Graham Tillett Allison Jr. (born March 23, 1940) is an American political scientist and the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.[1] He is renowned for his contribution in the late 1960s and early 1970s to the bureaucratic analysis of decision making, especially during times of crisis. His book Remaking Foreign Policy: The Organizational Connection, co-written with Peter Szanton, was published in 1976 and had some influence on the foreign policy of the administration of President Jimmy Carter who took office in early 1977. Since the 1970s, Allison has also been a leading analyst of U.S. national security and defense policy, with a special interest in nuclear weapons and terrorism.[2]


Allison is from Charlotte, North Carolina and graduated from Myers Park High School in 1958.[3] He attended Davidson College for two years, then graduated from Harvard University in 1962 with an B.A. degree. Allison then completed B.A. and M.A. degrees studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar in 1964 and returned to Harvard to earn a Ph.D. degree in political science in 1968. In 1979 Allison received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Uppsala University, Sweden.[4]

Allison has spent his entire academic career at Harvard, as an assistant professor (1968), associate professor (1970), then full professor (1972) in the department of government. He was dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government from 1977 to 1989 while the School increased in size by 400% and its endowment increased by 700%. He was director for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs from 1995 until 2017, when he was succeeded by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.[5] Allison remains Douglas Dillon Professor of Government.

Allison has also been a fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies (1973–74); consultant for the RAND Corporation; member of the Council on Foreign Relations; member of the visiting committee on foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution (1972–77); and a member of the Trilateral Commission (1974–84 and 2018).[6] He was among those mentioned to succeed David Rockefeller as President of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2009 he was awarded the NAS Award for Behavior Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War from the National Academy of Sciences.[7]

Allison has also been a member of the Board of Trustees for the lobbying group USACC (United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce).[8]

Analyst work[edit]

Allison has been heavily involved in U.S. defense policy since working as an advisor and consultant to the Pentagon in the 1960s. He has been a member of the Secretary of Defense's Defense Policy Board from 1985. He was a special advisor to the Secretary of Defense (1985–87) and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans (1993–1994), where he coordinated strategy and policy towards the states of the former Soviet Union. President Bill Clinton awarded Allison the Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, for "reshaping relations with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to reduce the former Soviet nuclear arsenal". He was also an informal advisor to Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign.[9]

Academic work[edit]

Allison is best known as a political scientist for his book Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (1971), in which he developed two new theoretical paradigms – an organizational process model and a bureaucratic politics model – to compete with the then-prevalent approach of understanding foreign policy decision-making using a rational actor model. Essence of Decision revolutionized the study of decision-making in political science and beyond.[10]

Thucydides Trap[edit]

In the book Destined for War, Allison uses the phrase the Thucydides Trap which, according to him, refers to the theory that "when one great power threatens to displace another, war is almost always the result".[11] Allison's term follows the ancient text History of the Peloponnesian War, in which Thucydides wrote, "What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta."[12] The term appeared in a paid opinion advertisement in The New York Times on April 6, 2017, on the occasion of U.S. President Donald Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which stated, "Both major players in the region share a moral obligation to steer away from Thucydides's Trap."[13] Allison asserts that circumstances at the start of World War I (involving British fears about Germany), the War of the Spanish Succession, and the Thirty Years' War (involving French insecurity about the Habsburg empires of Spain and Austria) exhibit the trap.[14]

Both Allison's conception of Thucydides's Trap and its applicability to U.S.-Chinese relations have encountered heavy scholarly criticism.[15][16][17] In March 2019, the Journal of Chinese Political Science dedicated a special issue to the topic,[18] suggesting power transition narratives do appear to matter with regard to domestic perception.[19]



From 2012 to 2013, the Belfer Center (through the Wikimedia Foundation) paid an editor to cite Allison's scholarly writings in various articles. Funding for the position came from the Stanton Foundation, for which Graham Allison's wife, Liz Allison, was one of two trustees. The editor also made "supposedly problematic edits" based heavily on work of other scholars affiliated with the Belfer Center.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Graham Allison".
  2. ^ "Graham Allison". Retrieved 2018-05-23.
  3. ^ "Nominations Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, First Session, 103d Congress: Hearings Before the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate". Vol. 103, no. 414. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1994. pp. 1106–1108. ISBN 978-0-16-043611-6.
  4. ^ Naylor, David. "Honorary doctorates – Uppsala University, Sweden".
  5. ^ Stewart, Martha (March 28, 2017). "Ash Carter to head Belfer Center". The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Membership – The Trilateral Commission". Archived from the original on 2019-02-02. Retrieved 2018-12-27.
  7. ^ "NAS Award for Behavior Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  8. ^ "Graham Allison". Archived from the original on 11 November 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link).
  9. ^ Gold, Allan R.; Times, Special to The New York (1988-08-31). "Dukakis Learned Lesson as Teacher". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-01.
  10. ^ "Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2nd ed". Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Retrieved 2019-06-01.
  11. ^ Allison, Graham (June 9, 2017). "The Thucydides Trap". FP. FP.
  12. ^ Ben Schott (January 31, 2011). "The Thucydides Trap". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
  13. ^ Zhu Dongyang (Xinhua News Agency) (April 6, 2017). "Advertisement". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Allison, Graham. "The Thucydides Trap". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2019-06-01.
  15. ^ Waldron, Arthur (2017-06-12). "There is no Thucydides Trap". SupChina. Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  16. ^ Feng, Huiyun; He, Kai (2020). China's Challenges and International Order Transition: Beyond "Thucydides's Trap". Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/mpub.11353648. hdl:2027/fulcrum.0g354g88p. ISBN 978-0-472-13176-1. S2CID 211436877.
  17. ^ Chan, Steve (2020). Thucydides's Trap?: Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relations. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/mpub.11387628. hdl:2027/fulcrum.pv63g2033. ISBN 978-0-472-13170-9. S2CID 211667383.
  18. ^ Zhang, Chunman; Pu, Xiaoyu (2019-01-25). "Introduction: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides Trap?". Journal of Chinese Political Science. 24 (1): 1–9. doi:10.1007/s11366-019-09609-y. ISSN 1080-6954. S2CID 159291437.
  19. ^ Gries, Peter; Jing, Yiming (2019-07-04). "Are the US and China fated to fight? How narratives of 'power transition' shape great power war or peace". Cambridge Review of International Affairs. 32 (4): 456–482. doi:10.1080/09557571.2019.1623170. ISSN 0955-7571. S2CID 199330156.
  20. ^ Sampson, Tim (14 April 2014). "One of Wikimedia's largest donors accused in paid editing scandal". The Daily Dot. Retrieved April 2, 2017.



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