Nasser's Decision-Making in the 1967 Middle East Crisis: A Rational-Choice Explanation

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Nasser's behavior in the 1967 Middle East crisis has been variously explained in terms of decision-making deficiencies, personality-related pathologies, and uncontrolled escalation. This paper argues that such accounts are unsatisfactory. They are biased by their use of backward induction, which infers from Nasser's ultimate failure an inevitability to the escalation of the crisis. This inference puts a premium on the evaluation of decisions, rather than on their explanation. It is also inconsistent with Nasser's actual behavior toward the end of the crisis, which strongly suggests an attempt at deescalation. The paper offers an alternative, rational-choice explanation of the crisis. It argues that when the focus of inquiry is shifted from Nasser's failure to his objectives and perception of the strategic context, the crisis decisions of the Egyptian leader can be shown to have been consistent with strategic rationality. Moreover, Nasser's failure was the result not of personality or cognitive deficiencies but rather of Israel's failure to communicate the threshold beyond which she would be compelled to attack. This conclusion underscores the importance of signaling limits to an opponent's escalation so as to facilitate the opponent's learning in crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-375
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


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