Are China and the US Falling Into the Thucydides Trap?

Are China and the US Falling Into the Thucydides Trap?

Author/s (editor/s):

Peter Van Ness

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Publication type:

Journal article

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East Asia Forum

Peter Van Ness, ‘Are China and the US Falling into the Thucydides Trap?’ East Asia Forum, 17 August 2017.

Building his analysis on Thucydides’ study of the Peloponnesian War, Graham Allison and his colleagues have studied the classic international relations problem of military conflict between a rising power and an established dominant power. They identified 16 such situations over the past 500 years, and found that 12 of them ended in war — painting a gloomy picture of the future of US–China relations.

Critics of Allison’s work have argued that the relationship between the United States and China is very different. They are deeply interdependent both economically and politically, with sustained communication between the US and Chinese militaries. Others note that mutual assured destruction means that a US–China nuclear war would be suicidal, making even the suggestion of war between the two countries unthinkable.

These are valid reservations but there are three key points missing in critics’ dismissal of Allison’s warnings. These are the unprecedented risk involved in nuclear war, the positioning of today’s militaries and the reality of an erratic and unpredictable president of the United States.

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