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Graham Allison

Mailing address

Littauer 368
Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs
79 John F. Kennedy Street, Mailbox 53
Cambridge, MA, 02138

Graham Allison

Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

Member of the Board

Telephone: (617) 496-6099
Fax: (617) 495-1905



Director of Harvard's major Center for Science and International Affairs, Graham Allison is a leading analyst of U.S. national security and defense policy with a special interest in nuclear weapons, terrorism, and decision-making. As Assistant Secretary of Defense in the first Clinton Administration, Dr. Allison received the Defense Department's highest civilian award, the Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, for "reshaping relations with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to reduce the former Soviet nuclear arsenal." This resulted in the safe return of more than 12,000 tactical nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics and the complete elimination of more than 4,000 strategic nuclear warheads previously targeted at the United States and left in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus when the Soviet Union disappeared.

His latest book (2013), Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World (co-authored with Robert Blackwill), has been a bestseller in the U.S. and abroad. His previous book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, now in its third printing, was selected by the New York Times as one of the "100 most notable books of 2004."  It presents a strategy for preventing nuclear terrorism organized under a doctrine of "Three Nos:" no loose nukes; no new nascent nukes; and no new nuclear weapons states. Dr. Allison's first book, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (1971), was released in an updated and revised second edition (1999) and ranks among the all-time bestsellers with more than 450,000 copies in print.

As "Founding Dean" of the modern Kennedy School, under his leadership, from 1977 to 1989, a small, undefined program grew twenty-fold to become a major professional school of public policy and government.

Dr. Allison has served as Special Advisor to the Secretary of Defense under President Reagan.  He has been awarded the Department of Defense's highest civilian award, the Distinguished Public Service Medal, twice: first by Secretary Cap Weinberger and second by Secretary Bill Perry. He served as a member of the Defense Policy Board for Secretaries Weinberger, Carlucci, Cheney, Aspin, Perry and Cohen.  He currently serves on the Advisory boards of the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the Director of the CIA.

Dr. Allison was the organizer of the Commission on America's National Interests (1996 and 2000), a founding member of the Trilateral Commission, a Director of the Council on Foreign Relations, and has been a member of public committees and commissions, among them the Baker-Cutler DOE Task Force on Nonproliferation Programs with Russia, the IAEA’s Commission of Eminent Persons, and the Commission on Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism.

Dr. Allison has served as a Director of the Getty Oil Company, Natixis, Loomis Sayles, Hansberger, Taubman Centers, Inc., Joule Unlimited, and Belco Oil and Gas, as well as a member of the Advisory Boards of Chase Bank, Chemical Bank, Hydro-Quebec, and the International Energy Corporation.

Dr. Allison was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was educated at Davidson College; Harvard College (B.A., magna cum laude, in History); Oxford University (B.A. and M.A., First Class Honors in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics); and Harvard University (Ph.D. in Political Science).

Assistant Info:
Simone O'Hanlon
Executive Assistant
Telephone: 617-496-6098



By Date



Fall/Winter 2015-2016

From the Director

Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter

By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Over a lifetime, Robert Belfer has made many philanthropic investments. When asked which yielded the highest return for his family’s aim to build a more secure, peaceful world, he tells them it is the Harvard research center that bears his name. It is thus with great pleasure that we announce that Bob, along with his wife, Renée, and their son, Laurence, are redoubling their commitment to the Belfer Center and to Harvard Kennedy School. With a new gift of $15 million, the Belfer family will ensure a strong future for the School’s mission of public-service leadership and the Center’s work on the world’s most critical security challenges.



(AP Photo)

November 27, 2015

"The Key to Henry Kissinger’s Success"

Op-Ed, The Atlantic

By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

In his new biography of Henry Kissinger, the historian Niall Ferguson recalls that halfway through what became an eight-year research project, he had an epiphany. Tracing the story of how a young man from Nazi Germany became America’s greatest living statesman, he discovered not only the essence of Kissinger’s statecraft, but the missing gene in modern American diplomacy: an understanding of history.



(Belfer Center Photo/Benn Craig)

October 14, 2015

Belfer Center Conversation with Secretary of State John Kerry


By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs hosted Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, October 13, for a discussion of diplomacy and challenges in key hotspots around the globe.

In a one-on-one discussion with Secretary Kerry, Belfer Center Director Graham Allison asked Kerry about his concerns and plans related to Iran, Syria, Russia, and the Islamic State, among others.The overflow event in the Charles Hotel ballroom included questions from the audience of more than 500 Harvard students and faculty.

Included here is the complete U.S. Department of State transcript from the event. The video is included with the original transcript.



(AP Photo)

September 28, 2015

"U.S.-Russia Relations: What Would Henry Kissinger Do?"

Op-Ed, The National Interest

By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Over a public career that spans six decades, and now in his 93rd year, Henry Kissinger has been cautious about offering presidents advice in public.  But the outline of what he would say if Obama asked him about Russia is clear in the interview he gave to Jacob Heilbrunn in The National Interest’s latest issue. Drawing on decades of experience with successive Russian leaders during the Cold War, as well as many hours of quality face time with Putin, Kissinger’s views about how the United States should manage its relationship with Russia could hardly differ more from the bipartisan Washington consensus and Obama administration policy.



(AP Photo)

September 24, 2015

"The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?"

Magazine or Newspaper Article, The Atlantic

By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team of mine at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part not just of the challenger but also the challenged.



September 23, 2015

Thucydides Trap Methodology

Fact Sheet

By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

This is an explanation of the methodology used to compile the case file for the Belfer Center's Thucydides Trap Project. In this project we have attempted to include all instances since 1500 in which a major ruling power is challenged by a rising power.



September 23, 2015

Thucydides Trap Case File


By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The Thucydides Trap Case File has been assembled by researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center searching for precedents and analogs that may help us better understand the current case of what political scientists call “hegemonic challenge.” This file includes all cases that we have identified so far where a major rising power threatened to displace a major ruling power. In 12 of the 16 cases, this rivalry produced war. In 4 of the cases, by extraordinary efforts or circumstances, the parties avoided war. Lessons from both the failures and successes offer many insights and clues for statesmen attempting to manage current relations between an emerging superpower and the reigning hegemon.



(AP Photo)

August 19, 2015

"We Asked Graham Allison: What Should Be the Purpose of American Power?"

Op-Ed, The National Interest

By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

This commentary is part of The National Interest’s special 30th anniversary symposium. TNI asked twenty-five of the world’s leading experts: What is the purpose of American power?

"The primary purpose of American power should be to 'preserve the U.S. as a free nation with our fundamental institutions and values intact.' This sturdy one-liner from the Cold War captures the big idea. It also reminds us of our too-often-forgotten yet most vital national interest. In the twenty-first century, such a bold assertion of 'America First'—without apology—offends many postmodern sensibilities. For many U.S. citizens today, 'American leadership' means serving as a global 911, defending those unable or unwilling to defend themselves, bearing any burden, paying any price. Abroad, any intimation that Americans at home should come first invites criticism for short-sighted selfishness unworthy of a great power."



(AP Photo)

August 5, 2015

"Singapore Challenges the Idea That Democracy Is the Best Form of Governance"

Op-Ed, The World Post

By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The American Declaration of Independence asserts that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are fundamental, unalienable rights of all human beings -- endowed to us by our Creator. According to the Declaration, the primary purpose of government is to establish conditions in which citizens can realize these goals. In comparing governments, it is appropriate to ask how each is performing by these yardsticks.

As it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding under the late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore is a marvel to behold and applaud. But its success also poses uncomfortable questions for those of us who "know" that Western-style democracy is the best form of government.



(AP Photo)

August 5, 2015

"Iran Deal Keeps Our Military Options Open"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

In the debate about whether the Iranian nuclear agreement provides Iran a “path to a bomb” or instead provides us a “window to a target,” Americans should listen carefully to the Israeli who knows best.

In his campaign to persuade Congress to reject this deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has focused like a laser beam on the claim that this agreement “paves Iran’s path to a bomb” because its key constraints expire in a decade. In contrast, one of Israel’s most respected national security barons, Amos Yadlin, formerly chief of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate under Netanyahu, has pointed out that when the agreement expires, an American or Israeli military attack will not be more difficult, and indeed could be easier than it is today.


Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe

Graham Allison, founding dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a former top official at the Pentagon, and one of America’s leading scholars of nuclear strategy and national security, presents the evidence and argument that led him to two provocative conclusions: a nuclear terrorist attack on an American city is inevitable on our current course and speed, but preventable if we act now. 

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.