About the Author 

Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard University where he has taught for five decades. Allison is a leading analyst of national security with special interests in nuclear weapons, Russia, China, and decision-making. Allison was the “Founding Dean” of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and until 2017, served as Director of its Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs which is ranked the “#1 University-Affiliated Think Tank” in the world.

As Assistant Secretary of Defense in the first Clinton Administration, Dr. Allison received the Defense Department's highest civilian award, the Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, for reshaping relations with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to reduce the former Soviet nuclear arsenal. This resulted in the safe return of more than 12,000 tactical nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics and the complete elimination of more than 4,000 strategic nuclear warheads previously targeted at the United States and left in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus when the Soviet Union disappeared.

Dr. Allison’s latest book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? (2017), is a national and international bestseller. His 2013 book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World, has been a bestseller in the U.S. and abroad. Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, now in its third printing, was selected by the New York Times as one of the 100 most notable books of 2004. Dr. Allisons first book, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (1971), ranks among the all-time bestsellers with more than 500,000 copies in print.

As Founding Deanof the modern Kennedy School, under his leadership from 1977 to 1989, a small, undefined program grew twenty-fold to become a major professional school of public policy and government. As Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Clinton and Special Advisor to the Secretary of Defense under President Reagan, he has been a member of the Secretary of Defense’s Advisory Board for every Secretary from Weinberger to Mattis. He has the sole distinction of having twice been awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal, first by Secretary Cap Weinberger and second by Secretary Bill Perry.  

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

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

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

Co-Author Robert D. Blackwill is a member of the Belfer Center Board of Directors and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Book Description

When Lee Kuan Yew speaks, who listens? Presidents, prime ministers, chief executives, and all who care about global strategy. Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, two leading strategic thinkers, asked Lee Kuan Yew the toughest questions that matter most to thoughtful Americans weighing the challenges of the next quarter century. Drawing on their in-depth interviews with Lee as well as his voluminous writings and speeches, the authors extract the essence of his visionary thinking. The questions and answers that constitute the core of the book cover topics including the futures of China and the United States, U.S.-China relations, India, and globalization.

Lee Kuan Yew does not retell the well-known story of Singapore’s birth and growth to first-world status. Nor do the authors interject their own thoughts or try to psychoanalyze Lee. Instead, they present his strategic insights in his own words. The result is textured and comprehensive, yet direct and succinct. Allison and Blackwill bring to bear their own experience as veteran government officials and senior scholars; their questions focus on essential policy choices as the U.S. pivots toward Asia.

Lee, the founding father of modern Singapore and its prime minister from 1959 to 1990, has honed his wisdom during more than a half century on the world stage. He has served as a mentor to every Chinese leader from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, and as a counselor to every U.S. president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. With his uniquely authoritative perspective on the geopolitics of East and West, Lee does not pull his punches.

At the outset of the second Obama Administration, Lee Kuan Yew is a timely and essential primer for every world leader and every reader who cares about the world.

Notable Quotes 

“I have had the privilege of meeting many world leaders over the past half-century; none, however, has taught me more than Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first premier and its guiding spirit ever since... It will not take  long for readers to discover why Lee is not only one of the seminal leaders of our period, but also a thinker recognized for his singular strategic acumen.” — From the foreword by Henry A. Kissinger

“This book includes some of [Lee’s] most penetrating and insightful analyses of today’s global issues, and is a must-read for anyone trying to understand the future of world politics.” — Fareed Zakaria, editor at large, Time Magazine

The Virtual Book Tour was brought to you by HKS Library & Research Services. As of Spring 2019, our faculty video series is called Behind the Book. Contact us with inquiries.

Graham Allison:

I'm Graham Allison. I'm the Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and the Douglas Dillon Professor here at the school, and I'm the co-author of a new book called Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the U.S., and the World. What this book does is try to capture the strategic nuggets from the grand strategic master Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore, its prime minister for the first 20 years, and the mentor to government since then, including the current government in which the prime minister is Lee Kuan Yew's son. For five decades Lee Kuan Yew has been a giant not just in Singapore but on the global stage, mainly because he was the person that the Chinese turned to when they began to think about their march to the market.

As Ezra Vogel, another professor here at Harvard, says in his great book on Deng Xiaoping, the individual who had the biggest impact on Deng Xiaoping was Lee Kuan Yew, and very Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping has turned to Lee Kuan Yew as a mentor. Similarly, every president since Nixon and Kissinger have looked to Lee Kuan Yew as a counselor in thinking about relations. So when Lee Kuan Yew speaks, people who know listen. What this book does is, Bob Blackwill, my coauthor, and I with assistant Ali Wyne, asked him what we thought were the toughest questions that would be most interesting to Americans. Then from everything that he's written elsewhere, and all of the interviews that he's given elsewhere, plus our interviews, we extract the nuggets, and try to present them in a slim read.

Now, let me give you some for examples. Do China's current leaders aspire to displace the U.S. as the predominant power in Asia in the foreseeable future, and in the world thereafter? Most policy makers or pundits when asked a question like that duck. Lee Kuan Yew says, "Of course. Why not? Who could imagine otherwise? They're a great civilization, and they feel it." Okay? When asked, "What about India? Some people say India is going to rival, even overtake, China." He says, "Well, once I had hope for India, but today I would say forget it." And he says, "India's not a real country. India as a collection of 32 separate principalities that happened to be united by the British railroad." Well, he goes on from there. On each question he offers a direct, often quite succinct, sometimes provocative answer that captures a strategic insight into what's going on in the situation.

If asked about China's strategy for becoming number one he says, "The Chinese understand, having studied the story of Japan and its rise, and Germany and its rise, that challenging the U.S. militarily until they become not only the dominant economic power, but the dominant technological power, would be a fool's errand. So the Chinese strategy is instead to concentrate on the Chinese economy, and out-build, and out-manufacture, and out-develop everybody in the world until China becomes this civilization." As an ethnic Chinese himself, he understands the extent to which, especially the Hun Chinese population ... Imagine that China has always been the center of the universe, and they imagine that they are now restoring China to the greatness that it's been denied largely because of what they think of as colonial interventions in the earlier period.

So if one's trying to think about the rise of China over the next 10 years, or 20 years, or 30 years, or the future of the U.S., about which he has both some very negative things to say, but also some positive things. Because in the long term he's not short the U.S. He believes that the U.S. resilience, and U.S. capacity to integrate new talent from around the world is a great asset, and one that China's not likely to be able to mimic. But the future of Asia, which many people say, "This will be the Asian century," or the implications of China's rise for its neighbors, including people like Japan, but the Philippines, but also Singapore, which has to survive by being alert and agile. About all these things, he's got very clear answers that I don't always agree with, but I find to be quite insightful, informative, illuminating, and fun.

Let me do one more idea here. I think what most Americans miss is the extent to which the rise of China is a challenge, what I have said of lucidity and proportions. This becomes much like a professor, but we're at the university. The geopolitical event of our lifetime has been the rise of China. In the last 30 years, since 1980, and China's march to the market, China has risen further and faster on all dimensions than any country ever in history. A country that had an economy smaller than Spain's in 1980 is now the number two economy in the world, on track to become the number one economy next decade. This never happened before. Now, Thucydides when he was writing about this phenomenon in fifth century B.C. Greece, wrote about the two great city-states and the war that laid both of them to waste, the Peloponnesian War.

He said, "It was the rise of Athens and the fear this inspired in Sparta, that made war inevitable." He had two variables, rise of the rising power, and fear in the ruling power. If one looks historically, since 1500 there have been 15 cases in which a rising power rivaled a ruling power, in 11 of which, 11 of the 15, the outcome was war. So when a rising power rivals a ruling power watch out. Okay? I would say what Americans should understand, and the Lee Kuan Yew book can help us, is Thucydides' challenge which is, "How do we manage an environment?" How do we, and how do the Chinese leaders, manage what will be not just a one-year or four-year, but a 10-year, or 20-year, 30-year adjustment in which statesmen in both countries do better than their predecessors, who in 11 of the 15 cases did their best, but their best was a war? And in the case of the U.S. and China, a war that would be catastrophic for both parties.