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

Graham Allison: Making the Belfer Center “The Best There Is”

Far from retiring, Graham Allison is set to redouble his research, teaching, and writing in July, when he hands the reins to Ash Carter and Eric Rosenbach. Allison’s impact as Director of the Center has been extraordinary—“impossible to overestimate” in the words of Harvard Kennedy School Dean Doug Elmendorf. Here, we raise our editorial glass in a toast to an exceptional leader.

Throughout his 22 years as Director, Allison has worked unrelentingly to carry out the Center’s mission: to advance policy-relevant knowledge about the most important international security challenges and other critical issues where science, technology, environmental policy, and international affairs intersect, and to prepare future generations of leaders for these arenas.

With vision and determination, Allison has built an impactful Center featuring some of the world’s top thinkers and doers. From nuclear weapons and climate change to energy markets and the future of diplomacy, the Center program and projects he built are united by a record of uncommon impact – and by a common purpose to build a more secure, peaceful world. Under Allison’s leadership, the Belfer Center has:

  • Been named as the world’s No. 1 university-affiliated think tank four years in a row by the University of Pennsylvania.

  • Become Harvard’s preeminent center for foreign policy, national security, and science and technology.

  • Recruited in the past few months a who’s who of science and security all-stars: Ehud Barak, Alan Bersin, John Carlin, Ash Carter, James Clapper, John Holdren, Laura Holgate, Douglas Lute, Lisa Monaco, Ernest Moniz, Samantha Power, Mike Rogers, Eric Rosenbach, Jake Sullivan, and Jon Wolfsthal.

  • Published more than 100 op-eds last year in the nation’s most competitive media outlets—The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

  • Helped drive the agenda for some of the world’s most consequential summits in recent years, including the climate pact between China and the United States, COP-21 in Paris, and the Global Nuclear Security Summits.

  • Been praised by Democrats and Republicans alike for providing the best facts and the best analysis on the most important foreign policy debate in recent years: the Iran nuclear deal. One senator called the Belfer Center’s timely report “the gold standard.”

  • Published International Security, a quarterly journal that ranks highest for “impact factor” among 87 journals around the world, including Foreign Affairs.

  • Expanded programs and projects from three in 1995 to more than 20 today—providing policy-relevant research in areas ranging from nuclear and cyber security to energy and climate issues and challenges around Russia, China, and the Middle East.

  • Enhanced program recruitment of top research fellows, from a dozen in 1995 to more than 60 today. Center alumni fill leadership positions at the highest levels of government, academia, and organizations worldwide.

  • Convened thought-provoking and influential seminars with the brightest, most experienced global practitioners and thinkers.

  • Created a new Allison Scholarship endowed by the Belfer family for exceptionally qualified HKS students focusing their studies on the most pressing issues of technology and global affairs.

  • Attracted an unequalled concentration of faculty and former senior government and military officials who combine the best of scholarship and policymaking.

The heart of the Belfer Center’s success lies in its remarkable community of staff, students, fellows, and faculty, which includes: Matthew Bunn, Nicholas Burns, William Clark, Dara Kay Cohen, Niall Ferguson, Jeffrey Frankel, John Holdren, Calestous Juma, Juliette Kayyem, David Keith, Robert Lawrence, Henry Lee, Fredrik Logevall, Tarek Masoud, Venky Narayanamurti, Joseph Nye, Meghan O’Sullivan, John Park, Samantha Power, Gary Samore, Daniel Schrag, Robert Stavins, Lawrence Summers, and Stephen Walt.


“Graham Allison is quite simply a living legend. Graham has not only been a great director of the Belfer Center, but also the man without whom there would be, quite literally, no Kennedy School…This is and always will be the house that Graham built.”

Ash Carter

“Graham Allison has the credibility to recruit the best thinkers to Belfer and the creativity to help them inspire students and influence policy. He has the brains to master complexity and the communication skills to help us understand it. I view Graham as the Paul Revere to warn us of nuclear terrorism and tell us how to prevent it.”

Sam Nunn

“Leveraging science, technology, and policy to confront hard problems and better people’s lives has been the aim of my family’s philanthropy for decades. At Harvard Kennedy School and the Belfer Center, this aspiration becomes achievement. Year after year, under Graham Allison’s leadership, the Center mobilizes the very best minds to make the world a safer place for our children and grandchildren.”

Robert Belfer

“My adviser and mentor Professor Allison’s faith in me has given me the courage to reach for goals beyond my imagination. He was generous with his time and advice, always pushed me to think bigger, prayed for me, warned me against entering civil war zones, and taught me that good people are fundamental to effective policy.”

Jieun Baek

“Graham has influenced generations of students, catalyzed generations of faculty members (including me), and himself produced essential scholarship that has changed the world. There are few thinkers or doers in history who have so consistently demonstrated the relevance of ideas to the real world, while at the same time injecting constant reality checks into the classroom and the academy. There is only one Graham Allison.”

Samantha Power

“Graham’s intellect, knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm are inspirational and, it appears, contagious. Under his leadership, the Belfer Center has set the standards of excellence for research, education, and influence in the field of science and international affairs.”

Albert Carnesale

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

"Graham Allison: Making the Belfer Center 'The Best There Is'." Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Summer 2017). 

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