Asymmetric Parity and the Allison Trap

Public guest lecture by professor Brantly Womack, University of Virginia


While there is no structural necessity for zero-sum conflict in the asymmetric rivalry of the U.S. and China, it is possible for an intransigent posture by either side to force the interaction in a hostile direction.  China is not likely to be the prime mover toward direct confrontation because of the distractions of managing its Asian relationships.  However, as many have either argued or assumed, most prominently Graham Allison, it is quite imaginable that the U.S. could see China as the cause of its deterioration in relative power and as a hegemonic threat.  If the U.S. imagines  that it is in strategic mortal danger, and acts that way, it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is what I am calling the “Allison Trap.”  Because of the global importance of the U.S.-China relationship, the Allison Trap poses major diplomatic challenges not only to China, but to the rest of the world as well. 

Brantly WomackBio

Brantly Womack is Cumming Memorial Professor of Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia. Most of his work has been on Chinese national and international politics.

Womack received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1977 He had previously received a M.A. from Chicago, and a B.A. from the University of Dallas. He was a Fulbright Scholar, at the University of Munich, 1969-1970

After he received his doctorate, he worked as Assistant Professor of Political Science and Political Economy, The University of Texas at Dallas, followed by positions as Assistant and then Associate Professor and finally full Professor at Northern Illinois University. He went to the University of Virginia in 1992 as Dorothy Danforth Compton Professor of Public Affairs in its The Miller Center for Public Affair, and was later appointed to its Hugh S. & Winifred B. Cumming Memorial Chair in International Affairs.

Womack is also an Honorary professor at Jilin University (Changchun), and at East China Normal University (Shanghai).