PS 601 Eye to Eye: The Cuban Missile Crisis in Perspective

Who “won” the Cuban Missile Crisis? Did the U.S. provoke it or can this be explained by Soviet or Cuban expansionism? Did President Kennedy truly cause Khrushchev to back down? What impact did it have on US-Soviet relations? How much did Kennedy’s psychology affect the way he handled the crisis? This course uses the Cuban Missile Crisis — a pivotal event in US and international history — to explore different theories of international politics and crisis decision-making. We will investigate the crisis itself, its place in history, the lives and psychologies of the key leaders, as well as the aftermath and its effects on the Cold War. In doing so, you will gain familiarity with the crisis as well as prominent theories that purport to explain this particular event as well and larger patterns in the international system. We will discuss a broad range of theories of decision-making, including ones focused on emotions, culture, honor, cognitive biases, historical analogies and bureaucratic politics.

This course is an advanced undergraduate seminar. It does assume some background knowledge of international relations. It also requires a commitment to keep up with the readings, which will be more intensive than they would be in a beginning lecture course. Because the course is a seminar, it will also require a commitment to consistently participate in discussions, which count for a healthy part of your final grade. The primary assignment in the course is a research paper (10-15 pages). This will require some independent research by you, though I will provide guidance throughout the semester on this project.