“I use ‘disruptive’ in both its good and bad connotations. Disruptive scientific and technological progress is not to me inherently good or inherently evil. But its arc is for us to shape. Technology’s progress is furthermore in my judgment unstoppable. But it is quite incorrect that it unfolds inexorably according to its own internal logic and the laws of nature.”
PATRICK EMERES: Good evening, and welcome to the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum. My name is Patrick Emeres[?]. I’m a member of the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum Committee here at the Institute of Politics. Before we begin, note the exit doors, which are located on the JFK Street side of the Forum. In the event of an emergency, please walk to the exit and congregate in the JFK Park. Please also take a moment now to silence your cell phones. You can join the conversation tonight online by tweeting with Hashtag Lee Lecture, which is also listed in your program.
Please take your seats now and join me in welcoming our guests, Mr. Kevin Rudd, Professor Graham Allison, and Dean Doug Elmendorf.
DOUGLAS ELMENDORF: Good evening everyone, and welcome to the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum. It is my great pleasure tonight to introduce the 2017 S.T. Lee Lecture. This lecture was established in 2001 and focuses on military history, strategy, and policymaking. Dr. Seng T. Lee is a great benefactor of Harvard University, here at the Kennedy School, and also in the University Library System. His philanthropy has focused on libraries and education in his native Singapore, in the United Kingdom, the United States, and elsewhere.
Tonight’s S.T. Lee Lecturer is one of the best-known faces in the Forum, our very own Graham Allison. Over the past 40 years, Graham has had a—[applause] – Yes, that’s a good place to stop. [applause] Over the past 40 years, Graham has had a profound effect on the Kennedy School and on thinking and practice related to national security and international relations. Graham was the founding Dean of a modern Kennedy School, leading the School from 1997 to 1989. [sic] During that program a small program expanded many times to become a major professional school with a significant impact on governments and public policy across the United States and around the world.
Later, Graham led our Belfer Center of Science International Affairs for more than two decades. It is impossible to overestimate Graham’s vision and energy in taking that Center to the tremendously successful and influential organization that it is today.
I also want to add on a personal note that Graham has been a tremendous mentor and source of good advice to me as I have taken on the role of Dean. And I'm very grateful, Graham, for that.
Graham has also been a leading scholar of US national security policy. He is the author of multiple influential and bestselling books, including Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World, which he wrote with Bob Blackwill, and Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe. Graham’s latest book is Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? The book was published in May and has garnered widespread attention in the United States, in China, and elsewhere in the world.
Moreover, Graham has practiced what he has preached. He has been an important advisor to Defense Secretaries in the United States for decades and has twice been awarded our Department of Defense’s highest civilian award, The Distinguished Public Service Medal. Graham’s lecture tonight is about the Korean Peninsula and US-China relations: Lessons from Thucydides and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Joining Graham on the stage tonight is a very distinguished friend of the Kennedy School, the Honorable Kevin Rudd. Kevin Rudd served as Australia’s 26th Prime Minister. And as Foreign Minister in Australia, he led Australia’s very effective response to the global financial crisis, which prevented a recession in Australia. He delivered a formal apology to indigenous Australians, led reforms in education and healthcare, and introduced paid parental leave among other accomplishments. [applause]
In addition, Kevin Rudd was very active in regional and global international relations. He was a driving force in broadening the East Asia Summit to become an Asia-Pacific community, and to include the United States and Russia. He represented Australia at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, which resulted in accord among countries to prevent an increase in global temperatures of more than two degrees.
Kevin Rudd is currently President of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York and a Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, where he led a review of the United Nations. We are honored and very fortunate to be joined tonight by Graham Allison and Kevin Rudd. Let’s give them a warm welcome. Thank you.
KEVIN RUDD: Well thank you, Mr. Dean, for that very warm introduction. Great to be back in Boston. Glad to be back here in Cambridge, Harvard, the Kennedy School. Now you’ve just told me that Graham is to bring a lecture, which means I just sit here.
GRAHAM ALLISON: I thought you and I were going to have a conversation. Whatever.
KEVIN RUDD: Okay, it’ll be a voyage of discovery. I see Ash Carter is here, and new here to the Belfer Center. Apparently, he’s done a few things before. I can't remember what job he had somewhere in Washington. The Secretary of Defense, I think. How is the new guy going?
GRAHAM ALLISON: He’s doing great.
KEVIN RUDD: That’s good. [laughter] I think so too. I mean you're enormously blessed to have Ash here as the new Director of Belfer. But thank you to you, Graham, for offering me political asylum after I lost the 2013 elections. [laughter] Came here to the United States. He said, “Come up here and do some thinking.” I hadn’t done that for the entire time I've been in politics. [laughter] Scrub off some of the old gray cells and wait for some spontaneous cerebral sort of event. But it was great spending that time with you. And since then, I've been in the United States.
The [00:06:47] just about this place, because this is an evening which I think properly celebrates your contribution to the Kennedy School, both past and future. I mean you are the inaugural dean of the modern Kennedy School. You’ve been most recently, and for a long time, Head of Belfer. What do you look back on as sort of the big achievements here? I mean this Center has been ahead of the global curve for the big national security debates around the world. What gives you most pride, my friend, in terms of what you’ve done here? And don’t be modest.
ANDY: Well, I think that I count myself very fortunate to have both played a role in the building of the Kennedy School and of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. And most importantly, recruiting super talented people to be actively engaged in it. Let me just say a word about Kevin. I don’t want to embarrass him. But I’d say that Doug appropriately introduced him. But Kevin is a very strange fish.
KEVIN RUDD: Most Australians are.
GRAHAM ALLISON: So the idea—The idea that there's a person who learned Mandarin in high school, and then became a foreign service officer, and then he became a Cabinet Officer, and then he became a Prime Minister, and all this time very actively thinking about international relations. And then, when he came to the Belfer Center for a year after in his political exile, as he called it, basically engaged with the other scholars, was fantastic for all of us.
So I would say Kevin is not unique in that regard, in that we have many other active people part of the school and part of the Center. But I think he’s a very special case. And I think if you look for this book that I've done on China, I am not a China specialist. So I spent about a dozen years in the past dozen years trying to learn about China. And I had three great tutors, Lee Kuan Yew, who kept telling me, you know, “Pay more attention to China,” Henry Kissinger, who kept saying, “I know you like Russia and the Soviet Union. But probably China is a good topic to take into account.” And Kevin, who has been, I think after Henry Kissinger, the person who’s managed the most serious conversations with leaders of both the United States and of China, about delicate topics, where somebody from outside can see without the parochialism of us as Americans or Chinese as Chinese, and offer some perspective.
KEVIN RUDD: That’s kind of you, my friend. We Australians also specialize in parochialism when the opportunity presents itself. [laughter] But in our better lot, we try and be global citizens. My first knowledge of you, Graham, actually goes back to when I was a Junior Woodchuck somewhere in the Australian Foreign Service, doing something or other. And I came across Essence of Decision. Extraordinary book, and I had long been fascinated as a kid by the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was only a few years old when it all happened. And I remember my father one day trying in an Australian country farm, to explain to me what it was all about. And I just didn’t understand. But he said the price of beef and wool would probably go up, and that was a good thing, as a result of whatever was happening over in Cuba.
But the core question of Essence of Decision is, of course, the nature of the decision-making process of the then Kennedy White House concerning the crisis. Reflecting on that, and reflecting on the lessons you derived from it, could you give us your thoughts on how you see that as being applicable to this White House and, frankly, the current major challenges on the Korean Peninsula and North Korean nuclear program again?
GRAHAM ALLISON: Okay. Well that would be—That would be a lecture. But let me just do the brief. So the Cuban Missile Crisis, as people remember, because there are students who can hardly remember when it happened, or whether it was before or after World War II, or whatever. In any case, 1962, John Kennedy is President. This is in his second year of a young 46 year old President. And the US Intelligence Community in October of 1962, so just really whatever it is, 55 years ago now, this month, discovers the Soviet Union sneaking nuclear-tip missiles into Cuba.
Kennedy decides immediately this cannot happen, not going to happen. Indeed, his initial response would be somewhat similar to Trump’s tweet about North Korea, literally, where the first time Trump heard about this from Obama during the transition, he went out and tweeted, “Not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.”
In any case, over an intense 13 days, Kennedy and his advisors deliberated and got to a fork in the road. And, at the end of the fork in the road, there were two choices, either attack the missiles in Cuba to prevent them from becoming operational; that is, capable of launching nuclear warheads against the US; or acquiesce, in a fait accompli; that is, it would be nuclear tip missiles in Cuba.
And in the midst of the crisis, as they are close to the end of the crisis, Bobby Kennedy, John Kennedy’s brother, was the Attorney General and his closest advisor. So they're having a private moment on the side. And Bobby says, “Well, what do you think the chances are that this is war, a nuclear war?” And he says, “Between one and three and even.” So this is what historians agree was the most dangerous episode that human beings have lived through.
Now, at that fork in the road, there were some advisors who wanted to attack, and there were a couple that just wanted to live with it, because attack almost certainly was a fast road to a nuclear war, or to the risk of a nuclear war. But in the end, Kennedy became inventive and emerged with a very strange option that we can say more about. But I think if we want a picture of things for trying to make a little more sense of what's happening in the—on the Korean Peninsula now, I've written about it as like a Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion, which happens now to be speeding up a little bit. But it’s still not 13 days.
So, at the end of the current path we’re on, either we’re going to be living with the North Korea that has a nuclear—that has an ICBM capability to deliver nuclear warheads against San Francisco or Los Angeles; that’s option one. Or option two, Trump is going to order an attack on some targets in North Korea to prevent this happening. Or there's going to be some magical alternative. And I’d say that’s the—you know, that unfortunately is the picture that we actually have today. And while it seems almost inconceivable, if you haven't been analyzing it, which I know you have, but if you haven't been, to think, “Wait a minute. There could actually be a war between China and the US?” Of course not.
I was in Beijing about two months ago, talking about Thucydides’s Trap. But I gave a talk to PLA Colonels. And as I said, could Kim Jung Un drag the US and China into war? This one young man said, “Absolutely not. Absolutely not.” He says, “Nobody in Beijing wants to have a war with the US. Nobody in Washington wants to have a war with China.” So I said, “Well, you know, I had learned in my history books that Chinese were very familiar with history. So did anybody else have an answer to this question?” And another senior Colonel stood, and he said, “Wait a minute. They already did this. That’s what happened in 1950.” So I think, “Wait a minute. Let’s do this again.” The young man said, “I wasn’t born.” And I said, “Okay, doesn’t matter if you were born. This happened, okay.”
1950, North Korea attacked South Korea. The US came to the rescue at the last minute. The US pushed the North Koreans back up the Peninsula, across the DMZ, across the 38th Parallel. We’re approaching the Chinese border. China entered the war and beat us right back down to the 38th Parallel, when the war ended. So in that war, 50,000 Americans died, and a million Chinese, mostly killed by each other, and several million Koreans.
Now you look and you think, “Wait a minute. Could North Korea drag the US and China into something that we would not want?” I would say, absolutely it could. Which is why, then, thinking about this dynamic, as you come to a fork in the road at which all the options are lousy options, as well.
KEVIN RUDD: So if you're in the room in ’62, or the equivalent, which is the room today, in the Situation Room, and you're providing advice to the President of the United States on the—let’s call it the broad spectrum of strategic options for dealing with the crisis as it currently stands, as of today. Which way would you go, my friend, in terms of the advice you’d provide? It’s what we call a bit of a nasty question.
GRAHAM ALLISON: Okay. It’s a fair question, but it is a nasty question. So let me say just a word about Cuba as an example, and then I’ll answer the question directly. So it’s very fascinating story, for those of you that don’t—or haven't looked back at it lately. One of the great products of this school was produced by Ernie May and Phil Zelikow, who transcribed the tapes of deliberations of Kennedy in the Missile Crisis. So secretly, and without the knowledge of everybody else, Kennedy taped the deliberations. So you can go and literally be a fly on the wall, listening to people deliberating what they thought were choices, that might [simultaneous conversation] the war.
So here you are in the final Saturday, 27th of October. You’ve now come to the end of the road. There's just these two options. And people say, “Mr. President, you know, time comes, you have to choose. To not choose is to acquiesce. So you can either attack these missiles now, and that’s what the majority wants to do. Or you can find a way to live with it. That’s it.” So he says, “You know, I can't do either of these options. But I get frustrating [00:17:54].” So he finally says, “Time out. Everybody go home.” This was like 4:30-5:00 in the afternoon. He says, “Go home. Everybody go take a three-hour, four-hour break. Go have dinner. Walk around a little bit. Then come back at 9:00 and we’ll deliberate.”
So, as people are leaving, he holds back six people, six that he felt most comfortable with, including Bobby and McNamara and Sorenson. And he says, “I have another idea.” And the other idea he came up with was this crazy cocktail in which he would have a public demand that the missiles be withdrawn for a pledge that the US would not invade Cuba again. It would have a private ultimatum that says to Khrushchev, his counterpart, “You’ve got to—You’ve got to announce within 48 hours that the missiles are going to be withdrawn, or else you're going to see them destroyed.” An ultimatum.
And finally, a secret sweetener that says, “You’ve been concerned about our equivalent missiles in Turkey. We’re not going to make a deal with you. But if you withdraw the missiles from Cuba, six months after the missiles will not be in Turkey.” That provision was kept secret from everybody for 20 years. So now again, could the US government today keep a secret? I don’t know. Or six people? [laughter] In fact, the six people kept the secret from the other eight people who were at the table. There were 14 people sitting around the table. So the 9:00 meeting, if you play like detective stories, read the tape of the 9:00 meeting, where eight of the people are still deliberating the options that were on the table at 4:30 when they left. And the other people kind of have an idea, “Excuse me, we’ve passed by that. But we can't tell you.” So it’s a very—In any case, to jump to today.
KEVIN RUDD: The moral of that story is, never leave the room. [laughter]
GRAHAM ALLISON: Yeah. Well, and the moral of the story is, sometimes only when you see how desperate the options are that you have, do you become inventive and prepared to consider things that were rejected before, and that are lousy options? I mean it wasn’t that this was a good option. And actually, if it had become public, that the US had traded Turkish—our NATO ally’s security for American security, how that’s going to look, okay. So then the politics of this is complicated. But any case, as compared to the two options, it was a pretty good option.
KEVIN RUDD: 55 years on.
GRAHAM ALLISON: So in the current situation, I would say if—if the President appreciated the risks, my first and best hope would be that Trump and Xi would each appoint a couple of people whom they trusted, and say, “You guys go off for a couple of days and come back with ugly options, things that both of us are going to hate, but that will be better that an attack on the North Koreans that risks some war between the US and China.” And I think once they started looking at that, they would say, well now if I'm the American, to this conversation, and I think that you are the Chinese, I would say, “Okay, so what could you guys put on the table to be inventive?” Is there something sacrosanct about how many Americans participate in military exercises with South Korea? We’ve always said, “Oh, we’re never going to let you back[?] our choices about our exercises. But I noticed that last time, there were only 17,500. And there had been 22,500 in the previous one. So is that seven still on the last, that seven? So is there anything sacrosanct about where we fly our aircraft adjacent to or about other militaries? How about, is there something sacrosanct about how many troops we have in South Korea? Maybe even how many bases, and the location of the bases.”
Now I know Secretary Carter, looking at this, would be looking at, “Yikes, you're not having these guys jerk around our military. Why these guys are the ones that are misbehaving. Why should anybody reward them?” So you could imagine all the arguments that would go on. But there would be some things on that side.
On the other side, the Chinese guy would be saying—
KEVIN RUDD: What about Taiwan? Why don’t you throw it into grand bargain?
GRAHAM ALLISON: Yeah, what about Taiwan? What about the South China Sea? What about patrols of the South China Sea? And so how much, on both sides, you would start looking at things that are ugly, ugly, ugly, okay. Because I think the alternative, literally, could be Trump decides, “Let’s just attack the launch pads so they can't launch any more ICBMs, and they can't have the capability to attack Los Angeles.”
So, but then they likely respond against Seoul, as we were discussing at the previous meeting. And then we suppress all of the capability to attack Seoul. Then we have a second Korean War. So I would say we should look at ugly options that include our willingness to put some things—and I think for theirs to do. So, for example, now this is just talking for me. So if the Chinese said, “Look, we've got an idea. How about we just take care of North Korea. And there will be a regime that’s beholden to us. So we find some way to deal with Kim Jung Un, and we find some way to deal with the nuclear weapons. And the South Koreans are going to hate it, because it’s not going to ever have a unified Korea. And you're not going to like it because you're still going to be there. But I'm here to tell you, there's no threat coming from North Korea. What about that?”
Well I would say, “You know, we have to look at it as an option.” And I think we’d look on the Koreans, on the Chinese side. But I think you would never look into that deep dark hole unless you were beginning to think that the other alternatives were worse. And I think therefore, the 75 percent likelihood is that we find a way—I think Trump, at the end of the game, Trump will fail in the same way that Obama failed and in the same way that Bush failed and in the same way that Clinton failed, namely for fear of an attack by North Korea on Seoul. And the South Koreans fear the attack. We’ll find a way to live with whatever they do. And we’ll dress it up. It’ll be called “The shift from denial of nuclear weapons to deterrence and defense.” And we’ll build up missile defenses. And we’ll try to do containment. But I think that’s where we’ll likely come out the way we have come out this way with the previous crossroads that we’ve come to.
KEVIN RUDD: So in other words, you’ve dispensed these two people into a back room, a Chinese representative and an American representative. They come up with ugly options. The ugly options are presented. But, rather than resulting in a new creativity, it results in a protected status quo, which becomes the new reality. And that is America—
GRAHAM ALLISON: Well I would hope that, if they came up with some creative options, they would choose that instead. I mean my idea, I maybe didn’t express it well, was that if this could become a joint problem-solving exercise between Xi and Trump or between the US and China, to prevent a little totalitarian tin pot from dragging us into a war we didn’t want. So we’re solving this problem together, and we’re each prepared to pay something to solve the problem. But if the US and China were able to do that, you would all of a sudden have a different idea about how China and the US could relate to each other. And you’ve written about this as constructive realism. That is, having some big things both of them care about that they might work on together, to provide a framework for the things where they're clearly going to be sharp differences of view about the South China Sea or the East China Sea or Japan or other.
KEVIN RUDD: If you're using the Cuban analogy, then two questions in my mind arise. And the first is this. Have we got to the stage where, in the mind of this administration, and perhaps in the mind of the Chinese, it’s become stark and binary. That is, we’re going to either do this—that is a form of preemptive military action of some form or another, or simply do nothing.
And the second related question is, let’s just assume, hypothetically, that we have got to this stark position. It’s not 13 days, it’s a slow-moving environment. Then under those circumstances, what then creatively can be the equivalent of Kennedy’s three points expressed to the six who remained in the room? Is it, for example, something like a graduated set of, shall I say, incentives and punishments, not to do with UN sanctions, because that may ultimately have no effect in turning North Korean behavior around. But along the lines of, you guys continue to run ICBM tests, there will be defined consequences. If you don’t, there will be defined rewards. Oh, by the way, if you do further nuclear tests, there will be even more defined consequences of a sharp and lethal nature. If you don’t, there will be defined rewards. Is that where the creativity lands, either by way of producing a result, which is the beginnings of, shall I say, a managed denuclearization? Or a defined military action? Is that where the creative space lies, in that graduated set of options?
GRAHAM ALLISON: Well that’s very—I would say—I mean I haven't got my way worked all the way through it. But if you had these two working groups off together working, that would certainly be one of the arenas they would explore. And then the question would be whether you could define punishments and rewards for, for example, not continuing ICBM tests. So if they—If Trump could succeed, or the US could succeed in causing North Korea not to conduct further ICBM tests, and lo and behold, since Trump and Mattis begin drawing some sharper red line, there have been a postponement apparently, then their achievement of a reliable capability of an ICBM to hit Los Angeles or San Francisco will be limited. And so that would be not the end of the story, but that would be a big deal.
Now what punishment could you plausibly threaten if they were to conduct another such test? And what reward could you give for not doing it? Well, again, in American politics, the idea of paying people—So for somebody who’s already being offensive, and now you have to pay them to be less offensive, or as Bob Gates said, we’ve already bought this war twice. We’re not buying it again, okay.
KEVIN RUDD: But remember, we’re down to what the options—[simultaneous conversation]
GRAHAM ALLISON: I would say indeed, we have bought it twice, and we’ll probably buy it again and again. And in any cases, in most of the instances, it’s not us that pays the bribe, it’s the South Koreans or the Japanese. So Mr. Moon, the Prime Minister, is very eager to do the reward side of this. So you could work out—Again, it would require a little delicacy—some version of that.
I think on the punishment side, it’s hard to design, because for example, I might—other things being equal, but they're not, but I wouldn’t let them do any more ICBM tests. Now actually, as Ash and I were talking before, in 1994, Bill Perry was Secretary of Defense. Ash and I were both working for him. The Pentagon was unified on the proposition that that was the crossroad at which we should force North Korea to decide between nuclear weapons and a limited attack. And indeed later, in 2002, Ash and Bill Perry wrote a famous op-ed saying, “Here's another crossroad. We’re not letting him do any more ICBM tests. Absolutely. So if you do ICBM tests, we’ll destroy them on the launch pad.”
And the counter argument was the same argument you have today. “Wait a minute. These guys are going to attack Seoul. And if they attack Seoul, then you’ll have a second Korean War.” So these are damnable choices. In each one of the cases, when we've got to the crossroad, I would say the reality is, we blinked for fear of what would happen to Seoul. So the question is, could you get a punishment that’s not so risky? And that’s hard to do.
But I think if you had the US and the Chinese working the problem together, you’d probably soon get a few more instruments. It’s a very, very deadly game, as you know. I think the Chinese were looking at disciplining Kim Jung Un, the brat they call him, or fatty. So there's no love between China and North Korea.
KEVIN RUDD:Xīn pàng er [鑫胖儿], fatty Kim.”
GRAHAM ALLISON: Fatty Kim, okay, yeah.
KEVIN RUDD: That’ll probably sort of—
GRAHAM ALLISON: So they—they had—
KEVIN RUDD: --cause an unhappy reaction from some.
GRAHAM ALLISON: The uncle, whom you knew this guy, the uncle of Kim Jung Un, I think was the Chinese guy there. And he was trying to look around, just look at the options. Kim Jung Un became nervous about him, stuck him up against the wall, and took an anti-aircraft gun, and blew him away.
KEVIN RUDD: It was not a happy ending. Before we go to questions, I just want to tease one further factor out. The conversation just now is focused on the Chinese and the Americans actually getting together in an environment where such a conversation could occur. When I speak to the Chinese about this, and I go to Beijing quite a lot, foreign policy guys, PLA guys, people who span the spectrum in between, and just plain politicians, whoever—a sniff and a smell about the sense of what's possible in Chinese domestic politics.
And they would say, “No. You know, we can't do that with the Americans, because there ain't the conditions precedent,” which is what they describe as strategic trust. I said, “But for God’s sake, you know, how can you suddenly manufacture a level of strategic trust to deal with this unfolding that’s called a crisis in North Korea and on the Korean Peninsula? You either use an issue like this to actually create building blocks for strategic trust, or you end up with an environment that will be even less for the long-term future.”
Now your book, Avoiding Thucydides’s Trap in US-China Relations Destined for War, it’s got a whole lot of publicity in this country and in China. And it’s created some controversy here. I think it’s also created a big impact in China. And I know that from the Chinese folks that I speak to. The realist community and the Chinese foreign policy establishment, security policy establishment, which represents 99.4 percent of the Chinese State, say, “This is terrific. This is very hardline, hardnosed, to the point.” And then, simultaneously, they become concerned. It’s so terrific it’s worrying. And that is, that if you apply the logic of the thesis, then it begins to define where things could well go.
And the underlying assumption of Chinese strategic policy, for decades and decades and decades, is not to involve themselves in a war with the United States, where there is any risk of them losing that war; which, frankly, at present and for the foreseeable future, is very, very high. The hard heads in the Chinese military know that they’d get smashed. And, after a few drinks, they’ll tell you that.
So the reaction to the book, as you’ve traveled through China on this, I'm fascinated by what you said before about the junior and senior PLA Colonels. But more broadly, how do you think it went down? And what sort of impact is it having?
GRAHAM ALLISON: So just for people who are not in the picture, let me do the 30-second version of the argument. So basically, this is a book called Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? Actually, now we’re doing a small ad here. [laughter] Okay. It’s available on Amazon, or even in the Harvard Bookstore.
KEVIN RUDD: At a cut price for everybody who’s here.
GRAHAM ALLISON: Exactly. The thesis of the book is that, when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, poop happens, okay. So that’s the—Thucydides, this is his idea. That’s why it’s called Thucydides’s Trap. He wrote about the rise of Athens in Classical Greece. But, if you think about the rise of Germany in the decade before what became World War I and its impact on Britain, or the rise of China in the last generation and its impact on the US, in general, the rising power behaves like a rising power. And the ruling power behaves like a ruling power. And in the 16 cases in which this happened in the last 500 years, which I review in the book, 12 of them ended in wars. And four of them ended in not wars. So claim that this war is inevitable would be wrong. But claim that the odds are not good would be right.
So in this dynamic, this Thucydidean dynamic, I think that actually defines what's happening in the relationship between the US and China. Indeed, Henry Kissinger, who’s a big fan of the argument, has said he thinks this is the best lens available for looking through the noise and news of the day to see the underlying dynamic. And North Korea is actually an overlay on this dynamic.
So from Beijing’s point of view, and one of these folks whom I know there well, for a long time, this is what he said. He said, “Look. From our perspective, there would be no problem on the Korean Peninsula if you were not there. So here you are in a country, on our border, and you're the problem. Because if you were not there, there would be a unified Korea. It would be a tributary of China. And we wouldn’t let it have nuclear weapons, the same way we wouldn’t let anybody else have nuclear weapons. We wouldn’t let Miramar or North—you know, or Vietnam, or forget about it. No. Okay.”
So I said, “Well, that’s an interesting narrative. Let me tell you my story. So my story is that we didn’t ask to be there. Your ally, North Korea, attacks South Korea. We came to the rescue at the last minute. And we ended up maybe overdoing it. We ended up with a war with you. We had to put an Armistice at the 38th Parallel. But in the 60 years since then, one of the great success stories of the whole world has been South Korea. It’s a vibrant democracy. It’s the 13th largest economy in the world. We’re very proud of South Korea. So we’re not going anywhere. Excuse me.”
So he said, “Yeah, well there's the problem, okay. We see you there about a process that’s containing us. And you see us as trying to push you off of the Sphinx.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s the problem. Now let’s look and see how this worked out in other relationships historically. And the answer is often very badly.” So I’d say that we will see, I believe, and we are seeing today, and we will see for as far as we can see, a China that is bigger and stronger and therefore in our face and in our space and pushing up against what we call the US-led Asian—Pax[?] Asia or rule-based international economy for Asia, which has been fantastic for everybody. And indeed, I think is the principal reason why the US role in this has accounted for seven decades without war, without great power[?] war, which is a historical anomaly.
But the Chinese argument would be, the same way the Americans believed, when we were emerging to what we were sure was an American region[?], that was then, and now is now. So for our region, we want to be the dominant power. And I think that’s going to be the dynamic that plays out this year, next year, the next decade, in which North Korea is just an example.
KEVIN RUDD: As we move to questions, now, and I'm inviting people to go to the microphones if you’ve got questions to ask. There's one here. There's one there. There's one up there. And there's one up there. Some things haven't changed since I was last here are the location of the mics. And as people move there, I think I’ll take a round of, frankly, four questions, and get Graham to reflect and answer and ignore as he chooses. Politics, we used to ignore the hard ones, or slip and slide over the top of them. I'm sure Graham, as an academic, went to that. But, as people think of their questions, just to respond on what you said, I think one of the useful things about this thing, your book, purely my observations of Chinese reading all of it, and Chinese responses to it, is it really does sharpen the analysis in the Chinese mind about the long-term consequences of, shall I say, strategic drift in the US-China relationship, that things could be pushed across a particular line. And at that point, there would be a very huge price to pay. And therefore, it’s worthwhile beginning to think about other forms of, shall I say, long-term strategic partnership with the United States. Just an observation as I listen to Chinese responses about where all this could go.
Let me be unpredictable, and I’ll start up here with you, sir, and then over to you, and then over here. I will take three Graham and then you answer them and go back. And could you name, rank, and serial number.
Q: Good evening. My name is A.J. Carver. I'm visiting this evening. I was wondering, for either of you, if you had children in South Korea who had the option to leave, would you advise them to? And if not, what would it be just enough to give that advice?
KEVIN RUDD: Okay, good, sharp, and to the point, and sort of question which we in politics would hate to be asked. Yes. [laughter]
Q: Thank you.
KEVIN RUDD: And please identify who you are and where you're from.
Q: I'm [00:43:23] from China. I'm CMPA. Thank you Prime Minister. Thank you Professor Allison for the dialogue today. To Prime Minister, any comments on Professor Bruce[?] Cummings[?] and his book America’s Policy to War to North Korea: Seven Decades of [00:43:43]. To Professor Allison, in terms of prospect about China-US relationship, any comments on President Obama in 2009? If China and United States work together, it’s good for the United States. It’s good for China. It’s good for the world. And any comments on President Xi Jingping, his illustration about China and United States for future? Xi say, “We Chinese never—We are not jealous of the other success. We never complained. We will come with our opened hands, people from all of the countries, to board on the express of China’s development.” Thank you very much.
KEVIN RUDD: Thank you very much. And one over here.
Q: Thank you. My name is [00:44:42] Kim from the Fletcher School, from South Korea. And I have a question to Mr. Prime Minister. So would you be willing—
KEVIN RUDD: [simultaneous conversation]
GRAHAM ALLISON: Please.
Q: Sure. So Mr. Prime Minister [00:44:56] willing to share your wisdom on where US and China can work together and resolve this North Korean issue?
KEVIN RUDD: Okay, there's a quick round of three. So Graham? Your advice to kids.
GRAHAM ALLISON: I’ll do the two of them, and you do the third one if you would. So I would say I don’t think the risks of war on the Korean Peninsula are so high that I would move if I had a kid or if I were advising a child. Though I must say that I think that there are much higher than as priced into the market or than people in Seoul have in mind. It’s a little bit like—I mean Seoul reminds me a little bit of Berlin in the Cold War. People in Berlin lived on the edge. They knew that something could happen any time. And if it happened, it would be catastrophic. But then they pretty soon put it out of their mind, and it gave a little more edge to life that be happy every day. Take advantage of every day.
But I would watch the situation, because I could easily imagine circumstances of which, over the next year—not longer than a year—the US were to conduct a military strike against North Korea. And I think if we do, I think then the risk of some artillery attack on Seoul would be substantial.
On the question from the lady from China, great question. And it would be a long discussion. But I think that it’s hard to distinguish between the public diplomacy of both China and the US and the private conversations. So in the public diplomacy, we all say, “Kum-Ba-Yah. Everybody, link hands, and we’re all going to be better off together. Nobody’s really competing with each other. We never admit to compete with anybody. We all think that”—In private, from the point of view of Xi Jingping, when he asks himself, “Why should the US Navy be the arbiter of events in the South China Sea? Why should we have a view about who builds an island, and where they build an island, or who owns an island, and why they own that island?” He thinks this is an anomaly. He thinks about it, I would say, analogously to the way Teddy Roosevelt looked at the Caribbean in—or in 1897 when he went to Washington. He said, “What are the Spanish doing in Cuba?” That’s like, “What are the Americans doing in Korea? And why are the British Navy and the German Navy parading around in the Atlantic? They should not be here.” And he did his best, over the next decade, to get them out of there, and did.
So I would say that, beneath the—If you look at the behavior, ever since the humiliation that the PLA suffered when they tried to intimidate Taiwan, and President Clinton sent two carriers into the area to prevent them bracketing Taiwan with missile defenses, they have built up a capability to try to push the US Navy back out beyond the first island chain. They've been fairly successful.
So, if you look at the behavior, you would say they understand that they're competing with the US. And I would think similarly, if you look at the behavior from the US, that would be a better guide to the fact that people are seeing China as a competitor in that space. So all that makes then is the ingredients for what I think Kevin has played a role in helping to try to shape, which is to say, start with the diagnosis. The diagnosis, the reality of the diagnosis is, I am there. I have established an order. This has been great for you and for everybody else. It actually has enabled the Asian miracles, for nobody more than China. So that’s proposition one.
And proposition two is, you are now bigger and stronger. And you find this somewhat uncomfortable, because you think you deserve more say, you deserve more sway. All this was put in place before you got there. That’s life. So I would say, now how do we cope with life? That’s going to be the question. I'm very interested in starting with the diagnosis and then asking how we can escape Thucydides’s Trap.
KEVIN RUDD: On the question which was posed about what can the United States and China productively work on, I think I’ll just make two or three quick points. So one is, you know, the process begun by President Obama that’s called the Sunny Lens Process, it wasn’t a bad process. It was, for the first time, established a series of meetings at non—shall I say state visit level, working level meetings, not as an addendum to some other international conference somewhere, but with an agenda which covered, frankly, the regional and global agenda.
And frankly, that’s become semi-institutionalized. And whatever the current administration might say about Mar-A-Lago, Mar-A-Lago is a continuation of Sunny Lens as a process. The extent to which the agendas actually match up, and certainly the talking points, that’s a separate matter. But prior to Sunny Lens, you know, these were very thin and constrained lines of, shall I say, communication at the highest political level across the broad agenda. That’s my first point. So some process has been made on machinery.
Secondly, in terms of what's a substantive agenda, it’s—you don’t have to think too far. I mean rules of the road on cyber is clearly the interest of both countries. Secondly, the emerging domains in artificial intelligence in military affairs, and the absence of the regulatory environment around any of that, looms as, I think, a second and huge domain.
Thirdly, I think our Chinese friends, particularly off the back of one boat and one road, are discovering what the world of terrorism is like outside of China’s borders, the recent killing of Chinese nationals in Pakistan has a huge domestic political issue in China. And suddenly, ISIS becomes a Chinese reality, not just an American reality. And the more one boat/one road is pushed going west, the more CT, counterterrorism practically is going to become a live issue. That’s the third domain.
And the fourth one, of which we would put at the top of the list until a couple of years ago, of course is existential challenges to the planet, namely climate. And for which I've been in the trenches myself for many, many years. And the transformation of the US-China dialogue on climate between Copenhagen and Paris, is frankly just chalk and cheese. It’s like Mars and Venus, in terms of two different worlds.
There is a big agenda. But I would add, also on our topic earlier discussion this evening, which was North Korea. But you know—and these are the things I reflected on the paper I wrote on the future trajectory, possible trajectory for US-China relations which I entitled “Constructive Realism.” There's a bunch of stuff you're not going to agree on. Taiwan. There's a bunch of stuff which is low-hanging fruit. That’s fine. There's a bunch of stuff up the middle, which is hard but doable. And I would still hope it happens in that direction.
But a further thought to our Chinese friends. And I've been working on China for a long, long time. And that is, in certain of these categories, for real process to achieve, will require fundamental strategic shifts in China’s historical position. Rather than seeing diplomacy as a waking game, while, shall I say, the correlation of forces, to use an ancient Soviet expression, moves more decisively in China’s direction. And I think, given what's happened in recent, shall I say, reflections within China itself, on the current state of its North Korea policy, particularly after Kim Jung Un’s last nuclear test, I am waiting to see what now happens in the content of North Korean policy from Beijing.
Another round of questions. I see one over here, a gentleman here, and this gentleman here. So I will go in that order. Sir, after you.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister and Professor Allison for the very excellent dialogue. And before I ask my question, first of all I wanted to mention that today is a Chinese Meat Autumn Festival. So happy Moon Festival. [Chinese]
KEVIN RUDD: [Chinese]
Q: [Chinese] I think the Professor Allison, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and insights about North Korea and the relationship between the China and the US, particularly about the lessons from Cuba Missile Crisis. But I think there was a fundamental difference between the Cuba crisis and North Korea. In Cuba Crisis, the major party is US and Soviet Union. So these two parties could reach a deal to solve the problem. But in North Korea, China and the US is not the only party on the list. Even not the major party, because it’s a fundamental issue, it’s about the security issue in Peninsula between the North Korea and the South Korea.
So on such [00:55:14] how could you expect the China and the US reach a deal, whatever beautiful or ugly? And because even that these two countries even not a major party of the—
KEVIN RUDD: Got it. We need to get through the others, because we’re up against the clock. Sir.
Q: -- And I graduated the College. The question is for Professor Allison. First of all, thank you for your time today and your insights. The plan you outlined is an intuitively sensible one, namely two, you know, trusted represents go from the US and China and work out a backroom creative compromise. But it does assume that once a compromise is reached, China could affect that change on North Korea in a relatively seamless way. Are there risks to that assumption?
KEVIN RUDD: Good. Great question. Sir.
Q: Charles Knight, Center for International Policy. Professor Allison, I was grateful that you mentioned backroom discussions. Because what I'm going to talk about would be appropriate for that. When I've thought about conditions, strategic conditions that could lead to greater cooperative and win-win diplomacy with China around North Korea, the fundamental strategic situation that would pertain to any unification of Korea and possible regime change in the north, it gets referred to in the press here as North Korea being a buffer state for China.
But I think it’s much more important that, you know, I think if we have strategic empathy at all for China, it would be simply intolerable for China to have a US-aligned nation if a unified Korea was still aligned with US, up against their border there. And so I’d like to ask you to address whether—if there was unification some day, that the US alliance could come to an end, perhaps Korea could become like Sweden, informally aligned with the west, but not a formal alliance, something like that would be tolerable, possibly for China.
The other point I wanted to make is—
KEVIN RUDD: I'm running out of time, sir.
Q: If I may, just very quickly, sorry.
KEVIN RUDD: You have 15 seconds.
Q: Very quickly. One of the deepest concerns I have is, if there was war, what would happen if US forces and Chinese forces met in the north somewhere, as they both went in to try to stabilize the north and perhaps seize nuclear weapons sites, etcetera? So comments regarding that?
KEVIN RUDD: Okay, you’ve got your 15 seconds. We got that one. Three answers, Graham, you got 60 seconds. [laughter]
GRAHAM ALLISON: I’ll go backwards.
KEVIN RUDD: Using my discretion, you’ve got three minutes.
GRAHAM ALLISON: On the first question, or the most recent question, I think that the—from the Chinese perspective, there will not be a unified Korea that is an American military lot. I've had much discussion of this with Chinese in a track two context. They say, this principle was established in 1950, when we fought you back to the 38th Parallel. We were 1/50th your size then. So don’t try to do this again. So that’s their view.
Now, if there were a unified Korea under Seoul, over time would it inevitably fall into a Chinese orbit? If trim lines continue, I think the answer is yes. So might it be interested in renegotiating a relationship with the US? And it might if it weren’t threatened militarily by North Korea. So it’s hard to tell exactly where that goes. But the reason why I think the North Korean scenario of war is so dangerous is, if the Americans—I mean if you listen to Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary Carter’s successor, he testifies, if we have a Korean war, it’ll be catastrophic, but one we will win. Korea will be unified. And the Kim regime will be gone. But he says not a word about China.
And I would say, that’s the scenario we played out once before, and China entered the war. So I would feel very uncomfortable about counting on reunifying Korea with American military forces as an ally coming to China’s borders. So that’s a long answer.
On the second question, I certainly agree that if there were a deal, can China affect its side of it? How much leverage does China have over Kim Jung Un? If it were prepared to squeeze his lifeline of oil, it can actually, I think, undermine the regime. But if it undermines the regime, what then happens? Do you end up with chaos, confusion, and otherwise? And from the Chinese perspective, the uncertainty that surrounds that is too great.
So I believe that in the successive UN sanctions, which every President including now Trump has celebrated as, “The toughest sanctions ever. This is going to do the trick,” that the Chinese think they're mainly humoring us. That they're not likely to have a significant effect on North Korea, because they think if it had a significant effect, it runs a risk of instability, which they like less than the alternative.
And then, on the first question, absolutely right, that the—in thinking about the analogy between Korea and Cuba, the very good news in the Cuban Missile Crisis was that Castro, who kept trying to get into the act, was actually only the stage. So if Castro had been an actor as in the case of the North Korean case, where you’ve got three parties, then for sure we would have got to nuclear war.
I have a description of this in The Essence of Decisions mentioned before, in which the day after Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles, Castro sent him a blistering letter, really just wild letter, in which he said, “Do not take the missiles home. Launch them now against the Americans.” This is like a mad man. I mean it was very strange. In this case—
KEVIN RUDD: That must have been a fun moment in the Kremlin.
GRAHAM ALLISON: And it confirmed Khrushchev’s view that this guy is hugely dangerous. And it’s a good thing we didn’t let him into the act. And in this case, Kim Jung Un is already an actor. So that’s absolutely a difference that matters. It’s still, I think, in the case of the two adults, I mean they're trying to manage whatever—how do you call him, Little Fatty?
KEVIN RUDD: Yeah, Fatty Kim. Xīn pàng er [鑫胖儿]
GRAHAM ALLISON: Fatty Kim together. So I would say that the analogy still is helpful. But to recognize that you’ve got this third independent actor.
KEVIN RUDD: Well, ladies and gentlemen, tonight we have heard perspectives from Cuba and the missile crisis. We have heard perspectives from the Peloponnesian Peninsula a little before the Cuban crisis, give or take two and a half thousand years. And we’ve heard perspectives from the banks of the River Charles through Graham this evening.
To add one footnote on the China dimension, and Graham’s reflection in Essence of Decision, which is how do domestic political players act in crises? One reflection I picked up from a senior Chinese practitioner recently in Beijing, when I asked the question, “So what would China do in the event of a unilateral military action of one form or another, smaller to larger?” The answer from this person was deeply interesting. And I hadn’t expected it. He said, “There is no way in the world, given the nature of Chinese domestic politics, and the role of the Chairman of the Military Commission in the Chinese Communist Party,” and that’s Xi Jingping, “could be seen to be doing nothing.” And so, from a purely domestic political lens, there is a reflection there from a person who I've known for their candid views over a long period of time, that whatever the geostrategic rationale for Chinese action would be under those circumstances, there would be a domestic political imperative to act in one form or another, as Graham said before, in 1950, Mao. Three months after securing final victory in a Chinese Civil War, which had raged for decades, and just after kicking out the Japanese in ’45. Then, risks all by going to war against the largest and most successful military power in the United States, these are things that are worthy of reflection.
Ladies and gentlemen, please thank and honor Graham Allison.
Graham T. Allison
Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School
Author, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?
President, Asia Society Policy Institute
Prime Minister of Australia (2007–2010, 2013)