Graham Allison: “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape […]” | Talks at Google

Graham Allison: “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape […]” | Talks at Google

very much for coming. And I look forward to
a lively discussion. I was– I guess
this is the 13th day of the rollout of the new book. It’s called “Destined for War:
Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?” I was out on the
West Coast last week, actually did an event
in Silicon Valley with the Andreesen
Horowitz folks, to which some Google people came. And I mentioned at the
event that basically I’m a big fan of Silicon
Valley, and it’s even more– it’s Boston based equivalents,
since this is where I live, and the ways in which you’re
blowing my mind almost every day, or every
week, or every month, with products that I
couldn’t have imagined, of which Google is
kind of a poster child. But I hope that what I’m going
to do in the next 20 minutes is expand your mind a
little bit about some things that you may not
have thought about, but that which
are likely to have great consequence for your lives
and for actually your activity. So most of you are too young
to imagine that there could be wars between great powers. I teach at Harvard, as
I’ve done for a long time. Students say, well no, no,
that’s a last century thing. It’s been seven decades
since World War II without great power
war, so great power wars have been consigned to the
dustbin of history, move on. To which the answer is
that’s historically ignorant. And this seven decade
without great power war is historically an anomaly. Indeed there’s a
great essay written by a Yale historian,
John Gaddis, about the so-called long
peace, and how anomalous it is. So before I’m done, I hope
I will have persuaded you that if that’s what you
thought when you came in, you should think again, that
wars between great powers are possible, maybe even a
lot more possible than you would have imagined. And if there were to
be a great power war, your lives will
change fundamentally. What you’re working on
will change fundamentally. What you’re thinking about
will change fundamentally. You might even be drafted to
have to go fight somewhere where you wouldn’t like to be. And if that seems
incredible, you should try to think
back 100 years ago. I think one of the
ways of locating yourself is to think what was
going on 100 years ago today, or this month. A hundred years ago,
Europe was consumed by the first great
war, a war that was so devastating
that at the end of it, historians felt
obliged to create an entirely new category. That’s why if you Google
it, it says World War, and it’s was called World War I. Now World War I was not
just that it encompassed so many people and
so many countries, but that it was so
ultimately devastating. At the end of it, about 25
million people had perished. And the Americans
actually had just entered World War I two
months ago, in April of 1970. So you can go back
and look at it, and think a little bit
about it, and think, well, what if I were living in 1970. What would I be thinking about? What would be my orientation? What would I be
having to work on? What [INAUDIBLE]? So in any case, that’s
the big picture. This is about China,
and the US, and today. And I’m going to do three
questions, three big questions. I’ll give you three tweet
versions of an answer, so that you’ve got the picture. And then I’ll do a little
elaboration on each. So first question, what
is the geopolitical event of your lifetime to date? So let’s imagine you
were born in 1990, let’s say, a little
after or a little before. So over the last 25 years. What’s the big, big,
big, geopolitical event? And the tweet
version of the answer is that it’s the rise of China. The second question, what will
be the geo strategic challenge for the rest of your
professional life, for today, and as far as any eye can see? And the tweet version
is that that’s the impact of the rise
of China on the US and the international order
that the US constructed in the aftermath of World
War II, and has maintained, that principally
accounts for the fact that there’s been seven decades
without any great power war. So the impact of
the rise of China on the US and the
international order. And the third question is
the subtitle of the book, can America and China
escape Thucydides’ trap? And the answer is– excuse me for being professorial
real, but that’s my job– no, and yes. So what about no? No– if we, in the relations
between the US and China, this year, and next
year, and the year after, only see business
as usual, then we should expect history as usual. And history as usual in
this case would be a war and it would be catastrophic. And that’s pretty plain
for everybody to see. So that’s no, OK. But yes, as the saying
goes, only those who fail to study history
are condemned to repeat it. So we’re not required by
some iron law of history to repeat mistakes that
people made that led them into World War I. We’re not
required to repeat mistakes that lead into World War II. And we can learn from
the cases in which states have successfully averted
war, lessons that we can apply in the current instance. So that’s my three tweet
versions, a little bit more on the lot. So start with Thucydides. For most American audiences,
I’ve been now 13 days doing this. I have a little
bit of experience, especially for
radio call-in shows. Yes, this is multi-syllabic. I know that in your Google
efforts to communicate, you can get people down to a
single syllables, or at least two. And yes, it’s a mouthful. And it’s a little
difficult to pronounce. But a group like this should
know who Thucydides is. If he’s not part of your mental
canon, part of your library that helps orient you,
you’ve missed a big thing and a big opportunity. So just to make sure we all
know how to pronounce his name, let me remind you,
it’s Thu-ci-di-dees– Thucydides. So let’s say it
out loud together– Thucydides,
Thucydides, Thucydides. So you should not
stumble over that. Yes, multi-syllabic,
yes complicated, but he should be
somebody you know. And actually, in
this wonderful world today, you can go
download Thucydides “Great History of the
Peloponnesian War,” for free and just read the
first 100 pages. And if it doesn’t knock your
socks off, I’ll be surprised. I’ll be very surprised,
brilliant book. Thucydides, who is that? Well, you can Google him. You’ll find he was the
founder and father of history. So he’s the person who defined
the discipline of history, which is getting the facts
about what happened right so that other people can read
about it them, and learn what happened, and learn
the lessons from them. So the founder of history,
he wrote about the conflict, the competition
and then conflict between the two
great city-states of classical Greece,
Athens and Sparta. And he wrote most
famously, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that
this instilled in Sparta that made the war inevitable.” So Thucydides’ trap,
which is a term I coined, takes Thucydides insight,
and Thucydides’ trap says when a rising power threatens
to displace a ruling power, basically shit happens– alarm bells should
sound, danger ahead. I looked in this book at the
last 500 years of history. And I give you in the appendix
little potted plant versions of 16 cases, where if you
go to the Thucydides’ Trap website, which is up
live, we’re actually inviting additional cases. These are 16 cases
over the last 500 years in which a rising power
threatened to displace a major ruling power. In 12 of these cases,
the outcome was war. In four of the cases,
the outcome was no war. So Thucydides’ line
about inevitable, that’s an exaggeration,
that’s hyperbole, exaggeration for the
sake of emphasis. He just means
likely, very likely. So 12 of the cases ended
in war, four of the cases ended in no war. And what the book
does is try to look at both the failures
and the successes for lessons that might
be relevant for us today. So to think about this dynamic– actually this came up in
the discussion last week in Silicon Valley– I think for you
all, probably you should think of an
incumbent and a upstart, a disruptive upstart. So what happens? So basically, a rising
power feels like I’m bigger, I’m stronger, my interests
deserve more weight. I deserve more say,
I deserve more sway. Actually, the
current arrangements are discriminating against me,
because they were established before I was even a player. So things need to adjust. I’m being confined. So think of Uber and
the taxi industry. Think of Google when
it was an upstart. Actually, Google
now is interesting because, you live on
both sides of this fence. You’re a upstart in some
domains, where you’re trying to disrupt some
incumbent, and at the same time you’re looking
over your shoulder where you’re an
incumbent in some spaces, finding Baidu or somebody,
coming to see what they can do. So what does the
ruling power think? Well, the ruling power
thinks this is natural. The way things are
it’s good, maybe even the way they should be. The status quo has
provided an environment in which actually you, upstart,
have had a chance to grow up. So we say to the Chinese, quite
reasonably, how in the world have you had seven decades
of peace in which you’ve had the opportunity to grow in
the manner in which you have? I mean, actually, it’s
because of us, because of the order we provided. You should be grateful. But in general, upstarts are
not grateful for the conditions that the incumbent provided
And in general, the incumbent, their entreaties don’t end
up having that much impact. So think about this
as a general dynamic. Indeed, I even described
it in the book as– if you can see– this is a version of
hierarchical dominance systems that you can see in
the animal kingdom. Take for example gorillas,
with an alpha gorilla, who’s the dominant,
and the want to be. You can even see in
families, as one child who’s shorter than the other
one, all of a sudden sprouts. And pretty soon,
the taller child, when they sit down at the
dinner table, talks more, thinks he has more to say. Maybe even wants to discuss
whether the bedrooms have been appropriately
allocated, who knows what. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – Well, first, I want to make
a comment about this track. I find it difficult,
because I don’t know how to pronounce that name. – You know, the Thucydides
trap that people talk about. – The so-called Thucydides trap. – The Thucydides trap. – Thucydides trap. – Thucydides trap. – Thucydides trap. – The Thucydides trap. [END PLAYBACK] GRAHAM ALLISON: OK, so, we
can have fun pronouncing it. We put up in conjunction
at the website, look who’s talking
about Thucydides and the various ways in
which they mush it up. But this group is going
to be sophisticated. And when somebody
else is pausing over the title of the book,
you tell them Thucydides. That’s not hard to say– Thucydides. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – The committee meets today
to consider the nomination of General James Mattis to
be the Secretary of Defense of the United States. – I thank both Senator Nunn and
Senator Cohen for being here. – He’s probably the only
one here at this table who can hear the
words Thucydides trap and not have to go to Wikipedia. – Of course, Secretary Cohen
has insulted every member of this committee by suggesting
that we don’t readily understand that. – We’re going to have to manage
that competition between us and China. There’s another piece
of wisdom from antiquity that says fear,
honor, and interest always seem to be
the root causes of why a nation chooses
to go to hostilities. [END PLAYBACK] GRAHAM ALLISON: Well,
that’s another hot line from two Thucydides
“Peloponnesian War,” why do nations go to war? Interests, fear,
honor, and respect, that I should be given the
deference that I’m due. This idea, this concept, as I
published an article about it about four years
ago, and then I’ve been working on this book,
five years in the making– Xi Jinping, the
President of China is very interested in this
idea and argues about it or discusses it often,
insisting, rightly, that it’s not necessary to
be caught in Thucydides trap. And President Obama has
opined on the subject as well. We’re still waiting to see what
we hear from President Trump, though his National Security
Adviser, H.R. McMaster, as well as the Secretary of
Defense, Jim Mattis, are quite familiar
with the idea. And I’ve actually
discussed it with them. So that’s the basic idea. Thucydides trap, a
rising power threatens to displace a ruling power. In general, bad things
happen, but not necessarily. So that’s the big intro. Let me be very quick
about a little bit on the rise of China, and
then a little bit more about what to do. So go back to the
first question, the geopolitical event of your
lifetime, the rise of China. So some of you will be
familiar with this bridge. I’m very familiar
with it since it connects the Harvard Business
School and the Harvard Kennedy School, and often
produces a traffic jam that I’ve spent
too much time in. So renovation of this bridge
began, the discussion of it, while I was still dean
at the Kennedy School. I quit being dean in 1988. The construction project
actually began in 2012. It was a two year project. Then it was announced to be
a three year project, then a four year project. They’ve given up announcing
the completion date. So now if you go to the website,
it just says question mark. And it’s already three
times over budget. There’s a bridge in Beijing
that’s called Sanyuan Bridge. I’ve been across this bridge. Actually, I’ll go cross it
next week when I’m in China. They began to renovate
this bridge in 2015. It’s three times larger
than the Anderson Bridge. How long does it take to
complete the renovation? Take a guess. How long? How long? How much? 43 hours. You can watch it. Go to YouTube. Forty three hours, and
see the timeline on it. Now, of course, they work
hard, and they work at night. But if they would come and
fix the Anderson Bridge now, I would pay. And I think some of you
have seen the BU Bridge or your own versions of this. So that’s China. So a country that
in 1990, when you– about when you were born,
or a few years after– didn’t appear on any
international league chart. By 2014, it was declared
the largest economy in the world by the best
yardstick for measuring and comparing
national economies, purchasing power parity. And on the current trajectory
will be half again larger than the US in 2024. What? This doesn’t make any sense. So in my class at
Harvard, I give people a quiz with 26 indicators. This is an abbreviated
version from the book. So when will China
become number one? Auto maker, trading nation,
middle class, billionaires, fastest supercomputer,
AI, primary engine of economic growth. Generally, Harvard
students guessed 2040, 2050, not in my lifetime. Then I give them a second
chart, which says already. Basically, all this
already happened. Vaclav Havel, who was the
President of the Czech Republic, has a great line
that I quote in the book. He says things have happened
so fast that we have not yet had time to be astonished. So if you have not seen China in
your face, you are not looking. If you haven’t seen China
in your space, just wait. Because in every domain, the
Chinese people have awakened, they are emerging. They’re proud of
what they’re doing. And all the lines about,
well, they can only copy, I would say go look at
Alibaba’s pay system. Only copies, I don’t think so. Well, they can only– go, take your line only,
and go look around. And it mainly is because I
think you haven’t looked to see. This is extremely
creative people. I think they’re emerging
with a lot of enthusiasm. They’re very hungry. And I think everywhere,
in every way, you’re going to see
the impact of China. So that puts me to the second
question that I started with, what’s the great geo
strategic challenge? And it’s the impact,
the impact, of the rise of China on the US and
the international order. So I was testifying to the
Senate Armed Services Committee about this. A former student of mine is the
ranking Democrat, Jack Reed. And he said, you’ve got to
make this simple, very simple. So I sent him 10 pages. And he said, no, simple, simple. I sent him five pages. He said, nope. So I finally did a cartoon. So this is a seesaw. I imagine, this is now 2004. US is on one end of the seesaw. Chinese is on the other end. At this point, China’s about
20% the size of the US. 2004, excuse me, you were
alive then, even awake, yeah? 2014, China is equal to the US. 2024, substantially larger. So, basically, think of
the seesaw just moving. Now in the Obama administration,
the big debate about Asia, and the thing that President
Obama features actually in his swan song about what
was accomplished in the Obama foreign policy, was the
so-called pivot to Asia. You’ve heard about that. So go Google it. The pivot to Asia
said we’re putting too much weight
on our left foot, in the Middle East, where
we were fighting wars. And we need to
lighten there, to put more weight on our right
foot, in Asia, where the future’s going to be. So there we were
trying to do this. And I say in the
book, and I think this is correct, that all
the time we’re arguing about that, we don’t seem to notice
that our feet have just lifted off the ground. So this is a tectonic
shift in basically the principal
substructure of power in the World, economic power. It’s not the only measure. I give you a number of
other measures in the book. So that’s been happening. And the impact of that on
China, as it emerges and feels its oats, and the US, as
we think, wait a minute, we are the dominant
power in the world. We have provided the
international order. The international
rule-based order has provided seven
decades of peace. China should take its place
in this and be comfortable. That’s what we say. But the Chinese
say, excuse me, we have something to
say about this. We were not consulted when
these rules were written. We didn’t set the
set of arrangements. So just to conclude
here, as we see the impact of the rise
of China on the US, the place where this comes the
closest to coming to a head is in North Korea today. So if I were picking a
path from here to war– I have a chapter
in the book called “From Here to War,
Five Scenarios” to get from where we are
now to a war between– with thousands of Americans and
Chinese killing each other– with no leaps, only short
steps, step by step. But the one that’s most
dangerous is North Korea. Most of you will
remember that Xi Jinping met with President Trump in
Mar-a-Lago about six weeks ago. At that meeting the principal
message from President Trump was North Korea is a threat
we are not going to tolerate and you’ve got to
solve this problem. So what’s the issue? The issue is as follows. North Korea, this isolated
impoverished state, will, in the months ahead,
not longer than a year or two, for sure, test an
ICBM that will allow it to deliver a nuclear warhead
against San Francisco or Los Angeles. That’s hard to believe,
but that’s a fact. North Korea already can
deliver a nuclear warhead against Japan. North Korea can already
delivered a nuclear warhead against South Korea. So that’s already happened. That’s already a fact. So in the months
ahead, it’s going to conduct tests that
will allow it to deliver, or it’s somehow going
to be interrupted. So when President Trump
first heard of this, it was in the handoff
between President Obama and President-Elect Trump. Trump said I never heard
of this before in my life. And the answer, most
Americans haven’t. But Obama said, I’m
sorry, but that’s the facts, that’s the problem
you’re going to have to face. Trump went out immediately and
tweeted not going to happen. Maybe Obama let
these things happen, and maybe Bush let
these things happen, and maybe Clinton let these
things happen, but not Trump. This is not going to happen. And every day since then, he’s
been saying and repeating. So at the Mar-a-Lago summit,
what he said to Xi Jinping was you can solve this problem. But if you don’t
solve this problem, I can solve this problem. But if I do, you’re
not going to like it. And then he served chocolate
cake at the opening dinner, excused himself, and
went out and announced that the US had launched 50
cruise missiles against Syria, just in case you
missed the point. So can the US deliver cruise
missiles against North Korea to prevent it conducting
tests that could launch ICBMs? Absolutely. Can we do that successfully? No question about it. The question is what does
North Korea do in response? And the most likely response
would be an attack on Seoul. They’d kill a million
people in 24 or 48 hours. Whereupon, the US will
then, with South Korea, destroy all the additional
artillery and rockets that could kill even more
people in South Korea. Whereupon, we have
the second Korean War. And most of you
probably don’t even remember from your history
books what happened in the first Korean War. In the first Korean War,
the US was marching rapidly towards China’s border,
going to unify the country under South Korea’s control. The Chinese entered the
world, beat the US back down the peninsula to
the 38th parallel, which is the
dividing line today. And in that war, thousands
of Americans and thousands of Chinese died. So could we see a
second Korean War? I think, God forbid, we could. Now could you imagine, the
US and China, Trump and Xi, sitting down and saying let’s
be adults and figure out a solution to this problem? I think you could. But this problem arises in
the context of this Thucydides dynamic, in which, because
we look at the Chinese and think really
what they want is for us to just be out of here. And that is what they want. I mean, I spent two days doing
a post-mortem on Mar-a-Lago with some of the Chinese
and some of the Americans who were there. And they said if
you were not there, we wouldn’t have this problem. So just leave. And we say, wait a minute. South Korea is one of the
most successful countries in the world. South Korea is a
poster child of what we are hoping to see in the world. South Korea is a democracy. South Korea is a market economy. South Korea has the 13th
largest economy in the world. It’s a fantastic success story. We’re not going anywhere. This is part of the order
that’s the order of Asia. And if we were to
walk away from there, what’s going to happen to the
whole international structure? So under those
conditions is zero trust. Everything, each
thing any party– either of the parties
does is misinterpreted. So you try to do
something helpful, and I think you have
an ulterior motive. And then external
events, like Kim Jong-un deciding to launch a
missile, it triggers a set of actions and reactions
that get people to where they don’t want to go. So to conclude, what
is the big idea? Big idea, Thucydides’ trap. Rising power
threatens to displace ruling power, basically
serious structural stress that allows external events,
or external actors, who would otherwise be
inconsequential or easily manageable to trigger cascades
of consequences that get you to places you don’t want to go. And the big takeaway
from this is we should be serious about
avoiding preventable wars. If this war happens– I pray it won’t– but if a
war between the US and China happens in your lifetime, it
will not be because of the iron laws of history. It will be because of
mistakes that people made. And because of
mistakes that they make that they
could have avoided. So the object of
the book is to try to help stimulate a great debate
about what we should be doing in a more imaginative fashion
to get beyond the business as usual, which is how I
characterize what we have been doing for the last 20 years. So that’s once over lightly. I’m happy to take the arguments
and discussions on all topics. AUDIENCE: It seems like
it’s easiest to get concrete around a specific scenario. So it’s valuable for you to
have brought up the possibility of a second Korean War. The first Korean War,
as you described it, with China having
entered it, and being many Americans
and Chinese dying, that was not due to
Thucydides’ trap, right? GRAHAM ALLISON: It’s just
another war for another set of dynamics, yes. AUDIENCE: So it seems like
there’s nothing that– the motives would be similar
if it were to happen again. And it’s not related
to the fact that China is a growing power, right? If the scenario played out
as you say as you said, that’s not because
they’re a growing power and they think they need
to change the world order. It’s just territorial
issues, the same as it would be in the
first Korean War, right? GRAHAM ALLISON:
Well, yes and no. So I would say it certainly
is a very good question. So in the first case– just again, for people
that don’t remember, and you obviously
have read about it– but, basically, in
1950, North Korea attacked South Korea,
just out of the blue. That the country was divided
where it is currently. North Korea attacked
South Korea, and almost captured
the whole peninsula. Americans came to the rescue
at the very last minute. MacArthur was in Japan
with a division of troops, because this was just five years
after the end of World War II. The American troops pushed
the North Koreans right back up the peninsula and across
the 38th parallel, which is the dividing line today,
as it had been before, and were rapidly approaching
the Chinese border. The Americans thought
it was inconceivable that China, which Mao was just
barely consolidating control of China after a
long civil war, would think of attacking the US. The US was the world supremo. Five years earlier, we
had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just
next door, to end World War II. So the idea that some little
country, 150th our size, would attack us
was inconceivable. They did, and lo and
behold, as I said, they beat us and
pushed us back down. That had nothing to do with any
Thucydides dynamic, for sure, for sure. In this case, if I
imagine we didn’t have that Thucydides
dynamic, which creates such a degree of
mistrust, and misunderstanding, and makes it so difficult
for adult behavior, I believe that we could,
China and America, resolve the North Korean
problem fairly easily. So in the book, I even try to
imagine an adult supervisor. I do this in my class at
Harvard from time to time. I say, remember in
international relations, there are no adult supervisors. This is a jungle. So there’s nobody superior to
Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. Nobody that can just
say guys, hello. But let’s imagine there were. So there’s a
Martian strategists, and she parachutes
down to Mar-a-Lago, and sits down, and says
guys, sit down for a minute. I’m just going to
tell you a few things. She could easily say this
problem can be solved. This is this little
pipsqueak country. It’s going to drag the
two of you into a war? This would be stupid,
I mean really stupid. Now, you would have to
stand back a little bit. You probably would have to
adjust some things that you would otherwise imagine
you want to hold onto, but let’s talk about
ways of solving this. So if this was
Britain and the US, and the problem was
created by Ireland, this would be easily solved. But in the cases in which you
have a Thucydides dynamic, external events are able to
have this exaggerated impact. AUDIENCE: Thank you. GRAHAM ALLISON: Please, sir. AUDIENCE: Your
book and your talk raises a whole set of
issues around China and the US as actors. And one view is to think
of those issues assuming that China and the US are
each monolithic actors. I want to offer you a whole
collection of new issues, and let you take a pick
of which ones to tackle, that drill down a layer. The US is not monolithic. There’s multiple power centers. There’s multiple political
divisions and personalities, individually. I don’t know about China, but
I assume there’s something below the surface there. When you talk about
we can solve this, we can learn the lessons
of history, who are the we? What are the power centers? Who needs to be educated? And when you look at your
table of 16 cases of which went to war, and
which did not, what do we learn about the dynamics
of the internal politics and powers of those
nations and how they contribute to the outcome? GRAHAM ALLISON:
You see me smiling because actually the
first book I ever wrote called “Essence of Decision:
Explaining the Cuban Missile Crises,” which some of you
probably have looked at, makes up this argument
that while mostly we think about
international relations as if it were a game
between two monolithic chess players, or billiard
balls, it’s sometimes said, that in fact
desegregating the actors to the large organizations
of which they’re components, or even in a third frame that
I offer, desegregating them into the individual human beings
who are players, who may have quite contrary views, are
also necessary if you’re going to try to
understand the actions of this so-called monolith. So this book has model one,
model two, and model three, and shows how by using
them, you can better understand what happened in
the Cuban Missile Crisis. So in this case, I love the
idea of taking them and working your way down. The book does not do that. It says– again the book
would not be 270 pages, it would be considerably longer. But in the case of
the US, obviously it matters a whole lot who is
the president, because he’s the biggest player and gets
the biggest set of choices. So if I go back to the
Cuban Missile Crisis just for that
analog, John Kennedy was president in his first– in April of 1961, four
months into office. He authorized an
invasion of Cuba, this so-called Bay of Pigs,
which was catastrophic. A bunch of Cuban
refugees trained by CIA and was CIA instructors
invaded Cuba and were captured. And it was a total mess. A year and a half later, in
the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the US found the
Soviet Union installing nuclear tipped
missiles in Cuba, he conducted an exercise,
which was still one of the great performances
and brilliant imaginative type diplomacy. But if the Kennedy
of the first year– if the Cuban Missile Crisis had
occurred in John F. Kennedy’s first year, there’s
no question whatever we would have gone to nuclear
war with the Soviet Union. Because a novice,
even a novice who’s been a senator, trying to
operate the US government doesn’t really understand
how things work. Now, in the case
of Trump, you have a person who doesn’t know
anything about the government before, and having to learn
entirely new situations. I say you have him. Then you have the principal
players around him. And I think there’s a lot
of comfort in the fact that in H.R. McMaster,
the National Security Adviser, you’ve got a
seasoned professional who’s very independent minded,
and Jim Mattis, who we saw in the video, you’ve
got a seasoned warrior, who’s very professional. In Tillerson,
you’ve got a person who’s got a significant
international vision. So they’re are also players. You then have the
military establishment. The military establishment
has developed capabilities that are just magical. I’m a Defense Department type. So the US has the
finest military that the world has ever seen. Any target, anywhere in the
world that Google can find, we can destroy. And actually, we
can do a better job than that in terms
of the coordinates. So that’s for destroying things. So we have a whole
toolbox of hammers, and we can nail any target. Unfortunately, most of the
problems in the world cannot be solved as if they were
a nail with a hammer. That’s a problem. That’s a problem when you
end up having your best hope in the structure of
the government’s decision making military people, because
military people or defense types come thinking look,
excuse me, we have hammers, we need to find a nail. So I would say that’s
for desegregating the US side of it. On the Chinese side, Xi Jinping,
If we just take the year ahead, he is the Supremo in an
authoritarian system. But it’s not totalitarian,
and not everything, not all power runs through him. His big idea this
year is getting through what’s called the
19th Party Congress, which is an event that will occur
this fall, where he’s going to win a second term of
office, a second five-year term as president. But more importantly,
he’s going to try to put in place a
standing committee, which are seven people
who were supposed to be the collective
leadership, even though he’s pretty much excluded them now. And he’s called the COE,
the Chief of Everything. So he tries to run everything,
and all the power verticals are going to him. He’s going to have a standing
committee, in which there is no obvious successor. So that he’ll be able
to look at runway of 15 or even 20 years, because he
has an agenda that he thinks is going to be that long to run. So you would have
to desegregate that. You look at this, and you
say, in this structure, is there anybody who thinks
war on the Korean peninsula is a good idea? No. Is this a good thing? Yes. So there’s not one
person in China who thinks war with
the US is a good idea. That’s great. Nor in the US, with China. So we could work our way
down this piece by piece, and I’d be happy to
talk about it after, because it’s a topic that
excites my imagination. But in this book,
I try to do it– I just have to do it
at the first level. Please sir– AUDIENCE: Not everybody at
Google was born after 1990. GRAHAM ALLISON:
Thank goodness, yes. Actually, I had Eric Schmidt
over visiting me a month ago, and he said that yes,
there were a few stars that were, not my age, but
in any case, your age. AUDIENCE: So one thing that
bothers me, or has worried me for a long time, is the
so-called long peace. The fact that the
whole generation that had any experience
at all with World War II is pretty much gone. So we have nobody left who
has any direct experience with World War. And just on the topic of
the American military magic, you know one of the
wars of my lifetime was the Vietnam War, where the
sense of American arrogance about the capabilities
of the military was pretty well shattered,
although we seem to have lost a lot of those
lessons in Afghanistan, Iraq, whatever. That’s just a throwaway comment. That’s not my real question. My real question has to do
with nuclear weapons, actually. And you know, I grew up during
the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. And by the way, the
key geopolitical event of my lifetime before
the rise of China was clearly the collapse
of the Soviet Union. That is by far the
most important thing. But I vividly remember
the Cuban Missile Crisis and how frightening
it was to everybody. And how, you know, close we
actually came to nuclear war at that time. My sense though is that
throughout the Cold War, mutually assured
destruction really did work. Maybe you disagree with this. You’re an expert on
this subject, I’m not. But really kind of
did work, in the sense that whenever things got close
enough to really threaten nuclear war, both sides
ultimately did back off. And my sense is that it was
that understanding– and again, people at that time
knew about Hiroshima, had been through that– but that was the
understanding that this would be the end of the world,
basically, at least the world as we knew it. So here’s my question, in the
rising conflict between the US and China, is there still a
sense that nuclear weapons provide a sort of mutually
assured destruction that could play a role
in keeping the lid on, so to speak, in terms of a new,
really, totally destructive World War breaking out? If it does, and if
we’re not really likely to see nuclear war develop
between the US and China, although of course, North
Korea is a complete wildcard. But if it does, then– I haven’t read your
book, you’ve said you have scenarios
advancing toward war– what kind of war are
we looking at if it’s a war that will not be a
totally destructive nuclear war? Is this going to be a
war that’s a cyber war? Or is it going to be a war
that’s actually a military arms war? GRAHAM ALLISON: I’ve got it. Good, it’s a great
question and I could go on for a long time about it. But given that we have a
number, let me try to be brief. Your first point, just
your preface, I agree with. Because it’s been so long
since there has been a war, and all the people who saw
great wars, basically are gone, there’s a temptation to think
wars have been consigned to the dustbin of history,
as I said, and therefore complacency. So complacency,
a very big worry. Secondly, arrogance
in the US military is absolutely,
absolutely a problem. And actually, in this
rise versus rule, the rising power thinks our
forces are so great that nobody can possibly challenge them. We say, for example, you know,
China, my goodness, we’ve been investing
five times as much as they have per year
for the last 25 years. So they can’t catch up. But we failed to notice, you
don’t have to play the game– you don’t have to replicate. You can play it asymmetrically. So I build a billion dollar,
multibillion dollar, carrier. And you develop a million
dollar missile that can kill it. So if you can play
million dollar missiles against my billion
dollar carriers. China is not investing in
all of the legacy systems that the US continues
building and buying. So I would say again,
there’s a danger there. But the fundamental question,
mutual assured destruction, the answer is yes. In the case of the US
and the Soviet Union, the fact that once we had
each developed arsenals so big that after you attack me
and do your best to disarm me, I can still kill
you, that creates what’s called mutually
assured destruction. And that becomes a fundamental
fact about life for the two of us, if we keep it in
mind, and if we deal with it. And that’s now a fact, not just
in our relations with Russia, but in our relations with China. Now in the book, I
described this, as if– in a grotesque analogy,
but if you think about it– it’s as if you and I
wake up tomorrow morning, and we each have our
head, we have our arms, but our backbone and
our respiratory systems have been unified. And we therefore
are Siamese twins. And now you look at me and you
say, well, this guy is evil. This guy is dangerous. This guy is delirious. This guy deserves
to be strangled. But then you think about,
well, if I strangle him, in the next minute, I will
have committed suicide. So it’s like a suicide pact. But one that you
can’t get out of. In that case, yes, indeed,
as in the Cold War, that creates a caution, even
a willingness to compromise. So that’s on the one hand. On the other hand,
that obtained in 1962. In 1962, to prevent
the Soviet Union from placing nuclear
tipped missiles in Cuba, John Kennedy ran
what he thought was a one in three
chance of nuclear war to prevent the
missiles being there. Say what? We took a chance of nuclear
war to prevent your adversary from doing something. The answer is yes, I would. He did. So that’s a fact. Under conditions of mutual
assured destruction, can parties take risks that
don’t have a certainty attached to them, especially if the other
party is prepared to yield? In fact, I discuss this a
little bit in the book about– this is basically, if you
model it in game theory, it’s a chicken game. If we both know that the
collision between the two cars will be destruction,
then each of us have an incentive to swerve. And if I think you’re more
likely to swerve than I am, then I don’t need to swerve. And then under those
conditions, occasionally we end up with a collision
that kills us all. So that’s the path on this. I think, was this
gentleman next? Please– AUDIENCE: This is a slightly
more lighthearted comment. I hadn’t heard the name
Thucydides in a little while. And I went to the Wonder
Woman movie on Saturday, and he gets name checked,
you know, very explicitly. You know, Wonder Woman
mentions his name. GRAHAM ALLISON: Oh, I didn’t
know that, that’s fantastic. AUDIENCE: Yeah, he says–
somebody says, you know, peace is merely an
armistice in an endless war. And she goes Thucydides. And so– GRAHAM ALLISON: Fantastic. AUDIENCE: And so, just thinking
is there an opportunity for you to capitalize on this new-found
publicity to maybe tie in– hey, you want to know more about
what Thucydides actually said– GRAHAM ALLISON: You just sold
a ticket to Wonder Woman. I’m going to go see. And if we’re going to be– in fact, here’s a
request for any of you. So I’m absolutely serious
about that set of ideas. I’m passionate about
the ideas in the book, about the danger that we
face and about the necessity to recognize the
danger to motivate you to doing something about. So if you have any good
ideas, of which I’ve just heard a great idea, for
trying to promote the book, first if you can do it, do it. And if you have a suggestion
that somebody else can do it, send it to us. So I’ve got this one, yes. AUDIENCE: Great. GRAHAM ALLISON: Actually, at
the Silicon Valley last week, a fellow who used to work for me
is a research assistant, who’s now the chief revenue officer
for Facebook, David Fisher, said, gee, I have an idea
how Facebook can do this. And I said, this
is way beyond me. This is not my space. So he’s giving me six ideas. So please, I’m eager
for suggestions. If you can do it, just do it. But if you have an idea that we
can do it, you know, I’m game. Thanks, I didn’t know that. Now, I have new respect
for Wonder Woman. Yes– AUDIENCE: Thank you for coming. A really interesting talk. I wanted to get your thoughts
on Ian Bremmer’s theory of G0. I don’t know if
you’ve heard of it? GRAHAM ALLISON: Yes. AUDIENCE: The basic idea
is that China is not interested in
being the new ruler of the international
order, like the US was. Just wanted to get
your thoughts on that. GRAHAM ALLISON: Very good point. And in fact, Ian did
his podcast with me, you know, he interviewed me for
his podcast, whenever it was. Somewhere in this 13 day period,
so if you go to his thing, you’ll see his back
and forth on this. He likes this idea a lot. I would say his idea is right. China, there’s no
evidence that China today is thinking about replacing
the US as the global leader. In fact, China has
been actually puzzled by the extent to which
it has been pushed forth to be the global leader
by the American exit. So at Davos this year,
the US had basically trashed the so-called TPP,
the Trans Pacific Partnership and the global trading system. And Xi Jinping was
standing there. And so people said,
well, you’re the leader of the Liberal economic order. And he’s looking, thinking,
wait a minute, this is me? Then the spotlight comes
on, yeah, this is me. China is the most protectionist
economy in the world. China is the most mercantilistic
economy in the world. And here’s Mrs. Merkel and
everybody else celebrating Xi Jinping as the leader of
this because the Americans just retreated from the field. So he will bask in
the– and the same thing in the climate space. I would say that’s even more so. I mean basically, China is
the number one greenhouse gas emitter. China does 70% of
its energy from coal. But if you want to
tell me that I’m the leader of the Green
Revolution, you know, that’s OK with me. So Mrs. Merkel and Xi were in
Germany a couple of weeks ago, and she’s saying, OK. But does China aspire
to be a global leader in the sense of
playing a role the way the US has done in attempting
to manage affairs everywhere? No. That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, in
Asia, what about Asia? So in the book, I discuss this. So the world’s premier China
watcher was Lee Kuan Yew. Lee Kuan Yew was the founder
and builder of Singapore. He took a little rock,
and by the end of– after a generation
of running it, it’s wealthier per
capita than the US. So it’s a fantastic megalopolis. Some of you have been there. It’s an amazing society. Now it’s got six or
seven million people. So Lee Kuan Yew spent a
lot of time studying China because he knows
Singapore survives at China’s forbearance. It’s a big country
right beside it. And also, all of the leaders
of China since [INAUDIBLE] Xiaoping, when they started
their march to the market, have consulted Lee
Kuan Yew as kind of– he’s been the one
that led the way. And Singapore’s
looked like a model. So he’s had thousands of hours
talking to Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping. And I asked him, and I
say this in the book, are China’s current
leaders, including Xi, serious about
displacing the US as the predominant power in
Asia in the foreseeable future. Now if you go read my old
professor, Henry Kissinger’s book, you’ll find in 700 pages,
it says it’s complicated– on the one hand, on the
other hand, and so forth. Lee Kuan Yew– of
course, why not? Who could imagine otherwise? How could they not aspire
to be predominant in Asia? Indeed, if you look at the
Chinese narrative about what’s going on, which has
some merit, they say for 5,000 years we
were the dominant power. So they’re line about
making China great again, they mean again,
just back to where we were. There was this 200
year anomaly when the Westerners came, and
invaded us, and imperialized us, and exploited us. But that period is now over. We are reemerging back
to where we were before. And as we reemerge, you’re not
supposed to be where you are. You’re not supposed to be the
arbiter of events in the South China Sea. Why should the US
Navy decide who can build an island,
who owns an island? I mean, it’s not– as I say in the book– one of my Chinese friends
says, go look at your map. Look what’s adjacent
to the Chinese border. It’s called South China Sea. It’s not called American Sea. This other one called
East China Sea. Why is it called that? Because Chinese
see Chinese seas. That’s our sea. That’s like the
Caribbean is for us. And if you want even a more
shocking version of this, I have a great chapter
in the book on what if Xi’s China were just like us. Americans love to lecture
other countries about why they should be more like us. I’ve given this
lecture many times when I was working
for the US government. I imagine what if China
were just like the US, who when we were emerging
into what Teddy Roosevelt was supremely confident
was going to be in American century, the
beginning of the 20th Century. And if you look and see what we
did, the idea that the Spanish were in Cuba. He called that an abomination. On the first occasion we got,
when a mysterious explosion occurred on a ship
in the Havana Harbor, we declared war on Spain. And we beat them quickly. And we liberated Cuba. And we took Puerto Rico. And we took Guam
as a spoil of war. And a whole bunch of else
that follows from that. So I would say watch
this space, yes. Let me take this
last one, and then I got to run because I’m
got to go to the airport. Please– AUDIENCE: Thank you
so much, first of all. It was extremely interesting. My one question, and I’m
going to try to phrase this in a positive light– GRAHAM ALLISON: Please. AUDIENCE: –is
around as you said, it’s been business as usual
for the past 20 years, and business as
usual going forward would lead us to this, into
this trap, and this war. We could all probably
agree that there’s nothing business as usual going
on right now with how President Trump is leading this country. Is there an argument to be
made in a positive light that maybe that is
what can break us out of leading down this
path and trying to take, like I said, this not
business as usual, and moving in the
right direction? GRAHAM ALLISON: Good, a
very good place to stop. So let me– so we’re all
denizens of the Republic of Cambridge, and we know
that like Manhattan, and DC, and the blue coast, and the
West Coast, 95% of people voted for Hillary, and
Trump was hardly imaginable. But, you know, God works
in mysterious ways. I’m ultimately an optimist. So I like the question. So this is now a fact. This is the Mar-a-Lago summit. Trump did something no
president has ever even imagined and done. And that was so amazing that
he blew Xi Jinping right away. So in the Chinese
tradition, they think of the emperor as God. And foreigners, when you
approach the emperor, you have to get on your– flat on the ground, with
your head on the ground, showing your respect. That’s what it is to
show proper respect. Again, nobody does that now. But how would you respect the
emperor that is his stand in, President Xi Jinping,
and his wife today? So Trump had his
granddaughter, she’s standing there, Arabella,
she’s five years old. Xi Jinping’s wife is a famous
singer in China, very famous. And her signature song
is “Jasmine,” which is a very famous Chinese song. So Arabella sang
“Jasmine” in Mandarin– excuse me, in Mandarin. And Xi Jinping, you can
see him and his wife looking at it, thinking Holy
Moses, where have we come? What is going on? After that, Trump
had him, absolutely, in terms of just kind
of consciousness. So if you could be that
imaginative in trying to deal with the North
Korean problem, that could be finished in a second,
in a second, wouldn’t be in it. So it is perfectly
possible, perfectly possible that Trump is
certainly unorthodox. And if you’re trying
to get beyond the box, and you’re trying
to be optimistic. So I would say that’s
probably a good place to stop. Thank you.

34 thoughts on “Graham Allison: “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape […]” | Talks at Google

  1. Its funny how he insists on "Thucydides" pronunciation and then completely butchers "Vaclav" (Havel) as if he saw his name just now for the first time.

  2. We didn't have 7 decades of peace. The historical abnormality is not the long period of peace but nuclear weapons, they are the historically new and abnormal thing. We had 7 decades of permanent threat of mutual annihiliation. There will of course be a war if either the US or China give up their nuclear weapons. Both of them won't do that, so a big war is most unlikely.

  3. Weird… He'd call a person ignorant for thinking there won't be a global power war then immediately proceeded to explain world war I and II were unprecedented. Wars which were ultimately followed up by the cold war, which was not fought because of the awareness of global war's devastation.

    With a little reading between the lines he defunct his own premise from the outset. "don't be fooled, nothing changes… Except those times that changed everything which has been ever since…"

  4. He is wrong, war is happening all the time, since world became more civilized, wars went to other level – economic, proxy, cyber, etc.

  5. Nobody is destined to anything, if strong determinism isn't a fact and free will exists. If both are a delusion and strong determinism holds, despite chance being a big player on the quantum level, then anything will happen anyway and we can't change shit. Of course China isn't and will not be any danger to the US, because the oil age will end long before Chinas fleet is big enough to conquer any US assets. And why would they? China can't win anything of value. It will be easier for them to buy everything they want to have.

  6. Pretty interesting talk. I wonder, though, how George Orwell would opine. It is now time once again to actually READ "1984." IOW, It's not about two (China plus Russia against the US, or Russia plus the US against China, or China plus the US against Russia), rather, it's about all three, and how they keep on getting rotated. And how we're supposed to just be afraid, and keep working.

  7. A long talk but didn't seem to say very much apart from describing the situation. There were two questions that were alluded to but never fully answered:

    1. What sort of war would a China-US war look like? Multi-year, millions dead, global economy ruined? Or a surgical, "capability testing", flash war? What would be the likely end results of this war? Would be great to hear thoughts.

    2. What action would the "martian strategist" recommend to China and the US on the North Korea situation? Regime change? Unification? US withdrawal from South Korea? It's all well and good to say "this can be solved" without addressing how it would be.

  8. The multiple patronizing comments denigrating the intellect of those born in or around 1990 were extremely irksome, unprofessional, and reactionary. His facile insinuation that China is not the leader of the global green revolution simply because it is the largest carbon emitter also betrayed a shocking ignorance of the realities underpinning the green revolution. The quality of this generally interesting lecture was unfortunately lowered by the heavy doses of foolishness sprinkled throughout.

  9. Chairman Mao Incarnate: Its pronounced as Fuck Off, the reason being China is not Rome, the entire world except China, Korea and Ancient Japan never had this stupid trap for not just 500 years but the entire world history of people touched by the Christopfucking Columbus white man. Japan and South Korea has been included into this exclusive Western club but China has broken away from this because of the Chinese Communist Party. China is not a democracy, there are no politicians in China only the PLA whose patronage has created leaders of various community and sectors of society and that is what we call the Chinese Communist Party. The difference between Rome and Chinese Civilization lay in the nature of Chinese Politics, there are NO CLOWNS AND POLITICIANS IN CHINA, ONLY LEADERS OF MEN! In our next topic…

  10. Thucydides's trap does not apply to China's rise. China had been world's dominant society for centuries without conflict with other powerful countries. Why isn't North Korea allowed to own and test ICBM, when it has been constantly threatened and provoked? The US has ICBM's that can obliterate China and NK many times over. Having parity in nuclear missiles is seen as a deterrent for decades. Trump's belligerent response is very scary; he is ill-equipped to comprehend the big picture, much less in leading our nation's strategy towards China's rise.

  11. Dr. Allison's economic data on China may not be correct. China's economy may collapse shortly, according to "Kyle Bass : my invesment lessons from the school of hard knocks : Hayman Capital Management". Bass has data that shows there is enough empty office space in China to provide every Chinese man, woman and child with their own office.

  12. All the pronounciations are wrong… the original name sounded like "Thoukididis" with the d having the spanish d sound

  13. Good point on that last question. One year later and I think he's right. Trump probably did get us out of the trap, by rolling over and letting China take the ascendancy without a fight. Maybe not so great if you're a patriotic American, but it beats going to to war.

  14. ahahah no ones gonna invade china nor india.. and china has NO NAVY.. its over for china and there will be no war with china, except maybe ww3 and russia and china

  15. Don't believe him what he presents this youtube and other, some of most facts lie and really untrue. Also distort the actual facts, just propaganda and talk to much. He is good to pretend and distort the facts of Lee Kuan Yew story. Absolutely do not believes Thucydides’s Trap term that is related to initial to war. This is only just confused, pretend not to be blamed who keen to ignited the war between two or more countries. Survey look at the past, long plan, design, strategies etc history behaviour activities happened from time to time organize military drills prepare cause war. As the US in the past had done so many-100 wars, are consider confirmed not related to this term Thucydides’s Trap between other countries. Cos” the US had conducted, occurred attack, invading as they like without UN approval. It's to divert people opinion to be true to fall influence to Thucydides’s Trap. Is rubbish.T his publish is to proclaimed and accuses the term means to avoid to be a fault and blame themselves. Absolutely, he promotes US war rather than Peace with other contender countries.

  16. Better sooner while America is still strong, than later when China dominates AI.
    Those fuckers don't give a shit about the individual.
    And I don't want to live under their boot.
    So the West better find its balls.

  17. I had seen his videos, and the idea is almost the same or similar, the ruling power and rising power conflicts seems inevitable based on the history. And it seem we are in this similar spiral now between US and China.Each parties are building its own alliance, and stab at each other.

  18. Prof Allison felt the 'thrill and fun' of talking to young people most of which can be his grandchildren. Certainly he spiced the talk with 'therapy of pronunciation' lol

  19. China has so far managed to avoid a major socioeconomic snag. Their power is WAY overrated. Lots of mouth to feed and no resources in house. When the shit hits the fan they will have to defend their colonies. Lets see how they pull it off. Their banking system is one huge liability even bigger than the US.

  20. China benefits from 70 years of US commercial order, NOW wants to change the rules?… which involves NOT contributing their rightful due to the first 70 years… (typical Chinese strategy… nothing has changed… still trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents) But US has securities in place as insurance

  21. If US can annihilate NKs missiles… why not all their infrastructure? and be done with it… THEN what would China do? "game" over, I'm sure they're willing to sacrifice NK, but their own people? (or I should say their own "property", they would willingly dispense their own people in excess…)

  22. Then again claiming attacking NK is "stupid" is what China depends on… WHY NK has to be neutralized… changes everything… his arguments all benefit China's strategy of stalling US while continuing stealing currency and technology… and that is dangerous, going back to previous Admin's 'apologists' point of view… Bay of Pigs is bad example… Kennedy won because he was WILLING to go to WAR…

  23. At 31:55, we now know Allison was wrong about NKorea. He thought Xi and Trump can solve the "pipsqueak" NKorea problem with "supervision." Allison never answered the Google employee's incisive question at 29:30. A Google code monkey destroyed a professional political theorist in his own field.

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