Long-Term Thinking in a Conflict

In October 1962, an American spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba.  This led to weeks of antagonism between America and the Soviet Union in what has come to be known as the Cuban Missile crisis.

This crisis provides an excellent example of the use of long-term thinking during a negotiation.

Cuba was a communist country and a friend of the Soviet Union, which was under the leadership of Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev. It is imperative to observe that during the previous year, 1961, the Kennedy administration had tried, and failed, to remove Cuban leader Fidel Castro from power, using mercenaries, in the Bay of Pigs crisis.

One conclusion that could be made, granted the foregoing, is that the Soviet Union was retaliating on behalf of its friend Cuba for the 1961 invasion by the United States. A deeper analysis of this conflict, however, demonstrates that standing up for Cuba was not an interest of the Soviet Union; the Soviet Union was using Cuba as a guinea pig in a wider game of antagonism with the United States.

I used this example a while back to demonstrate how BATNA works.

In the world of BATNA, it is a possibility that the Soviet Union used Cuba as an alternative in an already existing conflict, ostensibly as a distraction or to spread existing risks.

Long-Term Thinking in Decision Making

For his part, President John F. Kennedy had a decision to make:  Whether the United States would respond too strongly and live with possibility of nuclear war, or respond too weakly and allow the Soviet Union’s influence to intensify. President Kennedy decided to place a naval blockade around Cuba. The aim of this “quarantine,” as he called it, was to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. He demanded the removal of the missiles already there and the destruction of the sites.

Eventually, the Soviet Union complied.

In his memoirs, Khrushchev claims that the outcome of the missile crisis was a “triumph of Soviet foreign policy and a personal triumph.” Khrushchev’s foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, in his memoir account of the Cuban events praises Kennedy as “a statesman of outstanding intelligence and integrity,” but is silent on Khrushchev.

From the foregoing, president Kennedy, in reaching his decision, sought the counsel of his cabinet and advisers. This was not the case with Khrushchev, who it is apparent was on a personal self-actualization journey focused on HIM alone as opposed to working for the greater benefit of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev demonstrated no long-term thinking in reaching his decisions.

It is imperative when in a conflict to think not only of the immediate moment, but also the consequences a conflict or the alternatives available will have on the future. Long-term thinking must be a part of every decision. As has been said elsewhere on this forum, conflicts should never harm existing relationships; in fact, it should be quite the opposite.

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