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Posts by Graham Allison

A Dark Day for the USA

Graham Allison

Graham Allison

By Graham Allison

Yesterday was a dark day for the United States.  When Richard Lugar lost the Republican primary election, not only did Indiana lose its senator of 38 years, but the nation was deprived of one of its greatest champions of bipartisan leadership on issues of war and peace.

Orwell wisely observed that we sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. But we are also able to enjoy the benefits of peace and civilization because far-sighted leaders take actions that prevent acts of terrible violence that would otherwise make our lives poor, nasty, brutish, and short. A prime example would be terrorists exploding a nuclear bomb in one of our cities. Read more

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Iraq: Would we choose war again?

Graham Allison

Graham Allison

By Graham Allison

If we had known then what we know now, would we choose war again?

In the real world, foreign policy-making often requires hard choices, sometimes between bad and worse.  After the fact, even the most objective analysts have difficulty determining what might have been.  Understandably, those who chose A rather than Z are not likely to be analytically objective in defending their views.  In the case of significant choices, they are fighting to shape a narrative that enhances their personal reputations, even their place in the history books, as well as fighting ongoing policy debates in which these choices are ammunition. Read more

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Kim Jong Il, the Great Negotiator

Graham Allison

Graham Allison

By Graham Allison

In today’s Boston Globe, I argue (half in jest) that, for his demonstration of how one of the weakest states on earth outfoxed the most powerful, Harvard consider Kim Jong-il, posthumously, for the 2011 Great Negotiator Award.

Kim out-negotiated President Bush on many fronts. President Bush’s unambiguous objective in dealing with Kim Jong-il was zero nuclear weapons.  Kim Jong-il’s objective was to build a nuclear arsenal without provoking an attack that threatened his regime.  When President Bush left office in January 2009, the score in this big game was Bush: 0, Kim Jong-il: 8. Read more

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9/11: Not just About Us

The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

Graham Allison

Graham Allison

By Graham Allison

Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

The 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that killed 3,000 people, innocents from more than 90 countries, is an appropriate occasion to reflect on an unhappy truth:  Al Qaeda has been, and remains, at war with civilized peoples everywhere in the world.  As Americans reflect on that fateful day, we should be clear that 9/11 is “not just about us.”

By any metric, 9/11 was the most catastrophic attack in Al Qaeda’s two-decades history.  It was not its first, however, nor its last.  Since 1992—when Al Qaeda targeted American troops in Aden, Yemen in a hotel bombing that ended up killing 2 Australians—Al Qaeda has killed 5,000 people worldwide.  A chart published by the Economist in May provides a summary of Al Qaeda attacks and casualties that span four continents. Read more

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UN-thanizing the Conference on Disarmament

By Graham Allison

By Graham Allison

This week’s announcement that North Korea has become the chair of the UN Conference on Disarmament should become the peg for euthanizing this body, giving it the burial it deserves, and getting real about the current state of global nuclear disorder.

The international community’s acceptance of this absurdity is appropriately incomprehensible to observers who take nuclear dangers seriously. Supporters of multilateral initiatives and the establishment of international organizations to address international challenges that states cannot possibly solve by acting alone should also take this as an occasion for reflecting about what UN efforts such as the Conference on Disarmament contribute, or fail to contribute, to international problem-solving. In three decades, what meaningful actions has this body taken to reduce nuclear dangers? Read more

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Let allies lead in challenging Qaddafi

By Graham Allison

By Graham Allison

The Obama Administration must be congratulated for its extraordinary diplomatic successes that resulted in yesterday’s victory at the United Nations Security Council, and the full endorsement of a no-fly zone over Libya by the Arab League.  The issue at this point is whether the cavalry will arrive in time.

As I wrote in a recent Huffington Post op-ed, I believe the right position for the U.S. is: no-fly zone, yes; U.S. lead, no.

My central point is that the focus of the debate for the past two weeks has basically been addressing the wrong issue.  The Administration has been agonizing over the question of whether the U.S. should lead a No Fly Zone.  My answer: no.  But that is not the end of the story. Read more

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The Arab World’s 1989? Who’s next?

By Graham Allison and Joseph Costa

By Graham Allison and Joseph Costa

The wave of uprisings in the Middle East surprised everybody from regional experts and government intelligence agencies to investment banks and geopolitical consulting firms. Since our original February 18th posting, we have seen Libya ignited in war. Bahrain and Yemen continue to quake.  Saudi Arabia is actively working to ensure its own streets do not erupt. U.S. officials and others are hoping that the infection will spread to the heart of Tehran.

A core question remains: from which country (or countries) will the current leader (king, president, prime minister, or head of state by any other title) be out within the next 2 months?  Within the next 6 months? To assist in answering this question, we previously posted a chart with an array of indicators of potential instability. We thank those readers who provided helpful feedback on ways to improve this first iteration and we are posting an updated version below. Read more

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The Arab World’s 1989? Authoritarians’ 1989? Who’s next?

By Graham Allison and Joseph Costa

By Graham Allison and Joseph Costa

No one watching recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond can fail to be both amazed and awed.  Serious observers have also been puzzled—much more so—than a reader of the punditry would infer.

Hindsight is always 20-20.  But look ahead.  From which country (or countries) will the current leader (king, president, prime minister, or head of state by any other title) be out within the next 2 months?  Within the next 6 months? Read more

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Disagreeing with Joe Nye

By Graham Allison

By Graham Allison

As a colleague who has been learning from Joe Nye for many years, I join the chorus applauding his latest in a string of pearls of wisdom about power in international affairs.  The Future of Power is a must-read.  Imaginatively, judiciously, Joe tours the horizon of current debates and offers thoughtful, policy-relevant advice.

From questions about the rise of China and decline of the U.S., to cybersecurity and changing metrics of power in 21st century international affairs, he advances the debate. (Read Joseph Nye’s inaugural Power & Policy blog post)

With so much to agree with, what’s to disagree?  While my major difference is more one of emphasis than fundamentals, let me overstate it for the sake of clarity.  Consider the core question: what is the single biggest threat to American power today? Read more

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Welcome to Power & Policy

By Graham Allison

By Graham Allison

Welcome to the Power & Policy blog, being launched today by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School.

The purpose of this online forum is to advance policy-relevant knowledge about the exercise of American power in the world today. We are pleased to have an exceptional team of contributors with decades of experience thinking about, and executing, U.S. foreign policy. Power & Policy aims to illuminate the role of American power through disciplined policy analysis and prescription.

In the weeks that follow, each contributor will address specific policy issues, helping to define the problem, clarify policy objectives, and distill the facts and assumptions used to estimate advantages and cons of policy alternatives. The blog also will invite guest contributions and encourage reader comments, aiming to generate a robust conversation on these critical issues.

Through this undertaking, we hope to provoke new ideas, sharpen arguments, and gain a deeper understanding of the exercise of power, and America’s unique role in the world.

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