Ontologies, Problem Representation, and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Donald A. Sylvan, Stuart J. Thorson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


“Problem representation and ontology are introduced as concepts critical to understanding foreign policy decision making. The article explicates these concepts and their relationship and focuses on such issues of representation rather than veridical descriptions of reality, thereby shifting attention away from concern with misperception and toward attempting to understand how these representations are socially constructed and modified. It is argued that the conflict resolution process can be enhanced by inclusion of concerns with problem representation and ontology along with traditional interest in option selection. These concepts are then related to decision making in the cuban missile crisis. Two different ways of using new information on the crisis — and more generally understanding foreign policy decision making — are presented. The first is deemed an option selection perspective. A second approach expresses a theory of foreign policy decision making in a model of one important aspect of the Cuban missile crisis — the debate over whether Soviet missiles in Cuba were offensive. That model illustrates why focusing primarily on options or alternatives may obscure the most critical determinants of decision making. By focusing on ontologies and problem representations, the new model illustrates an approach to understanding and representing why some decision makers are predisposed to particular options over others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)709-732
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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