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Cool Hand Nuke: Lessons From the Quiet Diplomacy of the Cienfuegos Non-Crisis


  • Author's Note: The authors thank Scott Wolford and three anonymous readers for their insightful comments. Any errors and omissions are the author's alone. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the 2010 Southern Political Science Association Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the 2009 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Toronto, ON, Canada.


How does presidential framing and signaling of problems affect the potential solutions available to solve those problems? For example, the Cuban Missile Crisis was immediately labeled a crisis and limited alternative solutions. Conversely, the Cienfuegos submarine base dilemma of 1970—despite having graver potential consequences—was never framed as a crisis, was out of the public eye, and was equally successful at repealing a Soviet threat. We offer a Force Dilemma model that suggests the president's problem definition process should produce crisis classifications sparingly, considering and employing less confrontational instruments of power, without prematurely sending unnecessary signals to adversaries, contemporaries, and the public.