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The Essence of Ballistic Missile Defence

A Three-level analysis of the US decision

to develop and deploy Ballistic Missile Defence

Master Thesis
International Relations – Vrije Universiteit
Amsterdam – The Netherlands

Student: Wilbert van der Zeijden

Supervisor: Dr. E.B. van Apeldoorn
Second Reader: Dr. J.J. Woldendorp
Date: July 11th 2007
The Essence of Ballistic Missile Defence

A Three-level analysis of the US decision

to develop and deploy Ballistic Missile Defence

Master Thesis
International Relations – Vrije Universiteit
Amsterdam – The Netherlands

Student: Wilbert van der Zeijden

Supervisor: Dr. E.B. van Apeldoorn
Second Reader: Dr. J.J. Woldendorp
Date: July 11th 2007

Preface vii

1 Introduction: Why Missile Defence Matters 1

1.1 Background 1
1.2 Moral relevance: What the US decided not to do 3
1.3 The debate 5
1.4 The puzzle ` 7
1.5 A readers guide 13

2 Theoretical Framework:
Allison and Zelikow’s three model framework 15
2.1 The logic of Allison’s three model framework 15
2.2 Empirical Research Questions 18
2.3 Critique of the three model framework 19
2.4 Theoretical Research Questions 23

3 Defining ‘the decision’ to develop and deploy ‘Ballistic Missile Defence’ 25

3.1 What Missile Defence? 25
3.2 A short history of BMD 28
3.3 What decision? 30
3.4 Technical specifics of BMD 33

4 The Rational Actor Model:

BMD as attempt to counter emerging threats 35
4.1 The origins of the Rational Actor Model 36
4.2 The Rational Actor Paradigm and Critique 40
4.3 RAM analysis 1: Notional State Games 44
4.4 RAM analysis 2: Identified State Decisions 50
4.5 Conclusions and Implications 58

5 The Organisational Behaviour Model:
BMD as output of governmental organisations 59
5.1 The origins of the Organisational Behaviour Model 60
5.2 The Organisational Behaviour Paradigm and Critique 62
5.3 Adapting the OBM for BMD analysis 63
5.4 OBM Analysis: BMD as organisational output 65
5.5 Conclusions and Implications 73

6 The Governmental Politics Model:

BMD as result of political bargaining 77
6.1 The origins of the Governmental Politics Model 77
6.2 The Governmental Politics Paradigm and Critique 79
6.3 Adapting the GPM for BMD analysis 81
6.4 GPM analysis 1: Bureaucratic positions 82
6.5 GPM analysis 2: Political beliefs 87
6.6 Conclusions and Implications 93

7 Conclusions 95
7.1 Empirical findings 95
7.2 Theoretical findings 98
7.3 Future research 101

Bilbliography 103

List of Abbreviations

ABM treaty Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

BMD Ballistic Missile Defence
BMDS Ballistic Missile Defence System
BMDO Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
DoD Department of Defence
EKV Exo-Atmospheric Kill-Vehicle
FAS Federation of American Scientists
FPA Foreign Policy Analysis
GMD Global Missile Defence
GPALS Global Protection Against Limited Strikes
GPM Governmental Politics Model
ICBM Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
HTMD High Tier Missile Defence
MD Missile Defence
MDA Missile Defence Agency
MTMD Multi-Tier Missile Defence
NMD National Missile Defence
NPT Non-Proliferation Treaty
OBM Organisational Behaviour Model
RAM Rational Actor Model
RQ Research Question
SALT Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty
SBIRS Space Based Infra-Red Laser System
SDI Strategic Defence Initiative
SOP Standard Operating Procedure
START Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
TMD Theatre Missile Defence

At first glance, the idea to pursue defence against ballistic nuclear missiles seems a logical
step for any country. It would in theory be able to protect against a single nuclear weapon
launched by a desperate state, a terrorist sub-state group, or against an erroneous fired
missile by an accepted nuclear power. Yet, when US President George W. Bush announced
on May 1, 2001 his decision to develop and deploy an elaborate system of defence against
ballistic missiles, it puzzled me as it did many others. Why would the administration want
to attempt something that had failed so hopelessly before? Why attempt something that
the Federation of American Scientists labelled technologically impossible? Why invest 200
plus billion US$ when the US deficit is exploding at a rate of 3 billion US$ a day? Why run
the risk of a renewed arms race?

In response to the decision, many opinions about missile defence and about the ‘real
reasons’ behind it were postulated, by politicians, heads of state, scholars, media and civil
society. Yet the polarisation of the debate that followed even among scholars has been
standing in the way of a thorough and non-partisan answer to the first question that should
have been raised: Why this decision? Or: What explains the decision by the US Government
to develop and deploy ballistic missile defence? In this thesis, I hope to contribute in a
modest way to solving this puzzle.

Depending on perspective, getting to this point took me two months of solitary

confinement, or some 10 years of being a political sciences student….. I wouldn’t know
where to start to thank each and every person that offered help in that time, so I thank
you all in one go. I can’t convincingly say: “I couldn’t have done it without you”, because
frankly, I probably would have finished some thesis long ago if it weren’t for EKKO, Protos,
the NO-BASES gang, the Strangelove Institute (forthcoming) and now the Hot Fox Five. But
without all that to distract me, it wouldn’t have been half the fun and what’s more, not
being part of all that would have to stood in the way of being me.

There’s a few that deserve singling out though. Bastiaan van Apeldoorn, my supervisor, for
reminding me of my thesis at exactly the right moment, about a year ago; for his insightful
comments on earlier drafts; and for the interesting discussions throughout the years.
My mother for never giving up on her prodigal son, my father for valuable feedback on the
drafts and for our never boring discussions. Both for always being there.
Sebastian Dinjens for his enthusiasm and for allowing me to pick his brain in the earlier
stages of this work. Jelle Boomstra for his daily ‘voortgangscontrole’, Arjen van Gend for
all the years of providing an exquisite hideout, Okkem, Hette, Richard, Marjoleine….
The Transnational Institute and my colleagues there, for providing me with all the right
reasons not to finish this for six years, and for giving me two months off to do just that.
And last but not least my two boys, Jonathan and Ruben, for putting it all in the right

Utrecht, June 28, 2007

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

1 INTRODUCTION: Why Missile Defence Matters

This thesis aims to shed light on the decision by the US Government to develop and deploy
an extensive capability to defend against enemy ballistic missiles1, potentially with nuclear
payload. It will take a closer look at the argumentation used by the US government and
engage in discussions about the validity of the assumptions and claims made by the
decision makers. It will also look at the decision making process and the forces within US
society and politics contributing to the drive for this decision. This introductory Chapter
will give some brief background on the topic of missile defence, and it will spell out ‘the
puzzle’ that this thesis seeks to solve. This Chapter ends with a brief overview of Chapters,
to guide the reader through the thesis.

1.1 Background

The Second World War saw the first use of longer range missiles with payload. In 1944, the
German army launched its first ‘Vergeltungswaffe 2’ rocket (V2), with an explosive
payload. The V2 moved faster than sound and hit London. Within a year, both sides to the
conflict used similar rockets. The US signed for another first, dropping from a plane ‘the
big one’, the first nuclear bomb, ironically dubbed ‘little boy’, on Hiroshima, August 6th
1945. Thus leading the world into the Nuclear Age. After the war, those two new
technologies, longer range missiles and nuclear weapons, were combined into the single
most powerful weapon in human history: The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with
nuclear payload. This weapon came to dominate world politics throughout the second half
of the 20th century, leading to the delicate balance of power known as “Mutual Assured
Destruction” during the Cold War, a nuclear stand-off between the US and the USSR. And
nuclear weapons continue to influence defence policies and foreign politics today.
The history of warfare and defence can be described as a continuous arms race.
Much the same as with the race in which national banks try desperately to outsmart
counterfeiters, those who develop military offence capabilities try to stay one step ahead
of those developing military defence capabilities. As French President Jacque Chirac put

Ballistic literally means ‘describing the trajectory of a projectile’. In rocket science the term
‘ballistic missiles’ specifies those missiles that use motor power to climb after which the payload
falls back to earth unpropelled; direction and velocity determined by gravity, see Chapter 3.

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

If you look at world history, ever since man began waging war, you will see
that there’s a permanent race between sword and shield. The sword always
wins. The more improvements you make to the shield, the more
improvements are made to the sword…. (New York Times, December 17,

Chirac echoes what is commonly known in the study of International Relations as the
security dilemma. The dilemma is often exemplified by quoting Lord Grey, reflecting on
the First World War:
The increase of armaments, that is intended in each nation to produce
consciousness of strength, and a sense of security, does not produce these
effects. On the contrary, it produces a consciousness of strength of other
nations and a sense of fear. Fear begets suspicion and distrust and evil
imaginings of all sorts, till each Government feels it would be criminal and
betrayal of its own country not to take every precaution, while every
government regards every precaution of every other Government as evidence
of hostile intent (In Jervis 1976: 65).

The security dilemma accurately describes the driving force behind the Cold War nuclear
arms-race, as well as predicts a natural desire for countries to try and out-smart a nuclear
adversary by building a defensive shield to protect against ICBMs. Yet, at the same time,
the dilemma does not stop with such protection. Worse, realising that no military
capability is purely ‘defensive’ in function, it will in turn aggravate the security dilemma
of adversaries.

Missile Defence: The Holy Grail of National Security

Writing in 2007, it has been 6 decades since the invention of the nuclear ICBM. Powerful
states like Russia and the US have since tried to develop the means necessary to defend
their territories against the horrific threat of ICBMs, thus trying to match in Chirac’s words
the capabilities of the shield to those of the sword. Up till today, no one has managed to
master the technological difficulties connected to “hitting a bullet with a bullet”. As a
consequence of all previous failures (see Chapter 3), the dream of ballistic missile defence
seemed to have died with the Cold War in the early 1990s. The Clinton administration still
pursued some modest technological breakthroughs, without much success, but his
administration seemed altogether unenthusiastic about the concept.
Ballistic missile defence resurfaced as a top priority in 2001, when the new George
W. Bush administration launched a new, and extensive plan. Arguing that after the Cold
War the world had become a more dangerous place because of the growing possibility of
proliferation of both the technology required for nuclear weapons and for ICBMs, the

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

administration felt compelled to stay a step ahead of this possible future threat. The
decision was much debated, and on many different grounds. Renowned economists
debated whether the 200 plus billion dollars needed to develop the system would be worth
it – how it would affect the national economy. Professors in physics and engineers
disagreed vehemently on the technological feasibility. International relations experts
discussed the question whether or not the plan would lead to a renewed arms race with
Russia and more specifically China. Legal experts – and governments – argued whether or
not the proposed missile defence system would violate international treaties, especially
the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. That last discussion ended with the US withdrawal
from that Treaty. As for the rest, only time can tell who was right and on which point.

1.2 Moral relevance: What the US decided not to do

The moral relevance of the decision of the US government to again attempt to defend
itself against ICBMs is contained first and foremost in the international political
consequences of the decision. Better yet, it is contained in what the US decided not to
pursue. The existence of nuclear weapons has burdened mankind since the Second World
War. The two superpowers, the US and the USSR were the first to develop nuclear ICBMs,
over time joined by the UK, France, Israel, China, Pakistan and India. A stalemate line in
the cold conflict was reached when under UN auspices most countries relevant signed the
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968.2 The NPT asked of non-nuclear states to refrain
from developing the bomb, and with some success. Over the years, several countries
decided – arguably in conflict with their immediate strategic interest – to stop researching
and developing nuclear arms. Australia, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Italy, Kazakhstan, South
Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Ukraine all at one point rolled back their nuclear
ambitions. (Rauf 1999: 4) The moral justification of the NPT towards these countries was
that it offered them a deal. In return for the promise not to build up a nuclear arsenal, the
already existing nuclear states (China, France, the UK, the US and the USSR) promised to
negotiate first a reduction of their nuclear arsenal, and ultimately the abolition of all
nuclear arms, including their own. The nuclear powers have not met the obligations of the
NPT, at all.3 In a world without nuclear arms, the US or any other country would not have

For the entire treaty text of the NPT, see: []
This remark refers to Article IV of the NPT: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to
pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms
race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete
disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

to resort to shielding themselves from a nuclear attack. The unwillingness to disarm, in

combination with the decision to pursue Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD), also sends out a
strong signal from the US to countries doubting whether or not to break with the NPT
requirements that tell them not to develop nuclear arms. The US is signalling that it has
lost faith in the NPT and will not keep its end of the bargain. It accepts the existence of
nuclear arms and chooses to employ unilateral protection against them rather than
pursuing multilateral disarmament freeing the world of the yoke of a nuclear threat.
Next to that, despite vigorous debate in the first months after the decision, there
has been surprisingly little attention for its full implications. To name a few: BMD will
further US overseas presence. Recently, the Czech Republic and Poland (both European
Union (EU) member-states) have signed a deal allowing the US to build ground posts
supporting BMD (Leixnering 2007). These sites will, when a nuclear war is inevitable,
become target points for any opponent of the US. Knowing this, the US will have to base
not only technical equipment and support at these sites, but also personnel and equipment
to protect them. As will be discussed in this thesis, BMD will further allow the US to ‘tilt’
the deterrence balance with several countries, resulting in greater insecurity for these
countries. In accordance with the concept of the security dilemma, it will force countries
determined to retain a certain level of deterrence to respond, either by exceeding the
capacity of the BMD shield (like China) (Godwin 2002: 3) or by trying to find alternative
means of deterrence (terrorism, e.g. the horror scenario of a nuclear suitcase bomb).
There are additional moral issues related to the lack of proper public debate on
BMD. Europeans should realise that a hypothetical ICBM launched from the Middle East (a
popular example these days), may be intercepted above European territory. One hundred
and fifty kilometres high may sound very distant, but a nuclear explosion at that altitude
would most certainly result in grave damage to the European continent and its inhabitants,
even if the destruction of the ICBM does not lead to a full nuclear detonation. Also: People
in the US should realise that 200 billion of their (public) tax dollars will flow into the
(private) development of this system. All these and many other debates about the
necessity and about the consequences of BMD receive little attention both within and
outside the US. This thesis hopes to contribute to more in-depth discussion on the broader
effects of BMD, going beyond the simple calculation that BMD is a moral imperative
because of a government's prime objective of providing for the common defence (e.g.
Spring 1998: 1-2).

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

1.3 The debate

The decision by a government to invest two hundred thousand million US$ in a

technologically uncertain project is in itself reason enough to look closer at the decision
and at the argumentation underlying it, especially when that decision is in direct violation
of several international treaties. Yet, a study specifically looking at the decision itself,
how it came about and why at that time (and not earlier) has not been undertaken so far.
In that sense, this thesis responds to an omission in the existing scholarly discourse. At the
same time, there is no lack of written material and commentary on the BMD system itself
and on some of the controversies surrounding it. Most documents focus on the threat to
which BMD is responding. Brian Kennedy of the conservative think-tank Claremont Institute
for example assesses that:
the United States has enemies that seek to remove it as the most powerful
nation in the world and the defender of freedom. [And] the method by which
these nations will seek to marginalise the United States may well be nuclear
missile attack or the terror of nuclear black-mail (Kennedy 2002: 1).

This emphasis on BMD as a response to new nuclear threats is also apparent in the 2002
book Defending America: The Case for Limited National Missile Defense, by Michael
O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon concludes that 5 ‘facts’ lead to the inescapable conclusion that BMD
deserves the highest priority: (1) Ballistic missile technology is spreading to more and more
countries; (2) The technology required for BMD is available; (3) The end of the Cold War
offers the opportunity to rethink the role of BMD; (4) The ICBM is nearly the only type of
threat against which the US has absolutely no defence; and (5) Nuclear deterrence may fail
in certain types of crises or conflicts. (O’Hanlon 2002: 142-143). The argument O’Hanlon
and others make is that while the Cold War is over, the missile threat has not diminished.
On the contrary, a growing number of states is developing limited nuclear ICBM capacity.
BMD would not aim to counter Russia’s deterrence capacity, but defend against ‘rogue
nations’ like Iraq, Iran, North Korea and others. (Cambone, Daalder et al. 2000: 5; Gordon
2001: 17-36; Perry 2001: 31-45; Spring 1998: 1-2; Carter 2004). Stephen Hadley goes even
further, emphasising that the end of the Cold War by no means ended the missile threat
from Russia, and ultimately, a BMD system should also counter that threat (Hadley 2000:
An equally large amount of articles refutes the argumentation of O’Hanlon and
others. Most challenge the threat assessment itself, claiming either that the ‘rogue states’
do not possess the necessary technology to pose a serious threat and will not do so for a
long time (Cirincione 2000: 2-4; Deutch 2000: 91-100; Coates 2001: 13-14) or by claiming

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

that the existing overwhelming deterrence power of the US will keep any country with
limited nuclear ICBM capabilities from attacking the US in the first place (Krieger 2001;
Lewis 1999: 120-137 e.g.) Many of the critics of BMD express a worry about the choice for
BMD as opposed to other methods of threat reduction, such as nuclear non-proliferation
(Kursosaki 2004; Hagen 2001) or the more aggressive method of nuclear counter-
proliferation (Carter 2004). Analysts like George Lewis even go so far as to conclude that
BMD contradictorily may increase the likelihood of a nuclear war (Lewis 1999: 120-131).
Critics of BMD also question the benefit of BMD, arguing that relatively, BMD is too costly a
method to increase security, where cheaper options are available, such as a strengthened
multilateral counter-proliferation effort (Deutch 2000: 91-100; Newhouse 2001: 97-109).
The discourse on foreign affairs related argumentation for or against BMD is highly
politicised. The political ‘colour’ of the analyst often becomes apparent by looking just at
the publishing house responsible for dissemination of the text. Studies in favour of BMD are
mostly pushed by Military Academies, or policy research institutes with an acclaimed ‘pro-
military expenses’ background, often close to the Republican Party: The Brooking
Institution, the Heritage Foundation, the Atlantic Council of the US, The Project for The
New American Century, etc. Critics are wider spread it seems, including universities and
research institutes that are less clearly linked to a certain part of the political spectrum
(The Monterey Institute for International Studies, The Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, e.g.). Others do have a clear link to either the Democratic Party (Deutch et
al.), or to progressive think-tanks (Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Lewis of
the Center for Defense Information). Both sides seem to make their own assumptions about
(1) how realistic the threat is, (2) how well BMD would counter the threat, and (3) how the
Bush administration assessed the threat and the effects of BMD.
Outside that debate, there are several less politicised side-debates. One is on the
technological feasibility of a BMD system. While disagreeing in their conclusions, analysts
seem less driven by a-priori opinions about BMD. The Federation of American Scientists
(FAS) for example repeatedly concluded in articles and in letters to the government that
BMD is technologically impossible (e.g. FAS 2000), while others analyse test results of
different specific systems part of BMD (Singer 2003; Watson 2003; Hildreth 2007).
Several informative analyses have been made with regard to international treaties
and the potential violations of these treaties because of BMD. The violation of the Anti-
Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) is obvious, and led to heated debates in 2000 and 2001
(see for example Lewis 1999; O’Hanlon 2002), until the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty
in 2002. Less obvious violations of the NPT and of international treaties on the

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

weaponisation of space are discussed in the literature by Hitchens (2002b) and by the
Acronym Institute (2007).
A discourse has emerged in the past decade on the costs of a (working) BMD shield.
The dominant view is that development alone would cost some 200 billion US$ in the next
15 to 20 years, which seems a reasonable estimate given that the annual expenses over the
past years have hovered around 10 billion US$. More critical analyses estimate that a
‘really working’ shield would cost up to maybe 1,000 billion US$ (Kaufman 2003). Several
analysts hint that the discussion on costs (and benefits) may be taken a step further, and
that one of the positive consequences of BMD is that the investment will stimulate US
industries (Gold 1999; Mc Guire 2002; Kaufman 2003).
Finally, analyses by the World Policy Institute contribute to the debate by looking
at the decision from an entirely different angle, claiming that the decision in the end may
have little to do with the threat or the solution BMD may or may not offer. Instead, the
hypothesis is put on the table that the decision is driven by a strong lobby by the defence
industry in combination with a clear involvement of leading Bush administration
personalities in that lobby (Ciarrocca and Hartung 2002).
Contemplating the available analyses on BMD, a student of International Relations
will find him or herself presented with a relatively rich technological debate and sufficient
information on the actual and probably cost of BMD. Next to that, a clear picture seems to
emerge of the consequences of BMD for treaties on proliferation and the weaponisation of
space. But while these more factual analyses are pivotal for any thorough understanding of
the issue, the disagreement on the need and use for BMD along political dividing lines has
moved to the centre of the debate. The divide obscures a clear view on what contributed
to the decision itself, and leaves the analyst with a puzzle.

1.4 The puzzle

The dominant argumentation in favour of developing and deploying BMD may be best
formulated by members of the Bush administration themselves.
Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence, June 21, 2001:
There are some important facts which are not debatable: The number of
countries that are developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of
mass destruction is growing. The number of ballistic missiles on the face of
the earth, and the number of countries possessing them is growing as well.
Future adversaries may use these advanced capabilities to deny us access to
distant theatres of operation. And, as they gain access to a range of new
weapons that allow them to expand the “deadly zone” to include our

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

territory, infrastructure, space assets, population, friends, and allies, we may

find future conflicts are no longer restricted to their region of origin. (US
Senate 2001a: 5)

Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defence, July 12, 2001:

If we do not build defences against these weapons now, hostile powers will
soon have – or may already have -- the ability to strike U.S. and allied cities
with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. They will have the power to
hold our people hostage to blackmail and terror. They may secure, in their
estimation, the capability to prevent us from forming international coalitions
to challenge their acts of aggression and force us into a truly isolationist
posture. And they would not even have to use the weapons in their possession
to affect our behaviour and achieve their ends. (US Senate 2001b: 2)

The most basic formulation, BMD as a response to the growing threat posed by countries
obtaining ICBMs with nuclear payload, is the most echoed argumentation in favour of a
BMD shield. And instinctively it makes sense. Potential adversaries could develop or may
already have offensive ICBM capacity threatening US territory and allies. Furthermore, the
possession of nuclear ICBMs is understood by the administration to not only matter on the
battlefield, but at the negotiation table as well. Rumsfeld asks:
Imagine, for a moment, what might happen if a rogue state demonstrated the
capability to attack U.S. or European populations with nuclear, chemical or
biological weapons of mass destruction? A policy of intentional vulnerability
by the Western nations could give rogue states the power to hold our people
hostage to nuclear blackmail – in an effort to prevent us from projecting
force to stop aggression (US Senate 2001a: 2).

BMD, as formulated by Rumsfeld, is not only to protect against missiles, but also to protect
against blackmail by potential adversaries. What is striking in the quotes above, is the
emphasis on apparent offensive functions of BMD. Not only will the system defend, it will
secure US access to ‘distant theatres of operation’, and grant the US the ability to ‘project
force to stop aggression’ as well.
This line of argumentation seems at first to be a tight fit with the dominant
theoretical approach in the study of International Relations, Neo-realism. Neo-realists
argue that states, as primary actors in an international system of states, act primarily in
response to a perceived threat (nuclear ICBMs) or opportunity (taking away the
blackmailing power of an adversary). States are rational in their choices and as such able
to meet the problem (nuclear ICBMs; amenability to blackmail) with the most adequate
response (BMD). The double function of BMD, defence and offence, responds to two
identifiable ‘flavours’ of realism. Defensive Realism predicts that states are primarily
seeking survival of the state (Taliaferro 2000: 152-168) in an international jungle. The US
in this case seeks survival in the face of possible annihilation by nuclear attack. Offensive

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

realism predicts that the state is not only interested in survival, but also in expansion of its
power and influence (e.g. Mearsheimer 2002). The US sees in BMD the means to expand its
ability to conduct military offensive operations in ‘distant theatres’ so as to secure or
expand domination over overseas regions of interest.
It would seem as if the central question in this thesis “What explains the decision
by the US administration to develop and deploy BMD” is easily answered. Empirically: The
growing threat explains it, or the imperative of the US to respond to it. Or on a theoretical
level: Neo-realism explains it. But looking closer at neo-realism, as will be done in Chapter
4, it raises new empirical questions too. Within the neo-realist approach, it is common
usage to not only look at the perception of threat and available solutions of a state as if it
were operating in a vacuum. Better yet, the state is understood to act as one actor in a
system of actors. Reading the statements above again, it seems obvious that the security
dilemma as formulated by Robert Jervis should apply to the concept of BMD. The security
dilemma states that the (defensive) action of one state, affects the perceived security
situation of another state, thus forcing the other state to respond (Jervis 1978: 209).
Realising this, a rational state will consider in its choice of action these responses by
adversaries and may even choose an alternative action. As a result, the choice of action of
one state is limited by the perceived responses of another state, and vice versa. In the
case of BMD, this raises serious questions. Immediately after the US’ decision to deploy
BMD, China announced it would expand its nuclear strike capacity, to outmatch the
capacity of the BMD shield. In the case of China, the BMD decision did nothing to enhance
the national security of the US (Godwin 2002: 5).
And consider the position of Iran. Over the past years, the US threatened Iran
several times with military intervention.4 Iran has reason to take these threats seriously.
Two of its direct neighbours have been occupied by the US since 2001, and the US keeps
troops and military facilities in no less than ten countries directly bordering Iran.5
Furthermore, Iran is aware of the expressed policy of the US to push for democratisation
and possibly regime change in Iran.6 Realism predicts that Iran would be clearly aware that
it needs a method to deter the US from attacking it. Looking at the most recent additions
to the nuclear club, Pakistan and India, Iran may well have learned from their experiences:
The route towards nuclearisation is paved with dangers, but once the threshold is passed,

See for some more recent examples: Washington Post, June 1, 2006; Independent, January 15,
2007; Jerusalem Post, April 26, 2007, etc.
The US currently keeps foreign military facilities and troops in Iran’s neigbours Afghanistan,
Bahrein, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi-Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
See for example: van der Zeijden, 2007).
On democratisation and regime change, see for example: Vanaik, 2007. Iran’s awareness of the
threat, for example: Jerusalem Post, April 26, 2007.

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the US willingly or unwillingly will change its posture. Both Pakistan and India were
threatened by the US before, but can count on a more cooperative relationship with the US
since they are ‘accepted nuclear powers’ (Mian 2007: 164-174).
Iran may have concluded that the easiest way to solve its problem of lack of
deterrence is to acquire some nuclear ICBM capability. BMD, at first glance, would take
away the incentive for Iran to go that direction, and it may, or may not. The important
question is how Iran assesses the chances of success of the US BMD plan. Critical reports
about feasibility from US physics and engineers, supported by dubious test results so far,
may well lead Iran to assess that the US is bluffing. Next to that, Iran may assess that it
needs nuclear arms anyway, to restore the power balance vis-à-vis the growing amount of
countries capable of blackmailing Iran at the negotiation table: Pakistan, India, Russia,
China and Israel. For indeed, who would come to the defence of Iran if in a crisis any of
the mentioned nuclear powers threatened it with a nuclear assault on Tehran? And even if
Iran assesses BMD as a probable success and decides to cancel its nuclear programme, that
would not – from an Iranian point of view – resolve the imminent threat. Iran would still
feel the need for a convincing deterrent, for example bypassing the BMD shield (a nuclear
suitcase bomb) or by creating a conventional deterrent against the US (strike capability
against US troops in the region, or against Israel, e.g.).7
In the example of Iran, a functioning BMD system would at best force it to search
secondary, possibly less favourable deterrents. In the worst case scenario, it would push
Iran further into a nuclear deterrence strategy. A similar logic applies to the case of North
Korea, and possibly other countries. All in all, the huge risk brought on by the BMD decision
is that if the system works, it just pushes adversaries into other means of deterrence,
while if it does not work, or until it works, the US may find itself in the dangerous strategic
contradiction in which it pushes its acclaimed adversaries into a more aggressive
deterrence strategy, while the US only has a fallible BMD shield to try and hide behind.

Then why the decision in the first place? Was the US administration not aware of the risks
involved? That seems unlikely. But if the decision can be understood as a well informed,
rational decision, then how to explain that the Clinton administration, with the same
available information, came to a different conclusion? Furthermore, the quotes already
show that the Bush administration is well aware of the diplomatic consequences of its
decision, and of the readiness of adversaries to respond. Did the US administration make
an irrational decision? It may have, but that takes us beyond the explanatory capacity of
neo-realism, or any other approach founded on rational choice as Chapter 4 will show.

Iran has hinted at this strategy several times recently. See for example: Haaretz, April 26, 2007.

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Were there additional considerations for the US administration leading to the decision,
considerations that do not show in a neo-realist analysis?

Puzzling levels

As argued before, none of the available literature explicitly links its analyses to the neo-
realist approach, or any other scholarly tradition for that matter, with the notable
exception of Julian Palmore’s five page game theoretical paper (Palmore 2001: 211-215).
Implicitly, almost all seem to start from basic realist assumptions, with the noted
exceptions of Ciarrocca and Hartung (2002), Mc Guire (2002) and Gordon (2001). These
three all allow for additional or entirely different (implicit) sets of assumptions. However
different in their approach and conclusions, all three look to intra-governmental or
national political mechanisms that may have contributed to the BMD decision.
Contemplating the obvious doubts about the explanatory competence of the neo-realist
approach in this case, their alternative theses become all the more important.
Neo-realism, and several other contemporary International Relations approaches,
essentially limit their focus to interstate relations, or what Waltz called the systemic level.
As Robert Keohane formulates it:
[…] an international-level analysis […] is neither an alternative to studying
domestic politics, nor a mere supplement to it. On the contrary, it is a
precondition for effective comparative analysis. Without a conception of the
common external problems, pressures, and challenges […] we lack an analytic
basis for identifying the role played by domestic interests and pressures.
Understanding the constraints imposed by the world political economy allows
us to distinguish the effects of common international forces from those of
distinctive national ones (Keohane cited in Ikenberry et al. 1988: 4)

Over the years, the development of system-level theories and approaches has proven its
value, but has also produced a vast amount of reflections on the limitations of its
explanatory power caused by the exclusion of possibly relevant domestic policy or politics.
According to Ikenberry et al., system-centred explanations of foreign policy treat the
policy process as a black box. Such a conception, Ikenberry argues:
is most useful when it explains or predicts the pattern of a large number of
cases across time or space. However, it becomes less useful when analysis […]
focuses more closely on a small number of cases in a single country […]. In
that event, we need to understand the policy process, and how domestic and
international forces and constraints are transmitted through the black box of
government (Ikenberry 1988: 2-3).

Following Ikenberry, studying a single government decision, like in this thesis, would then
require the opening of ‘the black box of government’ and look what’s inside. Yet, at the

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same time, it would be pushing too far to say that BMD can only be studied by opening the
black box. A study of the reasons for BMD cannot negate or ignore the system level
component. So on the one hand system-level analysis cannot provide sufficient answers,
but on the other hand no analysis of the BMD decision can do without. A possible way out
of this dilemma is offered by what is known within the study of International Relations as
Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA). FPA argues that beside rational state behaviour as studied in
neo-realism, additional insight can be acquired by studying the human decision makers
level (Hudson 2005: 3-4) As Snyder et al. argue:
[…] if one wishes to probe the “why” question underlying the events,
conditions, and interaction patterns which rest upon state action, then
decision-making analysis is certainly necessary. We would go so far as to say
that the “why” question cannot be answered without analysis of decision
making. (Snyder, Bruck and Sapin 1962: 33, emphasis in original).

FPA as such provides a method for opening Ikenberry’s Black Box, and looks inside the
black box at the individuals, groups and organisations that make the decisions that are
recognised in realism as ‘state actions or decisions’. FPA seems especially applicable to the
analysis of the BMD decision in this thesis, since it does not negate the works and claims of
Realism. Looking inside the box does not necessarily mean that what is outside the box is
rendered irrelevant. Rather, as Hudson points out, FPA acknowledges “the “two-level”
game that state decision makers must play: the simultaneous play of the game of domestic
politics and the game of international politics” (Hudson 2005: 3). A functional method of
combining the different levels of analysis in one study is presented by the works of Graham
Allison, most notably in his famous book Essence of Decision (Allison 1971). In his attempts
to explain the behaviour of the USSR and US governments during the Cuban Missile Crisis of
October 1962, he too struggled with trying to find ‘the best’ analysis method. As one of
the first, he argued that an overall explanation is best served by a multi-level analysis,
rather than by solely a system-level, or a sub-system-level one. Allison proposes three
‘models’ in his work that each try to analyse the same question, but using three different
sets of assumptions. His first model, the Rational Actor Model, is more or less the system-
level analysis as we know it from the neo-realist approach. The second and third model
open the black box and look at two different things ‘inside’. The second model looks at the
domestic institutional level, and the third at the domestic political level. Allison’s work
has been much acclaimed but also much criticised over the past three and a half decades
since he wrote his book in 1971.
New information on the Missile Crisis and new insights acquired over the years
through discussion with his critics, led Allison to write a severely revised version of his
book in 1999, now together with Philip Zelikow (Allison and Zelikow 1999). The popularity

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of Allison’s work and the apparent usefulness of the method it offers to solve the puzzle
presented in this thesis are the reason for choosing Allison and Zelikow’s models as the
framework for this thesis. As will be explained in more detail in the next Chapter, this
choice results in a double aim for this thesis. First of all the thesis will seek to answer the
empirical research questions formulated in the next Chapter. Secondly, the thesis will test
and evaluate the three models provided by Allison and Zelikow.

1.5 A readers guide

The next Chapter (two) will further introduce the framework proposed by Allison and
Zelikow. Critiques of the work of Allison will be discussed, and distinctions between Allison
1971 and Allison & Zelikow 1999 will be briefly highlighted. The Chapter will conclude with
a set of refined research questions.
Chapter Three will take the reader away from both the empirical and theoretical
debates for a moment, providing background information on ballistic missiles and the
defence against them. It will give a brief history of previous BMD systems, and explains
some of the technology involved in the current plans. Based on that, several definitions are
formulated to refine understanding of ‘what kind of Missile Defence’ the thesis is about
and ’what decision’ is analysed.
Chapters Four, Five and Six will each apply one of the Allison and Zelikow models to
analyse the BMD decision. Each Chapter starts with an in-depth explanation of the model
used, and reviews critiques of the model. Each Chapter further adapts a model where
necessary, to make it fit for analysis of the research questions in this thesis. After that,
each Chapter will attempt an empirical analysis based on one of the models. Chapter Four
studies the BMD decision through the lens of rational actors in the international political
field, starting with the question “What did the administration intend to achieve or solve by
its decision?”. Chapter Five looks into the organisational processes in play in the decision
making process, asking the question “How was the decision made, and by whom?” The
third empirical analytical Chapter will ask the question “Who wanted this and who
supported the decision – and who did not?”, thus looking at the political bargaining and
societal pressure that may have occurred in the run-up to the decision. Chapter Seven
finally, will reflect on the combined results of the three separate analyses and conclude
from it. The last Chapter will also answer more formally the research questions, and
discuss the implications for further research.

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Allison and Zelikow’s three model framework

Trying to find a satisfactory explanation of the US choice for BMD, we find ourselves
lacking a perfectly fitting approach. Allison and Zelikow’s book Essence of Decision
provides a framework of analysis that tries to combine different – and sometimes differing
– approaches, in order to strengthen the total explanatory value. The explicit claim Allison
and Zelikow make is that the models they present do not exclude each other, but can be
used to complement each other, building towards a more refined explanation of a
government’s action or decision.
This Chapter is divided into four sections. The first section starts by taking away the
confusion caused by two rather different editions of the Essence of Decision book. And it
will explain the logic of the three models formulated in the book. The second section will
adopt for this thesis the framework proposed by Allison and Zelikow, and a set of empirical
research questions will be formulated. In the third section, a review will be given of the
main criticism of the three model framework. And finally, a set of theoretical research
questions will be formulated in section four.

2.1 The logic of Allison’s three model framework

Graham Allison published the original version of Essence of Decision in 1971. The book has
been widely appreciated as a classic in the study of foreign policy and international
relations, but also far beyond that. Between 1971 and 1991, the book was cited in over
1,100 articles in academic journals listed in the Social Sciences Citation Index, political
sciences periodicals, but also for example in the American Journal of Agricultural
Economics (Welch 1992: 112). Thousands of copies of the book were sold each year, from
1971 onward, reflecting the widespread use in university curricula. For political scientists,
Allison’s ‘Essence’ is more or less a household name. Two reasons led Allison to rewrite his
book and publish in 1999 an updated version of Essence of Decision. First and foremost, a
host of new available data called for refining of some of the argumentation in the original
book, adding new evidence, removing passages that had turned out to be misguided. The
most important source of new information and evidence came from the declassification of
the ‘Kennedy Tapes’, transcripts of the actual discussions happening in the Oval Office in
the White House in the days before and during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The 1999 edition of

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Essence of Decision is as a result much richer in information supporting the claims made in
the book. Secondly, the revision of the 1971 book offered Graham Allison, now flanked by
Philip Zelikow, to make methodological changes based on the 28 years of discussions on
the three model framework Allison devised in 1971. In this thesis, the framework of the
1999 edition is used as the basis for analysis (Allison and Zelikow 1999).
Allison and Zelikow argue that, when confronted with a puzzling governmental
action or decision, the puzzle can be framed as a ‘why’-question. Why did the Soviet Union
place missiles in Cuba? Why did Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait? What one seeks to
accomplish when analysing such question, is to find out why one specific state of the world
came about rather than another (Allison and Zelikow 1999:2). Most often, the resulting
analysis of such a puzzle is done by assuming that governmental behaviour can be most
satisfactorily understood by analogy with the purposive acts of an individual. Governments
are then treated as if they were centrally coordinated, purposive individuals seeking value
maximisation. This provides a useful simplification enabling us to understand policy choices
or actions. But Allison and Zelikow point out that – however useful – this simplification also
obscures a persistently neglected fact of government: The decision maker of national
policy is obviously not a unitary calculating individual, but is rather a conglomerate of
large governmental organisations and many political actors (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 3).
This is not to say that focussing on organisations and their behaviour or focussing on
political actors and their bargaining processes can be done without simplifying reality. On
the contrary, Allison and Zelikow argue that each and every study of government behaviour
in foreign affairs requires from the analyst he or she simplifies reality by excluding a large
part of the puzzle.
The reason for Allison and Zelikow to point out the often little realised assumptions
underlying all analyses, is that in their attempt to explain the governmental behaviour of
the US and the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis, they struggled with trying to find ‘the
best’ approach, or ‘the best’ theory that would enable them to use all the different types
of information and evidence and the different categories of claims. Their search ended in
the conclusion that –because of the need to simplify – no approach or theory can have all
the explanatory value they needed for their task: to describe in full what ‘really
happened’ during the crisis. To improve their analysis, Allison and Zelikow developed three
parallel models focussing on tree different sides of the same story or three different
‘lenses’ through which combined, a more complete understanding of governmental
behaviour can be generated.

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The three models

The first model formulated by Allison and Zelikow is the Rational Actor Model. This first
model is conform the aforementioned logic in which states or governments are described
as if they are purposive individuals. The attention of the analysis is on certain concepts:
goals and objectives of the nation or governments. The logic of reasoning is that solutions
match problems. And in the analysis, the analyst invokes a pattern of inference: If a nation
performed an action of this sort, it must have had a goal of this type. The analyst has
“explained an event when he can show an action was reasonable given the strategic
objectives or preferences of the state” (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 4-5).
The first of two models Allison and Zelikow formulate that ‘open the box of
national government’ focuses primarily on the role of governmental organisations in
decision making processes. This Organisational Behaviour Model focuses the attention on
the question: From what organisational context, pressures and procedures did a decision
emerge? Concepts like standard operating procedures, programmes and organisational
procedures for acquiring information are focussed on. The pattern of inference invoked is:
If organisations produced an output of a certain kind at a certain time that behaviour
resulted from existing organisational structures, procedures and repertoires. This model
‘explains’ an event when the relevant organisations are identified and patterns of
organisational behaviour are laid bare from which an action emerged (Allison and Zelikow
1999: 5-6). In the original edition by Allison (1971), this model was called the
Organisational Processes Model.
The third and final model proposed by Allison and Zelikow is the Governmental
Politics Model (previously the Bureaucratic Politics Model). In this model, the central
question is framed as: Which results of what kinds of bargaining among which players
yielded the critical decisions and actions? The concepts in focus are the political agents
that impacted on the issue, factors that shape these agents’ perceptions and beliefs, the
procedures in place for aggregating competing preferences and the performance of the
agents. The pattern of inference leads to the reasoning: If a government performed an
action, that action was the result of bargaining among players in this game. The
explanation is successful when it can be convincingly established who did what to whom
that yielded the action analysed (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 6).
Allison and Zelikow claim that the three models complement rather than compete
with each other. That is not to say that there are no contradictions or tensions when the
three are used alongside each other. The Rational Actor Model does indeed intrinsically
claim that national politics and institutions hardly matter. The Organisational Behaviour

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model does really work from the exclusive notion that the choices of politicians are
significantly limited by the institutional preconditions set. And the Governmental Politics
Model really does discard the idea of a unitary national actor acting in an international
field as the central point of reference in studies. The assumptions made are understood as
necessary for the specific limited analysis each attempts. Without them, the approaches
would lose their foundation and be rendered unusable. Better yet, for the purpose of the
explanatory contribution sought in this thesis, the assumptions are understood to be useful
to the extent that the lack of explanatory power caused by the assumptions of one, is
resolved by the explanatory power of the others. Visualising the three models, Table 1
summarises the three Allison and Zelikow models and their central actors, inference
patterns and the basic questions asked.

Table I: Allison and Zelikow’s three model framework

MODEL Central Actor Inference patterns Basic Question

Why did nation X

Rational Actor State, government Goals match actions
prefer action Y?
Why did
Organisational Governmental
Rules determine actions organisation X
Behaviour institutions
produce action Y?
Governmental Why did actor X
Political actors Bargaining produces actions
Politics favour action Y?
Summary of Allison and Zelikow (1999): 2-11.

2.2 Empirical Research Questions

This thesis will adopt the framework provided by Allison and Zelikow for the analysis of the
decision by the US government to develop and deploy BMD. Following Allison and Zelikow,
this thesis will conduct three separate analyses of the central research question, each
analysis based on one of the Allison and Zelikow models. To structure the analysis, a
supporting research question is formulated for each model. The full set of empirical
research questions is:

Empirical RQ: What explains the decision by the US government to develop and
deploy BMD?

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Support RQ A: To what extent can the decision be explained as a rational

response by the state to emerging threats? (Rational Actor Model,
Chapter 4)
Support RQ B: To what extent can the decision be explained as output of
domestic governmental organisations following predictable
patterns? (Organisational Behaviour Model, Chapter 5)
Support RQ C: To what extent can the decision be explained as the result of
domestic political bargaining between individual ‘players’?
(Governmental Politics Model, Chapter 6)

Table I can now be adapted to fit the analysis of BMD.

TABLE II: BMD application of the three model framework

MODEL Central Actor Inference patterns Question

Bush Jr. Why did the US

Rational Actor BMD matches ICBM threat
administration prefer BMD?
Why did CIA/DoD
Organisational US Governmental DoD and CIA SOPs
produce BMD
Behaviour Institutions determined BMD decision8
Why did selected
Governmental US politicians and Political bargaining
politicians favour
Politics entrepreneurs. produced BMD decision

2.3 Critique of the three model framework

The three models described above will be further explained and discussed in Chapters four
(the Rational Actor Model), five (the Organisational Behaviour Model) and six (the
Governmental Politics Model). Critique of the detailed workings of the models will be
discussed in the Chapters. In this section a brief overview of critiques of the whole three-
model structure will be discussed. Over three decades of debate about Allison’s models
produced different kinds of criticism. There is criticism on the whole concept of such
parallel analyses, there is criticism too on the choice of models. Lastly, there is criticism

DoD = Department of Defence; CIA = Central Intelligence Agency; SOPs = Standard Operating

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on the way Allison, and later Allison and Zelikow formulate their models, and the scientific
strength of their approach. The discussion of the critiques of Essence of Decision is
complicated by the fact that most critique targets the original book by Allison (1971) and
not the 1999 revised edition by Allison and Zelikow. Mindful of the changes made in the
second edition, much of the original criticism still stands though.
Although most scholars took note of Allison’s original claim that too much emphasis
was put on the rational choice based view on foreign policy making, many were not
convinced that the formulation of two alternative models was the way forward. Scholars
such as Milton L. Friedman, Lawrence Freedman and John Oneal have consistently
challenged the idea that the two alternative models have anything substantially to offer,
and argue that even if rational choice theories do not describe reality per se, they should
be kept since they provide accurate predictions. This is in itself not a fair criticism of
Allison’s work, since he never claimed that the Rational Actor Model should be excluded
from thorough analysis of government decision making. Oneal offers a more profound
critique though, when he tries to show that all results from Allison’s analyses could be
described in terms that fit an expanded rational choice model (Oneal 1988: 604-611). A
much larger crowd of International Relations scholars took a more positive attitude
towards Allison’s original work, and the 1999 edition collected many jubilant reviews even
from illustrious names like John Ikenberry and Robert Jervis.
Immanent critique comes from David Welch, who questions the usefulness of the
alternative models Allison formulated. He concludes that “despite the dearth of rigorous
tests, there are convincing reasons to believe that neither Model II nor Model III is as useful
as, let alone analytically superior to, Model I” (Welch 1992: 114). Again, Allison never
claimed the second and third models were superior to the Rational Actor Model (RAM), he
just claimed that they provided necessary additional explanatory value, filling in some of
the gaps left by the RAM. The more important critique then is that the other two models
are ‘not as useful’. This criticism is echoed by others, who argued that the second model
especially requires a depth of information so great, the model is applicable in only a very
limited amount of situations, and all together not a very practical model to use.
Welch continues his review of Allison’s work by discussing his ‘paradigms’, noting
Allison works with the conception of a paradigm developed by Robert Merton for
sociological analyses: “a systematic statement of the basic assumptions, concepts, and
propositions employed by a school of analysis” (Merton 1965: 12-16). Allison’s paradigms
are indeed, Welch points out, pretheoretical or metatheoretical. This says something
about the explanatory power of the models Allison created. Metatheories are neither
testable nor falsifiable, and their performance cannot be judged by empirical test (Welch

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1992: 114-115). The explanatory power has to come from theories derived from the
metatheoretical paradigms. And subsequently, the successfulness of a paradigm is derived
from its ability to generate successful theories. The second and third model, Welch notes
in 1992, have produced very few theories in twenty years, which raises questions about
their usefulness and successfulness. Bendor and Hammond (1992) conclude that specifically
the second model can only be successfully applied in very rare circumstances (Bendor and
Hammond 1992: 311). Allison, in return might respond that the continuing dominance of
the first model and the relatively more successful paradigm in it, marks his point that
analysts and scholars in the field of international relations and foreign policy analysis are
too narrowly focused on the RAM, often while knowing that the RAM can only explain part
of reality.
Allison proposed in 1972 to merge the second and third Model to create a stronger
one better equipped to ‘compete with the RAM’ (Allison and Halperin 1972: 43, 54-56).
Critics have since argued that Allison should not have said that, because the remark
undermined the credibility of the models (Bendor and Hammond 1992: 304; Welch 1992:
118). More important, Welch argues, the idea to merge the two models may have stemmed
from errors in the fabrication of the specifications of the two paradigms. Model II and III,
Welch convincingly argues, overlap. Model II looks at both the processes and at the
perspectives and priorities of governmental organisations. But the latter two belong to
Model III, in which the interests of political entities are the subject of analysis (Welch
1992: 118).

TABLE III: Bendor and Hammond’s 12 cell Typology of Policymaking

Source: Bendor and Hammond 1992: 303

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Bendor and Hammond take the criticism on the three defined models a step further, asking
the question why three and why these three models. They recognise four different kinds of
assumptions of importance to the choice of models. Assumptions on the number of actors;
assumptions about whether the actors have similar or conflicting goals; assumptions about
the degree of rationality attributed to decision makers; and assumptions about the amount
of (or completeness of) information available to decision makers (Bendor and Hammond
1992: 302-303). Putting these four assumptions together, a typology of policymaking
emerges, and no less than 12 different possible ‘models’, as in Table III.
The RAM, with its clear assumptions of rationality and a single unitary actor, clearly
belongs in cell 1. As will be discussed in Chapter 4, Allison and Zelikow seem to pay little
attention to the concept of complete information, ergo most of their discussions belong in
cell 1a rather than 1b. Models II and III are far more difficult to place in any of the cells.
Welch’ criticism that they overlap is backed by Bendor and Hammond’s conclusion that
Model II by and large fits in cell 4b, but sometimes in cell 6, while Model III claims to
belong in cell 5, but often can be classified in cell 6, perhaps even cell 6b. In more
straightforward language: by not clarifying in Model II whether or not the ‘players’ have
conflicting goals, Model II treads on the terrain of Model III, in which it is obvious that the
players have conflicting goals (the process of political bargaining). And because Allison
does not explicitly make clear whether or not any of the players in Models II and III are
perfectly or boundedly rational and if they have access to full or incomplete information,
the boundaries of both are unclear, further obscuring the dissimilarities between them.
Bendor and Hammond argue that the framework as a whole would have been more robust
if Allison would have clearly confined the Model II analysis to cell 3, enabling examination
of pure coordination problems among perfectly rational actors (Bendor and Hammond
1992: 304).
Model III, because of the lack of a clear assumption on perfect or bounded
rationality, could be split up in two separate Models, as has been argued by Harrison
Wagner: “One could presumably construct a theory of bureaucratic bargaining based on
the decision theorists’ assumptions and another on Herbert Simon’s” (Wagner 1974: 448).
With ‘Herbert Simon’s’ Wagner refers to his theories about bounded rationality. A Model
IIIA would end up in cell 5, and a Model IIIB in cell 6. What Bendor and Hammond wish to
point out is not that they believe the whole endeavour of having three consecutive models
is fundamentally flawed, on the contrary. They argue that the models deserve further
examination in order to strengthen them and make them more lucid.
In the 1999 edition of the book Allison and Zelikow do thank in the
acknowledgements David Welch and Bendor and Hammond for ‘calling attention to

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weaknesses in the original edition’. Allison and Zelikow assess they are “sure we have
learned from them […] while we have surely not satisfied them” (Allison and Zelikow 1999:
xv). This seems a fair assessment. Allison and Zelikow do try to strengthen Model I by
placing it more clearly in cell 1a, and tried to strengthen Model II by putting more
emphasis on the incompleteness of information available to decision makers about
organisational outputs and capacities. However, these changes develop the models in the
opposite direction of the recommendations made by Bendor and Hammond, who proposed
to put more emphasis on bounded rationality in Model I (allowing it into cell 2a), and on
complete information in model II (allowing it into cell 3a). Model III did and does receive
the most criticism. In his review of the 1999 edition, Jerel Rosati concludes that:
the biggest disappointment of all, is that the authors completely fail to
review and integrate the extensive and powerful bodies of knowledge that
have developed on the role of group and advisory dynamics, personality, and
cognition/perceptions—all of which are directly relevant to the dynamics of
governmental politics. Ironically, the authors constantly “mention” and refer
to such concepts and approaches when they describe the governmental
politics paradigm. Yet they never develop, discuss, or review these political-
psychological concepts and approaches (Rosati 2001: 2).

2.4 Theoretical Research Questions

The review of critique in the previous section makes it clear that Allison and Zelikow’s
three model framework cannot be taken as an analytical framework without risk. Most
important, the critique shows one should be mindful of what exactly is analysed, and using
which assumptions. This is not against the wish of Allison and Zelikow in any way. They do
not claim that the three models together are (a) perfect or (b) exhaustive. Furthermore,
Allison and Zelikow propose their models solo and in combination should be regarded as
starting points for further development of analyses of government actions and decisions. It
would go beyond the scope and time constraints of a master’s thesis to set out to entirely
redefine the Allison and Zelikow methodologies, and to pretend that a limited assignment
like this can significantly alter the perception of a decades long tradition in IR. However,
some of the aforementioned critique needs to be internalised before proceeding to
applying any of the three models. The resulting additions and changes to the models will
be explained and discussed in the three Chapters on the models. In short, the critique of
the RAM will result in Chapter four in a double analysis – one with and one without the
assumption of full information and complete rationality. In applying the Organisational
Behaviour Model, the analysis will be limited to trying to establish if the direction of
causality assumed in the model is correct or not – thus questioning the pattern of inference

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used. The resulting application of the model is more limited than Allison and Zelikow
propose, mainly because of the lack of data on the internal workings of the organisations –
as predicted by Friedman. Finally, the Governmental Politics Model turns out to present a
similar problem. The stated pattern of inference seems altogether inappropriate in the
case of analysing the BMD decision. Establishing “who did what to whom” presupposes the
importance of a political bargaining game. But as Chapter six will show, in the case of the
BMD decision a more important question precedes that assumption: Was there a game to
play in this case? Or does the analysis of the available data point towards a different kind
of decision making process – one that leads away from model III?
Adopting the Allison and Zelikow framework, this thesis assumes that three
different approaches can be used complementary to each other rather than opposed to
each other. This assumption demands a critical assessment of the framework used. To do
so, the following set of theoretical research questions is formulated:

Theoretical RQ: To what extent does Allison and Zelikow’s framework provide
added value in the analysis of the BMD decision?
i. Does their framework sufficiently integrate different theories
conceptually into a logical explanatory framework?
ii. Does their distinction into different analytical models reflect the
reality of decision making in this case?

Special attention needs to be given to the potential conflicts caused by this thesis’s dual
objective, for while the decision to develop missile defence is studied, the analytical
framework used is itself in question. Former co-student Sebastian Dinjens reflects on a
similar problem in his thesis, arguing that “balancing these two objectives is [..] much like
examining a cell through a microscope while simultaneously examining the microscope by
looking at the cell” (Dinjens 2006: 12). The risk is indeed that this double objective leads
to the undesirable result that a satisfactorily explanation is found for the empirical
research questions (the cell), while at the same time it needs to be concluded that the
method of analysis is terminally flawed (the microscope), which would raise questions
about the validity of the results found for the empirical set. Realising this, it is all the
more important to establish a clear definition of the variables used and an unambiguous
understanding of the framework and the approaches appearing in it. To do so, the next
Chapter will provide the necessary definitions of missile defence, and of ‘the decision’, as
well as a clear limitation of the reach of the analysis both in time and subject.

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3 Defining ‘the decision’ to develop and deploy

‘Ballistic Missile Defence’

This Chapter provides the reader with necessary background information on ballistic
missiles and the defence against them. It will give a short overview of previous attempts
by the US to develop BMD, and shortly explains some of the technology involved in the
current plans. Based on that information, this Chapter proceeds to formulate definitions of
‘what kind of Missile Defence’ the thesis is about and ’what decision’ precisely is analysed
in the remainder of the thesis.

3.1 What Missile Defence?

There is no one single missile defence system. There are several, and in order to set the
boundaries of what is discussed in this thesis, it is necessary to give a short glossary of the
different systems and functions of these systems that have all been called Missile Defence
(MD). By and large, there are two clearly distinguishable systems. One tries to intercept
long range ballistic missiles, and one attempts to intercept shorter range (cruise) missiles.
The two systems both qualify as ‘missile defence’ in the sense that their primary function
is to defend against missiles. But apart from that, the design specifications, primary
functions and technological feasibility differ significantly.

Theatre Missile Defence

Defence systems against shorter range cruise missiles are multiple and mobile. They
provide defence for anything from fixed territories on the ground to ships, airspaces and
moving troops on a battlefield. Systems contributing to the defence of troops, military
equipment and spaces are often called Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) and include diverse
systems such as the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) III rockets used in the various
military operations against Iraq over the past decade (Space News 2003), but in essence
also include the Dutch developed ‘Goalkeeper’ used to protect ships against incoming
missiles and enemy airplanes by firing enormous amounts of bullets at it.9 TMD systems
have developed in step with the development of various generations of cruise missiles.

Specifications of the Goalkeeper System:

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Some TMD systems are based on the concept of shooting an incoming missile with
projectiles shot at a coordinate where the incoming missile is expected to pass. Other
systems use ‘smart’ anti-missiles that use infra-red and heat seeking sensors to locate and
destroy the incoming missiles. In the broader concept of Theatre Missile Defence, some
include systems that locate and destroy enemy missile launch pads. TMD systems are not
capable of intercepting longer range ballistic missiles, except when the location of the
launch pad of these missiles is known and the launched ballistic missile is destroyed before
being launched or in the first few seconds after the launch.

Ballistic Missile Defence

The inability of TMD systems to intercept longer range ballistic missiles sets it apart from
the second group of missile defence systems, the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems,
also called National Missile Defence (NMD). NMD systems are meant to defend the
homeland or any allied or strategic part of the globe against ballistic missiles. The systems
are static, not mobile, except for the optional employment of launch facilities on ships so
as to make it harder for a potential enemy to disrupt the missile launch capability in
wartime. The differences between intercepting a cruise missile or a ballistic missile are
important. Cruise missiles are propelled throughout their entire journey to the target. As a
result, their path can be detected constantly by infra-red, radar or heat seeking
instruments. Ballistic missiles, as the word already discloses, follow a ballistic trajectory
(or envelope). They are propelled only in the first phase of the trajectory by motor power,
into the stratosphere or higher, after which the engine stops and the missile is allowed to
fall back to earth. Infra-red, and heat seeking instruments have very little chance from
that point onward to locate the incoming missile, with the noted exception of possible
heat plumes caused by re-entry of the missile into the atmosphere. The challenge for BMD
systems is to be able to calculate the trajectory of the missile (direction, weight and
velocity). Next to that, by the time the ICBM is already re-entering the atmosphere, little
time is left for detection, calculation, launching the intercept missile and approach.
Essentially, location and calculation of the intercept point will have to be completed
during the first stages of the trajectory of the ICBM launched: Before the engines are cut.
Additionally, there is the possibility that – even when the US is able to master all the
mentioned difficulties – the ICBM is able to ‘fool’ the defence system. China, after hearing
the US plans for missile defence promptly announced to equip its ICBMs with multiple
warheads including dummies, to confuse the defence systems (Godwin 2002: 4-5). Also,
literature mentions the possibility of adding devices to the ICBM that make it stray out of

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the predictable envelope (without using engine bursts that would make detection


There are several other names for several existing or imaginable MD systems. In military
literature, there are differentiations used pointing at the layers of the atmosphere the MD
system is operating in. The term Ground Based Mid-Course Defence (GMD) is reserved to
describe those systems that exclusively rely on ground based detection and intercept
abilities, thus excluding space based detection but also space based lasers (Perry 2001).
High Tier MD (HTMD) specifies systems that operate in the stratosphere or in outer space
(US Congress 1995). Multi Tier MD (MTMD) points at the ability to perform in all required
layers of the atmosphere and beyond (US Senate 1999b). BMD (or NMD) includes HTMD and
MTMD systems and overlaps with GMD systems. Lastly, to complicate things, the
abbreviation GMD is also used for Global Missile Defence. The Bush administration
sometimes uses it to imply that they foresee a missile defence system that can intercept
enemy missiles (both ballistic and non-ballistic) to defend US territory, troops and
interests wherever it may see fit (Bookman 2002: 2).
The system proposed by the US government conceptually combines TMD and BMD,
arguing that it is expected that during the development phase, the distinctions between
the two different functions may blur, and that TMD technology may well benefit the
development of BMD capabilities, and vice versa. However, TMD capabilities (being able to
intercept mainly cruise missiles) have been in development ever since the development of
cruise missiles themselves. And while it may be true that in the future some systems may
use similar technology, the functions of TMD and BMD differ profoundly. There is no debate
about TMD. TMD systems work – to a certain extent - and no doubt will be improved over
time. But improvements can be developed while the systems used are operational. The
focus of this thesis is on the decision to pursue a Ballistic Missile Defence system solely,
since attempts to develop the function of intercepting ICBMs in the past failed and because
any future system can only function satisfactorily if all necessary supporting systems are
fully developed and operational (Newhouse 2001). Also, the impact on international
relations of the decision to develop ballistic missile defence capability is altogether
different from the impact of the existing TMD capabilities. Russia, so to speak, has no beef
with the US over its development of PAC III missiles since it does not counter the Russian
nuclear deterrent. Ballistic MD however may do just that. In the literature, this distinction
is usually acknowledged, and scholars regularly refer to the current project as Ballistic

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Missile Defence Systems (BMDS). This thesis therefore, is only about ballistic missiles and
the decision to develop and deploy systems aiming to intercept specifically these missiles:

3.2 A Short history of BMD

Right after the Second World War, the US for the first time explores the possibility and
necessity of an operational BMD system. In 1946, the Stillwell Board – assigned to map
defence needs of the US in the post war years – reports that:
Guided missiles, winged or non-winged, travelling at extreme altitudes and at
velocities in excess of supersonic speed, are inevitable. Intercontinental ranges of
over 3,000 miles and payload[s] sufficient to carry atomic explosive[s] are to be
expected. Remotely controlled, and equipped with homing devices designed to be
attracted to sound, metal, or heat, such missiles would be incapable of interception
with any existing equipment such as fighter aircraft and antiaircraft fire. Guided
interceptor missiles, dispatched in accordance with electronically computed data
obtained from radar detection stations, will be required (Stillwell Board Report
cited in Baucom 2007).

And indeed, within 12 years, both the US and the USSR successfully test ICBMs with nuclear
payload. The nuclear stand-off between the two superpowers keeps the conflict ‘cold’, but
also seemingly impossible to resolve. And with that, developing BMD capabilities becomes
a high priority for both. Since 1957, the US undertakes several attempts to develop BMD
In response to rumours about Soviet MD capability in 1957, the US launches the
Nike-Zeus Project. In 1958, Bell Laboratories, the main contractor for the Project,
triumphantly reports that computer simulations show it is indeed possible “to hit a missile
with a missile” (Baucom 2007), but Bell never manages to build a system in reality. During
the Johnson administration (1963 – 1969), the Nike-Zeus Programme is replaced by the
Sentinel Project. The Sentinel Project has a much more humble outlook. It is not meant to
defend against an all-out Russian nuclear attack but against a sneak attack with nuclear
ICBMs by a so-called “Nth” country, China e.g. (Trenary III 2004: 61-63).
Nixon, when he becomes President in 1968, immediately stops the Sentinel
Programme, to reassess what kind of defence is needed. The assessment leads to a new
and ambitious plan, Project Safeguard. Safeguard, like Nike-Zeus attempts to develop a
system that may not stop all Russian ICBMs, but at least so many that a nuclear war will
end in a strategic beneficial situation for the US (Claremont Institute, on-line). In seven
years, Project Safeguard consumes 25 billion US$. In 1975, prime contractor Raytheon

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attempts to pull out after having to admit it has not been able to develop several
necessary parts of the projected system. Next to that, the necessity of the Project is
questioned politically after the US and the USSR sign the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty
(SALT1) which in turn leads to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty). In 1975, the
Congress blocks further investments for Project Safeguard, on the very day on which the
first Safeguard Base is opened in North Dakota. The analysis of the Congress is harsh.
Safeguard does not work, it is too expensive, serves no purpose, and is in violation with the
new ABM Treaty (Moeller 1995: Chapter 4 – on-line).
In 1983, BMD is suddenly back on the table. In his March 23 1983 speech on national
TV, President Reagan says:
I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear
weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world
peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent
and obsolete (US Senate 1983: 2).

Two days later Reagan explains the aims of his Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), stating he
[…] would like to decrease our reliance on the threat of retaliation by
offensive nuclear weapons and to increase the contribution of defensive
systems to our security and that of our allies. To begin to move us toward
that goal, I have concluded that we should explore the possibility of using
defensive capabilities to counter the threat posed by nuclear ballistic missiles
(White House 1983: 1).

SDI, like the Safeguard Project, aims to provide full protection against ICBMs, using Space
Based Lasers, and intercept rockets that not so much hit the incoming ICBM, but destroy it
by proxy detonation. SDI costs over 30 Billion US$ in 8 years, until President George W. H.
Bush replaces it with a much more limited project to defend against one or a few missiles –
the Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) (DoD 1991).
GPALS, like its predecessors, never materialises. In the case of GPALS, one could
say history catches up with it. With the fall of the Berlin Wall the World enters an era of
renewed hope in a nuclear free, or at least nuclear safe future. The Warsaw Pact
disintegrates, and after the break-up of the USSR, Russia is no longer perceived as an
imminent threat. And after the Cold War, there is a new confidence that new non-
proliferation deals shall be possible with countries such as China, North Korea, India and
Iran. BMD is expected to become obsolete.
The Clinton administration keeps some of the GPALS research agenda on the
Federal Budget, but in his first term the Congress keeps cutting the budgets. It is only after
the Republican party regains the majority vote in the Congress in 1995 that the Congress
increasingly criticises the Clinton administration for not investing enough in defence
capacity and year after year reserves more funds for BMD related research than asked for

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by the administration. In 1999, the Congress passes the National Missile Defence Act,
against the wishes of the administration. Meanwhile, the only continuous investment in
BMD, the exo-atmospheric interception rocket (EKV), continues to fail all tests. When at a
Congressional hearing in 2000, Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, head of the newly
established Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation is asked how big the chances are of an
EKV intercepting an incoming enemy ICBM, his answer is: “Zero” (US Senate 2000).

3.3 What decision?

When in 2001 George W. Bush becomes President of the US, he appoints Donald Rumsfeld
as Secretary of Defence, and Paul D. Wolfowitz as his Deputy. Both are acknowledged
proponents of high defence expenditures and of BMD. Rumsfeld interprets General Kadish’s
assessment of the failure of the EKV not as a sign that BMD is in the end a technological
impossibility. On the contrary, he assesses that it shows how far the national defence of
the US is lagging behind. Not less, but much more funds must be made available for BMD.
The new target set by Rumsfeld is to develop a BMD system in its rudimentary form before
2005, and the Bush administration tries to make 3 Billion US$ available in its first year for
this. Even for the Republican majority in the Congress this is a leap too far and on 9
September 2001, it tries to shift 20% of that budget to counter terrorism. Rumsfeld
threatens with a Presidential veto if funds are shifted from BMD to counter terrorism
(Gellman 2002). Two days later, Al-Qaeda crashes planes into the Pentagon and the WTC.
After the 9/11 attacks, there is little political space for a weighed assessment of
the needs and costs of BMD in Washington DC. Any criticism of BMD plans unfolded in that
period is countered with the line that being against defending the US is unpatriotic and
(therefore) irrelevant. Just as important, the argumentation supporting development of
BMD changes after 9/11. For the first time, BMD is now openly advocated for its partial
offensive function, when the Missile Defence Agency describes BMD as a necessary system
to cover US foreign military operations and troops (MDA 2002). BMD becomes a weapon in
the Global War On Terrorism. On September 30 2001, the Department of Defence (DoD)
phrases it like this in the Quadrennial Defence Review:
DoD has refocused and revitalised the missile defence program, shifting from
a single-site ‘national’ missile defence approach to a broad-based research,
development and testing effort aimed at deployment of layered missile
defences. These changes in the missile defence program will permit the
exploration of many previously untested technologies and approaches that
will produce defences able to intercept missiles of various ranges in various
phases of flight. These defences will help to protect US forward-deployed

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forces. Moreover, they will provide limited defence against missile threats
not only for the American people, but for US friends and allies (DoD 2001:

The plans of the administration go way beyond what was expected. Not only does it entail
a return to Nixon’s and Reagan’s idea of an extensive BMD system, it blurs the distinction
between ballistic missile defence and defence against cruise missiles. Next to that, the
plans seem to be in violation with the 1972 ABM Treaty, between the US and the USSR. And
indeed, on December 13, 2001, the Bush administration notifies the Russian Federation it
intends to withdraw from that treaty, underpinning the determination to strive for an
unprecedented BMD system (White House 2001b).
The decision to develop and deploy an extensive ballistic missile defence system by
the US government is not a single decision made at one precise point in time. Different
decisions made between 1998 and 2002 together constitute ‘the decision’. The first
important moment in this timeline is the publication of The Rumsfeld Report in 1998. After
the mid term elections in 1994, the Republican Party regains the majority vote in the
Congress, and assigns Donald Rumsfeld to lead a Congressional Commission to re-assess the
future missile threats the US might face. The resulting report recommends prioritisation of
ballistic missile defence for the future, inherently criticising the Clinton administration for
its lack of enthusiasm for enlargement of BMD research and development budgets. The
Congress accepts The Rumsfeld Report and the general gist of it as a guide document for
restructuring the US army to meet the emerging challenges. Consequentially a second
important event occurs in 1999, when the Congress passes – and President Clinton
grudgingly signs - the National Missile Defence Act (US Congress 1999). The Act states:
It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as possible an effective
National Missile Defence system capable of defending the territory of the
United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental,
unauthorised, or deliberate) with funding subject to the annual authorisation
of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for National Missile
Defence (US Senate 1999a).

The 1999 Act paves the way legislatively for development and deployment of BMD, but it is
only when the Bush administration enters the White House that the legislative potential is
met with executive decision making in favour of BMD. The Bush administration after that
made public its intentions in several steps. The first mentioning is the already mentioned
May 1 2001 speech at the National Defence University in Monterey by George W. Bush
(White House 2001a). The ‘decision’ is complete only in December 2002, when the
Department of Defense for the first time publicly announces its policies and plans
regarding BMD. That the decision occurred in several steps underpins the need to study the

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decision not only as a policy choice, but also as a result of policy making processes and
political bargaining. Secondly, it leads to the assumption for this thesis that the boundaries
(in time) of the period studied lie between the Rumsfeld Report of 1998 and the
Department of Defence Briefing on December 17, 2002 (DoD 2002b). Depending on the
model used, different emphasis will be put on different steps in the process that together
are ‘the decision’. In the Organisational Behaviour Model for example, the 1998-1999
period is important, since it shaped the behaviour of relevant organisations. In the
Governmental Politics Model however, the story focuses more on the 2001-2002 decisions,
because in that model, the stands and beliefs of political individual players are studied,
players within the George W. Bush administration.
What then is actually decided? The January 2, 2002 Secretary of Defence
Memorandum provides detailed information on the aims and objectives of the decision.
The US has set out:
First, to defend the U.S., deployed forces, allies and friends. Second, to
employ a Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMDS) that layers defences to
intercept missiles in all phases of their flight (i.e., boost, midcourse, and
terminal) against all ranges of threats.Third, to enable the Services to field
elements of the overall BMDS as soon as practicable. [….] Fourth, to develop
and test technologies, use prototype and test assets to provide early
capability, if necessary, and improve the effectiveness of deployed capability
by inserting new technologies as they become available or when the threat
warrants an accelerated capability (DoD 2002a: 3).

The document first of all expresses the aim to merge existing TMD and BMD research and
development and to aim for a single system against all potential unfriendly missiles.
Secondly, it is important to note that in this document as in any other, there is no
mentioning of an end date to the plans. Finally, it confirms the determination of the
administration to develop BMD capability regardless of the potential consequence of
breaching the ABM Treaty, various Weaponisation of Space Treaties and potentially the
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).10
In order to effectuate the policy decision, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld
renames the Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation (BMDO) Missile Defence Agency (MDA) in
2002 and provides it with “expanded responsibility and authority” (DoD 2002b: 4),
formulated in no less than 17 directives. The directives include the (later) controversial
potential to ‘waiver’ testing before deployment. It curiously delegates to the MDA director
the authority to “use transactions other than contracts, grants, and cooperative
agreements to carry out basic, applied and advanced research” (DoD 2002b: 4). This will

See for full explanation on ballistic missile defence and international treaties: Acronym Institute:
“Ballistic Missile Defence and the Weaponisation of Space” and other documents on the Acronym
Institute website.

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allow the MDA to negotiate and sign unspecified cooperation deals with private sector
partners and illustrates the autonomy granted to the MDA to operate.
A budget estimate is not mentioned in this document, but is estimated in
commentaries between 175 and 235 Billion US$ for the years 2003 – 2018 (Ghosh 2003: 603,
609-610). In the discussion about relative costs and effectiveness, the ‘Economists Allied
for Arms Reduction’ in early 2003 estimate that an effective, functioning BMD system as
proposed by the administration would turn out to cost a staggering 800 Billion to 1.2
Trillion US$ (Kaufman 2003: x). After 2002, the budget jumps to around 10 Billion US$
annually, making the projection of 175 to 235 Billion US$ until 2018 not unrealistic.

3.4 Technical specifics of BMD

The current plans of the US government involve the following specific supporting systems11:
1. Early Warning. Space Based InfraRed Systems (SBIRS) with the primary function to
detect any launch of a rocket, wherever on the globe; Five satellites (SBIRS –High)
and later more (SBIRS-Low) communicate their findings to radar installations on the
ground; Early Warning Radars (EWRs). These high frequency radars calculate the
trajectory (envelope) of the rocket. All data are interpreted by a second group of
radars, first of all to determine whether or not the detected missile is indeed an
offensive ICBM. In the case of a multiple launch, these radars should also determine
which of the launched rockets is a real ICBM and which are decoys. This has to be
established in the first stage of the rockets launched.
2. Interception. After identifying a rocket as hostile ICBM, there is very little time to
launch an Intercept Booster, a three stage rocket that will accelerate towards a
calculated point (space and time) where the incoming ICBM is expected to pass.
Both the launching system and the rocket are called Aegis. Once close to the
designated intercept point, the Aegis releases an Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle
(EKV). Guided by constant feed of updates on the trajectory of the enemy missile,
the EKV manoeuvres to the expected intercept point. The combined approach
velocity of the EKV and the ICBM is an estimated 24,000 kilometre per hour. The
EKV then tries to demolish the ICBM by sheer impact. Another option, the so-called
Space Based Laser simply shoots the ICBM with a laser beam. (DeBlois 2004: 73-74).

All information on BMD systems and technology is available on-line, see for example
[] or

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3. A third set of systems forms the heart of the operation: The Battle Management,
Command, Control and Communications (BCM3) Network. BCM3 coordinates
communications between all parts; receives all information; calculates all
parameters of both the ICBM (speed, direction and weight) and the EKV; predicts
the intercept point; reports on success or failure and – if necessary and still possible
– repeats all steps with new EKVs.
The combined systems are technologically very complex, several systems have not yet
been developed. In the end, all systems must function and be able to communicate with
each other in real-time to be able to succeed. The necessary detection and radar
installations and rocket launch facilities must be located in a variety of locations across
the globe and partly in space.
It is difficult to assess how successful the quest for an operational BMD system has
been up till now, for two reasons. First of all, in 2003 the Congress approved a so-called
test waiver, allowing the MDA to cancel further tests of several systems (Acronym Institute
2003), arguing that the development of a system as technologically complex as BMD cannot
be a linear development process, in which every stage of the development undergoes the
traditional process of planning, developing, testing, redeveloping, testing and deployment.
Rather, the MDA assumes BMD development is a case of modern ‘spiral development’
(Hitchens 2002a). Secondly, from 2003 onward, more and more BMD test results become
classified, for national security reasons. Rumsfeld did not make the set deadline for a
rudimentary operational BMD system by 2005, though. What’s more, leaked test results all
show that more than half of attempts to intercept a dummy incoming ICBM fail (Hildreth
2007). And while it is technologically significant that in 50% of cases the incoming ICBM is
indeed intercepted, test situations are far from realistic battle situations. In the tests, the
launching moment and launching point for the ICBM are known, as well as its weight,
velocity and direction. Next to that, it seems that until now, all intercepted rockets
carried a homing beacon thus undercutting the major problem of impossibility to detect
the falling ‘dead’ weight that a re-entering ICBM essentially is (Watson 2003).
Summarising, the thesis will look specifically at the ballistic missile defence plans
of the 2001 Bush administration, excluding the more technologically feasible TMD systems.
Studying the decision pro-PRO BMD comes with a conceptual problem since there is not one
single decision. The legislative decision was taken in 1999, when the US Senate signed the
Missile Defence Act, but the executive decision was taken –in steps – in 2001 and 2002 by
the Bush administration. This shifting of dates will be a recurring complication throughout
the following three chapters, in which the Allison and Zelikow (1999) models are used to
try and answer the research questions.

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BMD as attempt to counter emerging threats

Imagine an analyst living on Mars, and without previous familiarity with Earth. She is able
to watch CNN, or Al Jazeera and from it, she picks up the basics of international politics on
Earth. She soon enough notices that Earth politics is characterised by a system of
competing entities called states – large conglomerates of humans sharing a certain
territory. These functional conglomerates pursue common goals, both within the territory
and in interactions with similar state entities located elsewhere. The analyst will readily
grasp the notion that the states are not all equally powerful militarily, economically and
politically, and that there is hardly any functioning structure for arbitration between the
states. Trying to understand current and historical decisions made by states, the analyst is
already able to define several assumptions regarding the behaviour and intent of any and
all states. First of all, in their actions and decisions, states seek most prominently survival
and relative expansion of their power and influence. Secondly, states (are perceived to)
act as one single entity in their engagements with other states. Third, states at least
pretend to be acting rationally – meaning: They tend to base their decisions and actions on
analyses of available choices, available information on costs and benefits and accordingly
choose purposively the option estimated to bring the preferential better outcome, or ‘pay-
off’. The assumptions made by the Martian analyst are similar to those made by Allison and
Zelikow in their first of three models of analysis, the Rational Actor Model (RAM). This
Chapter will attempt to find explanation for the decision made by the US government to
develop and deploy BMD, using the RAM. It will first explicate the assumptions underlying
the model, looking at the concept of ‘rational choice’ and after that at different
possibilities for studying an ‘actor’. Using the distinctions Allison and Zelikow make
between different levels of information available to the analyst, two consecutive attempts
are made to analyse the decision by the US state to develop and deploy BMD. Finally, the
Chapter will conclude that the RAM seems to provide only partial explanation of the
decision, and a questionable explanation at that.
Indeed, the most dominant approach in the study of International Relations is
similar to that of the Martian analyst. Sometimes without realising it, scholars but also
most politicians, analysts, media, and the general public regard decisions and actions of
states by taking into account the mentioned assumptions about the state and its behaviour
in international relations. Allison and Zelikow’s Rational Actor Model (RAM) reflects these
assumptions. The RAM is build up by assuming that central to the analysis is the action or

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decision of a state; that states can – for the sake of the analysis – be regarded as unified
actors; that states act consistent and purposive; that they act primarily in response to
external threats and opportunities; and finally that states are able to rationally calculate
outcomes of different optional actions and decision, and will choose the option most
favourable to their security and relative position in the international system of states
(Allison and Zelikow 1999: 27)

4.1 The origins of the Rational Actor Model

Allison and Zelikow acknowledge (of course) that the set of assumptions simplifies reality,
and argue in their book that this is in itself enough reason to formulate the two alternative
models that will be discussed and used in Chapters 5 and 6 of this thesis. As do other
rational choice models, the RAM on purpose excludes variables in order to allow for
focussed analysis of the simplified reality. The RAM is an aggregate set of assumptions
shared by several International Relations approaches, most notably Classical Realism and


The RAM shares two basic characteristics with the Realist approaches. First of all, both
limit analyses to include only unitary states as key actors in international affairs. National
interest, Classical Realists like Hans Morgenthau argue, may be influenced by political and
cultural context, but is ultimately grounded in objective realities of power. Secondly,
states are assumed to act rationally, calculating costs and benefits of alternative courses
of action and choosing the action that maximises their utility (Gilpin 1984 :292-294). More
pronounced than in the RAM, Classical Realism further claims that the international
environment is a Hobbesian jungle, where in the absence of any overarching authority
aggressive behaviour towards others is normal. Classical Realism tends to emphasise the
state’s function of pursuing power (over other states) as a primary means for survival
(Allison and Zelikow 1999: 296 ff). Neorealism, the successor of Classical Realism, provides
more insight into the interactive nature of inter-state relations. Robert Jervis for example
emphasises the aforementioned security dilemma by explaining that: “Many of the means
by which a state tries to increase its security decrease the security of others (Jervis 1978:
169) Another leading neorealist thinker, Kenneth Waltz, predicts from this interactive
quality “a strong tendency towards balance in the system” (Waltz 1979: 129-131). The

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prediction central to Waltz’ Balance of Power theorem is not that balance, once it is
achieved, will be maintained, but that balance, once it is disrupted, will be restored one
way or another. Neorealism shares with Classical Realism the RAM assumptions of the
unitary state as principle actor and that its actions are rational in the sense that states are
able to calculate costs and benefits and are value maximising in their behaviour. But
Neorealism, more than Classical Realism, emphasises the importance of system variables,
specifically anarchy and real differences in power. Not all proponents of Neorealism share
Waltz’ emphasis on balance of power, and some would even set Waltz apart, identifying
him as a Structural Realist. Steven Walt for example insists that analyses must take into
account the behaviour of states, not merely their aggregate power. In explaining alliances
and their functions, Walt argues that alliances do not form in response to power
imbalances in the system, but in response to imbalances in threat. Threat is then
operationalised to include states’ intentions and behaviour (Walt 1987). Robert Jervis,
seems to depart from the original neorealist school by putting emphasis on perceptions and
beliefs of states and their leaderships in order to explain alliances, wars and other
interactions (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 33). Following Jervis, Stephen van Evera states:
“the perception of offence dominance raises the same […] dangers, even without the
reality. If states think the offence is strong, they will act as if it were” (van Evera 1998: 6).
Over the past few years, the works of John Mearsheimer sparked a new debate
among realists. John Mearsheimer in some ways marks a return to the Classical Realism.
Mearsheimer created what he calls Offensive Realism, as opposed to Waltz’ and others’
Defensive Realism. Defensive Realism predicts that states seek survival first and
consequently will most often reason that defence produces more certainty of survival than
offence. As a result, even many powerful states will support a status quo, unless severely
threatened. Mearsheimer’s Offensive Realism predicts that the international system of
states “creates powerful incentives for states to look for opportunities at the expense of
rivals, and to take advantage of those situations when the benefits outweigh the costs. A
state’s ultimate goals is to be the hegemon in the system” (Mearsheimer 2002: 21).
Mearsheimer’s works and the resulting debates in International Relations circles came only
after the publication of Allison and Zelikow’s 1999 edition of Essence of Decision. While to
non-realists the distinction between Defensive and Offensive Realism may seem futile, the
two often result in almost opposite outcomes of analyses and as such also generate
different policy recommendations for decision makers.

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International Institutionalism and Liberalism

Rational choice assumptions are not limited to Realism, but also found in other
International Relations approaches, for example in International Institutionalism and in
Liberalism. Institutionalists like Robert Keohane share with the RAM the assumptions that
“[…]states are the principle actors in world politics and that they behave on the basis of
their concept of their own self-interest” (Keohane cited in Allison and Zelikow 1999: 34).
Keohane and his colleagues acknowledge the importance of structural factors dominant in
Neorealism, notably anarchy and the (uneven) distribution of power. The main feature
setting International Institutionalism apart from preceding Realisms, is its emphasis on
institutions (UN, IMF, IAEA, etc.) as an extra layer in the international system of states.
The difference in approach between Keohane’s Institutionalism and the different tastes of
Realism led to different predictions in the 1990s about the future of the European Union.
Where realists saw the EU primarily as a natural alliance of states seeking cooperation in
the face of the Soviet threat and predicted that accordingly the drive towards European
integration would weaken after the Cold War (Mearsheimer 1994: 5-7), institutionalists like
Keohane predicted the opposite arguing that the EU would continue to grow, or deepen,
out of a mutual recognition among European States that cooperation was beneficial beyond
the threat (Keohane and Martin 1995: 49).
Allison and Zelikow argue that depending on the depth and accuracy of information
available to the analyst about government perceptions, preferences and system, different
levels of analysis are possible (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 21). They describe a spectrum
starting with the philosophical concept of ‘the notional state’ – completely stripped of any
specific knowledge about the state, relying on minimal behavioural assumptions about the
state in general (for example: States seek survival first; or States seek power over
survival). Resulting analyses can only be about hypothetical states and consequentially rely
on comprehensive rationality only. Adding layers of information, the analysis of state
behaviour moves closer and closer to analysis of a specific action or decision. Adding the
layer of system type, analyses become possible about the behaviour of certain types of
states, or a generic state. This ‘generic state’ level fits the Liberalist approach, which
rests on the assumption that internal values of a state or society are recognised also in its
external behaviour. The argument is made for example by Andrew Moravcsik:
“Societal ideas, interests, and institutions influence state behaviour by
shaping state preferences, that is, the fundamental social purposes
underlying the strategic calculations of government” (Moravscik 1997: 513).

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Liberalism focuses on the Democratic Peace Thesis’ which claims that “the absence of war
between democracies comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in
international relations” (Levy 1988: 18). This assumption is much debated (e.g. Schwartz
and Skinner 1999; Bennis 2007: 237-239), but for the purposes of this thesis, it may be of
use if only because of George W. Bush’ apparent belief in the Democratic Peace Thesis.
Bush, actively pushing for democratisation in the Middle East region, asserts:
[…] the reason why I’m so strong on democracy is democracies don’t go to
war with each other. And the reason why is people of most societies don’t
like war, and they understand what war means. […] I’ve got great faith in
democracies to promote peace. And that’s why I’m such a strong believer
that the way forward in the Middle East, the broader Middle East, is to
promote democracy (White House 2004: 10).

Bush’ remark about democratisation echoes the Liberal Democratic Peace Thesis. Critics,
especially in recent years, find proof of inaccuracy of Liberalism in the many offensive
military operations, as well as in the problematic human rights track record of democracies
in recent years.
If even more information is available, one can proceed to study an identified state,
(Pakistan wanted….). Adding still more information, now on the leader’s personal values
and views finally brings us to what Allison and Zelikow call the personified state (The Blair
government seeks to…). The paradigm Allison and Zelikow formulate does not specify what
level of information is required for RAM analysis nor does it specify if and where there may
be a limitation to what level of information is allowed when applying the RAM. They do
acknowledge that the more information is allowed, the more auxiliary assumptions must be
made about the information available to and ability to choose rationally by the state.
Allison and Zelikow seem to feel it is a strong quality of their model that it allows the
analyst to use all the information he or she has, thus allowing for as ‘thick’ an analysis as
possible. Quite rightly, they state that the analyst “must insist on rules of evidence for
making assertions about governmental objectives, options, and consequences that permit
him to distinguish among various accounts” (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 26).
It remains somewhat unclear how the Institutionalist emphasis on international
institutions and the Liberalist emphasis on ‘state type’ are operationalised in the RAM. All
in all, it seems fair to say that the RAM is modelled after the realist core assumptions, with
the other approaches appearing as illustration of the wide acceptance of core realist
assumptions in IR.

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4.2 The Rational Actor Paradigm and Critique

Seeking to formalise the concepts and assumptions used in the RAM, Allison and Zelikow
produce a paradigm based on the assumptions discussed. The resulting paradigm functions
as a ‘roadmap’ for the analyst who wishes to use the RAM.

BOX I: The Rational Actor Paradigm.

I Basic Unit of Analysis: Government action as choice.

II Organising Concepts
A. Unified National Actor
B. Action is chosen in response to the strategic situation the actor faces
C. Action as rational choice
1. Objectives. National Security and national interests
2. Options. Available actions for advancing objectives.
3. Consequences. Options produce costs and benefits
4. Choice. Actors selects the option whose consequences rank highest in
terms of strategic objectives.

III Dominant Inference Pattern

If an actor performed a particular action, that action must have been selected as the
value-maximising means for achieving the actor’s objectives.

IV General Propositions
Action results from a combination of a state’s (1) values and objectives, (2) perceived
alternatives, (3) estimates of consequences, and (4) net valuation of each.

V Evidence
Rules of evidence must be obeyed for making assertions about the actors objectives,
options and consequences.

Summary of Allison and Zelikow (1999): 24-26

Comprehensive vs. bounded rationality

The paradigm presented in Box I above leaves room for discussion on several points. First
of all, it does not clearly establish an a priori rule about how hard the assumption of
rationality is. Allison and Zelikow discuss literature on bounded rationality, but do not
explicitly say to what extent they accept either comprehensive rationality or bounded
rationality, and how they operationalise their choice. In the literature, the distinction
between the two is clearly illustrated by comparing the following two statements:
Comprehensive: […] the concept of rationality is important because, if a person acts
rationally, his behaviour can be fully explained in terms of goals he is
trying to achieve (Harsanyi 1966: 139)
Bounded: [for studying bounded rational choice] we must know the choosing
organism’s goals, the information and conceptualisation it has of the

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situation, and its abilities to draw inferences from the information it

processes (Simon 1985: 297)

In the Allison and Zelikow paradigm, formulation seems to prefer the assumption of full
rationality, but in the general proposition, they mention perceived alternatives, estimates
of consequences as well as valuations of consequences. The discussion on bounded
rationality is important since it directly affects the pattern of inference. The formulation
of the pattern of inference used in Box I is based on comprehensive rationality. The
formulation for bounded rationality could be:
Dominant Inference Pattern
If an actor performed a particular action, that action must have been selected as
the expected value-maximising means for achieving the actor’s perceived
objectives. The ‘puzzle’ is solved by finding purposes the actor beliefs the action

Jonathan Bendor and Thomas Hammond criticised in 1992 the original work of Allison on
this point, saying that:
the problem [of uncertainty] is completely neglected in Model I. This is a
striking omission, since the traditional literature in international relations […]
emphasises how a state’s uncertainty about other state’s goals and
capabilities shapes its own choices. […] Introducing uncertainty raises the
issue of decision makers’ attitudes toward risk. Whether they are risk-averse,
risk-neutral, or risk-seeking must be specified in order to complete a rational
actor analysis. (Bendor and Hammond 1992: 306).

While Bendor and Hammond criticise Allison 1971, and not Allison and Zelikow 1999, a
comparison of the two shows that Allison and Zelikow have not adhered to the propositions
of Bendor and Hammond. Allison and Zelikow state in a footnote that “the original edition
also contained a lengthy discussion of the debate over comprehensive and bounded
rationality. […] we reproduce it here” (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 57). Having moved the
discussion to the footnotes, Allison and Zelikow do claim in the main body text to concur
with Simon’s conclusion that “to understand and predict human behaviour, we have to
deal with the realities of human rationality, that is, with bounded rationality. There is
nothing obvious about these bounds; there is no way to predict a priori just where they
lie”(Ibid 1999: 20). Nevertheless, in their actual model, Allison and Zelikow do not specify
to what extent they allow ‘the realities of human bounded rationality’.

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Decision making theory vs. game theory

Allison and Zelikow roughly distinguish two branches of rational choice theory that underlie
the RAM: decision theory and game theory. In decision theory, they state, “the […]
problem is reduced to a simple matter of selecting among a set of given alternatives, each
of which has a given set of consequences. […] Game theory employs the same logic and
highlights the ways in which actor A’s best choice depends on B’s best choice.” (Allison and
Zelikow 1999: 17). Their application of the RAM is replete with references to consequences
of the interactive nature of the decision making processes during the crisis, but in the
formulation and operationalisation of the RAM, Allison and Zelikow blur the distinction
between interactive game theory and decision theory. Better yet, they seem averse to
game theory, when they state that “more formal game theoretic discussions have […]
added few new insights or propositions” (Ibid 1999: 41) and “when formal game theory
approaches more real-world issues where information is incomplete, the games are not
zero-sum, the interactions involve more multiple actors and the theories yield few, if any,
determinate conclusions” (Ibid 1999: 45-46). This is debatable. First of all, it is unclear
why games should be zero-sum, and especially in analysing the Cuban Missile Crisis it is
unclear why formal games cannot be modelled for two actors, or why it would be a
problem if the games were necessarily three or more player games. Bendor and Hammond
again postulate fair criticism when they argue that “it is […] a surprising and serious
omission that Model I does not explicitly examine how other nations might react to a
state’s moves” (Bendor and Hammond 1992: 307) and while they criticise Allison (1971)
and not the revised Allison and Zelikow (1999), again Allison and Zelikow seem to have
done little to reflect their criticism. In the end, while often remarking on interactive
behaviour in their empirical RAM analysis, Allison and Zelikow in their framing of the
analysis seem to favour decision theory (in which the decision maker acts isolated from all
other players) over game theory. Bendor and Hammond rightly conclude that:
clearly, most of the important choices in the Cuban missile crisis were made
in a strategic setting – outcomes depended on the behaviour of both
governments, thus intertwining the fates of the two nations. The relevant
branch of rational choice theory for such situations is game theory, not
decision theory (Bendor and Hammond 1992: 307).

Preparing the ground for empirical RAM analysis of BMD

The discussions show that the RAM presented by Allison and Zelikow demands so much
interpretation from an analyst, that anyone using it is forced to answer on beforehand the
following questions:

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1 To what extent is bounded rationality accepted?

2 What information level is used? (notional, generic, identified, personified)
3 To what extent is the notion of interactive reasoning accepted? (decision making
theory vs. game theory).

On the first question, the need for allowing bounded rationality in the study of BMD is
illustrated by the following two quotes. On the necessity of BMD, Donald Rumsfeld
acknowledges the lack of necessary information on the likelihood of the threat to which
BMD should respond, concluding that:
The Congress and the President, in setting national policy, in developing our
missile defences, in appropriating the funds to support those programs,
should approach this with the understanding that we will have little or no
advanced warning, that there is much that we don't know but that we are
likely to be facing threats. Therefore, my conclusion is we have got to get on
with the development of our missile defences (US Congress 1998: S9523)
(emphasis added).

President Bush four years later explains the uncertain implications of the BMD decisions,
I think the way to think about the missile defence program is that it will be
an evolutionary program, it will evolve over a period of time. Any capability -
with a small "c"; I'm not talking about initial capability, initial IOCs or any of
that - but capability with a small "c" will probably, one would hope, improve
as you go along. And it will - when we're - when it finishes some day out there
in the years ahead, it very likely will look quite different than it begins. And
it very likely will have layers. And it very likely will involve a variety of
different locations. And it will very likely involve the participation of a
number of countries (DoD 2002b: 1).

The two quotes show that both in assessing the threat and in choosing the preferable
(assumed value-maximising) option, the decision in favour of BMD was made not based on
complete and certain information, but on the contrary, based on holes in the intelligence
estimates about the need for BMD and based on an uncertain set of consequences of the
decision. Following Bendor and Hammond’s remark earlier, this implies it is all the more
important to specify in advance the decision maker’s attitude towards risk.
On the question of levels of information, the answer is less univocal. To get the
picture of the strategic ‘game’ the US is involved in, a notional level can be chosen, with
the precise purpose of excluding all assumptions about any kind of personal or institutional
influence. On the other hand, to explain this specific decision, by this specific government,
more information needs to be added, about assumptions made by the actor. As in all other
cases in which such ‘thickening’ of the analysis takes place, the resulting auxiliary
assumptions need to be made explicit by the analyst and based on evidence. In practice,

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this means that this Chapter will make two separate analyses: One aims to demonstrate
the notional state game, using only the thinnest layer of information. The second one will
use additional evidence based information about the governments appreciation of
information on threats and consequences: identified state decisions. In all cases, the
analysis will discard what Allison and Zelikow call the level of the ‘generic state’, since
neither the Democratic Peace Thesis, nor the liberalist notion that a state’s ‘type’
determines its foreign policy is accepted as relevant for this thesis, or even plausible
considering the extensive literature arguing the opposite. Next to that, in this thesis the
concept of the ‘personified’ state takes us beyond the limits of the rational choice
paradigm. It would include further reaching auxiliary assumptions about personal beliefs
and preferences that seem entirely out of place in a rational choice based analysis. In the
following Chapters, belief systems and personal preferences not directly connected to
foreign policy will reappear in a different context in more appropriate models for such
The third question, on the use of game theory, requires a mixed answer. When
studying ‘notional states’, one cannot hardly do without, nor should one wish to do so.
When zooming in to the ‘identified state’, the analysis will gain specifics about ‘this’ state
and its preferences and deliberations, while at the same time the analysis looses some of
its abilities to address the processes on an abstract level. As a result, the ‘identified state’
analysis needs to rely on more ad hoc – but evidence based – auxiliary assumptions, thus
limiting the explanatory value added of the interactive character of formal game theory.
As a result, the first – notional state – analysis will be entirely within the remits of game
theory. The second - identified state - analysis will be largely based on decision theory,
but with more informal game theoretical additions.

4.3 RAM analysis 1: Notional State Games

In this first analysis, game theory will be used to look at notional states and their
hypothetical stand-offs with or without BMD, to determine if and how BMD as a defence
mechanism affects the power balance between two or more states. To do so, it is useful to
go back to the Cold War stand-off game often described as “Mutually Assured Destruction”
or MAD (e.g. Snyder 1996), and work forward from the traditional understanding of the
MAD ‘game’ towards the game that more accurately describes the power divisions and
resulting payoff schemes existing in the BMD related strategic situation today.

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Mutual Assured Destruction

In the MAD game, the unbiased analyst would understand that two states on Earth,
managed to carve out much of the system of states dividing it in two large alliances, both
depending for their ultimate security on one of the two hegemonic states. These two
states (and a few of their peers) produced weapons that could annihilate the opponent
entirely. But, given that both sides acquired the same ability, using these weapons would
ultimately equal self-annihilation, since predictably if one would use the weapon, so would
the other in retaliation. The resulting balance of power, Mutually Assured Destruction
(MAD), is caught by Robert Jervis in his book Psychology and Deterrence (Jervis 1985). MAD
is a text-book example of the security dilemma. For both states involved, it is preferential,
or perceived vital, to spend prolifically on nuclear armament. Uncertainty about the
nuclear strike capacity of the adversary, and uncertainty caused by the immense stakes in
the game predict that both states will attempt to gain the upper hand in the stand-off, in
order to first of all assure survival, and as a bonus to try and expand power and credibility
over possible peers and over the adversary at the negotiation table. The security dilemma
predicts new insecurity for the adversary, who will in turn reason that high expenditure is
required, and so on. Both states are caught in what is known as a Prisoners Dilemma, a
non-cooperative game as visualised in Figure 1 below.
Low expenditure is preferential to both players, since it will allow them to spend
their tax money on more economically beneficial items. In the case of mutual low
expenditure, the nuclear stand-off disappears, and both players are ‘awarded’ +10
‘points’. In the case of mutual high reliance, the expensive stand-off continues, without
either player benefiting. Both gain 0 points. In the case of unequal expenditure, an
imbalance occurs in the stand-off relation between the two, and the low expenditure state
is in danger of being annihilated by the high expenditure one. The low expenditure state
gets -10, and the high expenditure state +10 (a victory bonus).
The resulting pay-off matrix (Figure 1) shows that the Pareto optimal outcome is
found in the lower right cell. However, Nash’s Equilibrium theorem predicts that for both
states, the risk of being the sole low spender (and thus the underlying party in a deadly
nuclear conflict) is unacceptable. Low expenditure can give +10, but also -10 if the
adversary cannot be trusted. High expenditure could possibly lead to the ‘best’ situation –
in which the adversary can be annihilated freely, but since the same logic applies to both,
both will choose high expenditure and end up in the top left cell: 0,0. Both states choose
the same, prolonging for ever the MAD stand-off (Palmore 2001: 212).

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Over the years, many scholars have come to accept the MAD game as a relatively stabile
standoff, creating paradoxically a relatively secure situation for both sided (and their
peers) (Powell 1990: 57-62) Critics note that if the MAD game is accurate in predicting
behaviour, the nuclear standoff does not necessarily imply the absence of conventional
warfare between the two powers. Indeed, if both are confident that the other will equally
reason that launching a nuclear war leads to imminent destruction of both, conventional
and limited warfare is still possible. Game theorists like Glenn Snyder even claim that the
MAD standoff as it occurred during the Cold War forced both parties to dig in deeper and
deeper, relying not only on nuclear deterrence, but adding non-cooperative behaviour
expressed in low-intensity or proxy warfare (Snyder 1965: 184-201). Added to that, critics
of the idea of bipolar nuclear deterrence stability point out that the uncertainty about the
precise strenght of the adversary, and about the expected behaviour of the adversary
made MAD a game with an extremely delicate balance (Schelling 1967; Jervis 1991: 20-50).

Asymmetric Assured Destruction

After 1990, a new situation emerged, in which the nuclear standoff between two equally
destructive superpowers was less determining in international relations. Rather, from the
perspective of several countries, an altogether new situation emerged, in which their
perception was that they were threatened by the only remaining (nuclear armed)
superpower. While these states had been able to rely for their territorial security on either
one of the superpowers, now they found themselves unprotected from diplomatic

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overwhelming influence or even from military infiltration or invasion by the superpower.

Some of these states sought to counter this new insecurity by acquiring their own nuclear
arsenal. The remaining superpower, from its perspective, found itself in a new strategic
position, in which it felt the need to keep relying on a powerful nuclear arsenal as
continuing deterrent against the old second superpower, while using its arsenal to try and
scare potential new nuclear players into compliance with the new unipolar realities. In the
resulting ‘game’, for which I here coin the term ‘Asymmetric Assured Destruction’ (AAD),
both players do not have an equal nuclear strike capability, resulting in asymmetrical
payoffs. For the superpower, in this new situation, it is obviously still possible to annihilate
the opponent entirely, but not entirely without cost, now that the opponent has a limited
capacity to destroy some part of the territory of the superpower (for example one of its

With limited nuclear deterrence, the adversary tries to deter the superpower, calculating
that the costs of military intervention will be too high for the superpower. There are many
studies of the ins and outs of the MAD game, but no game theoretical elaboration of
emerging post Cold War asymmetric strategic stand-offs exists. This section and the next
propose two game theoretical matrices developed for this thesis. Figure 2 reflects the Post
Cold War situation in which one adversary confronts one superpower still without BMD.
The logic is the same as in the MAD game, with the exception that the maximum
risk and maximum gain of the players is unequal. The maximum benefit of the adversary is
+5 when the superpower turns down the expenditure (reliance on deterrence). The risk for
the superpower is equally less, -5. The new situation makes it more likely that the
superpower will consider a nuclear war, although the price is still probably too high –giving

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the adversary an effective if uneven realistic means of deterrence. It is important to point

out that this “Asymmetric Assured Destruction” (AAD) game does not apply to all interstate
stand-offs. In this case, the game only applies to specific sets of one superpower and one
adversary with limited nuclear strike capacity. The previous MAD game still applies to the
original set of two superpowers, despite the fact that they seem now no longer in constant
opposition to each other (Schweller 1996: 90-120).

Single Assured Destruction: BMD

From the superpower’s perspective, the AAD situation is frustrating. It has an

overwhelming strategic advantage over the adversary, but it cannot freely attack or make
comply the adversary with limited strike capacity. At the same time, the superpower still
pays the costs of high reliance on Deterrence. A Defensive Realist state might still choose
to seek a new status quo, but a Mearsheimerian superpower will reason that BMD offers an
opportunity: The option to pressure the adversary into compliance, or attack it without
risk of nuclear retaliation. BMD would have the additional benefit of deterring potential
adversaries from developing deterrence. In the new game, here proposed as Single Assured
Destruction BMD (SAD-BMD), the given situation is one in which the superpower managed to
acquire reliable BMD protection and the adversary is understood to be in possession or
perceived able to come into possession of a limited nuclear arsenal. The superpower’s
choice is no longer (partly) determined by the choices of the adversary. However, the
existence of (now friendly) other great powers with a nuclear arsenal outmatching the
expected capacities of the BMD system, presuppose that the superpower cannot opt for
low expenditure. The costs of the BMD system itself constitutes a high expenditure on
defence and deterrence, that combined with continued reliance on deterrence presets the
choice of the superpower on high expenditure. From the perspective of the adversary, its
limited deterrence provided by its small nuclear ICBM arsenal fails to provide necessary
security, resulting in a constant situation of immediate threat for the adversary. Its fate is
now completely in the hands of the superpower. The resulting pay-off scheme is
represented in Figure 3.
The assured immunity resulting from the BMD shield must be compelling to the
superpower. However, playing a notional state game entails more than only a first look. If
Table 3 reflects an iterated game, the security dilemma predicts that while the
superpower may feel more secure, for the adversary the resulting insecurity is so big and
the consequent threat so immediate that it must act. If the adversary were only trying to
develop a strategic autonomous nuclear arsenal not specifically directed at any real or

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perceived threat, the adversary might choose to acquiesce in the face of such
overwhelming odds.

But if the adversary perceives the danger as being very real, it will be in constant search of
some restoration of deterrence. It could choose (if within its abilities) to expand its
nuclear arsenal, in order to outgun the superpowers defences, possibly by forming a
deterrence alliance with other limited nuclear powers. Or it could look to more
conventional means of deterrence. Either way, it will drive the adversary towards
uncooperative behaviour, in which it benefits from any level of obscurity about its
intentions, and offensive capabilities.
As mentioned earlier, the SAD-BMD game does not apply to the nuclear stand-off
between two or more heavily armed superpowers. BMD is not intended to deny a rival
superpower the means to strike, since BMD cannot intercept a huge amount of incoming
ICBMs. For any state with the possibility to upgrade its arsenal to go over the limited
defence threshold of BMD, there is a strong incentive to enter into a new arms race. States
already in possession of nuclear arms, but unable or unwilling to outgrow the potential of
BMD, may seek cooperation through new alliances to jointly outgun the superpower’s BMD.
Concluding, the decision to develop and deploy a BMD system has greatly
undermined the security (real or perceived) of any potential adversary if the adversary
assesses the BMD system is feasible. When the superpower’s perspective is regarded as if it
were operating isolated from other states, it seems to only create more security and a
more powerful status in foreign policy. However, taking into account the security dilemma,
the superpower too can assess that the consequences of its decision are that it will either
drive the adversary towards alternative deterrence tactics and altogether more

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uncooperative behaviour, or –in the worst case – that it will lead to a temporary growing
insecurity until the BMD system is functioning, or even a permanent insecurity if the BMD
system development fails altogether. At the same time, the defence offered by BMD is
futile in a direct confrontation with the remaining powers possessing large nuclear
arsenals. Deterrence theory, as developed during the Cold War, predicts that powers in
possession of a nuclear arsenal that is large but not so large it can outgun BMD will aspire
to expand their nuclear arsenal to overcome the limitations on their deterrence posed by
BMD. In relation to these states, BMD triggers a new arms race. For powers in possession of
sufficient nuclear missiles to penetrate the BMD system, the threat posed by BMD is the
effect it may have in proxy wars, and potentially at the negotiation table, but this line of
thought is not further explored in this thesis.
Finally, BMD does not result in a reduction of expenditure on deterrence, but adds
to the overall expenditure the development and deployment costs of BMD. Henceforth, a
notional state level RAM analysis fails to convincingly explain the decision made by the US
government to develop and deploy BMD.

4.4 RAM analysis 2: Identified State Decisions

In comparison to the notional state game above, this second RAM analysis will add more
layers of information. This will make it possible to determine not what a hypothetical state
might do, but what an identified state might chose to do. Acknowledging that the
interactive nature of decisions influencing international relations applies not only to the
theoretical level but to the identified state level as well, again the analysis will be framed
as a ‘two state game’, albeit less formally defined than in the notional state games.
Following Allison and Zelikow’s Rational Actor Paradigm, the states involved will be
identified, as well as their perception of BMD related threats and opportunities and an
attempt will be made to define the utility function of the identified states. Mindful about
earlier remarks about auxiliary assumptions and the importance of evidence, the findings
will allow for the sketching of a set of available options for each involved state and an
analysis of the value maximising choices available. Finally, as was the case in the notional
state analysis, the interaction between the states will be highlighted to determine to what
extent conflicting preferences may have influenced the decision of the one identified state
- the US - to develop and deploy BMD.

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Identified states

As is the case in Allison and Zelikow’s analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in this BMD
‘event’ there is more than one actor involved. One actor is in all documents clearly
defined: The US. But since the Rumsfeld Report, and more pronounced since 2001, the
other (cluster of) actors is known too: ‘Rogue States’. Membership of the category ‘Rogue
States’ has gradually shifted over time. At the end of the 1990s, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and
North Korea, but also Libya, Syria, Sudan and sometimes Pakistan were listed (Derrida
2005). In 2002, the category was replaced with the morally more resounding ‘Axis of Evil’,
including at first North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya. Later Libya was taken off the list. Syria
and Cuba on the other hand some times pop up in the list of the Axis of Evil. President
Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address explains:
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming
to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction,
these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these
arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could
attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these
cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic (White House 2002a:

The Joint Vision 2020 had already prepared the ground in 2000 by explaining that :
We have superior conventional war fighting capabilities and effective nuclear
deterrence today, but this favourable military balance is not static. In the
face of such strong capabilities, the appeal of asymmetric approaches and
the focus on the development of niche capabilities will increase. By
developing and using approaches that avoid US strengths and exploit potential
vulnerabilities using significantly different methods of operation, adversaries
will attempt to create conditions that effectively delay, deter, or counter the
application of US military capabilities. These states may not be deterred by
assured nuclear retaliation (Joint Chiefs of Staff 2000: 8).

In other words, the US doubts whether or not its nuclear arsenal is a sufficient deterrent
against a ‘rogue’ state or sub-state entity in possession of a limited amount of nuclear
armed ICBMs.
The identified ‘players’ then are the US, and in opposition a group of non-
cooperative states that in the assessment of the US may not be deterred by Cold-War style
nuclear deterrence: Afghanistan (until 2001), Iran, Iraq (until 2003), North Korea, and ‘on
the background’ Syria, Libya and maybe even Cuba.

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Threat perceptions

As has been touched upon before, the US redefined its threat perception prior to the date
that Bush managed to become President of the US. Already in 1995, after the Republican
Party regained the majority in the Congress after mid-term elections, pressure started to
mount against the Clinton Presidency in relation to the US foreign policy posture in general
and Clinton’s’ assessment of current and future threats to US national security specifically.
In 1995, the National Intelligence Estimate had concluded that “no country, other than the
major declared nuclear powers, will develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the
next 15 years that could threaten the contiguous 48 states and Canada” and that “ballistic
missile programmes of other countries are focused on regional security concerns and are
not expected to evolve into threats to North America during the period of this estimate”
(DCI 1995). The Congress after 1996 invoked a special Commission to Assess the Ballistic
Missile Threat to the United States, which in 1998 reported an altogether different view on
the likelihood of new missile threats emerging in the foreseeable future. In the report, the
Commission (better known as The Rumsfeld Commission), now stated that
Concerted efforts by a number of overtly or potentially hostile nations to
acquire ballistic missiles with biological or nuclear payloads pose a growing
threat to the United States, its deployed forces and its friends and allies. […]
Newer, developing threats in North Korea, Iran and Iraq would be able to
inflict major destruction on the U.S. within about five years of a decision to
acquire such a capability (10 years in the case of Iraq).
The threat to the U.S. posed by these emerging capabilities is broader, more
mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and
reports by the Intelligence Community.
The Intelligence Community's ability to provide timely and accurate estimates
of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. is eroding.
The warning times the U.S. can expect of new, threatening ballistic missile
deployments are being reduced. [… ] The U.S. might well have little or no
warning before operational deployment (US Congress 1998: 4-5)

The threat reduced to its damaging function, is then the threat to US national security of a
possible nuclear strike against its territory. But there is a related threat caused by the
mentioned growing number of nuclear capable states in the perception of the US, the
earlier mentioned danger of small states being able to deny the US access to ‘distant
theatres’. Were the first formulation is a threat to survival, the latter is a threat to the
US’s relative position on what Brzezinski (1998) calls the Grand Chessboard.

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Utility functions

The current US government avowedly proposes aggressive strategies such as pre-emptive

strike, forced democratisation, regime change, and upholds for example a global anti-drug
regime involving far going control over drug policies of foreign governments. The US
regards itself engaged in at least two long term global wars, the war against drugs and the
global war on terrorism (White House 2002c). Both are unconventional wars in the sense
that they are perceived (by the US) as long term low-intensity strategic wars (Scott Tyson
2006). The vision of a US led world order is apparent in the Joint Vision 2020 document, a
US Department of Defence strategic outline for the first two decades of the 21st century:
The overarching focus of this vision is full spectrum dominance – the ability of
US forces, operating unilaterally or in combination with multinational and
interagency partners, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across
the full range of military operations (Joint Chiefs of Staff 2000: 3).
The full range of operations includes maintaining a posture of strategic
deterrence. It includes theatre engagement and presence activities. It
includes conflict involving employment of strategic forces and weapons of
mass destruction, major theatre wars, regional conflicts, and smaller-scale
contingencies. It also includes those ambiguous situations residing between
peace and war, such as peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations, as
well as non-combat humanitarian relief operations and support to domestic
authorities (Joint Chiefs of Staff 2000: 8).

All this leads to the inescapable conclusion that – in the terms of the RAM, the utility
function of the US as represented by the George W. Bush administration can best be
described as power maximising: A state that regards relative growth of power as the means
to ensure survival and security.
In comparison, the utility function of the defined adversaries is less easily
established. North Korea and Iran for example do not have a similar track record as the US
of foreign military intervention in recent decades. Iran fought bitterly in the 1980s against
US backed Iraq, but it was Iraq that started the war. The last direct military confrontation
between US and Iranian troops dates back to 1953, when the US helped overthrow the
Mosaddegh government in favour of the Shah regime. North Korea’s last significant war
operation was the Korean War (1950 – 1953), when it fought South Korea and the US,
backed by China. Iraq, the third main country identified in the ‘Axis of Evil’ until it was
invaded and occupied by the US had shown a more predatory tendency over previous years,
with the invasion of Iran and the invasion of Kuwait as cases in point. Yet, after the defeat
of Iraq in 1991 by the US led and UN backed coalition, Iraq never regained significant
military power. Going back to 2001, Iran and North Korea especially seemed to be most
concerned about ensuring survival, and seemed to assess that the development of a

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nuclear deterrent is a pivotal part of that strategy. North Korea has in recent years
threatened the US several times, saying it would retaliate on US territory in case of a US
attack, but it has never shown any intent of unleashing a war by itself. Similarly, Iran has
repeatedly threatened to strike against US troops present in ten of Iran’s neighbours, or
against Israel, in case of a US attack on Iran. But it has never given any hint that it would
be contemplating starting a war against the US without being provoked. Iran’s primary
concern for power seems to be regional if anything. In 2001, before the removal of Saddam
Hussein from power in Iraq, there was already little reason to believe that any adversary
existed that would entice the idea of launching a strike against US territory, even if it
could. At the same time, the adversaries have received plenty of signals that the US might
want to do just that – launch a military operation against Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or North
Korea or any or all of them.

Available options

Given that the US’s utility function prioritises power maximisation over ‘mere’ survival,
several policy options were available to the US government to deal with the double threat
formulated above. On countering the threat to the relative power position of the US (the
ability to access distant theatres), the US looked at and pushed internationally for an
aggressive strategy of counter-proliferation. In his June 2002 speech at West Point Military
Academy, President Bush formulates this strategy as follows:
We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the
worst threats before they emerge. (Applause.) In the world we have entered,
the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.
(Applause.) (White House 2002b: 2).

To implement this activist strategy, what is needed was a military:

that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the
world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and
resolute, to be ready for pre-emptive action when necessary to defend our
liberty and to defend our lives (White House 2002b: 2).

The Bush speech outlines the new paradigm outlined in the Department of Defence
strategic review document Joint Vision 2020, which is aptly summarised by Rafique and
Khan of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad:
• Removal of governments repugnant to the US.
• Use of pre-emption against such governments, terrorists and weapons of mass
destruction programmes of the ‘rogue’ regimes.
• When necessary, take unilateral action where allies are not forthcoming.
(Rafique and Khan 2002: 1)

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The doctrine of pre-emptive strike, in the West Point speech and often thereafter is
embedded in defence rhetoric, but ultimately a power maximising choice. To counter an
imminent threat may be entirely aimed at ensuring survival, countering a threat before it
occurs is a tool to keep the upper hand in a power relation, for indeed, the threat is not
(yet) there.
A somewhat softer form of counter-proliferation was available in the form of
economic and diplomatic sanctions, which the US successfully pushed for in the 1990s in
the case of Iraq (until the invasion). A week after Bush’ Axis of Evil Speech, the US started
pushing for sanctions against North Korea, but a Chinese threat to veto any sanctions
resolution thwarted US desires (Beck 2006), until in 2006 the Security Council imposed
‘targeted’ sanctions after Pyongyang’s nuclear testing (UNSC 2006a). Syria was confronted
with a unilateral sanctions act, known as the Syria Accountability Act attempting “to halt
Syrian support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, stop its development of
weapons of mass destruction, cease its illegal importation of Iraqi oil, and hold Syria
accountable for its role in the Middle East, and for other purposes” (US Congress 2003:
Title page). In the case of Iran, the US already had a unilateral sanctions instrument in
place, the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act (US Congress 1996), that was amended in 2006 and again
in 2007 to include passages on Iran’s possible nuclear arms programme (US Congress 2007).
The US also pushed for UN sanctions against Iran since 2001, only to succeed in December
2006 (UNSC 2006b).Iraq, finally, had been under a severe sanctions regime ever since 1991,
and from 2001 until the invasion of Iraq in 2003, sanctions were amended to try and force
Iraq to comply to US and UN demands on inspections of its weapons programs.
A third available option, was to further rely on non-proliferation regimes in place,
the Non-Proliferation Treaty most notably, of which both North Korea and Iran were
assignees in 2001. Control mechanisms were available through the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA).
To counter the direct threat to the national security of the US – the nightmarish
idea of a nuclear ICBM launched at a US metropolis - a more limited set of options was
available. Regardless of the discussion about how real the missile threat was in 2001, to
counter the hypothetical threat, only a working missile defence system against ICBMs could
in theory counter it completely. Nevertheless, a less mentioned option was available of
course. The US could at that point enter into negotiations with the ‘rogue states’ to come
to bilateral or multilateral non-aggression pacts. While this may sound strange after all
that is said and done since 2001, at that point in time, there was still the window of
opportunity to engage with North Korea, Iraq and Iran to come to a mutually beneficial
security arrangement, as the US had done before with authoritarian regimes in (for

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example) Saudi-Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, and would do with Libya and Pakistan after
2001. Flynt Leverett (2006), a former top US National Security official reflects in 2006 that
the US since 2000 missed several opportunities to engage in a constructive settlement of
disputes with Iran. After the 9/11 attacks, Iran offered to help identify and destroy Al-
Qaeda, and in general tried to engage with the US on a strategic level, until Bush listed
Iran as part of the Axis of Evil in 2002. In early 2003, Iran presented the US a package deal
in which Iran again offered to help dismantle Al-Qaeda, to recognise the State of Israel and
to promise not to develop weapons of mass destruction in return for a promise by the US to
not attack, invade or undermine the regime in Iran. The Bush administration chose to
ignore this Iranian attempt at reconciliation.
For the adversaries, or rogues, there were options available as well. It will take too
much space to go into each and every option for each of them, but the example of Iran is
worth elaborating further. Iran, confronted with what it perceives as an openly hostile
superpower that had been projecting power in the near region for decades, and would
soon come to invade two of its neighbours, had two basic options for itself:
1 To comply to demands by the US to not provide itself with a credible deterrent.
2 To try and fool the international community for as long as it would take to develop just
such a deterrent.
Again, a similar argumentation applied to North Korea. For Iraq, the situation was
very different (before 2003). After the destruction of its army in 1991, and the destruction
of its economic might in the decade thereafter, Iraq could not realistically entertain the
idea of creating a credible deterrent, and the language coming from Washington plus the
continuation of the sanctions made compliance a meaningless option. The only available
option seems to have been for Iraq in these years to try and maximise the holes in
knowledge by other countries about its military potential, hoping that the resulting
uncertainty would prevent the US for attacking it – a deterrence built on lack of
information and uncertainty.
Note that the asymmetric power structure in the given situation already excluded
for any of these countries the option of pushing for international control of US offensive
capabilities. The threats to the national security of each and every ‘rogue state’ were not
only real, but very present as well.

Value maximising choices and interaction.

History shows us what the US must have decided their value maximising options were,
since the pattern of inference in the RAM assumes that they chose accordingly. So we know

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that the US chose aggressive counter-proliferation measures – pre-emptive strike and

sanctions - over reliance on non-proliferation mechanisms to further its power maximising
intentions. Indeed, the US openly questioned the use of control regimes in the years 2001
and 2002 (IAEA 2002), and did what was already envisioned in the Joint Vision 2020, to
undertake pre-emptive action against ‘rogue states’ and do so unilaterally if allies are not
forthcoming. In the case of pure defensive reasoning, defending against the treat of a
nuclear ICBM attack on US territory, the US pursued a similar path in the sense that it
refused to put its faith in multilateral or bilateral security arrangements aimed at
diminishing the threat rather than trying to build a defence against it. So we know, in
terms of a RAM analysis that the US government valued the option of missile defence
higher than the option of relying on peace talks and mutual security agreements. But this
is through a pattern of inference. It does not as such ‘explain’ just why the US chose to do
so. Part of the explanation seems to be that the US chose as it did because in the end it
put more emphasis on power maximisation than on mere survival. Mutual security
arrangements with Iran, Iraq and North Korea in combination with non-proliferation deals
and control mechanisms would potentially block the US from operating militarily in the
Middle East and elsewhere, thus rendering that option incompatible with the Full Spectrum
Dominance vision. Yet, looking at the value maximising options of the adversaries, it
becomes clear that the posture of the US forced these countries to dig in deep and become
more and more uncooperative in their behaviour. Iraq quite clearly had no other option
than to try and leave others in the dark about its defensive capabilities. Complete
openness, it seems to have assessed in 2001 and 2002, would only have made a US invasion
more probable. Iran and North Korea may well play a similar game up to this date. And for
Iran especially, it means it may feel itself forced to look to conventional or even ‘terrorist’
means of deterrence to fill the gap it must be feverishly aware of in the asymmetrical
power standoff it finds itself in.
Non-cooperative behaviour cuts both ways. From the perspective of the ‘Axis of
Evil’ countries, it is the US acting non-cooperative, through imposing sanctions,
threatening invasion, and through its unwillingness to disarm, to withdraw troops from the
region, or even to denounce its nuclear first strike policy. In return, this means that BMD
will not counter the potential threat posed by countries that regard the US as the most
dangerous phenomenon to their existence, even if Iran and North Korea assess the system
is technologically feasible.

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4.5 Conclusions and Implications

Using the RAM analysis, it is assumed that states act purposively and rationally. Having said
that, it must be assumed for the time being, that the US is aware of the consequences of
its choice for BMD, and is aware of the reciprocal nature of the military standoff relation it
helped to create vis-à-vis countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea. Realising the
ambiguous strategic implications of a working BMD shield, let alone a not (yet) working
one, a RAM analysis simply does not convincingly explain the US decision, never mind the
fairly rationalist language used in argumentation in favour of BMD. BMD, from a rational
actor model point of view still at best aims to counter part of a threat that may or may not
exist, and at worst underscores the aggressive posture of the US perceived by potential
adversaries, who in return will seek to bypass BMD if they believe it works, or will be
pushed in a more aggressive pattern of behaviour towards the US if (or as long as) BMD
does not function properly.
The intermediate conclusions of the first analysis, looking at a notional state level,
are not changed dramatically when adding ‘layers of information’, creating an ‘identified
state’ level analysis. To answer the partial research question: “To what extent can the
decision (pro BMD) be explained as a rational response by the state to emerging threats?”,
the answer is slightly ambiguous. The RAM shows that rational choice can create more
insight in the deliberations that preceded the decision, and allowing only Waltzian system-
level information and variables does help to create a better overview of options,
objectives and maximising of value. But at the same time it does not provide us with a
convincing answer along the lines of “Action X is the response of state Y to threat Z”. BMD
is not a univocal rational response of the US to the threat of a nuclear ballistic missile
attack against its territory.
The implication of this conclusion is that there is reason to ask the questions “Were
there other considerations?”, “Were there considerations that provide additional or even
better explanation that take us beyond the limitations of the rational choice paradigm?”
The next two Chapters will use the remaining two models proposed by Allison and Zelikow
to see if indeed opening the black box of government offers additional insight into the
issue of BMD.

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BMD as output of governmental organisations

Governments are not individuals. This simple statement juxtaposes the very basis of the
RAM analysis in the previous Chapter. The RAM, as explained, simplifies the real world by
assuming that a state acts as if it were one unitary purposive and rational actor, not
unlike an individual in economic relations. This central assumption enables the analyst to
focus exclusively on the causal relation between the outside problem or opportunity the
government faces and its rational responses to them. This simplification – however useful –
prevents the analyst from looking at a whole cluster of possibly important factors, or
considerations, that may have contributed to a government’s decision, or behaviour.
Allison and Zelikow propose that, when confronted with a puzzling government decision,
additional explanatory value can be found when ‘opening the black box of government’.
To do so, they propose two further models, one looking at government organisational
output, and one analysing the political bargaining games that preceded a decision. The
latter model will be applied in the next Chapter. The model used in this Chapter,
proposes that government is not an individual, but rather a vast conglomerate of loosely
allied organisations, each with a substantial life of its own. Government behaviour in this
Organisational Behaviour Model (OBM) can be understood as a consequence of outputs of
larger organisations functioning according to standard patterns of behaviour. This Chapter
will first discuss the Organisational Behaviour Model as presented by Allison and Zelikow,
and some of the critique of the model formulated in the past decades. After that, this
Chapter will empirically apply the model trying to find alternative or additional answers
to the empirical Research Question this thesis seeks to answer. The supporting Research
Question in this Chapter: To what extent can organisational output explain the decision of
the US government to develop and deploy a ballistic missile defence system?
The core assumption on which the Organisational Behaviour Model (OBM) is built is
that bureaucratic organisations generate autonomous outputs that reflect the aims and
demands of the organisation, rather than the purposes and goals of the government.
Governments are only partly able to guide or coordinate the organisations on which they
sit. The OBM allows the analyst to look at questions like:
• How did a government’s decision come about as a result of the standard processes
in place within the polity?

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• To what extent can the outcome be explained as the sum of the organisational
functions performed by the individual organisations that together make the
Organisational output, in the OBM, can be analysed by tracing the intra-
organisational decision making processes that occurred. To do this, the model works from
the central proposition that decisions by individuals within organisations are guided by
standard operating procedures (SOPs), simple decision rules. Organisational behaviour
consequentially becomes predictable, when the decision rules are understood, and
organisational behaviour is understood as an aggregate of the SOPs. In this, the OBM
follows the works of Herbert Simon, who states that:
Actions are chosen by recognising a situation as being of a familiar,
frequently encountered type, and matching the recognised situation to a set
of rules. This logic of appropriateness is linked to conceptions of experience,
roles, intuition and expert knowledge (March and Simon 1993: 8).

The OBM further stresses that in standing organisations, an autonomous culture

emerges that shapes the behaviour of individuals. Individuals will predictably be more
concerned with performing according to organisational norms and expectations than
according to national policy preferences. Again aggregating the individual behaviour to
the organisational level, the OBM analyses government decision following the logic of
applying organisational norms and rules to situations, where the RAM used the logic of
causes and consequences. Although originally developed by sociologists and political
scientists studying domestic politics and bureaucracy, the importance of organisational
behaviour has not gone unnoticed in the study of International Relations. Allison and
Zelikow discuss Robert Keohane, Jack Levy and Elizabeth Kier, all three of whom referred
in their work to above mentioned organisational behavioural aspects. As Robert Keohane
put it:
Institutions do not merely reflect the preferences and power of the units
constituting them; the institutions themselves shape those preferences and
that power (Keohane 1988: 382)

5.1 The origins of the Organisational Behaviour Model

Allison and Zelikow base their OBM on two approaches in the study of organisational
behaviour developed in the 20th century: functionalism and new institutionalism.
Functionalism, historically, focuses on the capacity building function of public
organisations, and highlights the processes that define organisations and how these

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processes in return may affect government behaviour. Functionalism predicts that

organisations, once they are established, will not only try to produce what is asked of
them by government leaders, but will over time develop their own organisational agenda.
In the words of Niskanen (1971), organisations will tend to produce more of ‘it’, whatever
‘it’ may be. In other words, organisations will seek expansion of their jurisdiction,
resources and autonomy. Furthermore, the logic of appropriateness guiding individuals
within the organisations, makes organisations slow in responding to changing environments
and new political demands. When confronted with a new situation, organisations will first
try to respond by using existing sets of decision rules - together called programmes. Only
when these do not deliver acceptable outputs, programmes may evolve to new ones.
Functionalism stresses that the SOPs and programmes have both positive and negative
effects. A positive effect is that SOPs enable organisations to efficiently deal with existing
and recurring situations, and at the same time allow individuals a certain amount of
freedom of operation. A negative effect is that this freedom predictably makes individuals
protective and inflexible. And the organisation as a whole becomes inflexible as well.
New institutionalism emphasises the more autonomous processes within
organisations – their organisational culture specifically – and studies the possibilities and
limitations posed to government leaders to direct or change organisations and their
outputs. New institutionalists like James March, Johan Olson and Richard Cyert point out
that the functionalist approach in many cases fails to explain organisational behaviour,
and argue that organisations and bureaucrats are able to manoeuvre more autonomous
than acknowledged by functionalism. Public action, according to many new
institutionalists is shaped centrally by the autonomous behaviour of the organisations and
their needs. Organisations over time create their own purposes, and their own culture and
subsequently bureaucrats within these organisations tend to chose actions that are
appropriate according to the rules determined by the organisational culture rather than
by the logic of finding an appropriate solution to a problem or situation arising outside the
organisation, and to which the organisation is entitled to respond. Decision making
provides the organisation with an occasion:
for executing SOPs and fulfilling role expectations, duties or earlier
commitments; an occasion for defining virtue and truth, during which the
organisation discovers or interprets what has happened to it, what it has been
doing and what it is doing; an occasion for glory or blame; for discovering self
and group interests; and a good time (March and Olson 1976: 11).

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5.2 The Organisational Behaviour Paradigm and Critique

In general terms, the study of organisational behaviour – in relation to government

behaviour in foreign policy – is less thoroughly developed than the approaches underlying
the RAM in the previous Chapter. Still, Allison and Zelikow manage to distil from the
existing discourses a research paradigm, of which a brief summary is included in Box II

Box II: The Organisational Behaviour Paradigm

I Basic Unit of Analysis: Government action as organisational output.

II Organising Concepts
a. Actor: Loosely allied organisations
b. Organisations are guided by explicit missions.
c. Objectives and Culture. Standing organisations develop their own interpretation of
core tasks and over time develop their own culture
d. Action as organisational output. Action is shaped by the programmatic character of
tasks. Activities of organisations are characterised by (a) decision making according
to Standing Operating Procedures (SOPS); (b) Fixed programmes constituted of
SOPs; (c) Avoidance of uncertainty; (d) Seeking solutions closest to exiting SOPs;
and (d) organisations can only learn and change if forced by dramatic chance, for
example because of ‘budgetary feast’, ‘budgetary famine’ or severe performance
e. Selection. Government leaders can influence output by selecting which organisation
or what programmes/routines within an organisation.

III Dominant Inference Pattern

If a nation performs an action of a certain type today, its organisational components
must yesterday have been performing an action only marginally different.

IV General Propositions
a. Existing organisational capabilities influence government choice
b. Organisational priorities shape organisational implementation
c. Implementation reflects previously established routines
d. Organisations are only able of limited flexibility and incremental change
e. Organisations seek growth of their autonomy: personnel, budget and jurisdiction

V Evidence
Evidence is found in information about the characteristics of the organisations involved.

Summary of Allison and Zelikow (1999): 163-185

Much of the criticism on Allison and Zelikow’s OBM centres around the implicit assumption
that decision makers are ‘only’ boundedly rational. From it flows a second assumption:
that the use of SOPs as simple decision rules by the boundedly rational individual cannot
result in un-predictable or complex behaviour on the organisational level (Bendor and
Hammond 1992: 309). Bendor and Hammond argue, with March and Simon, that complex
processes can be aggregated from simple elements (March and Simon 1958: 178). A full

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overview of the argument presented by Bendor and Hammond would be too large for this
thesis, but to summarise, they look into several game theoretical constructs to analyse
the use of simple rule decision making and the resulting aggregate behaviour on an
organisational level and conclude that the OBM’s central premise that because of the SOPs
organisations only show incremental change and thus behave highly predictable, may be
flawed. It may be the case, Bendor and Hammond conclude, but only if a large number of
conditions is exactly right (Bendor and Hammond 1992: 311). And modern organisations
are aware of these potential problems and are equally aware of potential measures to
counter or overcome these problems. Modern bureaucratic organisations are made up of
different kinds of professionals with entirely different mindset and not the “sluggish
entities dominated by a single way of thinking” (Bendor and Hammond 1992: 313).
David Welch (1992) provides a critique focussing more on the explanatory value of
the paradigm as a whole. He directly challenges Allison’s claim that “Governmental
behaviour can […] be understood […] less as deliberate choices and more as outputs of
large organisations functioning according to standard patterns of behaviour” (Allison and
Zelikow 1999: 143). The OBM, Welch argues, does not explain a decision, it can only
explain deviations from ideal rationality at the moment of a decision or deviations from
perfect instrumentality after decisions are made. The OBM, he concludes “has nothing to
say about the decisions themselves” (Welch 1992: 117). Despite Welch’s carefulness to
formulate his criticism as an attempt to give positive feedback on Allison’s original model
formulated in 1971, his criticism challenges the 1999 version of the OBM too, since in the
revised version nothing substantially has changed. If Welch is right, the OBM is an obsolete
instrument for the study of government decision making, and as such for the study central
to this thesis. For according to him, the OBM cannot give any significant explanation as to
what contributed to a governmental decision. It can only say something about how a
decision came about, and at best point out some deviations from rationality.

5.3 Adapting the OBM for BMD analysis.

The OBM mixes several interesting ideas about how the RAM can be improved or how
additional explanatory value can be created by looking into the black-box of a national
government’s workings. By and large, I would argue that the OBM combines two
distinctive sets of concepts that do not entirely mix. In the first set, assumptions and core
concepts of the model focus on the internal workings of governmental organisations: the
predomination of action by programmes and their SOPs; the limited ability of

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organisations to adapt to new circumstances; and the drive of organisations towards

preserving or better yet expanding autonomy and subsequent resources and jurisdiction. A
second set looks into the way a government leader’s choices are limited by the available
organisations and their specific capacities: the tendency by government leaders to choose
the ‘easy’ solution – rather giving an assignment to an existing organisation than setting
up an entirely new one; and the limited grasp of government leaders of what the real
capacities are of each organisation in play. In fact, the second set contradicts the ‘Basic
unit of analysis’ Allison and Zelikow formulate for their paradigm in Box II. In the second
set, it is not governmental action as organisational output that is analysed, but
government action as resultant of availability of organisational tools. The second set
however, leads well into the terrain of the third model presented by Allison and Zelikow,
where the role and behaviour of individual politicians is analysed.
The criticism of Bendor and Hammond and of David Welch further complicates the
analysis in this Chapter. Serious doubt about the assumption that organisations operate in
predictable and standard ways, with limited ability to change or deviate raises the
question how reliable any analysis can be. Welch’s point that any analysis will de facto be
unable to really say something about a governments decision makes it all the more
important to be critical of assumptions of causality in place in the model. The central
premise states that government output explains government action, but the critiques of
Bendor and Hammond (1992) and Welch (1992) all essentially argue that the presupposed
causality in reality is directed the opposite way. From their critique it follows that
organisational behaviour does not explain government action, but government decision
explains organisational behaviour.
In analysing organisational behaviour in relation to the BMD decision, the biggest
challenge is the limited availability of information about the actual internal working of
relevant organisations and - more importantly – the actual effect of any organisation’s
output on the decision making process. Where Allison’s original amount of available
information – already impressive in scope – was further strengthened by the release of
declassified documentation in the 1990s and most crucial the taped discussions in the
White House, the analysis in this Chapter has to do with extremely limited available
information. This leads to the following limitations in the analysis:
1 Lack of proper information about organisational cultures necessitates exclusion
of that discussion
2 Lack of information about many SOPs implies that the actual effects of SOPs
and their constraints cannot be tested empirically. The role of SOPs and the
programmes they form can only – for the time being – be assumed.

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3 Similarly, the organisational drives towards preserving and enlarging autonomy,

avoidance of uncertainty and limited potential for change need to be assumed.
The resulting analysis below will seek to answer the question: To what extent can
the OBM’s ‘logic of appropriateness’ guiding outputs of organisations explain the
governments decision to develop and deploy BMD systems? To answer this question first
the most relevant organisations will be identified whose output can realistically be said to
be able to have had any effect on the government leaderships contemplations leading to
the decision. The missions of each organisation will be looked at, as well as documented
preferences, visions and choices related to BMD over the years preceding the BMD
decision. Key statements linking the organisational output and the governments decision
will be discussed. In that discussion, a credible sense of the direction of causality will be
established, by looking at the relationship between the organisations and their leaders,
both in terms of procedural initiative and in terms of time-path.

5.4 OBM analysis: BMD as organisational output.

Looking at available information on the decision making processes in the US government

concerning BMD, two core organisations can be identified: The Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA), and the Department of Defence (DoD). The CIA is relevant because it provides the
government with crucial information about existing and emerging foreign policy related
threats. Following the logic of the OBM, the threat assessment of the CIA (its output)
would affect the US government’s responses to threats. The DoD’s output is relevant,
obviously, since its primary function is to provide the US with capable and effective
defence. Within the DoD, two organisations seem to matter especially. First of all, the
Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) because of its role in translating the information of the CIA into
practical policy and implementation. The Joint Chiefs are the primary advisors to the
President on restructuring and redevelopment of US defence policy. Secondly, the Missile
Defence Agency (MDA) is included, because of its role as executioner of policies regarding
BMD. Following the OBM logic, its output would influence decision making on BMD itself.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

We are the nation’s first line of defence. We accomplish what others cannot
accomplish and go where others cannot go. We carry out our mission by:
• Collecting information that reveals the plans, intentions and capabilities of
our adversaries and provides the basis for decision and action.

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• Producing timely analysis that provides insight, warning and opportunity to

the President and decision makers charged with protecting and advancing
America’s interests.
• Conducting covert action at the direction of the President to pre-empt
threats or achieve US policy objectives. (CIA Mission Statement, on-line)

The first two of three ‘critical tasks’ described in the CIA mission statements are relevant
to the story of BMD. In more general terms, the CIA is responsible for providing national
security intelligence to senior US policymakers; for acquiring information on, and assess
the seriousness of threats to the national security of the US.
The CIA produces an immense amount of periodic intelligence reports on a wide
variety of issues: countries; organisations; individuals, technologies, etc. The CIA also
produces the National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs); overviews of proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction; and on occasion special reports on countries, such as the reports on
Iraq in recent years.
In the words of the CIA, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is:
the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue
prepared by the Director of Central Intelligence. […] NIEs forecast future
developments and many address their implications for the United States. NIEs
cover a wide range of issue-from military to technological to economic to
political trends. […] NIEs are addressed to the highest level of policymakers-
up to and including the President. They are often drafted in response to a
specific request from a policymaker. Estimates are designed not just to
provide information but to help policymakers think through issues (CIA
Declassified National Intelligence Estimates, on-line).

In the terminology of the OBM, the NIEs are the output of the CIA. Acquiring information
on nuclear arms proliferation may be called a ‘programme’, which would then consist of
multiple SOPs, for example rules about how to assess a certain bit of information on
acquisition of chemicals or technology by a third country. In the words of the CIA above,
the output is not solely the information in reports itself, but includes the advice on
policies. The NIEs aim to inform government leaders in order to help them come to
informed decisions on current and future national security related policies.
Because of the close link between BMD and the proliferation of ICBMs and nuclear
technology, the NIEs assessments of proliferation and subsequent threats to the national
security are important in the discussions on BMD. The assessment of (future) threats by
the NIEs has radically changed between 1995 and 2003, and has been the subject of
heated political debates, especially in the period 1996-2001. In 1995, the NIE reported
No country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, will develop or
otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next 15 years that could threaten
the contiguous 48 states and Canada.

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Ballistic missile programs of other countries are focused on regional security

concerns and are not expected to evolve into threats to North America during
the period of this estimate.
We are likely to detect any indigenous long-range ballistic missile program
many years before deployment.
We expect countries that currently have ICBMs will not sell them (DCI 1995:
1-2; Defense Daily 1997: 2).

From 1998 onward, the CIA quite suddenly changed its assessments though. Apparently
this change in view was prompted by North Korea’s first test of a (not functioning) mid-
range ballistic missile; reports about Iranian attempts to develop nuclear technology; and
rumours about Russian runaway nuclear experts offering their expertise on the
international market (Dobbs 2002: A01). There is evidence though, that the turnaround
was the result not so much of changes in assessment of external threat, but the result of
political pressure from a changing political environment in these years. The 1995 NIE led
to a fierce battle in the Congress between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party
who had regained the majority vote in the Congress in November 1994. The Republican
Party claimed that the NIE was biased and flawed in its methodology. The Congress
formed in the years 1996-1998 several commissions to investigate these accusations. A
commission investigating the political bias of the NIE concluded not only that there was no
evidence for any bias, but also that the bias was on the part of the Republican dominated
Congress (CIA 1996: 2).12 A second Commission – the Rumsfeld Commission – did
nevertheless conclude that the method of analysis was flawed, and on top of that
produced in 1998 an alternative analysis that contradicted all of the 1995 NIE conclusions
(US Congress 1998). After that, the CIA – using much of the same information and
methodology – changed its tone and unlike in the 1995 NIE reported mainly on possible
worst case scenarios in stead of assessing likely threats. The shift in judgement caused
Republican Senator Curt Weldon – an outspoken proponent of BMD - to state in 2001:
It was the largest turnaround ever in the history of the [intelligence] agency,
and I was part of making it happen. The intelligence shift was a necessary
corrective to a politically skewed intelligence forecasts during the Clinton
years (In Dobbs 2002: A01).

The Missile Defence Agency in its document National Missile Defense: An Overview (1993-
2000) acknowledges the importance of the change in the political climate in Washington,
reporting it:
emerged in November 1994 when the American electorate gave the
Republican party control of both houses of Congress for the first time in
decades. Given previous Republican positions on ballistic missile defence, it
was apparent to Pentagon officials that the new Republican majorities in the

For further information on the importance of this political struggle, see e.g. Graham 2001

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House and Senate were likely to require higher [Fiscal Year 1996] funding
levels for the missile defence program, especially those elements of the
program related to national missile defence (MDA Historian’s Office, on-line).

Democrats and for example Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-proliferation Program at
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, assessed that “the 1995 intelligence
estimate holds up pretty well in hindsight", and accused Weldon and other Republicans of
mounting a conscious political strategy to attack the intelligence assessment because "it
stood in the way of a passionate belief in missile defence" (In Dobbs 2002: A01). In
Cirincione’s opinion, "intelligence analysts have learned to give the Congress what they
want, while preserving the integrity of the analysis. What happens is that you get
assessments that include all possible worst cases." And “the intelligence process has
become politicised” (Dobbs 2002: AO1).
Instead of the OBM’s idea that organisations determine government behaviour, this
case seems to show exactly the opposite. CIA officials argued after 1998 that their new and
radically different estimates were the result of improved methods of analysis. Following
the publication of the Rumsfeld Commission the CIA began consulting a range of experts
from industry and academia. But within academia, industry and within the intelligence
community, the overriding idea is that the CIA changed its assessment in order not to
render their services obsolete. The Dobbs article reflects:
Some consumers of intelligence within the government say the shifting
forecasts of the ballistic missile threat are a case study of how an ostensibly
objective intelligence process can be buffeted by conflicting political
pressures, from home and abroad. ‘Nobody believes the CIA estimates’, said a
long-time counter-proliferation expert from another government department.
(Dobbs 2002, A02).

The CIA’s output does not include a specific recommendation either in favour or against
BMD. However, their threat assessments do resonate in the political discussions about the
need for BMD. During the first years of the Clinton administration, the CIA’s assessments
of the low likelihood of a nuclear ICBM attack by a ‘small’ country was indeed feeding the
low enthusiasm in the administration for developing an extensive BMD system. Clinton
effectively delayed a decision on deployment of (any form of) BMD, and made the decision
conditional. The technology would have to be proven; Allies would have to approve; A
compromise with Russia would have to be found. And the administration repeatedly
questioned whether the prophesised system would enhance the US’s security enough to
justify the cost (Hartung and Ciarrocca 2000). Only after the political landscape changed
in the Congress, and after political pressure on the CIA grew did the CIA change its
method of assessing threats, now producing documents that are replete with mentioning

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‘not impossible’ nightmare scenarios where up till 1995 the assessments were built on
information combining the likeliness and severity of a threat. In any case it cannot be said
that the CIA output explains the government’s decision. If anything, any causal relation
would seem to point in another direction: Political pressure explains the output of the

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the name predicts, is a body consisting of all the Chiefs of
military departments of the US army, navy and air force, and is attributed a non-military
capacity as strategic advisor. Although organisationally a part of the Department of
Defence (DoD), the JCS stands apart in that it does not need answer to any internal DoD
hierarchy, except the Secretary of Defence, and can be asked to by-pass the Secretary and
answer to the President directly. The JCS started during the Second World War as an ad-
hoc advisory team, an action channel in OBM jargon rather than an organisation in its own
right. Over the years, the JCS has acquired a central role though, in advising the President
on strategic and tactical matters and on Defence restructuring, and can now be regarded
as an organisation “distinct from and competing with other Pentagon organisations,
including the armed services from which the Joint Staff is drawn” (Smith 1993: 213). The
mission statement of the JCS in all fairness does not clearly define its primary role, but
instead reads more like a defensive statement answering critique of their potential double
hat as army chiefs and strategic advisors. The closest to a mission statement, the following
quote explains the workings of the JCS:
The collective body of the JCS is headed by the Chairman […], who sets the
agenda and presides over JCS meetings. Responsibilities as members of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff take precedence over duties as the Chiefs of Military
Services. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the principal military
adviser to the President, Secretary of Defence, and the National Security
Council (NSC), however, all JCS members are by law military advisers, and
they may respond to a request or voluntarily submit, through the Chairman,
advice or opinions to the President, the Secretary of Defence, or NSC (JCS
Mission Statement, on-line).

The JCS’s output is the advice they give, some of which is put down in writing. In the BMD
story, the most important tangible output of the JCS is the 2000 document Joint Vision
2020, a strategy document aiming to guide government decision making on the direction of
military reorganisation and US military posture for the period 2000 – 2020. In the document
(earlier discussed in this thesis), the JSC directly addresses the issue of proliferation of

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ballistic missile and nuclear arms technology and the possibility of building defences
against it. The document starts with a mission statement of sorts:
Joint Vision 2020 builds upon and extends the conceptual template
established by Joint Vision 2010 to guide the continuing transformation of
America’s Armed Forces. The primary purpose of those forces has been and
will be to fight and win the Nation’s wars. The overall goal of the
transformation described in this document is the creation of a force that is
dominant across the full spectrum of military operations – persuasive in
peace, decisive in war, pre-eminent in any form of conflict (JCS 2000: 1).

The vision itself, the JCS describes as:

The overarching focus of this vision is full spectrum dominance – achieved
through the interdependent application of dominant manoeuvre, precision
engagement, focused logistics, and full dimensional protection (JCS 2000: 2)

The document assesses that by 2020, adversaries are likely to have access to much of the
same technology as the US military, making technologic superiority not a given in all areas
(JCS 2000: 5). The document then continues to warn that:
By developing and using approaches that avoid US strengths and exploit
potential vulnerabilities using significantly different methods of operation,
adversaries will attempt to create conditions that effectively delay, deter, or
counter the application of US military capabilities. The potential of such
asymmetric approaches is perhaps the most serious danger the United States
faces in the immediate future – and this danger includes long-range ballistic
missiles and other direct threats to US citizens and territory (JCS 2000: 6).

The JCS advises to opt for ‘full spectrum dominance’, explaining that:
The label full spectrum dominance implies that US forces are able to conduct
prompt, sustained, and synchronised operations with combinations of forces
tailored to specific situations and with access to and freedom to operate in
all domains – space, sea, land, air, and information. Additionally, given the
global nature of our interests and obligations, the United States must
maintain its overseas presence forces and the ability to rapidly project power
worldwide in order to achieve full spectrum dominance (JCS 2000: 8).

The idea of full spectrum dominance includes ‘full dimensional protection’, which:
[…] Will be based upon active and passive defensive measures, including
theatre missile defences and limited missile defence of the United States
(JCS 2000: 33).

Clearly, the JCS assesses that BMD is a necessary precondition for meeting the security
challenges of the coming decades, and for securing a dominant position in all possible
theatres of war, including space. The JCS equally clearly calls for more rather than less
investment in US military capacity. Two questions come up. First of all, the question if the
JCS is just showing what in the theoretical part of this Chapter was called the tendency to

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produce more of ‘it’. Is the call for radical investment in full spectrum dominance
attributable to the fact that the Chiefs of Staff jointly have an interest in preserving or
enlarging their ‘share of the pie’? This is difficult to prove without additional information,
information not available at this time. The behaviour of the JCS does seem congruent with
the OBM paradigm though. Their critical task being to advise the government on military
reorganisation and investment would drive them according to the logic of appropriateness
to stay close to their established routines and interpret possible and real ‘shocks’ in the
environment accordingly. If the Rumsfeld Report predicts new threats, it is the JCS’s
natural role to advise on how to counter them. At the same time, the responsibility of
each of the Chiefs, to care for the healthiness and autonomy of their organisations would
predict that they tend to advise on more rather than less of ‘it’. It being investment in
military capacity.
The second question is whether or not the JCS can convincingly be shown to have
had an effect on the decision making on BMD. The Vision 2020 is a popular reference point
for critics of BMD (Coates 2001; Ciarrocca and Hartung 2002), and is often implicitly
viewed as a threshold moment in the process towards the Bush administration’s decision
in favour of BMD. Recent documentation on the troubled relationship between the then
Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, and the JCS sheds serious doubt about that
assessment though. The JCS even refused to come to a meeting Rumsfeld called for in
December 2006, out of long standing frustration with the lack of cooperation on
Rumsfeld’s part.
By law, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the president's principal
military advisor. But for much of the Rumsfeld tenure, the Joint Chiefs […]
were kept out of planning, according to some senior officers critical of that
arrangement. Some top military voices have argued that had the Joint Chiefs
been consulted more regularly, some key mistakes — such as the troop
shortage early on [in Iraq]— could have been avoided. […] The service chiefs
are part of the solution", said retired Gen. James L. Jones, a former Marine
commandant who served as a member of the Joint Chiefs until 2003. "Some of
the difficulty we are in now I think an honest man could say was due to that
particular system … where the Joint Chiefs were left out. You can circumvent
the legitimate opinions that should be developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
and I think there is evidence that has happened on a number of occasions”
(Barnes 2007: 1).

Although in this story the Iraq War planning seems to be the centre of the deteriorated
relationship, it makes clear at least that the influence of the JCS is dependent on the
Secretary of Defence it is supposed to advise. It furthermore shows that the Secretary of
Defence is well able – in OBM terms – to trigger one program rather than another, thus
directing the output of the organisations on top of which he sits. And it is therefore
impossible to claim that the BMD decision was in any way the result of organisational

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output from the JCS. Furthermore, in 2000 the 1999 Missile Defence Act was already
signed, and in their organisational drive towards more of ‘it’, the inclusion of BMD in the
Vision 2020 document may as well have been caused by the fact that BMD seemed to offer
potential for expanded funding, a tempting prospect for the JCS no doubt.

The Missile Defence Agency (BMDO & MDA)

The Missile Defence Agency (MDA) was created in January 2002. But it was not entirely a
newly created organisation, rather the continuation of the Ballistic Missile Defence
Organisation (BMDO). The 2001/2002 decision expanded the autonomy, budget and role of
the BMDO significantly though, moving it up the ladder as it were in the hierarchy within
the DoD. Its mission:
Develop and field an integrated BMD [System] capable of providing a layered
defence for the homeland, deployed forces, friends, and allies against
ballistic missiles of all ranges in all phases of flight. The Missile Defence
Agency's mission is to develop, test and prepare for deployment a missile
defence system. Using complementary interceptors, land-, sea-, air- and
space-based sensors, and battle management command and control systems,
the planned missile defence system will be able to engage all classes and
ranges of ballistic missile threats. Our programmatic strategy is to develop,
rigorously test, and continuously evaluate production, deployment and
operational alternatives for the ballistic missile defence system (MDA About
Us, on-line).

Before 2002 most research and development of BMD related technology was the realm of
the Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation (BMDO), but some research and development
was done by the air force and some by the army (Trenary III 2004). Theatre missile
defence development was placed mostly outside the BMDO. Since 2002, the MDA enjoys a
relatively high autonomy, answering directly to the Secretary of Defence, Donald
Rumsfeld. The role and autonomy of the MDA is put to paper in the 2002 Secretary of
Defence Memorandum, Subject: Missile Defence Program Direction (US DoD 2002a). In the
memorandum, Rumsfeld stipulates the MDA is operationally accountable directly to him.
Since 2002, the MDA appears on the DoD annual budgets that have to be approved by the
Congress, with the establishment of the budget as the only direct check on the decision
making power of the Secretary.
The orientation of the MDA is largely technological. In contrast with the CIA and
the JCS before, the relevant output of the MDA is not advice or the production of strategic
visions, but planning, testing and the preparation for deployment of missile defence
systems. Immediately after its inception in 2002, the BMDO/MDA was blessed with what in

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OBM terminology is called a ‘budgetary feast’ (see Box II), with an annual budget jumping
from about 2 billion US$ in 1999 to 10 billion US$ since 2003.
The MDA’s output is not solely technological. The organisation puts high emphasis
first of all on transferring new technology coming from BMD system development to the
private sector, claiming that – although BMD is paid for by public money – the resulting
technology spawns technological development on the private market – thus “developing
superior technology to defend the United States and its allies, promoting the economic
growth of the Nation, and enhancing the quality of life in the United States” all at once
(MDA Transfer, on-line). The MDA annually participates in a Congressional Hearing, in
which the MDA publicly reports on progress made and on the need for future funding.
Invariably, the MDA reports a list of successful tests, and in relation advises the Congress
to continue the current level of funding or to expand it. There is always more ‘it’ the MDA
can produce. The MDA has no direct power over the decision making though, and while it
does have a clear output, the troubling delays and test failures in all MDA’s areas of work
entirely focussing on the development of BMD (rather than TMD) technology should, the
OBM paradigm predicts, lead to negative attitudes from decision makers, or at least limit
the influence of the MDA in bringing about a positive attitude among government decision
making bodies. In 2001 and 2002 however, belief in the technologic feasibility of BMD was
still riding high, at least among Republicans.
So did the output of the MDA/BMDO in any definable way affect the decision
making process pro MD? To say so seems – again – to be reasoning the wrong way around. It
was a political change of view that brought the MDA about, and although it no doubt
continuously and to its maximum capacity pushes for extension or even growth of its
resources and accompanying autonomy, it can now do so only because of the changed
political view in the first place.

5.5 Conclusions and Implications

It would be presumptuous to claim that the limited analysis possible in this Chapter
‘proves’ that Allison and Zelikow’s OBM is of very limited value, but it can be concluded
that at least in this case the model does not work, or does not apply. There is nothing to
support the idea that organisational output caused the BMD decision, or even significantly
influenced it. In fact, all the evidence suggests the causality exists the other way around.
In the case of the CIA, where the output significantly changed in favour of BMD in the
years preceding the decision, there is sufficient reason to question whether it was the

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output supporting the decision or rather political pressure from the Republican led
Congress that caused the changing output. In the case of the JCS, the tendency to
emphasise the need for additional spending and priority for defence related projects like
BMD, predicted in the model itself, cannot convincingly be said to have affected the
government leader’s decision. The other way around seems at least just as plausible: The
JCS’s inclusion of BMD in their Joint Vision 2020 is explained by the JCS’s realisation that
supporting the political call for BMD would entail additional funding, personnel,
jurisdiction and therefore more autonomy. Reports on the troubled relation between the
JCS and the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, further question the relevance of the
outputs of the JCS in this case. In the case of the MDA finally, the reversed causality is
most prominent. It is not the MDA’s output that led the administration to favour BMD, it is
the administration’s decision to prioritise BMD that threw the MDA into a ‘budgetary feast’
and granted it more autonomy ever since. It may well be the case that today the output
of the MDA affects the decision making on budgetary allocations for BMD. But in the
period of the original decision, the logic worked the other way around.
To come to this conclusion, it was necessary to reinterpret what ‘the decision’
studied exactly is, and when it happened. The DoD, JCS and MDA outputs no doubt
strongly supported the Bush administrations decision to grant the BMD project the highest
priority, making it seem as if the OBM is right. But when the preceding political decision
making process is allowed into the analysis, a different story emerges. The legislative
decision to develop and deploy BMD was taken already in 1999, when the Senate signed
the Missile Defence Act. And it is the Act and the accompanying political campaign that
triggered the change in organisational output of the CIA, and the new output of the MDA.
Limiting the analysis to include only the 2001 - 2002 policy decisions by the
administrations would have obscured that fact. At the same time, the reluctance of the
Democratic Clinton administration to prioritise on BMD development and deployment,
makes clear that neither the political pressure, nor the organisational output could fully
determine an administrations policy on BMD. In his last Presidential period, Clinton did not
prioritise on BMD, and only after the Republican Party regained the Presidency in 2001, it
was the Bush administration that interpreted the Missile Defence Act as being a directive
for prioritising on BMD the way it is prioritised on until today.
It seems fair to say that the OBM’s prediction that government leaders are directed
in their choice by outputs of the organisations on which they sit is flawed. Furthermore,
the ‘second set’ predicting that government leaders are limited in their choice by the
availability of organisations and resources and by the limited ability of leaders to push for
radical change in the outputs of organisations seems equally flawed. Action by the

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Congress in the period 1995 to 1999 quite well managed to change the assessment
methods of the CIA, As a result, government leaders seem to have successfully pushed the
JCS out of the central debate, and unleashed on the BMDO a budgetary feast that all but
remade it into a new organisation. In this case, the power of politics overshadowed any of
Allison and Zelikows government leader’s limited ability to activate some programmes
here rather than there, or call into action several programmes simultaneously in several
organisations. In fact it was the Congress that blocked some programmes, changed the
very working of others, and allowed the administration to start up an entirely new menu
of programmes, the MDA.
The empirical research question for this Chapter specifically: “To what extent can
the US governments pro-BMD decision be explained by organisational output determining
government choice”, leads to the answer that it cannot. And with that, the analysis
contributes very little to answering the central research question “What explains the US
government’s decision to develop and deploy BMD”. This conclusion points in the direction
of the next chapters central premise that political bargaining rather than organisational
output explains the pro-BMD decision. Is it all politics then? The following Chapter will
take a closer look at the political stands and beliefs of central political players in order to
see if indeed politics provides us with answers to the central empirical research question.

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BMD as result of political bargaining

The OBM in the previous Chapter attempted to offer a closer look into the workings and
relevance of organisational output of government institutions involved in the decision pro
BMD. The organisations involved are led by leaders who are both bureaucratic leaders and
political players. This third and last empirical Chapter will seek explanation of the BMD
decision by looking at these personalities, their positions and their political stands and
beliefs, in an attempt to strengthen the explanation of the BMD decision. Like in the other
empirical Chapters, one of the models presented by Allison and Zelikow will be the
guideline, this one called the Governmental Politics Model (GPM), previously the
Bureaucratic Politics Model. The Chapter will set out to discuss the GPM as presented in
Essence of Decision (1999), reviews some of the relevant literature, and summarises the
paradigm as formulated by Allison and Zelikow. Relevant critique of the model will be
discussed, as well as implications of that critique for the analysis done in this Chapter.
After that, the GPM will be applied to the BMD decision in two sections. One section will
identify ‘the players’ and their political stands. The second analytical section will take a
closer look at the beliefs of these players, arguing that the Bush administration’s
preference for BMD stems from political conviction rather than rational calculation or
organisational behaviour. The Chapter will end with a brief discussion on the outcomes and
implications for the thesis.

6.1 The origins of the Governmental Politics Model

In the logic of the GPM, governmental behaviour is understood to be the result of

bargaining games played between key political and bureaucratic individuals. The outcomes
of the games are formed by the interaction of competing preferences. Government is
made up of a number of political leaders who are joined by top officials of major
governmental organisations to form a circle of central players. Some players are
mandatory, others may be invited in for the special occasion or elbow their way in. Beyond
this circle, successive concentric circles may encompass lower level officials in the
executive branch, the press, and NGOs (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 255).
The GPM’s origin can be traced back to the works of Richard E. Neustadt, both a
political scientist and experienced politician. Allison and Zelikow, generalising Neustadt’s

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work, build up the GPM by exploring the group processes in play and their effects on
decisions and actions on a governmental level. Posing the question “What particular
characteristics of multi-person decision processes have consequences for the content of
the decisions and actions that emerge?” (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 263), Allison and
Zelikow discuss several such characteristics.
1 Decision making processes. Following Alexander George, Allison and Zelikow argue
that to study foreign policy, one should focus primarily on the actual decision
making processes, not on the formal organisational charts. Or: Focus on the action
channels, not the boxes (George and Stern 1998: 200). Action channels are tailor-
made, not preset.
2 The Agency Problem. Increasing numbers of participants make it less likely that
information is unknown or unavailable to the decision maker. But with a growing
number of participants, the influence of personal beliefs and politics within the
group grows exponentially. Following Kenneth Shepsle and Kenneth Arrow’s
‘Impossibility Theorem’, Allison and Zelikow argue that while individuals are
rational, a group is not, since it may not even have transitively ordered preferences
(Allison and Zelikow 1999: 271). Participants are in practice more than just agents.
They are players in an interactive game as well, and as such entertain influence
over the outcome of a decision or action.
3 Player selection. From the above follows that the selection of players can be
crucial to forging a decision. Although Allison and Zelikow do not conclude
explicitly that individual political beliefs should be central in the GPM, they do
acknowledge the work on group decision making processes developed in the 1990s
by for example Peter M. Haas and Ernst Haas, and argue that “individuals can be
affected not only by their organisational background but also by long-standing
association with a community of likeminded professionals sharing distinctive
outlooks on the world” (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 277).
4 Agenda setting and issue framing. Part of the game is to push priorities on the
agenda, and to frame the issue so that more support is expected.
5 Groupthink. Allison and Zelikow refer to the social psychological studies done by
Irving Janis, who derived from his work the propositions that (a) policy decisions
are most regularly made in groups of 6 to 12 persons; (b) the cohesion in such small
groups (especially when the members are sharing overall responsibility over a
longer period of time) causes a psychological drive for consensus; (c) stress within a
group can cause individuals to avoid subjects defensively, or to exaggerate
favourable consequences; (d) under certain circumstances, this collective stress

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and cohesion can cause ‘groupthink’: “sequences of decisions that reach extremes
well beyond the initial inclinations of any of the participants” (Janis cited in Allison
and Zelikow 1999: 284).
6 Complexities of joint action. Finally, Allison and Zelikow point out that the
settings in which separate institutions share power over decisions, makes the
process of coming to joint decisions extremely complex. This is in current politics
more and more often an important realisation since – as Allison and Zelikow argue –
for example the role of the Congress has grown over the past decades in the US.
Relevant for the analysis of BMD later in this Chapter is the claim that “Congress’s
role is especially big in dealing with allocation of resources, including procurement,
organisation, and deployment of military personnel and material” (Allison and
Zelikow 1999: 289).
The third Allison and Zelikow model is the most altered of the three in comparison
to the original version by Allison (1971). In the 1971 version, the “Bureaucratic Politics
Model” focussed almost exclusively on the explanatory power of bargaining games in which
the stands and demands of the individuals involved were determined by their position in
politics. I.e. the Secretary of State will have a different opinion or agenda than the
Secretary of Defence, because of the different organisations, responsibilities and outcome
projections they represent. “Where you stand depends on where you sit”, as Arnold Miles
originally formulated it (Welch 1992: 120). This perspective is not lost in the 1999 version,
but the model is refurbished to include political beliefs that are not directly explained by
bureaucratic position.

6.2 The Governmental Politics Paradigm and Critique

The third and last paradigm (see Box III below) has been the one receiving the most
criticism since 1971. Then called the Bureaucratic Politics Model, criticism focussed on the
apparent feeble proof of causality between individual position in a bureaucracy and
resulting political priority. Allison’s proposition that “where you stand depends on where
you sit” contradicts several other theories, propositions and findings in the model (Ball
1974; Caldwell 1977). Allison allows some leeway for implementing in the model concepts
such as individual beliefs, and ‘longstanding relations with likeminded professionals’,
which seems to contradict the proposition that position explains preferences and priorities.
Moreover, as Bendor and Hammond point out, not all involved players necessarily ‘sit’
somewhere (Bendor and Hammond 1992: 317). Indeed, including in the analysis players

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who ‘elbowed their way in’ as well as political players, means that not all players have a
clear bureaucratic position to begin with.

Box III: The Governmental Politics Paradigm

I Basic unit of Analysis. Government action as political resultant.

What happens is not chosen as a solution to a problem but rather results from a
compromise, conflict and confusion.

II Organising concepts.
A. Players. A governmental decision is made by the collection of a number of
individual players.
B. Positions. Players each have their own position. Each players position determines
to a large extent what he can or cannot do.
C. Factors shaping players’ perceptions, preferences and stands.
1. Parochial priorities. Priorities determined by position
2. Goals and interests. Priorities determined by personal interest, domestic
political interests etc.
3. Stakes and stands. Overlapping interests constitute the stakes
D. Power and influence. Power is measured by the ability to influence the outcome.
E. The game. (a) An action channel is a regularised means of taking governmental
decisions. They structure the game by preselecting players and by attributing
different levels of decision power to players. (b) Rules of the game establish the
positions, power of each position and the action channels.(c) Action as political
resultant. Players will manoeuvre to get the decisions made in the action channels
they believe offers the best prospect for a desired result.

III Dominant inference pattern. If a nation performed an action, that action was the
resultant of bargaining among individuals and groups within the government.

IV General Propositions.
A. Political resultants: Resultants are affected by (a) individual preferences and
stands; (b) chosen action channel.
B. Action and intention: Governmental action does not presuppose intention.
C. Where you stand depends on where you sit: Diverse demands upon players
influence their priorities, perceptions and stands.
D. The 49-51 principle: Being burdened with many decisions and games to play,
players will prioritise those games they expect the most of.

V Evidence. Direct access to the bargaining procedures is uncommon. Interviews,

documentation and news background items may all amount to evidence in the GPM.

Summary of Allison and Zelikow (1999): 294-313

The 1999 edition acknowledges the critique, and stipulates that the proposition has been
misread. With ‘depends on’ Allison had not meant ‘is always determined by’ but rather ‘is
substantially affected by’ (Allison and Zelikow 1999: 307). That does not take away the
relevance of the critique though. Even when the claim is now that individual stands are
‘substantially affected by” bureaucratic position, that proposition is in contrast with
propositions about the role of individual beliefs and political and societal pressures
affecting the same individual stands in the 1999 edition, see box III.

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Summarising much of the widespread criticism, it can be concluded that the GPM is
ambiguous and just too complex (Bendor and Hammond 1992: 318; Welch 1992: 136). The
Governmental Politics Model has become a catch-all in which bureaucrats, politicians and
ad-hoc players are understood to engage in complex multi-player games in which they each
prioritise within and among games, and are in their stands affected by their bureaucratic
position, their beliefs, their perceptions of priority, time constraints…. etc. What’s more,
the model does not (clearly) define any hierarchical relation between any or all of the
many variables. Would – for example –the effect of ‘the agency problem’ weigh in more
heavy than the effect of ‘groupthink’? Or the other way around? Bendor and Hammond
conclude that, in their opinion, “it would have been advisable to pay closer theoretical
attention to a smaller number of variables. […] In general, a model that includes
everything explains nothing. If it does not simplify, it cannot explain” (Bendor and
Hammond 1992: 318). The 1999 version has done nothing to simplify the now called
Governmental Politics Model. In fact, the further expansion of the model leads to a
problem similar to that of the OBM in Chapter 5. The direction of causality is again in
question. The original model mainly focuses on bureaucratic position determining political
stands. But by emphasising political beliefs in the 1999 edition, the opposite causal
relation is included now too: Political beliefs determining a players bureaucratic position,
through players selection.
Concluding, the GPM fails to chose between position and belief, or between
bureaucracy and politics for that matter. It allows the analyst to pick and chose from a
whole bag of possible explanatory variables, just so it suits an explanation. While it has
been accepted in this thesis that Allison and Zelikow’s models rely on inference patterns
strongly, the use of this model specifically threatens to lead to a non-falsifiable analysis –
allowing some variables to explain one choice or preference, while using another variable
to explain another one.

6.3 Adapting the GPM for BMD analysis

In response to the problem of double causal relations included in the GPM paradigm, this
Chapter will split the analysis into two separate sections. The first section analyses players
and their political stands with regard to BMD as explained by their bureaucratic positions.
The analysis will find that there is a remarkable convergence in political stands, a
convergence so big that it undermines the hypothesis that stands are explained primarily
by bureaucratic positions. This leads to the conclusion that there is reason to analyse if the

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opposite causal relation between stands and positions may result in a better explanation.
The second section will look at exactly that, and will argue that the overwhelming
majority of players have profiled themselves over the past one or more decades as
belonging to an ideological movement: The neoconservatives. The first analysis is close to
the original 1971 paradigm developed by Allison. The second analysis does not take us
outside the GPM paradigm as proposed in the 1999 edition, but it does curtail the GPM to a
limited outlook more than would likely be welcomed by Allison and Zelikow, since in that
second analysis, bureaucratic position is no longer the explaining variable. Political stands
will be linked to political beliefs preceding the 2001 elections. The hypothesis for the
second analysis is that many of the players gained their bureaucratic positions because of
their political stands.

6.4 GPM analysis 1: Bureaucratic positions

In the story of the decision in favour of BMD, the relevant governmental players are
understood to be first and foremost the members of the Bush 2001 cabinet. Besides the
President, the cabinet includes the Vice President, the Attorney General and the
Secretaries of the 15 executive departments (White House, on-line). Because of the
specific nature of the issue, the political stands of only those Secretaries that because of
their position had a say in the decision on BMD will be looked at: the Secretaries of
Defence, of Homeland Security and of State. The issue of BMD belonging to the jurisdiction
of the DoD, top officials from the DoD in 2001 are assumed to have been in a relevant
bureaucratic position as well, most notably the Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries
of Defence for Intelligence, for international Security, for Policy; the Chairman of the
crucial Policy Advisory Board Commission and the Chairman of the Defence Science Board.
Outside the DoD, one could argue that the National Security Advisor and her Deputy might
play a significant role, due to expanded notion of National Security in US foreign policy, as
well as the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control.

Table IV: Players and their bureaucratic positions in 2001

Players Positions in 2001

George W. Bush President

Dick Cheney Vice-President

Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of Defence

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Colin Powell Secretary of State

Tom Ridge Secretary of Homeland Security

Condoleezza Rice National Security Advisor

Paul Wolfowitz Deputy Secretary of Defence

Stephen Cambone Undersecretary of Defence for Intelligence

Douglas Feith Undersecretary of Defence on Policy

Jack Dyer-Crouch Assistant Secretary of Defence for international Security Policy

Peter W. Rodman Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs

Richard Perle Chairman DoD Policy Advisory Board Commission

William Schneider Chairman DoD Defence Science Board

John R. Bolton Undersecretary of State for Arms Control

Assembled from various sources13

Players and their stands

Most of the individuals listed in Table IV are on record supporting BMD in 2001. Moreover,
most had been openly calling for BMD for years before being assigned to their positions in
2001. Rumsfeld and Cheney had been involved in attempts by earlier administrations to
build BMD, both serving under Nixon and Reagan. Cheney, in his function as Secretary of
Defence serving under George W.H. Bush in 1992 enthusiastically advocated BMD at a NATO
meeting stating that:
we badly need to get on with the business of developing defences against
ballistic missiles. Ballistic missile defence, […] is one of our most important
and urgent military requirements as an alliance (DoD 1992).

The statement was remarkable at the time, just after the final end of the Cold War in a
period when most people were expecting the two superpowers to be willing to negotiate
nuclear disarmament.
Cheney, Dyer-Crouch, Feith, Perle and Schneider in the mid 1990s all served on the
Center for Policy Studies’ Policy National Security Advisory Council. The centre, according
to Hartung and Ciarrocca(2000) became in the 1990s the
nerve centre of the missile defence lobby, bringing contractors, sympathetic
members of Congress, retired military officials and representatives of
conservative think-tanks together to strategise about how best to promote

Sources include White House and DoD websites and Wikipedia.

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missile defence to the public and on Capitol Hill (Ciarrocca and Hartung 2000:

Donald Rumsfeld made several financial contributions to the Center for Security Policy
(CSP) in the 1990s, and was awarded the CSP Keeper of the Flame Award, for his important
advocacy work in support of BMD in 1998, the same year in which he lead the
aforementioned Rumsfeld Commission which brought about a dramatic change in political
climate re BMD. Paul Wolfowitz won the Award in 2003. The CSP was founded in 1993 by
staunch BMD supporter Frank Gaffney, who was during the Reagan administration almost
appointed Deputy Secretary of Defence, but his assignation got blocked by the Democratic
led Senate. The CSP produced numerous reports and briefings between 1993 and 2001
attacking the Clinton administration for what it called “the Clinton effort to garrotte what
remains of U.S. options to defend against missile attack” (CSP 1994: 5). According to a
World Policy Institute study, no less than 22 former advisory board members or close
associates of the CSP, were appointed to key policymaking posts in the Bush administration
(Ciarrocca and Hartung 2000: 8).
Rumsfeld was throughout the 1990s arguably the most visible proponent of BMD in
the list because of his role in the 1998 Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to
the United States – or Rumsfeld Commission –as discussed in Chapters 4 and 5. Around the
time the Rumsfeld Commission was undertaking its investigations, the CSP ran an
aggressive ad campaign promoting BMD by instigating the fear of a ‘rogue state’ destroying
a US city. The Rumsfeld Commission relied heavily on CSP Board members, - from the list
above - Schneider, Wolfowitz and Cambone, but also CSP Board Members William Graham;
Charles Horner and Malcolm Wallop and CSP National Security Advisory Council member
and acting member of the Congress Kurt Weldon (Rep), already mentioned in Chapter 5
because of his triumphant remarks about ‘making necessary political corrections’.
Many of the same names, but more, appear as founders of the neoconservative
think-tank The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), or as co-signers of the
PNAC’s 1998 and 2000 documents calling for an increase in defence spending and more
specifically for a boost to the budget of BMD. The PNAC’s stated goal is “to promote
American global leadership”.14 From the list of players, directly affiliated to the PNAC are
Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bolton, Rodman, Perle, Schneider and Wolfowitz. All signed the public
statement connected to the publication of the document Rebuilding America’s Defences
(PNAC 2000). The document in its introduction formulates about half a dozen prime
objectives for US defence policy. One is to increase defence spending annually up to 3.8%

From the webpage About PNAC: (July 8,

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of GDP, which was done by the Bush administration in its first Fiscal Year, 2002 (George
2007: 69). Another prime objective was to “develop and deploy global missile defences to
defend the American homeland and American allies, and to provide a secure basis for US
power projection around the world” (PNAC 2000: v).

Out of fourteen, ten in the list of relevant players were thus actively involved in the CSP,
The Rumsfeld Commission or the PNAC and as such openly advocated BMD. Four in the list
are not linked to any of these organisations: Bush, Rice, Powell and Ridge. George W.
Bush, during the election campaign spoke out frequently in favour of BMD, and even
criticised his opponent, Al Gore, for “politicising the debate” on BMD after statements by
Gore about BMD potentially causing a renewed arms race (CNN 2000).
The political stand of Ridge is less well documented. Prior to his assignment as
Secretary of Homeland Security, Ridge was the Governor of Pennsylvania. The website of
the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission interestingly reports that “in 2000 Ridge
was rumoured to be a potential vice presidential running mate with George W. Bush.
Ridge’s more moderate views, such as support of the right-to-choose with regard to
abortion and opposition to some proposed national missile defence programs, caused
conservative Republicans to successfully oppose his selection (PHMC 2007). There are no
public statements on record from Ridge about BMD though.
Condoleezza Rice never publicly spoke out on BMD prior to becoming National
Security Advisor in 2001. Rice worked for Chevron the moment she was asked in 2000 to
aide George W. Bush during his election campaign as his foreign policy advisor. In this
capacity, she came to lead the advisory grouping dubbed ‘The Vulcans’. The group was
largely made up out of advisors who had served under George W. H. Bush, and included
Richard Armitage, Robert Blackwill, Stephen Hadley, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Dov
Zakheim, Robert Zoellick, and Dick Cheney, most of whom we already encountered as CSP
or PNAC affiliates. A second Vulcans group was formed around Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz,
Hadley, Perle and George Schultz, all of them connected to the PNAC or the CSP – except
for Rice herself. This second group was formed to deal specifically with the subject of BMD
(Mann 2004: 253). The group advised Bush that – if elected – his administration should not
limit BMD to land-based systems, but include sea-based systems and perhaps space based
lasers and rockets (Hartung 2003). On 9 September 2001, two days before the 9/11
attacks, was one of the rare occasions in which Rice said on NBC that the administration
was ready "to get serious about the business of dealing with this emergent threat. Ballistic
missiles are ubiquitous now" (Wright 2004: A1). And allegedly, she was supposed to give a
speech on 9/11 largely about BMD (Wright 2004: A1).

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Colin Powell, finally, seems to be the odd-one-out really. The political distances
between him and most of his cabinet colleagues apparently even led him to call them
“these fucking crazies” in a conversation with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw
(Blumenthal 2004: 4). In July 2001, Powell seemed to run into a fight with other Bush
cabinet members over BMD, when he publicly stated at a press conference in Beijing that:
I told [the Chinese] that our plans with respect to missile defence are for a
limited missile defence that will be clearly -- when you see it come into
being, when you see the kind of systems that our development put in place -
would not threaten, not intended to threat(en), and I also don't think they
would see it actually threatening the strategic deterrents of either Russia or
China (US Embassy in China 2001: 5).

In response, Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon, author of the book Defending

America: The Case for Limited National Missile Defence (2002) observed in response that:
Powell may himself prefer that any future U.S. and allied missile defence be
limited, in order to preserve good relations and security cooperation among
the great powers while dealing with the rogue-state threat. But all available
evidence suggests that he is losing the debate within the administration on
the subject (O’Hanlon 2001: 1).

Colin Powell’s reluctance is the only indication that there is any validity to the GPM’s
claim that where you stand depends on where you sit. Being the Secretary of State,
Powell’s role as broker of diplomatic deals with allies and adversaries would predict a
political stand less focussed on technological defence capabilities and more focussed on
international negotiation and cooperation. Publicly, Powell did speak out no further on the
subject of BMD though, and history shows that his apparent reluctance had little effect.
This may well be explained by the fact that as the Secretary of State, he was confronted
with overwhelming support for BMD among his cabinet colleagues. And he faced similar
pressure within his State Department. Both of his Deputy Secretaries, Robert Zoellick and
Richard Armitage were PNAC affiliates, as well as two of his Undersecretaries, Paula
Dobriansky and John Bolton.

Lacking the depth of information available to Allison and Zalikow in their use of the GPM,
it is impossible to know how the discussions went within the cabinet and the DoD in 2001.
What is clear though, is that of the most relevant individuals, most were in support of
BMD, not only in 2001 but long before that. The case of Tom Ridge even seems to show
that he was blocked from being the running mate of George W. Bush because of his
scepticism about BMD. Powell, admittedly, is at best the exception confirming the rule
that to be part of the Bush cabinet meant being in favour of BMD. Taken together, these
findings do not at all support the GPM’s logic that where you stand depends on where you

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sit. The convergence in stands indicates that the GPM’s basic notion that government
action is the resultant of a political bargaining game does not apply in this case. It seems
that no game needed to be played, or – looking at the case of Ridge – that the game had
been played well before he could get to his bureaucratic position. The next section goes
deeper into the apparent beliefs of the cabinet members and others, looking at the
political and ideological foundations of the CSP, the PNAC and their members, in an
attempt to illustrate the findings of this section that not 2001 bureaucratic positions but
pre-2001 political beliefs explain the pro-BMD decision of the 2001 Bush administration.

6.5 GPM analysis 2: Political beliefs

The previous section linked many of the ‘players’ to the CSP and the PNAC. As the World
Policy Institute found, no less than 22 CSP affiliates entered the White House and the
Pentagon in 2001. Table V below shows a similarly impressive overlap between the
neoconservative think-tank PNAC and the George W. Bush 2001 administration.

Table V: PNAC Members and signatories and their Bush Jr 2001 positions
Name Department Title
Representative for Middle Eastern
Elliott Abrams National Security Council
Richard Armitage Department of State (2001-2005) Deputy Secretary of State
U.S. Ambassador to the United
John R. Bolton Department of State (2001-2006)
Richard Cheney Bush administration Vice President
Eliot A. Cohen Department of State (2007-) Counselor of the US Dept of State
Seth Cropsey International Broadcasting Bureau Director
Undersecretary of State for
Paula Dobriansky Department of State
Global Affairs
Francis Fukuyama President's Council on Bioethics Council Member
Zalmay Khalilzad Department of State U.S. Ambassador to the UN
Chief of Staff for the Vice
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Bush administration (2001-2005)
Chairman of the Board, Defense
Richard Perle Department of Defense (2001-2003)
Policy Board Advisory Committee
Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Peter W. Rodman Department of Defense
International Security
Donald Rumsfeld Department of Defense (2001-2006) Secretary of Defense
Randy Scheunemann U.S. Committee on NATO Member
William Schneider Department of Defense (2001-) Chair of Defence Science Board

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Paul Wolfowitz Department of Defense (2001-2005) Deputy Secretary of Defense

Dov S. Zakheim Department of Defense Comptroller
Robert B. Zoellick Department of State Deputy Secretary of State
Source: [] (June 3, 2007)

Several of the names in Table V overlap with the list of CSP members. Elliot, Cheney,
Perle, Roche, Rumsfeld, Schneider, Wolfowitz and Woolsey all were affiliated to both
organisations, as were a handful others that did not make it to the White House or the
Pentagon in 2001. Many are also affiliated to one or more other think-tanks or policy
advocacy institutes that are traditionally sympathetic to high expenditure on defence in
general and high expenditure on BMD specifically: The Heritage Foundation, The Brookings
Institute, Empower America, American Enterprise Institute, the Jewish Institute for
National Security Affairs (JINSA) among others (De Graaff 2006). Together, they form a
large galaxy of institutes and individuals that over the past decades grew strong economic
and political ties.
Economically, the ties often lead towards the private sector, and the military
industrial sector specifically. A study by Naná de Graaff (2006) concludes that “The
network does display a substantial overlap between the public, the private institutions and
the private corporate level” and “[…] there are stong connections to powerful [private
sector] players in for example the defence industry” (De Graaff 2006: 51). Donald
Rumsfeld for example during the 1990s worked for defence contractors mostly: Carlyle
Group, ABB Systems Ltd, Gilead Sciences, General Systems and the technology company
FCC. Rumsfeld was also on the Board of ABB, the company that sold light-water reactors to
North Korea. Cheney made a fortune as the chairman of the Board of Halliburton, originally
an energy sector company that branched out to include military infrastructure,
construction and even military training activities (Gitell 2000: 1).15 Some of the PNAC/CSP
affiliates even ran into trouble after their assignations to their positions from 2001 onward,
Dick Cheney for example. Richard Perle resigned in 2003 from his position as Chairman of
the Defense Policy Board after official complaint about conflict of interest due to his
affiliation with the Global Crossings Ltc (BBC 2003). On an institutional level, CSP received
throughout the 1990s about a quarter of its funding from the top four defence contractors,
Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and TRW. And corporate officials of these
companies were members of its Advisory Board.
The close ties between the arms industry and the PNAC/CSP grouping was also
expressed in PAC and soft money donations during the 2000 Presidential campaigns and the

See for more information about Halliburton’s defence contracts

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2001/2002 Congressional election campaigns. The Big Four missile defence contractors
made a total of $7.5 million in PAC and soft money donations, while spending $74 million
on lobbying during that same time span. Contractors favoured Bush over Gore by a 5 to 1
margin, and Republican congressional candidates over Democrats by almost 2 to 1 (65% to
35%) over the two cycles. The World Policy Institute reports that “Major Congressional
beneficiaries of contractor largesse include Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), Sen. John Warner (R-
VA), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT)” (Hartung and
Ciarrocca 2002: 2).


Politically, the pro-BMD grouping seen in the affiliations with the PNAC and the CSP has
become known as the neoconservatives, or neocons.16 Reports and analyses on the
sometimes diffuse grouping that is called the neocons all agree on several points. The
neocons are influenced by the writings of Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, who since
the 1960s have been known as neoconservatives, and who founded the PNAC. The neocons
do subscribe to a certain extent to the Hayekian economic philosophy that the state should
not interfere with private enterprise, while cutting taxes to allow the market to regulate
economic growth unhampered (George 2007: 54-60). Yet, other than Hayekians or
Thatcherites for example, neocons would in the words of Kristol:
prefer not to have large budget deficits, but it is in the nature of democracy--
because it seems to be in the nature of human nature--that political
demagogy will frequently result in economic recklessness, so that one
sometimes must shoulder budgetary deficits as the cost (temporary, one
hopes) of pursuing economic growth. It is a basic assumption of neo-
conservatism that, as a consequence of the spread of affluence among all
classes, a property-owning and tax-paying population will, in time, become
less vulnerable to egalitarian illusions and demagogic appeals and more
sensible about the fundamentals of economic reckoning (Kristol 2003: 2).

The result is a peculiar neocon mix of on the one hand a more Hayekian emphasis on free
enterprise, low taxes, deregulation of the market and as little limitations to corporate
profit as possible, and on the other hand the Keynesian notion of state interference to
boost a stagnating economy through deficit spending – notably defence spending. The link
between budget deficit spending and military industry is partly explained by the growing
inability of national governments to regulate their markets or support their domestic
industries due to the wave of privatisation and deregulation that swept over the globe in

For a discussion on the ins and outs of neoconservatism I refer to extensive literature on its
origins and ideology. See for example Ehrman 2005 (origins of - ); Kristol 2003 (sympathetic to - );
George 2007 (critical of - ).

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the past decades – the age of globalisation. Realising that loss of control over domestic
markets could ultimately mean the loss of defence capacity and as such jeopardise
national security, all free trade treaties and agreements come with a special exception for
security related investments, for example article XXI of the General Agreement on Trade
and Tariffs (GATT) of the WTO (Docena 2003; Feffer 2002: 1). It led Walter Russell Meade,
senior fellow of the non-partisan think-tank Council on Foreign Relations to assess “we’re
already on a path of military Keynesianism. We don’t let a budget deficit get in the way of
a defence build-up, and that’s likely to be stimulative to the economy” (Farell 2002: 2).17
The high cost of an uncertain BMD is from this perspective not necessarily a
problem, since BMD investments can then be regarded as a transfer of public money to the
private sector boosting employment and competitiveness of the defence industry on the
international market. Added to that, much of the technology developed is what is called
‘dual use technology’, used for military and civilian productions. Technological
developments for BMD would benefit the civilian technological base of the same industries,
a spill-over effect, as is pointed out by the MDA itself on their Technology Transfer page
on-line (MDA Transfer, on-line).
When it comes to domestic policies, neocons overlap fairly clearly with more
traditional conservatisms. They emphasise what Isaiah Berlin (1969) called negative liberty
– freedom from state intervention – but mainly when it applies to private economic
enterprise. At the same time, neocons more than traditional conservatives believe in a
strong state enforcing strong policing and security measures, high emphasis on morals and
values and a strong role for (Judeo-Christian) morality in the public sphere. On the
apparent friction between minimal state interference in economic life and strong state
interference in the personal life, neo-conservatism
responds that capitalism, having no values of its own, requires some form of
moral background to sustain it, a moral background that is to be found in
religion. If a public is infused with religious morality, it will influence
consumer demand, meaning that all participants in the economy, if they are
to thrive, must acknowledge this morality. Therefore, economics cannot
pollute culture, but a corrupt culture can be propagated by the ruthlessly
efficient market. Therefore, neoconservatives do not fret over the likes of
selfishness and greed--they are moral failures that religion, not socialism or
government regulation of the market, will cure (Rovinsky 1997: 4).18

Further discussion on the relation between trade agreements and domestic military expenditures
as well as on specific theories about Military Keynesianism falls outside the scope of this thesis, but
are mentioned to emphasise a) that the economic philosophies of neoconservatism are often
misinterpreted and b) that neoconservatives disagree with more traditional conservatisms and about
the use and effect of economic interference in domestic industrial markets. For more on military
spending and neocon economics, see for example Treddenick 1985; Andolfatto 2001; Bello 2007: 21-
For analyses on the influence of Christian-Judaic religion, see for example: Mearsheimer and Walt

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In short, neocons believe in a small state in relation to economic policies, but at the same
time prefer a strong state in domestic policies dealing with education, law enforcement
and generally reserve for the state an important role in setting the tone in public debates
on morality and religion.
The idea that cultural values preset economic behaviour is also reflected in the
foreign policy ideas of the neo-conservatives. It results in the idea that democracies
throughout the world should be defended against non-democratic regimes and that non-
democratic regimes should be approached aggressively if necessary to push for
democratisation. This idea reverberates the liberalist notion of the Democratic Peace
Thesis. The aggressiveness of the approach further seems to match the previously
mentioned offensive realist idea that not just defence, but expansion of influence and
power over others is the objective of the state, which would explain better than the
Liberalist Peace Thesis why the US is supportive of authoritarian regimes in Saudi-Arabia
and Pakistan for example. The neocons – more so than traditional conservatives – believe in
a strong state externally. To secure US global dominance, the US needs to be willing to
aggressively pursue national security as well as preservation of US political, strategic and
economic interests globally. At first glance this is an exemplary offensive realist vision. But
as Kristol explains, for neocons:
the "national interest" is not a geographical term. […] Large nations, whose
identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United
States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more
material concerns. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always
feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from
non-democratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national
interest to come to the defence of France and Britain in World War II. That is
why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is
threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are
necessary (Kristol 2003: 2).

Furthermore, the recent unilateral behaviour and American-centric vision of US foreign

policy seem to be drawn directly from Kristol’s ideology. Kristol summarises that
First, patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment and should be encouraged
by both private and public institutions. Precisely because we are a nation of
immigrants, this is a powerful American sentiment. Second, world
government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny. International
institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded
with the deepest suspicion. Third, statesmen should, above all, have the
ability to distinguish friends from enemies. This is not as easy as it sounds, as
the history of the Cold War revealed (Kristol 2003: 2).

Kristols quotes make clear at least that neoconservatives are not entirely Realist, and
cannot convincingly be said to be Liberal, but either way the quotes equally make clear
that neocons feel they live in a dangerous world, where a superpower cannot rely on

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international treaties, nor on ‘complicated geopolitical calculations’, which makes the

hope for a functioning BMD more understandable.
In general, neoconservatives emphasise strong defence, with the concept of
defence appreciated in the most encompassing way – including a pro-active and pre-
emptive approach in foreign affairs. Titles of publications like the PNAC’s Rebuilding
America’s Defences and of neocon institutions with names like ‘Defend America’ reflect
the sentiment of neocons during the Clinton era that the US is losing the race against seen
and unseen enemies and that only a steep increase of defence spending and an altogether
more proactive or even pre-emptive posture in international affairs can redeem US
dominance in the international system of states.

BMD is an integral part of the neocon ideology in many ways. It strengthens the ties with
important private sector players; it fits the emphasis on threats (for internal use); it
provides the government with a means of supporting the stagnating national economy in
2001; and finally, a functioning BMD would – almost as a bonus - both protect the US from
unseen dangers and secure its ability to intervene militarily in economically and
geopolitically important regions.
As shown, the influence of neo-conservatism on the Bush 2001 administration is
extraordinary. Perle, Abrams, Wolfowitz, Bolton, Schneider, Zakheim, Zoellick and many
others are normally regarded neocons. Rumsfeld is usually counted as belonging to a more
traditional ‘real-politik’ conservatism, but his involvement with the CSP and the PNAC
seems to lead to a different conclusion. Similarly, Cheney is often not listed as a key
neocon figure, despite his longstanding involvement with the CSP and despite co-founding
the PNAC. Either way, Cheney clearly was in favour of BMD previous to his assignment as
Vice President in 2001, as were his ideological peers connected to the PNAC who followed
him into the White House (and Rumsfeld into the Pentagon).
Knowing this, and knowing that the large majority of key individuals in the 2001
Bush administration are at least to a certain degree connected to neoconservatism, we
return to the question whether it may have been political conviction that brought them
together – if it was their political stand that delivered them their bureaucratic positions. It
seems, at the end of this thesis the strongest explanation of the pro-BMD decision.

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6.6 Conclusions and Implications

The GPM, assuming that bureaucratic position determines to a certain extent the political
stand of players, puts emphasis on a number of concepts connected to political bargaining.
As the section on players and their stands shows, there is little reason to believe that in
the case of the BMD decision there was a political bargaining game to be played at all.
Where the original GPM talks about player selection as a method for politicians to set the
stage for the game, in the case of BMD the selection of players was done at the moment of
entering the White House, or really even before that. The agency problem in that sense
also does not really occur, since most players seem to have been selected for their positive
attitudes towards neoconservative objectives, one of which is BMD. Agenda setting and
decision rules become less important in that light. The problem of groupthink did occur in
the Bush administration, if the Congressional Committee investigating the Iraq War is to be
believed, but there is no direct evidence of groupthink in the case of BMD.
As with the OBM in the previous Chapter, the GPM has – at least in the case of BMD –
a problem with the causality assumed in the paradigm. In this case, it is not the position of
the individuals that determined in any way their stand on the issue. Rather, it was their
stand that brought them together as a group and – after winning the elections - brought
them their positions. “Where you sit determines where you stand” in the case of BMD
seems to be more like “Where you sit depends on where you stand”. Or: It seems plausible
that powerful politicians like Cheney and Rumsfeld managed to select many of the people
fulfilling important positions in the Bush cabinet and in the DoD on grounds of their
positive approach to BMD (and other neocon priorities). Colin Powell is the only obvious
‘odd one out’ in a group of people that is entirely in agreement prior to 2001 already on
the preference of BMD development and deployment. The assumed conflict of interest that
is key to understanding the GPM did not occur. This may be explained by the fact that –
unlike the Cuban Missile Crisis – the BMD decision was not in any way a crisis management
decision, but much more a policy decision. Nevertheless, Allison and Zelikow do make the
claim in their work that occurrences like the BMD decision can be studied and explained by
the GPM. On the supporting empirical research question formulated for this Chapter: “To
what extent can the BMD decision be explained as the outcome of a political bargaining
process”, the undesirable answer would be that it cannot. However, from the analysis
results an alternative conclusion, namely that: To a certain extent the BMD decision can be
explained as the result of a political/ideological grouping and its successful throw at the
Presidency in 2001.

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The last pages of this thesis will bring together the conclusions of Chapters 4, 5 and 6 and
discuss the overall outcomes of the analyses done. Both the empirical and the theoretical
research questions, formulated in chapter 2, will be answered. The chapter ends with
some suggestions for future research.

7.1 Empirical findings

The thesis sought to answer the empirical research question: “What explains the decision
by the US government to develop and deploy BMD?”, and proceeded to try and answer the
question using three parallel models for analysis. For each of the three analyses, a
supporting research question was formulated:

A: To what extent can the decision be explained as a rational response by

the state to emerging threats?
B: To what extent can the decision be explained as output of domestic
governmental organisations following predictable patterns?
C: To what extent can the decision be explained as the result of domestic
political bargaining between individual players?

With regard to the first supporting research question, the answer found was somewhat
ambiguous. On the one hand, the analysis laid bare the logic of the decision: The US
perception after 1998 was that proliferation of nuclear and long-range ballistic missile
technologies would pose a growing threat to the security of the US. Next to that, the US
reasoned that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new world order saw the coming
about of potential adversaries that were not so much rivals for the position of world
leader, but potential threats nevertheless – if not threats to the national security of the
US, then to the ability of the US to operate militarily abroad. BMD would in one sweep do
away with the potential threat of a limited nuclear strike by an unaccountable adversary
and secure access to ‘distant theatres’.
On the other hand, when looking deeper into the consequences of a pro-BMD
decision, the conclusion is that BMD predictably sets off a renewed arms race with China
and Russia. Also, the BMD decision will further aggravate the sense of immediate danger
for potential adversaries, like North Korea, Iran and in 2001 still Iraq. The Security

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Dilemma, Chapter 4 argues, predicts that adversaries are left with no other option but to
dig in deep and try to create alternative means of deterrence, possibly by seeking
alliances, or by creating a minimum of conventional deterrence by threatening to target US
allies and troops. Rational choice theory assumes that the US is aware of these effects,
which raises the question why the US did not seek alternative strategies with less negative
effects. On this question the analysis found no convincing answer, thus concluding that the
rational actor model used could not convincingly explain the US administration’s pro-BMD
The second supporting empirical research question - “To what extent can the
decision be explained as output of domestic governmental organisations following
predictable patterns?” - found in Chapter 5 a much stronger answer: “It cannot”. The
relevant outputs of the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the Missile Defence Agency
(MDA) were analysed. For all three organisations, it could not be established that their
outputs had significantly influenced the policy making process with regard to BMD in 2001.
Moreover, the analysis showed that the relationship between output and decision was the
other way around. The political decision enabling BMD, legislatively taken already in 1999,
influenced the outputs of the organisations, not the other way around. In the case of the
CIA this was most clear, in the sense that the CIA’s threat assessments throughout the 90s
did not call for BMD, which enraged the Republican led Congress in the mid-90s. The
Congress then bypassed the CIA and asked Donald Rumsfeld to reassess the missile threats.
His conclusions criticised the CIA’s findings, altered the political climate in favour of BMD,
and in effect changed the method of assessment of the CIA. This change was not so much a
methodological correction as it was a political correction, as Republican Curt Weldon
adequately assessed. In the case of the MDA (then still BMDO), the 1999 Missile Defence
Act caused it to experience a budgetary feast. Again: The output of the BMDO/MDA neither
explains the Act, nor the later 2001 policy decision by the Bush administration. In fact, the
Act explains the output of the MDA. The JCS’s case is more complex. It did call for BMD, in
2000, but in the sequence of events, this may have been in response to the 1998 Rumsfeld
Report and the 1999 Missile Defence Act, more than it may have been the result of an
autonomous organisational process. Next to that, reports on the troubled relationship
between the JCS and the Secretary of Defence, Rumsfeld from 2001 onward, shed doubt on
the ability of the JCS to influence the policy decision on BMD in 2001. All in all, the
outcomes show that the causal relation assumed in the research question is the wrong way
around. The organisational outputs cannot explain the pro-BMD decision; the pro BMD
decision explains the organisational outputs.

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The third supporting research question: “To what extent can the decision be
explained as the result of domestic political bargaining between individual players?”
already half way through the analysis resulted in a negative answer, because the available
data show there was no political bargaining game to play in the case of BMD. Players
stands show a remarkable convergence, seemingly because the players were preselected
on grounds of their political stands with regard to (among other things) BMD. The example
of Tom Ridge, who’s candidacy for the vice-presidency was blocked because of his critical
stand with regard to BMD exemplifies that – by the time the players were on their
bureaucratic positions, the battle for BMD had already been fought, and won. The same
chapter looked beyond the political bargaining games too, assessing to what extent the
BMD decision can be explained as a consequence of the rise of a political/ideological
grouping to power: the neoconservatives. The chapter concluded that there is evidence
that BMD can, in terms of domestic political processes, be ascribed indeed to what neocon
godfather Kristol (2003) cheekily calls “the neoconservative persuasion”.

The combined results of the supporting research questions bring us back to the original
main research question: “What explains the decision by the US government to develop and
deploy BMD?”. First and foremost, the findings indicate that the choice for BMD cannot be
fully explained by rational choice based analysis. Rational choice explains very well what
were the Bush administrations arguments in favour of BMD, but in the end cannot explain
why this argumentation prevailed over other lines of argumentation leading to altogether
different policies. Bureaucratic organisational output, this thesis found, contributes very
little to the answering of the central research question, although a negative answer is of
course a valid finding too: Organisational output does not explain the US governments
decision in favour of BMD. The third model leads to the conclusion that political stands do
explain the pro-BMD decision of the Bush administration in 2001. Furthermore the analysis
of political stands showed that in the case of BMD these political stands are not dependent
on bureaucratic position of the players, but rather dependent on their ideological-political
background. The rise to power of the neoconservative grouping explains the decision pro-
BMD. From a realist perspective, it could still be argued that the outside threats and the
position of the US in the system of states explain the rise of an ideological grouping like
the neocons. Following that line of reasoning, the political opportunity for a
neoconservative approach to foreign affairs and defence arose because of the objective
need for a stronger, more aggressive posture in defence and offence. But this line of
reasoning fails to explain why the Clinton administration – confronted with the same
objective realities – did not pursue BMD. Neither the strategic situation nor the interests of

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the US changed overnight in 2001, but the ideological background of the majority of
pivotal individuals in the cabinet and the DoD did. Neoconservatives believe they live in a
world where the US needs to make sure that it can at any time and in any place dominate
in international affairs, because whatever use there is for bilateral and multilateral
security arrangements, at the end of the day a superpower can only be truly secure if it
can a) defend itself at all times and against anything and b) strike against any actor that
tries to undermine its dominant position. One of the consequences of this world view is
that neoconservatives believe in high military expenditure, high reliance on nuclear
deterrence, and subsequent high expenditure on the technologically challenging BMD.

7.2 Theoretical findings

This thesis used the three model framework offered by Allison and Zelikow (1999) as a
means of doing a multi-level analysis of a single event, the decision to develop and deploy
BMD. The theoretical findings of this thesis are that, of the three models presented, two
did not perform as was anticipated at the beginning. The Rational Actor Model, or RAM
could quite aptly be amended and used to study the relationship between outside threats
perceived by the US and policy making in the White House. Allison and Zelikow manage to
integrate several approaches in IR that are based on rational choice into one paradigm.
The paradigm was quite clear in its set-up but also in setting the boundaries for what can
and what cannot be used as evidence in the resulting analysis.
The Organisational Behavioural Model (OBM) failed altogether. Not because the
empirical findings produced a negative answer to the research question for that model, but
because the model –as was predicted by critics – can only apply to very specific
circumstances, and furthermore can only be used if extremely detailed information on
organisational behaviour and functioning is available. It is of course not the fault of Allison
and Zelikow that in the case of BMD this level of information cannot be acquired, but at
the same time it is important to notice that this lack of information occurred despite the
fact that BMD is not a particularly obscure policy area. If you cannot use the OBM to
adequately study a phenomenon like BMD about which so much is written, then what use is
there for such a model? In the case of the BMD decision studied, the model predicted a
causal relation between organisational output and decision making by government leaders
that turned out to be entirely opposite to the causal relation existing in reality.
The Governmental Politics Model (GPM) has its own flaws – severe flaws. Especially
in the revised 1999 edition, Allison and Zelikow fail to make explicit what exactly the

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model analyses – or what it allows as evidence in the analysis. “Where you stand depends
on where you sit” seems at first to be a strict guide for the analysis, but the model allows
other relations too, up to the point where it includes the opposite assumption that “Where
you sit depends on where you stand”. In the case of this thesis, the GPM turned out to both
pose the biggest conceptual problem, and offer the biggest conceptual opportunity.
Zooming in on the hypothesis that bureaucratic positions determine political stands, the
findings contradicted the hypothesis. Positions of players could not at all explain their
political stands – better yet, the assumption that decisions are the consequence of political
bargaining games turned out to be non-applicable in the case of the BMD decision, since
there were no games to be played. But the leeway offered by the inclusiveness of the
model did allow for an altogether different analysis, one that looked at the ideological
background of the players as a grouping. The findings of that section show a convincing
overlap between the affiliates of neoconservative think-tanks and the Bush administration
on an individual level. I maintain that this analysis fits within the Governmental Politics
Model of Allison and Zelikow, but at the same time it needs to be said that an alternative
model specifically construed to study the influence of ideological groupings on policy
outcomes would have allowed for a more concise analysis of the causal relation.

To conclude, I answer the theoretical research questions posed at the beginning of this
thesis one by one:

Theoretical RQ: To what extent does Allison and Zelikow’s framework provide added
value in the analysis of the BMD decision?
Added value of the framework offered by Allison and Zelikow is found in the fact that the
thesis shows that indeed additional explanatory value is derived from using more than one
analytical model. As argued by Allison and Zelikow, using three models did highlight the
parallel processes that determine a foreign policy decision. The three model analysis
increased understanding of the sequence of events, of the intricacies of the precise
decision, and exemplified how both external and internal arguments and processes may
have added to the decision. At the same time, it needs to be concluded that while the RAM
provided a good opportunity to do a more or less neo-realist analysis, the other two models
are not well enough developed and have internal flaws that complicate the analysis. By
combining the three models into one framework, Allison and Zelikow hoped to produce a
means of generating better understanding of government actions and decisions than can be
acquired by only using rational choice based analyses. Their Essence of Decision shows that
they are right in their claim that rational choice alone can often not explain a decision

The Essence Of Ballistic Missile Defence

satisfactorily. But this thesis shows that the two additional models they created cannot be
transposed easily to analyses of other decisions than the ones they studied. And as such,
my judgement on their framework is close to that of Bendor and Hammond (1992) and of
Welch (1992), who also conclude that to work with a framework consisting of different
models studying the same decision is a valid and promising idea, but that the models
presented in the Allison and Zelikow framework are in need of a thorough revision. This is
in itself an important finding of this thesis.

Does their framework sufficiently integrate different theories conceptually into a

logical explanatory framework?
It does not. To offer models that ‘open the black box of government’ is a useful
contribution of Allison and Zelikow, but the two resulting models are so weakly construed
that taken together, the logic of the entire framework is lost. Bendor and Hammond (1992)
are right once more, when they discuss the 12-cell template of models (Table III, in
chapter 2). Allison and Zelikow fail to define precisely what assumptions are in place in
which model, and as a result the three models do not constructively complement each
other. Rather the RAM operates unrelated to the other two. And the OBM and GPM overlap
at points.

Does their distinction into different analytical models reflect the reality of decision
making in this case?
To a certain extent it does. Despite the problems encountered in this thesis with the
second and third model, the original claim made by Allison that more than one model is
needed to explain a governments actions or decisions still stands. The thesis shows that
the RAM analysis cannot satisfactorily explain the behaviour of the Bush administration,
and that the reality of decision making does require the analyst to look at the domestic
political and bureaucratic processes leading to the decision. The claim that the black box
of government needs to be opened to understand the Bush administration’s decision in
favour of BMD is found valid. At the same time, the findings of the OBM especially, do show
that more discussion is needed on what models can best explain domestic political and
bureaucratic behaviour. A recommendation resulting from this thesis is that a new model
specifically designed to study the influence of ideology and beliefs on politics and policy
making would be most valuable.

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7.3 Future research

In Chapter 4, two new game theoretical constructs were proposed to explore the
consequences of the changed and changing relations between adversaries and a
superpower with or without BMD. Considering the huge amount of similar work developed
during the Cold War – in order to explain and understand the workings of the nuclear
stand-off – it is remarkable how little study is done on post-Cold War stand-offs. It is as if
nuclear deterrence theory fell apart together with the Soviet Union. Yet, as Chapter 4
tried to show, new stand-off relations occur in different forms in the case of asymmetric
power relations. Studying these new stand-off relations using game theory should generate
valuable new insights into the consequences of the current nuclear posture of the US. Next
to that, game theory, in my opinion, provides the best tools of unbiased and non-
American-centric analysis, of which there is a need now more than ever.
This thesis shows that, if the black box of government is opened, you have to be
pretty sure to know what it is you want to look at inside. The results of Chapter six
indicate that ideology is an important explanatory variable in the study of current US
governmental behaviour. It also shows that the models proposed by Allison and Zelikow
could not adequately address this influence. Linking BMD to the bigger neocon agenda
seems to deliver a powerful explanation of the BMD decision. Future research on BMD and
other policy decisions should look deeper into this relation between ideology and US
policies. A method of analysing the way an ideological grouping rises to power may be
found in the ideas and theories of Antionio Gramsci. The Neo-Gramscian concept of
hegemonic culture especially seems to offer a promising method. Gramsci’s ‘long march
through the institutions’ (Gramsci 1971: 10) may well provide the best opportunity yet to
explain decisions and actions of the George W. Bush administration. Work along this line
has been done already, by Susan George (2007: 53-88) and for example in the masters
thesis by Naná de Graaff (2006). Future research may build on their work.

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