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date: 22 February 2018

Summary and Keywords

Despite the frequency with which the term is used in the English language, there is relatively little agreement as to what constitutes a “crisis” in the study of foreign policy and international relations. If there is no broad agreement on this, however, there is at least more consensus on what usually happens during one. Crises typically involve the centralization of power, are associated with a “narrowing” of options and the increased use of analytical shortcuts, and typically feature increased vertical communications and argumentation among advisers as well as increased pressure to attain comprehensive rationality. There is some doubt as to whether the effort to attain rationality will be successful in practice, of course, given the many cognitive psychological limitations that make it difficult for human beings to reach fully reasoned decisions. Crises may—somewhat ironically, perhaps—be good for leaders, because in the short-term they offer the chance to increase power capabilities. While it is difficult to predict crises in advance—indeed, one of the central features of crises is their very unpredictability—various techniques may help the decision making process once a foreign policy crisis has begun.

Keywords: Crisis, decision making, Cuban Missile Crisis, rationality, cognitive shortcuts

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