scali, played a crucial role in exploring potential resolutions. The dynamics of communication during the crisis were intricate, involving not only official statements but also indirect channels that added complexity to the decision-making process. The crisis escalated with the U.S. naval quarantine and the announcement of a military readiness status of DEFCON 3, signifying imminent war involving the Strategic Air Command. The U.S. considered military options, including air strikes and a potential invasion of Cuba. However, as the crisis reached a virtual stalemate, with no apparent resolution in sight, President Kennedy opted for a cautious approach, insisting on giving diplomatic channels a bit more time before resorting to military action. A pivotal moment came when ABC News correspondent John Scali reported a back-channel offer from a Soviet agent, suggesting a potential resolution involving the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba in exchange for a U.S. commitment not to invade the island. Despite subsequent challenges, including the shooting down of a U.S. U–2 reconnaissance jet and new demands from Khrushchev, back-channel negotiations and Kennedy’s calculated response eventually led to a resolution. The crisis officially ended with Khrushchev’s public statement on October 28, 1962, announcing the dismantling and removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis had profound and lasting impacts on U.S. foreign policy. It highlighted the need for direct communication channels between the White House and the Kremlin to prevent misunderstandings in the future, leading to the establishment of the “Hotline.” Additionally, the crisis prompted both superpowers to reconsider the nuclear arms race, ultimately culminating in the agreement on a nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
When scrutinizing the Cuban Missile Crisis through the lens of Moore and Lanoue’s rational expectations theory, the decision-making process and the intricate interplay of domestic and international factors come into sharp focus. President John F. Kennedy’s response to the crisis reveals a nuanced approach that aimed to balance the imperatives of domestic considerations with the broader international context. President Kennedy faced a formidable challenge when the presence of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba was discovered. The crisis prompted Kennedy to summon his closest advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to explore potential courses of action. The complexity of the situation was evident in the range of recommendations presented to Kennedy—some advocated for an air strike followed by a U.S. invasion of Cuba, while others favored stern warnings to both Cuba and the Soviet Union. Kennedy, in choosing a naval “quarantine” of Cuba, opted for a middle ground that reflected a careful evaluation of the potential domestic and international consequences of various actions. The Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded against the backdrop of domestic political considerations, including Kennedy’s awareness of public perception and approval ratings. The President’s televised addresses aimed not only to inform the public but also to shape the narrative and garner support for the chosen course of action. By adopting a measured and decisive tone, Kennedy sought to project strength and leadership during a moment of intense geopolitical tension. As the crisis approached a virtual stalemate, Kennedy faced the complex decision of whether to pursue a U.S. attack on Cuba to remove the missiles. Despite pressure from some advisers, Kennedy opted for a cautious approach, emphasizing the need to give diplomatic channels a bit more time. This decision showcased a careful consideration of the potential risks and consequences of military action, underlining the President’s commitment to exhausting peaceful options before resorting to force. The Cuban Missile Crisis left a lasting impact on U.S. foreign policy. The crisis prompted the establishment of the “Hotline” between the White House and the Kremlin to facilitate direct communication and prevent misunderstandings. Furthermore, the crisis initiated a reevaluation of the nuclear arms race, leading to the eventual agreement on a nuclear Test Ban Treaty. These long-term outcomes underscored the significance of the crisis in shaping not only immediate decisions but also the trajectory of U.S. foreign policy in the years to come.
Reconciling Moore and Lanoue’s rational expectations theory with the historical events of the Cuban Missile Crisis requires a nuanced examination of how the theoretical framework aligns with or challenges the decision-making process and outcomes during this critical Cold War episode. Moore and Lanoue’s rational expectations theory posits that U.S. foreign policy decisions during the Cold War were driven by rational assessments of international conditions rather than being significantly swayed by short-term domestic considerations. In the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this theory implies that President Kennedy’s decisions were made with a focus on global geopolitical realities rather than attempting to manipulate foreign policy for immediate domestic political gain. Rational expectations theory challenges the idea that fluctuations in presidential approval ratings significantly influenced U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. However, the careful crafting of Kennedy’s public addresses and the attempt to shape public opinion during the crisis suggest a recognition of the domestic political landscape. The theory may need to account for the complex dynamics of public opinion and how leaders navigate the need for support while making rational international decisions. Moore and Lanoue’s rational expectations theory holds implications for the long-term trajectory of U.S. foreign policy. If, as the theory suggests, U.S. presidents made decisions based on rational assessments of international conditions, it challenges normative assumptions about the role of domestic politics in shaping foreign policy outcomes. The Cuban Missile Crisis, with its lasting impact on U.S.-Soviet relations and the establishment of communication channels, supports the idea that rational assessments of global stability played a pivotal role in shaping foreign policy beyond immediate domestic considerations. In summary, the examination of Moore and Lanoue’s rational expectations theory in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis offers valuable insights into the rationality of decision-makers during the Cold War. The theory aligns with aspects of the crisis, highlighting President Kennedy’s pragmatic response and willingness to explore diplomatic resolutions. However, the complexity of the crisis challenges the idea of pure rationality, as evidenced by the careful consideration of domestic political implications. The long-term impacts of the crisis on U.S. foreign policy support the theory’s emphasis on rational assessments influencing global stability. The conclusion underscores the need for a nuanced understanding that acknowledges the intricate interplay between domestic and international factors in shaping critical foreign policy decisions during moments of historical significance.
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