The US and China are the two most powerful countries in the world, but their relationship is fraught with tension and mistrust. Can they avoid a war that could devastate the world? This Web Story summarizes the main arguments and insights from Graham Allison’s book Destined for War, which explores the historical phenomenon of Thucydides’ Trap and how it applies to the current situation between the US and China.
Thucydides’ Trap is a term coined by Graham Allison to describe the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power. This creates fear, insecurity, and miscalculation on both sides, which can lead to war. Allison analyzes 16 cases of Thucydides’ Trap in history, and finds that 12 of them resulted in war. The most famous example is the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece.
The US and China are in Thucydides’ Trap because China’s rapid economic growth, military expansion, and global influence challenge the US’s dominance and interests in the world. China sees itself as a rightful leader and a victim of past humiliation, while the US sees China as an ungrateful and aggressive rival. Both sides have conflicting views on issues such as trade, human rights, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and North Korea. These issues could spark a crisis that could escalate into a war.
The US and China can escape Thucydides’ Trap by learning from the four cases in history where war was avoided. These cases are: Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, Britain and the US in the 19th and 20th centuries, the US and the Soviet Union in the 20th century, and Germany and Britain and France in the 1990s. In these cases, the ruling and rising powers managed to cooperate, compromise, and coexist peacefully by recognizing their mutual interests, respecting each other’s core values, and restraining their allies and proxies.
The implications and recommendations for the US and China are that they need to rethink their strategies and policies to avoid a war that neither side wants or can win. The US needs to accept China’s rise and share power with it, while China needs to respect the US’s role and responsibilities in the world. Both sides need to engage in dialogue, diplomacy, and deterrence to prevent and resolve conflicts. They also need to work together on global challenges such as climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation.
Destined for War is a timely and important book that warns of the dangers of Thucydides’ Trap and offers hope and guidance for avoiding a war between the US and China. It is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of the world and the fate of humanity.