Graham T. Allison

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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.

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, during which time 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.[1]

Analyst work

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

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

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."[2]


In April 2014, it was reported that from 2012 to 2013, Allison had gained publicity for himself and the Belfer Center by hiring a paid Wikipedia editor, Timothy Sandole, who would cite Allison's scholarly writings in various Wikipedia articles. Sandole also made some "supposedly problematic edits" based heavily on work of other scholars affiliated with the Belfer Center. Sandole even joked that one day he might write a book entitled, "Why Graham Allison Rocks".[3]


  • 1969: "Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis". American Political Science Review. 63(3): 689-718.
  • 1971: Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Little, Brown.
  • 1972: "Bureaucratic Politics: A Paradigm and Some Policy Implications." World Politics. 24:40-79 (with Morton H. Halperin).
  • 1976: Remaking Foreign Policy: The Organizational Connection. Basic Books (with Peter Szanton).
  • 1983: Sharing International Responsibility Among the Trilateral Countries. Trilateral Commission (with Nobuhiko Ushiba and Thierry de Montbrial).
  • 1985: Hawks, Doves and Owls: An Agenda for Avoiding Nuclear War. W.W. Norton. (edited with Albert Carnesale and Joseph Nye Jr).
  • 1989: Windows of Opportunity: From Cold War to Peaceful Competition. Ballinger (edited with William Ury).
  • 1992: Rethinking America's Security: Beyond Cold War to New World Order. W.W. Norton (edited with Gregory Treverton).
  • 1996: Avoiding Nuclear Anarchy: Containing the Threat of Loose Russian Nuclear Weapons and Fissile Material. MIT Press.
  • 2004: Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe. Henry Holt.
  • 2013: Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World. MIT Press (with Robert D. Blackwill, Ali Wyne, and a foreword by Henry A. Kissinger).

See also


  1. "NAS Award for Behavior Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 16 February 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Ben Schott (January 31, 2011). "The Thucydides Trap". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-06-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "One of Wikimedia's largest donors accused in paid editing scandal". Retrieved 2015-07-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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

External links