Waking Up to the China Challenge:
Are the U.S. and China Destined for War?
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
November 17, 2017

 Synopsis • Video


Dr. Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belter Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government. He is the founding dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and has advised every secretary of defense from the Regan administration to the Obama administration. He’s also served as the Senior Advisor to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans during the Clinton administration. He’s the best-selling author of several books including “Lee Kuna Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World,” and “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”

Jonathan Movroydis is the director of research at the Richard Nixon Foundation.


Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you every one for being here. My name is Jonathan Movroydis [inaudible 00:00:04]. Welcome to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. Allow me to introduce our distinguished speaker today. He’s one of America’s most respected and perceptive China watchers. Dr. Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belter Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government.

Among other accomplishments, Graham Allison is the founding dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and has advised every secretary of defense from the Regan administration to the Obama administration. He’s also served as the Senior Advisor to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans during the Clinton administration.

He’s the best-selling author of several books including “Lee Kuna Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World.” And a new and very influential book, which he’ll speak about today and he’ll sign copies, which are available in our store for purchase. It’s called “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”  The book has been hailed by many. Several people have taken the stage, including Dr. Henry Kissinger, and Niall Ferguson, and also by General David Petraeus, who will be here on November 28. So, I suggest you check out, look for tickets at nixonfoundation.org.

Before we start our event, we thought it would be appropriate to hear from President Nixon regarding China, which is related very much to the premise of this book.

President Nixon: If anybody would read my article in Foreign Affairs and other statements I have made prior to and since that initiative was undertaken, they would note that I always come through with the theme. Even if there were not Soviet Union, it was essential that the United States move now, and move when it did, I should say, in rapprochement with China. And the reason for that is, fundamentally, that one fourth of all the people in the world live in the People’s Republic of China. It has enormous natural resources, and the Chinese people, as Chinese, are among the most capable in the world.

Look what they’ve done in Taiwan. Look what they…in non-Communist areas, in Taiwan, and Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, San Francisco, you name it. And once that power is mobilized, it is going to be enormous force in the world, for good or for bad. I think de Gaulle hit it, in his usual way, in 1969, most effectively when he said cryptically, “Better for you to recognize China now when they need you, than wait until later when their power is such that you will need them.”

And so, in order to build the kind of a world that we want our grandchildren to live in the 21st century, it was essential that the United States, the most powerful and prosperous in the free world, have a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China. And finally, I would say, for some of those who object to that initiative, if it had not been undertaken, and if China, due to the fact that they did not have any guarantee of their security from the United States vis-à-vis the Soviet, had been forced back under the Soviet umbrella, the geopolitical relationship and balance in the world would be almost hopelessly against us at this time. It was necessary to do it for that reason, but apart from that, it was essential to do for the next century.

Jonathan Movroydis: Nixon commenting on the next century that engaging China was very important. But, yet, reading from the cover of your book, it could prove otherwise, destined for war. I like to start by asking just as a basis, who is Thucydides and what is the Thucydides’s Trap, and are the U.S. and China really destined for war?

Graham Allison: First, let me say it’s a great honor for me to be here and I’d appreciate you all for coming for this session. And secondly, I think that, as the Nixon comments, I don’t remember when they were made, but I’m really update as the article was. If you look back at this 1967 Foreign Affairs article, it was really prescient. So, and his preposition that China is gonna be China at some point, and the issue is gonna be whether we have a good relationship with them or a bad relationship, was that correct. So, that’s for sure.

Let me back up to your question and then I’ll come forward. So, first, today, you’re having an opportunity to meet a great thinker. And I wanna… I hope it’s to re-introduce you to him. But if you haven’t been introduced before, let me introduce you to him. And his name is Thucydides. So, I published this book about five months ago, and I’ve discovered in the interim that many Americans are not familiar with Thucydides. Some even have trouble pronouncing his name. So, in unison, one, two, three we will say…one, two, three…

Together: Thucydides.

Graham Allison: One more time…

Together: Thucydides.

Graham Allison: If you want a fun…look at the thucydidestrap.org website and one of the tabs is Look Who’s Talking About Thucydides. Xi Jinping, the president of China, speaks about Thucydides’s Trap often and has trouble pronouncing the name, Thucydides. So, you can see and other people. 

But Thucydides was the father and founder of history. He wrote the first ever history book. That was what it was called, ” The History of the Peloponnesian War,” which was the account, in 25,000 years ago of what happened in classical Greece when Athens, which was becoming one of the pinnacles of civilization, rose to challenge Sparta, which has been the dominant power in Greece for a hundred years. So, Thucydides is the first person to do, to write a history defined as giving the facts right, what actually happened, what choices did human beings make, and what were the consequences, without the benefit of any external mythology, or spirits or otherwise. So, just the consequences of human being’s choices in difficult conditions. 

And you can go download for free “The History of the Peloponnesian War.” Read the first hundred pages, that Book 1. And if every other page doesn’t knock your socks off, check your pulse. Now, this is a big serious, great thinker who should be part of your mental library. And you’ll learn a lot. Every chapter of the book, actually, I have a little quote from Thucydides because he had many wonderful ideas. In this book, I’m trying to make vivid one of them. 

So, Thucydides’s Trap, your second question, is the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power like Athens, impacts the ruling power like Sparta; rising power like Germany in the decades before 1940 impacts Britain, which has been ruling the world for a hundred of years during that time; or China over the past generation impacts the U.S., which has been the dominant international power. So, when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, in general, poop happens.

So, in this book, I look at the last 500 years of history. I find 16 cases, 1-6, in which a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power. Twelve of the cases end in war, four of the cases end in not war. So, to your final, you’ve given me three questions here, the third question is, can America and China escape Thucydides’s Trap? That is, is the war between U.S. and China inevitable or not? And in the book, I say the answer is, like a professor would say, no and yes.

So, let me explain. No, it’s not possible to escape Thucydides’s Trap if we insist on business as usual. So, business as usual, which is what we’ve seen for the last 20 years, in this case, will likely produce history as usual. And history as usual would be catastrophic war and nobody wants but that happens. But on the other hand, yes, we can escape Thucydides’s Trap is we take the heart and great insight from Santayana, which is, “Only those who refuse to study history are condemned to repeat it. 

But is not an obligation for the U.S. and China to make the same mistakes that Kaiser Wilhelm did in 1914, or even that Pericles made in the breakdown of the long peace that produced the Peloponnesian War. So, if we learn from history, we might do better. And the purpose of the book, therefore, to be clear, is not fatalism about a war between U.S. and China, because make no doubt about it, a war between U.S. and China would be catastrophic for China and its dream will be vanished. And will be catastrophic for the United States and what we’re trying to do with our country. 

So, this is a crazy idea and nobody in China wants a war in the U.S., thank for this. And nobody in the U.S. wants a war with China. But that does not mean that a war can’t happen. So, the book is about understanding that we’re in extremely dangerous conditions as a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power. That generally, in those circumstances, third party’s actions that neither of us want and that would otherwise be inconsequential, can trigger a reaction by one of us that requires a reaction by the other, in which then, one thing leads to the other and pretty soon, we’re dragged into something that we didn’t want. So, think, how in the world did the assassination of Archduke in 1914 kiln the wood that burned down the whole house of Europe. And that’s incredible.

I studied this when I was a student, a graduate student. We wrote an essay in that and I simply can’t understand it. And I’ve been interested in it since. I have a good chapter on my book on it. And the conclusion is, I don’t know how this could end. This makes no sense. Everybody lost what he cared about most. But each felt obliged to react to something that somebody else did and one thing led to the other. So, the purpose of the book is not fatalism, not pessimism, but to say extremely dangerous conditions require extremely imaginative and adaptive responses. And I think that’s actually very consistent with what President Nixon was saying.

Jonathan Movroydis: I’m going to this idea of the rising power displacing the established power, and reading your book, you say that China is doing in hours what the United States takes years to do. Can you illustrate the magnitude of what China is capable of accomplishing today?

Graham Allison: So that for those of you who have been watching the China story, interestingly enough, did not include former President Nixon, who up until the end of life watched China every day. I’ll even say something about that just in a second because, as usual, he was very, very, you know, thoughtful about what was happening. So, if you haven’t been watching, you should read the first chapter of the book, which is called “The Rise of China.” 

Never before has a country risen so far, so fast in so many different images. So, basically, it’s stunning. Just over the past 25 years, a country that was nowhere, and if you take quote from Nixon, in 1971, China had a lot of people and they were all poor. They were really a serious player anywhere. His proposition was if they ever get their act together, this was gonna be impressive because they’re extremely talented people. But they generally had governments that messed them up. 

So, in any case, in the period since the opening to China, that jump ahead, just the last 25 years, just the last the 25 years, China came from nowhere to revival the U.S. and even to surpass us in many domains. I have a quiz I give to my students at Harvard, it has 46 indicators, and the title of the chart is called When Did China Become Number One? So, largest middle class, largest number of billionaires, largest trading company, biggest producer of smartphones, the fastest supercomputers, largest national economy, take one down the list, 46. In the book, I have a little short version of that list. And students have to write in the answer, 2030, 2040, not in my lifetime.

Then I gave them the second chart with the title of the chart, Already All of These 46 Things Have Already Happened. Today, there’s more billionaires in China than there is in the U.S. Today, China has, in to the contest, which is held every year for supercomputers, China won four to the top five places last year. They didn’t even enter the contest 10 years ago. So, basically, today, China has the largest national economy. Again, not all Americans know this. But if you go to the IMF website, work on the CIA website, and look at the yardstick, they both agree as single best yardstick for comparing national economy, China’s economy in 2014 became the bigger than the American economy. Why didn’t anybody tell us? Well, since we haven’t been watching lately. 

So, to your particular question, in the book, I’d give you an illustration. I’m sorry, I didn’t bring the slide, but there’s a bridge at Harvard that cross the Charles River between the Kennedy School and the Business School. Those of you who know Cambridge Bay, would have crossed this. It’s called the Anderson Bridge. I can see it out of my office. But the renovation of this bridge, the discussion of it begin when I was dean. And I quit being dean in 1989. The project began in earnest in 2012. It was a two-year project. In 2014 they said it was not finished, it would take another year, in 2015, they said, “Not yet, there will be one more year,” 2016 they said, “We’re not telling you when it will be finished.” Yeah, that was three times over budget.

In Beijing, there’s a similar bridge. It’s called a Sanyuan Bridge, S-A-N-Y-U-A-N. You can look it up. In 2015, the Chinese decided they want to renovate that bridge. It actually has twice as many traffic lanes as the Anderson Bridge at Harvard. How long did it take for the Chinese to renovate this bridge? Let’s take a guess.

Man: [Inaudible 00:16:42]

Graham Allison: How many years?

Man: Twenty.

Graham Allison: Twenty, okay.

Man: One.

Graham Allison: One? What else? Answer, 43 hours. Excuse me, 43 hours. You go to YouTube and look it up. Sanyuan Bridge or 43-hour bridge, you’ll see the video of it that speed it up, 43 hours. Now, I know, that’s in Cambridge. Well, I’m in California, for example, you have the only high-speed rail project that the U.S. has been constructing for 10 years. When was that gonna be finished? How long is it?  Five hundred miles, so, you know LA to San Francisco. When was it to be finished? Twenty seventeen. I think it’s 2017 already. The announcement was recent that it was gonna be 2029. And I have some friends who say they don’t think they’re gonna see it in their lifetime.

In the same 10 years, we’ve been building these 500 miles. How many miles high-speed rail does China laid that’s operating today? Yes? Sixteen thousand. You can get on their high-speed rail in Beijing and be in Shanghai 1 hour and 45 minutes. And before the California 500 miles is finished, how many more miles of high-speed rail in China it would be? My bet, if it takes 10 years, another 16,000, maybe more.

So, basically, if you haven’t been looking at China, you should look at it and be astonished. And if you haven’t seen China in your face and in your space, either you haven’t been looking or just wait.

Jonathan Movroydis: Going to how that economic growth translates into military capacity. In your book, you make reference to a chart from the RAND Corporation. In every conceivable way about 20 years ago, the U.S. had military superiority. Today, that, when you get closer to the China mainland, you see greater parity between U.S. and China forces, even some advantage to China. With that said, the United States still has, we still have air superiority in terms of technology, we have a ratio of 20 to 1 in terms of aircraft carriers. What does China’s economic advancement…does it translate to military parity or even military superiority in the future?

Graham Allison: Okay. It’s a very good question. I was over at RAND yesterday, wrestling with people about this and related issues. So, in the book, I have illustration of a seesaw as a very simplistic illustration of what happened economically in which this is something I have to use as a cartoon for the Senate Armed Services Committee back from 2014. This just let them see what was happening economically. 

In 2004, which most of us here can remember, China’s GDP was 20% the size of U.S. So, I represent this with on a seesaw with the U.S. in one end, the size of whatever GDP, and China on the other. By 2014, this seesaw has lifted to the point that we’re roughly equal. China’s little bit bigger. And by 2024, on the current thin line, China would be 40% larger GDP than the U.S. So, the purpose of this was the Senate Armed Services Committee was trying to put in context, the debate and discussion about the big initiative of the Obama administration in Asia, which was called… What? Remember? The Pivot or sometimes called the Rebounds.

And what was that about? It was an argument that said we are putting too much of our weight around left foot, in the Middle East, fighting wars. When the future is in Asia. So, we should lighten up on the left foot so we can put more weight on our right foot. Makes good sense. But I said, we weren’t noticing that while this debate has been going, the seesaw is just being lifting both feet off the ground.

So, basically, economics in not everything. But it’s the substructure of power in most dimensions. As China’s economic strength has grown, it’s defense spending is actually grown faster than its economy. So, whereas, if you go back to 2004 or if you go back to 1996, in the Clinton administration, when I was in the Pentagon, China wanted to intimidate Taiwan because there was a movement for…towards the independence in Taiwan. So, they conducted a missile test, they called it, essentially, bracketing Taiwan to intimidate. The he Clinton administration, President Clinton decided this is unacceptable and we moved two aircraft carriers up into the zone to force China to back down. And the Chinese military found this hugely humiliating because they had to back down.

They then began a very determined spending program to force our carriers out of that zone. So, there’s something in naval terms called the first island chain, you look at the water from the Chinese border out the first island chain goes from Japan right around to the Philippines. So, now, they have missiles, very good missiles on that land that can attack and kill American carriers. So, the U.S. Navy carriers have now moved out beyond the first island chain. In deed, but so far, out from China that the aircraft on the American carriers cannot fly to attack the Chinese mainland. So basically, what the military balance about in the region is been about pushing the U.S. back from their borders, from their adjacent seas, and back in the first instance behind the first island chain. 

At the meeting last week…no, this week, in Beijing, between Xi and President Trump, at one point, President Xi said, you know, “We think the Pacific is big enough for both of us.” It’s a good line. Where do you think he thinks the dividing line should be? And I think he thinks maybe Hawaii for now. Okay. So, we’re not challenging your claim to Hawaii. And so, you can have Hawaii to California, but the space on this side is where we want to become predominant. Then I think their true objective, and I think that’s actually what’s happening in the world and in the sea.

Jonathan Movroydis: As you mentioned earlier, you illustrate several case studies and above from the Peloponnesian War to World War II to the Franco-Prussian War in which war might have been inevitable or not have been inevitable. Can you give a case study on how two powers escape the Thucydides’s Trap?

Graham Allison: Okay. Good question. So, let me just be clear to reformulate the question just a little bit. So, inevitable, which is a word that Thucydides uses and which then replayed too often. I disagree with it completely. In fact, I give it account in the book where I believe Thucydides is basically misinterpreted on this point. He does have this famous line, often quoted, that I quote in the book, in which he says, I quote, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made the war inevitable.”

But if you read it in context, and you read the whole book in Greek language in which it was written, he doesn’t mean inevitable 100%. He means very likely. It’s like if you would say… You know, I’m accused of crime and I go before the judge and I say, “He made me do it.” And the answer is he created conditions in which you thought you had to do it, but you exercised some choice. So, there’s always the structure and then the agency. And Thucydides is not about denying agency. He believes that the choices that people made have consequences and they could have made different choices. So, it’s not “inevitable” in the sense like 100%, it’s like under these conditions, my options have narrowed, but I have the more difficult choices. So, both in the cases of the 16 cases, the 12 that lead to war, human beings made decisions that had consequences and they could’ve made different decisions. But in the Thucydidean dynamic, they find themselves pulled in race so they’re at risk of making mistaken choices.

So, if I take a case that lead to war, World War I, and contrast that with a case that was successfully navigated, the Cold War, which is called war, but counts in my list as no war, since it was competition in every dimension, except bombs and bullets killing each other directly, massacre. So, in 1914, just to remind you, Archduke is assassinated visiting Sarajevo by a Serbian terrorist. Honestly, you know, you can make this up in a movie script. Okay. So, Archduke is the successor to the throne in Vienna, which is the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. So, his father, the emperor, thinks, “Well, we have to punish the Serbs for doing this,” which is appropriate and everybody agree. And he begins to punish them.

The Russians fear that the Austrians are gonna overdo it. So, they’re gonna be too mean, too brutal to the Serbians, who are Orthodox, as are the Russians. So, the Czar is supporting the Serbs. The Kaiser in Germany has only won a lot, the Emperor in Vienna, so he supports him. The French has a military alliance with the Russian. The English have become entangled with the French. So, one thing leads to the other and pretty soon everybody is at war. 

At the end of the war, what does happen? Every one of the leaders is gone. And every one of the leaders’ ambition have been destroyed. So, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, out. Empire, dissolved, finished. The Russian Czar, he’d been overthrown by the Bolsheviks. His own regime is gone. Kaiser, out. France, [inaudible 00:29:12] it’s youth for a whole generation, society never recovers as a great player. And Britain, which has been a creditor for a hundred years, has turned into a debtor and on it’s slow slide for decline. 

So, if you’d given people for a do over, nobody would have chosen the way they did. But they did, and it happened. So, that’s a bad news story. So, what happens is, dynamic, rising versus ruling and not that one or the other decide, “This is a good time for war.” But some third-party action or provocation leads somebody to think they have to do something. When somebody else feels they have to do something, and one thing leads to the other. 

Now, take an alternative, a success story. In the Cold War, many people thought, “Well, the Soviet Union is rising. It’s gonna rival the U.S., maybe overshadow the U.S. We need to get to war with the Soviet Union.” And then, people think, “Wait a minute. That’s a crazy idea, especially after the Soviets came to have a nuclear arsenal. This seems insane.” So that’s on the one hand. 

We created great Cold War strategy. I have a good chapter about that in the book that’s worth of people remembering. This was for the remarkable achievements ever in the story of statecraft, for any country, and especially for the U.S. But 1962, Cuban Missile Crisis, this is agreed by historian to have been the most dangerous episode ever in recorded history. In that episode, Jonathan Movroydis Kennedy took what he thought was a one and three chance of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, that would have killed a hundred million people at that time, to prevent the Soviets placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. There was this 13-day intense confrontation.

Then there was a lot of care and adaptability. I write about that in another book, though I have a little bit of that in this book. You’d have to look to see. But in any case, once that people got focused, and especially Kennedy and Khrushchev, they managed to maneuver in a situation that would have been likely to have dragged them to war, if they hadn’t been exercising extreme imagination and extreme adaptability. So, I think that’s a good illustration of where… And then after having lived through this, you know, almost falling off the brink, the two of them decided, “We better constrain the competition in the Cold War.” And the Cold War became to be more regularized in a way that then President Nixon actually participated in creating a set of arms control arrangements that constrained things even further.

So, I think we should remember that in both of these cases, it’s not that the rising power decides, “I’m big enough. I should fight you know.” Or you’re thinking, “He’s getting so big. I better fight him now because he might be stronger tomorrow.” It’s that in this dangerous dynamic, some third-party action drags us somewhere where we don’t want to be. And if we were looking, if we were doing central casting…I’ve yesterday with some movie people here in LA, and somebody said, “You know, if we were doing central casting, we could not make up Kim Jong-un and North Korea.” I mean, that’s just, you know, okay, he’s very unavailable. A “little rocket man” as Trump calls him. Yeah.

Jonathan Movroydis: In chapter 5 of your book, you asked your readers to imagine if China were just like us. And if we use the case study of Teddy Roosevelt, you write that he called the westward expansion of the United States, the crowning and greatest achievement of the English-speaking people march to civilization over the world’s waste spaces. In 1890, the U.S. had no battleships, and by 1905, we had 25, and became the world’s leading naval power in just a span of 15 years. And then you continued to say that TR’s ambition didn’t end with the Pacific Coast.

Over a century, on this, China, a rapidly growing nation with expanding military capabilities harbor similar ambitions. What is China’s…what’s their governing philosophy of their foreign policy? And just as a corollary to that question, how does the U.S. view it?

Graham Allison: Okay. So, as usually, you have about three questions you got yourself. Let me part some and then go through it. So, I have a delicious chapter, at least I think, chapter 5 that you referred to, but that many Americans will find uncomfortable. So, I’m warning you.

Teddy Roosevelt is one of my heroes, always been one of my heroes, and but the chapter asked, what if Xi Jinping and his China was just like us? And not just like us as we imagine ourselves to be today, but just like us as we were emerging to claim a century, which Teddy Roosevelt was supremely confident was gonna be the American century, the first American century. So, it’s 1897, Teddy Roosevelt, 37 years old, and he comes to Washington as the number 2 person at the Department of the Navy. In the decade that follows, what happens? 

First, there’s a mysterious explosion in Havana Harbor, in the main, and we take it as occasion to declare war on Spain and liberate Cuba, and take Puerto Rico, and we take Guam as a spoil of war. That’s how the U.S. came to have Guam. Secondly, we support and sponsor a coup in Colombia and create a whole new country. It’s called Panama, which the next day gives us a contract for our canal, which the Colombians wouldn’t give us, so Teddy’s ships can go from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Next, we’ve threatened war, first with Germany and then with Britain, unless they back off of a territorial dispute in Venezuela. And then the piece that I think is the most delicious, we steal the part of the fat tail of Alaska from the Canadians. You have to read about it. So, basically, if look, Alaska is this big chunk of land and then there’s a tail, a fat tail that goes down about 600 miles that cuts Canada off from the sea. And most of that we stole from the Canadians. So, fair and square, as Senator Hayakawa once said about the Panama Canal. 

Okay. So, basically, if China should behave like that, then for sure we’ll have a war. For sure, because we’re not gonna adopt to the justice edgily as the British did under those circumstances, I think. So, what does China want? Again, I have a chapter called What Does Xi’s China, Want. They’re pretty explicit about this. And if you listened last week and the week before, to the 19th Party Congress in Beijing, he laid out in this three and half work plan, a very explicit. So, question, is or Xi and his colleagues, serious about displacing the U.S. as a dominant power in the Western Pacific in the foreseeable future? It’s a good question.

If you read Dr. Kissinger’s book on China, 700 pages, it says, “on the one hand, on the other hand.” It’s complicated. So, I asked the world’s premier China watcher, he is one of my tutors for this book, as well as him, yeah, Kissinger. Now, this is Lee Kuan Yew. Lee Kuan Yew was the founder and builder of Singapore. He took a little corrupt port and he became the head of it. And in one generation, brought it to being one of…a first-world megalopolis. That’s a wonder.

So, what is China’s ambition? They wanna displace the U.S. in Western Asia. I’ll quote in the book. He says, “Of course, why not? Who can imagine otherwise? How could they not aspire to be the dominant power in Asia in the foreseeable future? And in time, maybe beyond that.” So, I then, “Will they succeed?” I go through the list of questions here but I… Are they serious about the notion that China, which in their view and their history, and this is roughly right, they exaggerate, but still, their history is China was the dominant power in the world for 4,000 or 5,000 years, way before anybody thought of America.

We use to dominate everything we could see. And everybody else related to us, the Chinese, as satellites to sun. We’re the sun, everybody revolves around us, or as tributaries to the emperor. So the relationship between China and everybody else is defined by kowtow, which is you bow to me because I’m the big guy. That’s it. And that’s the way we relate to each other.

So they think, in their story, and I think this is roughly right, about 200 years ago, some Westerners show up, especially from Europe, with technology. And that became what they call the centuries of humiliation, because we exploited them. Oh, yes, we probably did. Okay. Westerners.

So, what was the Opium War about? Who let this thing in? It’s hard to believe. Okay. It’s a war that the British fought mostly with the Chinese. What was it about? It was about the British right to sell opium to Chinese. That’s a fact. So, they use to call that a Century of Humiliation. And they say, now we’re big and strong, that’s over. You’ve been here for a long time, I understand that, but that was then. Now is now, time for you to go.

So that’s their aspiration. is the U.S. about to leave the Western Pacific? I don’t think so. So, we adapt and adjust in many ways? I hope so. So, I don’t think it’s inevitable that we have to fight about this. But I think under these conditions, it’s quite possible that a third party like North Korea, or a third party like Taiwan, or third party and an accident, unintended event in the South China Sea or the East China Sea, or some action by the Japanese, with respect to their Senkaku Islands, could produce the spark like the assassination of the Archduke, in which one thing leads to the other, and at the end of the day, we find ourselves somewhere where we don’t want to be.

Jonathan Movroydis: Getting back to that incident, in the South China Sea. You illustrate in your book that U.S. and Chinese allied warships are greater proximity than ever before. And that the U.S. Navy regularly sends guided missile destroyers to conduct freedom of navigation operations near the Chinese-controlled islands. You write that a seemingly mundane operation could lead to an incident of grave proportions. Could you explain?

Graham Allison: Well, if you have ships and planes in close proximity every day, which we do, and you have the temptation of the people who, or the captain of these ships, let’s say, to engage in what they call, shouldering in the both the U.S. Navy and the Chinese Navy do this. So shouldering mean is you’re coming on this path, so I come on a path that will collide with you unless you move over a little bit. And then, the question is, we get closer and closer, which one of us is gonna swerve a little bit? And if we fail to swerve, we crash. We should remember that at the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001, a Chinese fighter aircraft crashed into an American spy plane in the C131, and the plane collapsed. So, the likelihood of accidents with military operating in close proximity is quite high. 

The question is then, how does the…what comes in the next step? We would hope that there’s an enough circuit breaker [SP] and they both calm down and quiet down. But I sketch in a book, in the chapter, From Here to War, the ways in which that could escalate to somewhere where you don’t want to be. So, for example, you and I are playing this game. Okay. And I just decide, “Okay. I’m not swerving.” And you decide you’re not swerving. So, the two ships collide. So, a destroyer sinks with several hundred people are killed, the commander of the unit that’s operating there may well respond against the other ships in the zone. The aircraft in the area may come to the rescue with one of the other.

So, you could easily see how one step leads to the other, up the escalation ladder. And I mention in the book that if there were such a local conflict, and especially if it was adjacent to some of the islands that the Chinese has built and militarized, that they feel strongly about, or if it was close to Taiwan, you could get aircraft and even a carrier operating in the zone. If a carrier were destroyed, were sunk, we’re talking about 5,000 or 6,000 Americans that would be killed. So, any president is gonna respond to that in a fairly substantial way.

And then, two great new accelerants in the picture that make it possible to slide up the escalation ladder, our…first satellites and any satellite weaponry, so the U.S. in particular, has asymmetric vulnerability with respect to satellites because we use these big expensive military satellites for everything. They produce our intelligence, so that’s how we know where targets are. They produce our intelligence so we know what’s going on in the region. They produce our ISR, which is our surveillance and reconnaissance, without which we can’t operate our military systems. They are connected in the web to, actually to the offensive systems, and they do our command and control. So, actually, absence of satellites, is pretty hard for the two ships to talk to each other, which we are now practicing using signals, which people use to do before there were electronics. So, you can have the U.S. with no eyes and ears early in the campaign. And certainly, the Chinese were planners, they think about that a lot. And then the question is, well, do you want to keep going forward or do you want to stop now?

Similarly, cyber produces another new accelerant. So, if a Chinese missile on the Chinese homeland will launch and struck an American carrier and sunk it. American SOPs call for attacking whatever offensive capabilities struck us. So, we would then attack the Chinese homeland, wherever these batteries and missiles are. So, now…and we’re away, we’re on the other side of the world.

Well, traditionally, you would say, “Well, it will have to be a local war.” But, what’s the likelihood that the Chinese let us strike their, mainland, and don’t something on our mainland? And, I think the answer’s not very likely. So, what could they do? So, a cyber-attack that basically took down the electrical grid, without electricity, Americans will become pretty unhappy, pretty fast. So, you could see how that… And then, again, you hope that it stops in some point that people say, “Wait a minute. This is an escalation ladder we don’t wanna play. So, we need to stop now.” But it could accelerate into something that will be a full-scale war between the U.S. and China. If that were to happen, God help us.

Jonathan Movroydis: Moving on to the 19th Party Congress recently in the news, President Xi has been reported that he has emerged from that event more powerful than ever, probably they say, he might rule beyond 2020. He said in his speech with the Congress that he envisioned China to be a modern socialist strong power by 2035. What does he mean by that?

Graham Allison: So, good, so for those of you who weren’t watching carefully, and I’m sure and hope that you didn’t try to listen to this three and a half hour workplan speech, which is a mouthful and a was done in the elaborate form of, you know, Chinese ritual. But if you look at it and studied it. It’s very instructive.

So what happened last week and the beginning of this week? Basically, in a word, we saw the… This wasn’t the Xi Jinping being re-elected for a second five-year term as president. I wrote a piece in “The Wall Street Journal” the week before the Party Congress, which I said, “Watch for the coronation of the new 21st century Emperor of China.” So, Xi Jinping is now the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. His thought has been written into the constitution. So, if you’re a Chinese party member, you have to study his thought and take its guidance or else you fight the party and that’ll be bad for you. Okay.

He, very conspicuously, has no plausible successor. So, in the tradition, the standing committee, which is the next group, with which the president shares his power, includes somebody who would be the successor. And he’s trained up over the five years of the second term of the last guy, the way Xi was. This one includes nobody who could take that role. So, the presumption is that Xi’s gonna rule well beyond the end of his next five-year term. So, his next five-year term starts in 2018 and ends in 2023 or 2024, but beyond.

So, he has announced, I think he is very, very confident, and very powerful, and also very ambitious, but also very confident, almost as, I wrote in the book, a Napoleonic-style confidence. So, there’s saying among the politicians, which is, if you wanna survive, never say a target number as an objective and the date in the same sentence. It’s perfectly fine to say, “We’re gonna reduce our carbon emissions by 90%,” but don’t say when. It’s also safe to say, “Something is gonna happen in 2025,” but don’t say what. But don’t put those things in the same sentence. That’s what most politicians, if you listen, you know, if you listen carefully.

He is perfectly prepared to say and he said earlier, “In 2021, the GDP of China will have doubled in the period between 2010 and 2020.” Actually, they have already achieved that objective. He then enunciated that, several months ago, China is called Made in China in 2025. So, by 2025, he identified 10 industries that China’s gonna dominate. So that’s self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, so all the modern industries, China is not just gonna be participating, but wants to dominate those industries by 2025. By 2035, they wanna be the dominant source of innovation in the world, just as you were saying. And 2049 is the big target, 2049 is 100th anniversary of the creation of the People’s Republic of China, and by then, they wanna be the biggest, strongest country in the world. From that, their work will.

Jonathan Movroydis:
This month, President Trump made a widely-publicized five-nation tour of Asia. And the operative words he used for five-nation tour, he told delegates at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Danang, Vietnam that he had the honor of sharing our vision for a free and open Indo Pacific region. Do you think that the Trump administration has given a clear indication of what their Asia policy will be?

Graham Allison: So, in a word, no. So, basically, this trip was initially about the president showing up in Asia. And this was American trip, 5 countries 10 days, that’s a lot of travel, even if you have Air Force One. And, but the principal objective in this trip was North Korea. So, basically, I don’t know how vividly the members of the audience have been watching this, but by this time next year, if we have the good fortune to meet this time next year, one of three things is gonna have happened. 

One, North Korea, Kim Jong-un, will have completed the set of ICBM tests that he has been conducting and that he was about to complete last month but stopped to pause a little bit. That will give him a credible capability to strike Los Angeles or San Francisco with a nuclear warhead. Let me say it again. A year from today, one possibility of the three is that Kim Jong-un has what CIA will call credible threat to strike Los Angeles with a nuclear weapon. Option two, President Trump will have attacked North Korea to prevent that happening. And option three, there will be a minor miracle. Well, I’m praying for option three.

If I were making my bets, I run a piece, actually, last week in “POLITICO” if you wanna go look it up, in which I would say, the most likely outcome is the first, if Kim Jong-un wins. That’s not a very good world to live in, but as Steve Bannon said when he was doing his exit interview from the White House, “If you look at the realities by the time Trump got there, he’s goners.” Now, there’s logic in there. But option two, I think, is the next most likely, and I would make it at least 25%, 20% or 25%, because President Trump has said he is not gonna let Kim Jong-un have a capability to strike the American homeland with nuclear weapons, this is crazy. And it makes no sense. 

So, he told Xi Jinping, first at Mar-a-Lago, when he met him, when he invited him for the first meeting in April and now, last week, when they’ve met. He said, “I’m telling you, and I told you as clearly as I could, you can stop this guy. And you have to stop this guy, because if you don’t stop this guy, I will stop him. And you’re not going to like the way I do it.” Actually, at Mar-a-Lago he didn’t serve him chocolate cake with their opening dinner. He said, “I’m gonna go next door for a second.”  He went to the room next door and announced that the U.S. was just launching cruise missiles against Syria. Just to kinda make the point, so if you have an idea on how could we do this.

So, the purpose and point of this whole trip and the really centerpiece was North Korea and trying to get the other pieces in place, but the dominant piece being Xi. And getting Xi to attack to stop Kim Jong-un. Xi has always said, “We can’t do this.” And Trump tells him, “You can do this. This is not that hard.” And, actually, he said to him, if you watch the language Trump used, he’s very interesting, he said, he started off and he said, “You are an extraordinary individual.” And that’s showing great respect. And then he said to him, “You are a strong man.” And then he said, “This is not hard to stop this guy. This is easy.” And then he said, “This fellow, I know him, President Xi, when he puts his mind on something and works on it, he solves the problem.” So, he has set him up there.

Xi says, whenever he is talking in public, he says, “I can’t solve this problem. Nobody has solved this problem for all these years, now you’re coming to me?” And I think that’s the Chinese position that they’ve taken. But in fact, I believe, I think he’s right about this, if Xi squeezes the oil lifeline that Kim Jong-un is dependent upon, he’ll get his attention. And maybe can cause him to stop, for now, not forever, to start with, but how about for a year. No, ICBM test for year. No nuclear test for a year. That’s my minor miracle. That’s not the end of the story, it’s not to solve everything, it only is for a year, to start with.

But if we we’re able to this for a year, to start with, and especially if trump and Xi had done this together, and then they all think of, “Maybe if they did a minor miracle or helped produce a minor miracle, they can do more things. So that would be my…of the three options, I think that’s the least likely, but I think that’s the most, that I can hope for here.

Man: May I add?

Graham Allison: Sure.

Man: Sorry to interrupt.

Graham Allison: Go ahead. Please.

Man: I came here to ask this question.

Graham Allison: Please.

Man: Why did he do it? Do you think, and I agree with everything you said about Trump having set this meeting up with those five leaders, I think Xi is going to be his fall guy. And I think that will be [inaudible 00:58:06] if he doesn’t act according to what’s required. Because this is…my point is, I think Trump… Would Trump say, “Look.” Will he use the law [inaudible 00:58:15] of that position if you will clean up this mess in North Korea?

Graham Allison: So, in the piece that I wrote in “POLITICO,” which you should all please just download and so you can read it, I talk about the minor miracle, as I call them. So, the minor miracle would be that in their private meeting, all the public ceremonies for the trip were fine, everything worked fine. But that’s the, you know, ceremonies, and pomp and ceremony and words, that’s just show. Behind the scenes, people will do business or they don’t do business. And since it’s behind the scenes, you and I don’t know what happened, so I have no idea what they did when they were meeting in private. 

But if I were hoping, in private, they sat down and they said, “Look. This jerk who neither of us like.” Xi Jinping calls Kim Jong-un “little fatty.” He does not care about this guy at all, at all. If he could strangle him, he would. Okay So, they say, “This is guy is gonna pull us from where we don’t want to go. He can have you and me in a war. This will be insane.

So, let us figure out what can do.” Okay. So, I then, you think, “What can you do?” “I don’t know.” What can you do?” “I don’t know.” “Here, I got an idea. Let’s each pick one or two people that we trust.” So, I pick, I’m Trump, I say, “Here’s Mattis and somebody else. And you pick two people, tell them go off in a corner of the room, three days, two days, not more, they have to come back with three solutions. Each one of those we’re not gonna like, as they’re gonna involve me having to do something I don’t want to do. And you having to do something that you don’t want to do. But that’s okay. They only have to be better than what we now have. They don’t have to be good, just better.”

So, one of those options, would come back and I would say, “Look, Xi, if you can fix this. We’re gonna do this.” What could that involve? Well, could we adjust have military exercises we do in Korea?” The Pentagon says, “No, we can’t possibly do that.” “Of course, we can.” “Can we adjust the arms sale we make for Taiwan?” “No, if we do that because of…” “Of course, we can.” “Can we be more aggressive or less aggressive on what’s happening in the South China Sea?” “No, we’re not gonna let our Navy be determined by whatever the Chinese…” “Of course, we can.”

Now all of those involve compromises. And we would be criticized. None of these are things that we would otherwise, but they may be things that we do if we were forced to try to think about, what are better options than the one we’re watching to play out? So, I would say yes.

Jonathan Movroydis: Final question we’ll get to… We’ll get to your questions. You talked a little about President Xi and President Trump. And you couldn’t have asked for a better a story from central casting. You also actually say that in your book. You make a couple of points in your book, you say that both Trump and Xi are driven by common ambition for their countries. They identified the nation ruled by the other as an obstacle to their dream. They take pride in their own leadership capabilities. They see themselves in the central role revitalizing their nation. They have announced daunting domestic agendas with radical changes. They fired up a populous national support and to drain the swamp of corruption in the country. What do you think the relationship holds in store for both these gentlemen?

Graham Allison: Okay. That’s a good question. So, this book was five years in the making. Thucydides did not have come for Xi Jinping and Mao. So that the story line of this book ends up analysis is not about Trump or Xi. This is about something fundamental that’s happening in the real world, independent of both. If this so happens, that now we have Xi as the leader of the rising power and Trump as the leader of ruling power. I think, again, if Thucydides was here, he would say, “This is exactly what I would expect. They both look like people that we might have chosen to play their roles, especially if things were gonna go bad, especially is things were gonna go bad.” 

Xi is a, I would say, the most remarkable leader on the international stage today. He’s established himself as the unipolar leader of China. They used to have a collective leadership, he’s taken everything into his own hands. Chinese say, “You know, you talk about CEOs. When we have the COE. COE is the chief of everything.” Every line runs to Xi. He now has consolidated his position. As I say, virtually, as the new emperor. And long before Trump talked about making America great again, in 2012, when Xi became president, he unfolds his banner for China. It’s called colloquially, make China great again. It’s called the great rejuvenation of the great Chinese people, that’s the words.

So, and it is the case that they could each see each other as the obstacle or their other’s country is the obstacle to achieving what they want. Chinese see us in their face. If you look at Trump’s campaign, China was the villain. So, now comes North Korea. I’d say to Trump’s credit, he at least has got it that something terrible is gonna happen in the next year on the North Korean shore. I mean, none of the outcomes is gonna be a good outcome, but two of them are gonna be very bad. One is we’re gonna attack him. And then he’s probably gonna attack Seoul. And then, we’ll probably gonna have a second Korean War. And Secretary Mattis has testified three times, each time before Congress. He says, “This war will be catastrophic.” Don’t think of this like the Iraqi war or something like that. Think of tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans getting killed in such a war. That’s what we’re talking about.

So, in the first Korean War, tens and thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Chinese, and millions of Koreans were killed. So, that’s what happened in 1950. And most of the Chinese were killed by Americans, and most of the Americans were killed by Chinese. So, we already had a war once before. So, there won’t be any other illusions, this is gonna be a terrible, terrible outcome. 

Is it better than having Kim Jon-un with nuclear weapons that he can deliver against San Francisco and Los Angeles, and in time, against Washington? So damned if you, damned if you don’t. These are two very bad outcomes. I think most of us will choose not war because war is so horrific, but we shouldn’t have any illusions about the first option. It’s not a very good option either. Which is why, again, the third option of China and U.S. working together somehow is the crucial one. Is it possible? 

Both of these folks have been historically underestimated. Xi Jinping rose quietly, in effect, in disguise. He was chosen to be president of China by a group. He thought he was just gonna be the spokesman for the standing committee. And lo and behold, pretty soon he had taken control of everything. 

Trump is the wildest wild card that we’ve seen in as an American president, at least in the recent event. But I think he’s frequently underestimated for the fact that… Look, this guy did beat Hillary Clinton. And before that, he beat all of the Republicans stalwarts to get the nominations. And before that, he created and manned an extremely successful reality TV show, which is, I’m sorry, that’s a very competitive business. Ask Arnold Schwarzenegger. He inherited the program for him, he is a great actor, politician, and he couldn’t make it work. So, again, I’m just…whether being a reality TV star and producer is good training for being president, that’s another subject, but this is a person that has got some savvy and wild, that he’s not generally, I think…they’re not generally appreciated. So, and he want to do a great job as president. He wants to make America great.

So, a war with China is not the way to do that, you can be sure. [Inaudible 01:08:11] and certainly Mattis, and McMaster, who’s the national security adviser tell him, “Mr. President, war would be catastrophic.” So, could he become inventive? You know, maybe. So, I would say, I’m still in the hopeful camp, even though I appreciate that that’s not the most likely.

Jonathan Movroydis: Graham Allison has agreed to answer some of your questions.

Graham Allison: Or to try it.

Jonathan Movroydis: First question right here.

Man: Great. Do you think that the Chinese president has the power to control the Koreans if he felt it was in his best interest?

Graham Allison: So, the answer, again, is yes and no. Let me then be specific. So, can he simply tell the North Koreans or Kim Jong-un, “do this, do that,” and they’ll do it? No. Is the relationship between the two extremely strained? Yes. No love lost by either of them. As I say, Xi called him “little fatty.” These two people have never spoken in five years. No person from Xi has gone and seen Kim Jong-n. He sent three or four emissaries and when they get there, he didn’t see them. Kim Jong-un has tried to visit China, which is, you know, he knows China is bigger than he is and is the big guy. He tried to visit there two or three times. Each time, they haven’t let him come. So, this is a stressed relationship. On the one hand… So, it’s not kinda like I just give you a command and then you do something. 

But on the other hand. If the oil that comes from North Korea to Pyongyang in this one oil pipeline is reduced, 90% of all the oil comes from there. The oils run their planes, their tanks, their trucks, their cars, their industry, everything. So, this will get their attention. Once before, in 2006, the Chinese that “interruption,” they called it. It was a technical thing, they said. But it was at a very critical moment for 36 hours where the oil, they said there was a problem and there’s not… Kim Jong-un’s father jumped to attention. he came very agreeable.

So, I think, yes, that if they were determined to do this, they could get him to stop testing, like, something limited. Now, if you said, “How about can he get him to eliminate all of his nuclear weapons?” I don’t think so. That could be a real mistake. I don’t think so. If I were Kim Jong-un’s adviser, I would say, “Don’t even think about it.” You can talk, talk, talk and say, “Maybe in the long run,” and whatever, whatever. But we’re gonna be dealing with this. This is a hard and complicated problem for a long time to come. But I still think, the difference between the North Korea that does not have the capability to strike the American homeland with nuclear weapons, and the one that does, is a difference worth working very hard to achieve.

Jonathan Movroydis: Next question. Front row? Over here.

Man: About six, eight years ago, I was in a meeting such as this, and Tony Blair was the speaker. And he spoke about 45 minutes about world affairs. He was not prime minister at that time. And then the Q & A came and he had…and the question, the very first question, he had not mentioned China in his entire talk, and the first question came up, “What about China?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know if I should worry about them a little bit or if I should worry about them a lot.” What do you think the prime minister would say today?

Graham Allison: I would say his question has been answered. I’ll even give you a Nixon line, which I have in the book. So, President Nixon was the crucial actor in the opening to China. Kissinger was his…Kissinger, one of my mentors, was his closest associate and Kissinger did most of the operational work, but the impulse came from Nixon. It was in an article even before he became president. So, excuse me, he had this idea for a long time. He explained the reasons why, I think he is also correct, that was crucial in, ultimately, the defeat of the “evil empire” in the Cold War, absolutely.

But after the end of the Cold War, after the Soviet Union disappeared, the U.S. just continued trying to build a bigger, stronger China. So, Nixon, the last year of his life, had his colleague, friend and speechwriter, Bill Safire, to come talk to him. And he said, “Safire, do you think maybe we created a Frankenstein in China?” So, he was already thinking, “Hey, wait a minute, these guys are gonna be big and strong. And, yes, we would like to have been nice to them when they were…” Look and see how big and strong they are. And look and see what they want to do and this is gonna be compatible with our vision. I would say, this is a good question.

Man: Thank you very much. I have a question. As you’re introducing your book that the Thucydides’s Trap have created the structural threat between the U.S. and China. And my question is that, how much of this structural threat do you think comes from the fact that China is catching up? And how much of them are just like miscommunication, misconceptions, between the two powers as you argued at the end of your book? And as the ideological difference also play a role in this? Thank you much.

Graham Allison: Thank you, very good question. So, Thucydides’s proposition is about the structural realities. And I think the structural realities in this case are the dominant story line. So, basically, it is the case that China is getting bigger and stronger relative to the U.S. It is the case whenever anybody perceive or doesn’t perceive the seesaw is shifting. And it is the case that China is building up its military capabilities to be able to push the American navy and the American military forces back from its borders, just in a very normal fashion. 

And it is the case that the Americans believe, I believe, that the order that the U.S. created in Asia in the aftermath of World War II, both the economic and the security order, was the best thing that ever happened to Asia in all of its history. So, that created the environment for all of the Asian miracles. And nobody benefited more from this than China. So, I’ve given speeches when I was in the government to Chinese and Korean, in fact, I say, “Wait. You folks should be appreciative of this. You would not have grown up to be big and strong but for what we did in providing this order. And actually, you should have supported, you should’ve helped pay for it.”

And Chinese say, “Well, even if I agreed with you,” and I think this serious Chinese understands that. He says, “It’s true. The U.S. did create this order. This order has been the best thing for Asia in all of its history in terms of people’s economic growth and their freedom.” But Chinese say, “Well, okay. Thank you very much. That was the end. Now is now We’re here now. So, butt out.” So, I would say that’s the structural reality now.

Secondly, Thucydides would say, in these conditions, where I know I know what you’re really about is trying to displace me. And you know that what I’m really about is trying to constrain you. Misperceptions, magnify, multiply. So then, even when you’re trying to be helpful, I suspect that you have an ulterior motive so I don’t really believe it. And when I’m trying to be helpful, you don’t really believe it. So, that, if you imagine the conversation between Xi and Trump, or between their advisors, do they believe what each other is saying? Do they believe what each other is suggesting?

I was in Beijing about eight weeks ago as in China since Xi Jinping talks about Thucydides’s Trap a lot, all of the policy community is a buzz with the topic. And I’m talking to a Chinese security official that I’ve known for a long time, and he says, “You know, to tell the truth, there would be no problem on the Korean Peninsula, except that you’re there.” I say, “That’s right. Kim Jong-un is the problem?”

He said, “No. Look at it. If the Americans were not there, this problem would not exist.” So, I said, “Tell me how do you make this out? He says, “If you weren’t there, there would be a unified Korea. And it would have a government that would be a tributary of ours. And we would not let them to have nuclear weapons any more than we will let Vietnam or Myanmar or some of the others. Of course, we would not let somebody have nuclear weapons, in our state, in our territory. So, you’re the problem.”

So, I said, “Well, thank you. I appreciate that view. But let me tell you my story. Hear me. My story is we didn’t volunteer to be in Korea. Your ally North Korea to attack South Korea in the 1950. We came to the rescue at the last minute. They almost captured the whole peninsula. We pushed North Koreans right up back to the peninsula, maybe we were a little exuberant and so we went across the 38th Parallel. We were punching your border, you came and attacked us. That was a tragedy. But we end up having to settle at the armistice, at the back of the 38th Parallel. But look and see what happened the last 60 years? Our guy is one of the wonders of the world. And your guy is one of the armpits of the world. So South Ko

rea is one of the most successful countries in the last 60 years. And so, market economy, it’s the 13th largest economy in the world. It’s a vibrant democracy. We’re very proud of South Korea. And North Korea is a good example of what happens in the communist totalitarian, you know, nuthouse.”

And he said, “Well, that’s the problem.”

Jonathan Movroydis: Any questions?

Man: I do. You talked about the inevitability of things that continue business as usual. So, what is not doing business as usual? What should we do different?

Jonathan Movroydis: Good question, very good question. So, I was testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the…it was Tuesday or Wednesday. And I said, felt the book and, I said. “This book would be very frustrating for Washingtonians, especially. Because in Washington, the day the template says you have to propose a solution in the same sentence in which you identify the problem.” and I said, “In my view, that’s one of our problems.”

So, this book is about diagnosis. Let’s get the facts of the situation or the analysis of the situation and face the structural conditions right. That’s the primary and overall writing objective here, not to propose a solution. In fact, and then in the conclusion I say, “I don’t think there’s a fix for this problem or there’s a “new strategy” that if just did this and did that, the problem goes right. I think we should think of this like a condition, like a chronic condition that you’re gonna have to cope with for a generation.” 

So, but then in the final chapter I say, “But, any case, therefore, what is your question?” And I say, “Extreme conditions of danger require extreme responses, including in particular, extreme imagination and extreme adaptability.”  And I hope that we can learn the lessons from both the failures and the successes to stimulate that process. So, I have the next to the last chapter called Twelve Clues for Peace that were extracted from the successes as well as the failures.

But just to be very specific, I think what we now need is a real burst of strategic imagination in addressing the problem. And I’m hoping that the book will contribute to that process. In which, we’ll start thinking of things way beyond the orthodox solution that we’ve been accustomed to with China, way beyond the box, in fact. And we should think of things far to the left of anything that’s currently in the public debate and far to the right of anything. So, I actually sketch a little spectrum and say, “Here’s something that will scare you to death on the left, and here’s something that’s gonna scare you to death on the right, and I’m not recommending either one of those, because I don’t know what the answer is. But I think, we should be thinking that far out, not just the one that we’ve been doing.

And if this didn’t seem to, “Oh, my God, that’s too hard.” We can’t do that. I’ll remind that this is exactly what we did in creating the Cold War strategy and that was one of the great, great moments of statecraft ever of any battle, certainly of us, but in any battle historically. So, just remind you with a footnote, April of 1946, so this is just one year after the end of World War II, George Kennedy, who was the ambassador in Moscow writes back something that historians know as the so called “long telegram.” And this is a brilliant piece of analysis that says, the Soviet Union will now pose a larger existential threat to America, the U.S. Then the Nazis did. This is April of 1946.

So, Truman reads this and he says, “This person must be ought of his mind. We just got through World War II. We just defeated the Nazis and the Japanese. We’re exhausted. We’re bringing the troops home.
We’ve stretched ourselves further than we can stretch ourselves. We’re even gonna try to have healthcare and then try to get well at home. So, don’t ever tell me about this kind of stuff. Go away,”

But this started a conversation. And within four years, we’d invented the most amazing strategy ever imagined. So, we have built the IMF and the World Bank and the global trading system with GATT, the global economic order. Truman had the Marshall Plan in 1947. Imagine somebody giving a speech, two years after the war, “I got another good idea. Why don’t tax people for 1.5% of our whole GDP per year for three years and send it to these Europeans including Germans who were just killing us.” You’re crazy, nobody is gonna do this. NATO, we created an alliance, George Washington tell us, “Stay away from alliances, they’ll get you in trouble.” An Article 5 of NATO says an attack on one is an attack on all.

We build the American military, the standing military, where before, you know, we had wars and then we went away then we come back. Basically…and there’s a political dimension. The whole thing was really…if anybody had proposed the whole Cold War strategy that emerges by 1950, so it’s a 3- or 4-year conversation that we get there in 1947, they would be put in an asylum. Okay. You’d say, “That’s completely crazy.”

So, I should say, now, we should hope, as a society, especially for the younger people here. This is a conversation that younger people are gonna make real contributions to because we should start thinking about things that are, at first blush, seem slightly crazy. That’s okay. They may not… You know, we can debate them, we can discuss them, we’re not gonna do anything, you know, quickly. So, I think the task is really for a surge of imagination.

Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you, Graham Allison for the fascinating talk. Please give Graham Allison a round of applause. As I said earlier, Graham Allison will be available in the lobby to sign your copy of “Destined for War.” You can pick them up in the museum store. Thank you again.

Graham Allison: I hope you read it and like it. Thank you.

Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you.