Graham T. Allison

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Graham Allison in 2017

Graham Tillett Allison, Jr. (born 23 March 1940) is an American political scientist and professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. 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 which 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.


A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Allison attended Davidson College for two years, then graduated from Harvard University in 1962 with an A.B. degree, completed a two-year B.A. degree at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar in 1964, then 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.[1]

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%. Allison is presently Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, and Director for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

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). 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.[2]

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.

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 swiftly revolutionized the study of decision making in political science and beyond.

Thucydides Trap[edit]

Allison coined the phrase "Thucydides Trap" to refer to when a rising power causes fear in an established power which escalates toward war. Thucydides wrote: "What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta." (τοὺς Ἀθηναίους ἡγοῦμαι μεγάλους γιγνομένους καὶ φόβον παρέχοντας τοῖς Λακεδαιμονίοις ἀναγκἀσαι ἐς τὸ πολεμεῖν)[3] The term appeared in a full-page ad in The New York Times on April 6, 2017, the day of U.S. President Donald Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping: "Both major players in the region share a moral obligation to steer away from Thucydides's Trap".[4]

Sinologist Arthur Waldron has criticized the concept of the Thucydides Trap and Allison's application of it to US–China relations.[5]


In April 2014, it was reported that from 2012 to 2013, the Belfer Center (through the Wikimedia Foundation) had hired a paid Wikipedia editor who would cite Allison's scholarly writings in various Wikipedia 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 some "supposedly problematic edits" based heavily on work of other scholars affiliated with the Belfer Center.[6][7]


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "NAS Award for Behavior Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 16 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Ben Schott (January 31, 2011). "The Thucydides Trap". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-06-07. 
  4. ^ Zhu Dongyang (Xinhua News Agency) (April 6, 2017). "advertisement". New York Times. 
  5. ^ "There is no Thucydides Trap". SupChina. 2017-06-12. Retrieved 2017-06-14. 
  6. ^ Tim, Sampson. "One of Wikimedia’s largest donors accused in paid editing scandal". The Daily Dot. Retrieved April 2, 2017. 
  7. ^ Gregory, Kohs. "Business As Usual". Wikipediocracy. Retrieved April 3, 2017. 


  • Welch, David. 1993. "Graham Allison." In American Political Scientists: A Dictionary, eds G. Utter and C. Lockhart. Greenwood Press.

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