It’s called “Thucydides’s Trap” — and the US and China are caught in it.
Graham Allison is a legend of international relations. He’s the founding dean of the Harvard Kennedy School and former director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
His latest book, published in May, is called Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? This book combines insights from the ancient greeks with his own historical research and analysis to posit that war between China and the United States is more likely than we think. We kick off with a discussion of the scenarios that might lead to war between China and the USA — and how the UN can put a break to conflict.
After a discussion of his book, we learn a bit about Graham Allison’s upbringing and early life in North Carolina and how he ended up a lifer at Harvard University.
If you are listening to this and you have ever taken an International Relations 101 class then you have most certainly read from Graham Allison’s first book called Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book, which was originally published in 1971, shattered several conventions of international relations and political science. Up to that point, the field of international relations was dominated by game theorists and by people who more generally posited that states make rational decisions — that is they are “rational actors.” His analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis suggested something different. He introduced new analytic lenses to show how bureaucracies, and even personalities, can drive national security decision-making and lead to outcomes that are seemingly irrational and dangerous.
It was a game changing book and study of international relations theory which launched his career. And we have an extended conversation about how he came to write this extremely influential book, including its personal and intellectual roots. Towards the middle of the interview, Graham describes how a glint of eye from Bobby Kennedy during an interview lead Allison to a breakthrough insight for this book.
If you have 40 minutes and want to learn some key insights from an international relations luminary, have a listen.