"Destined for War" by Graham Allison

Discover how Graham Allison's "Destined for War" offers critical insights into the US-China rivalry and its implications for global supply chains and marketing.


The Procure 4 Marketing Team

9/18/20244 min read

a book about war
a book about war

Graham Allison’s "Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?" is a thought-provoking examination of the escalating tensions between the United States and China. By invoking the ancient concept of Thucydides’s Trap—where a rising power threatens to displace an existing one, leading to conflict—Allison delves into the historical, political, and strategic dimensions of this modern rivalry. For procurement, supply chain, and marketing professionals, understanding these geopolitical dynamics is crucial for navigating the complexities of global business. This review explores key themes, critical analysis, and practical applications of Allison’s work for these fields.


"Destined for War" explores the historical context of Thucydides’s Trap and applies it to the contemporary power struggle between the United States and China. Allison examines 16 historical cases where a rising power threatened to displace an established one, resulting in war in 12 of those instances. By analyzing the current geopolitical landscape, he assesses whether the U.S. and China can avoid a similar fate. The book blends historical analysis with policy insights, providing a comprehensive understanding of the factors driving this potential conflict.

Key Themes

1. Thucydides’s Trap: Allison introduces the concept of Thucydides’s Trap, explaining how the fear and insecurity of an established power facing a rising challenger can lead to conflict. This framework helps professionals understand the underlying tensions between the U.S. and China and their potential impact on global markets.

2. Historical Precedents: The book provides a detailed analysis of historical precedents, comparing them with the current U.S.-China rivalry. This historical perspective offers valuable lessons for professionals, highlighting the importance of strategic foresight and adaptability in a rapidly changing global environment.

3. Economic and Military Competition: Allison examines the economic and military dimensions of the U.S.-China rivalry. For procurement and supply chain professionals, understanding these aspects is crucial for assessing risks and opportunities in global sourcing and logistics. Marketing professionals can gain insights into how geopolitical shifts might influence market dynamics and consumer behavior.

4. Policy Recommendations: The book offers policy recommendations aimed at preventing conflict between the U.S. and China. These insights can inform strategic planning and risk management for businesses operating in or with these countries.

5. Geopolitical Implications: Allison discusses the broader geopolitical implications of the U.S.-China rivalry, including its impact on global alliances, trade relationships, and technological advancements. This understanding is essential for professionals to anticipate and navigate potential disruptions in their industries.

Critical Analysis

While "Destined for War" provides invaluable insights, it also presents some challenges and areas for further exploration.

1. Deterministic View: Critics argue that the concept of Thucydides’s Trap may present an overly deterministic view of international relations, suggesting an inevitable conflict between rising and established powers. Professionals should consider this perspective while also exploring alternative outcomes and strategies for conflict avoidance.

2. Complexity of Modern Geopolitics: The book’s historical comparisons, while informative, may not fully capture the complexity of modern geopolitics, which is influenced by factors such as globalization, technological change, and multinational corporations. Professionals need to contextualize Allison’s insights within the current global landscape.

3. Focus on U.S. and China: While the focus on U.S.-China relations is central to the book, it may overlook the roles of other significant global players. Professionals should consider the broader geopolitical context, including the influence of other major economies and regional powers.

Implications for Procurement, Supply Chain, and Marketing Professionals

1. Procurement: Understanding the geopolitical dynamics between the U.S. and China is crucial for procurement professionals. Trade tensions, tariffs, and regulatory changes can significantly impact sourcing strategies. By staying informed about geopolitical developments, procurement managers can anticipate disruptions and diversify their supplier base to mitigate risks.

2. Supply Chain: Supply chain managers need to consider the potential impacts of U.S.-China tensions on logistics, transportation, and supply chain resilience. Geopolitical risks can lead to supply chain disruptions, increased costs, and the need for alternative routes or suppliers. Implementing robust risk management strategies and maintaining flexibility in supply chain operations are essential for navigating these challenges.

3. Marketing: Marketing professionals can benefit from understanding how geopolitical shifts influence consumer behavior and market dynamics. For instance, rising nationalism or regulatory changes in the U.S. or China could affect brand perception and consumer preferences. By incorporating geopolitical analysis into market research and strategy development, marketers can better position their brands and anticipate changes in demand.

Practical Applications

1. Risk Management: Professionals can use the insights from "Destined for War" to enhance their risk management frameworks. This includes conducting regular geopolitical risk assessments, diversifying supply chains, and developing contingency plans for potential disruptions.

2. Strategic Sourcing: Procurement teams should consider geopolitical factors when developing sourcing strategies. This involves identifying alternative suppliers, negotiating flexible contracts, and building strategic partnerships that can withstand geopolitical uncertainties.

3. Supply Chain Resilience: Supply chain managers can implement measures to enhance resilience, such as increasing inventory buffers, investing in supply chain visibility technologies, and exploring nearshoring or reshoring options to reduce dependency on geopolitically sensitive regions.

4. Market Adaptation: Marketing professionals should monitor geopolitical trends and adapt their strategies accordingly. This includes adjusting marketing messages to resonate with changing consumer sentiments, exploring new market opportunities, and leveraging data analytics to track the impact of geopolitical events on market behavior.


"Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?" by Graham Allison provides a comprehensive and thought-provoking analysis of the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. For procurement, supply chain, and marketing professionals, understanding these geopolitical dynamics is essential for navigating the complexities of global business.

While the book’s deterministic view of international relations and historical comparisons offer valuable insights, professionals must contextualize these within the current global landscape and consider alternative outcomes. By integrating Allison’s insights into strategic planning, risk management, and operational practices, professionals can enhance their ability to anticipate and respond to geopolitical risks.

In conclusion, "Destined for War" is a must-read for professionals seeking to deepen their understanding of the U.S.-China rivalry and its implications for global markets. By applying the principles outlined in the book, procurement, supply chain, and marketing professionals can achieve greater resilience, adaptability, and strategic foresight in their fields.