In a clumsy sort of way they did what they probably should’ve done anyway (so did say several of the British newspaper opinion pieces). In the fanfare surrounding the volte-face the following was said: “today China is increasingly authoritarian at home, and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else … if the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change the free world.” We were reminded of the fact that in the 1970s (former US President) Nixon said he feared he had “created a ‘Frankenstein’ by opening the world up to the CCP.” It was starkly stated yesterday that this was “Prophetic.” I am reminded of something I learnt in an IR class: “Thucydides’s Trap.” * We were recommended to watch a talk in which political scientist Graham Allison sets out his thesis. Namely, the increasing antagonism between a rising China and the incumbent superpower, the USA, may portend to worse that the current posturing and pan-Pacific posturing. Tick-tock [Macedonia vs. Persia] … tick-tock [The Fall of Rome] … tick-tock [Europe vs. Ottomans] … TikTok [Colonial power struggles inc. Germany vs. England & then Japan vs. America too]. The punch–excuse the pun–line is that in 12 of 16 past geopolitical cases in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power, the result has been war.
According to Allison in 2012
The defining question about global order in the decades ahead will be: can China and the US escape Thucydides’s trap? The historian’s metaphor reminds us of the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power — as Athens did in 5th c. BCE and Germany did at the end of the 19th c. Most such challenges have ended in war.
“Thucydides’s Trap Has Been Sprung in the Pacific.”
— Financial Times, August 21, 2012.
According to Gideon Rachman in 2018
As tensions between the US and China rose in 2018, so did discussion of Thucydides’s trap (a term coined by Harvard professor Graham Allison to capture the idea that the rivalry between an established power and a rising one often ends in war). This cycle of reaction and counter-reaction might seem to justify the gloomy determinism of Prof Allison’s thesis. But it remains open to question whether patterns of state behaviour that emerged in ancient Greece will still prevail in the nuclear age.
‘Graham Allison has been a source of inspiration for me as a student and diplomat. As with Essence of Decision, Destined for War again provides us with his penetrating insights into global politics in the 21st century and beyond.’
‘Graham Allison is one of the keenest observers of international affairs around. He consistently brings his deep understanding of history’s currents to today’s most difficult challenges and makes our toughest foreign policy dilemmas accessible to experts and everyday citizens alike. In Destined for War, Allison lays out one of the defining challenges of our time — managing the critical relationship between China and the United States.’ In Destined for War, the eminent Harvard scholar Graham Allison explains why Thucydides’s Trap is the best lens for understanding U.S.-China relations in the twenty-first century. Through uncanny historical parallels and war scenarios, he shows how close we are to the unthinkable. Yet, stressing that war is not inevitable, Allison also reveals how clashing powers have kept the peace in the past — and what painful steps the United States and China must take to avoid disaster today.
The reason is Thucydides’s Trap, a deadly pattern of structural stress that results when a rising power challenges a ruling one. This phenomenon is as old as history itself. About the Peloponnesian War that devastated ancient Greece, the historian Thucydides explained: ‘It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.’ Over the past 500 years, these conditions have occurred sixteen times. War broke out in twelve of them. Today, as an unstoppable China approaches an immovable America, and both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump promise to make their countries ‘great again’, the seventeenth case looks grim. Unless China is willing to scale back its ambitions or Washington can accept becoming number two in the Pacific, a trade conflict, cyberattack, or accident at sea could soon escalate into all-out war.
Over the past 500 years, these conditions have occurred sixteen times. War broke out in twelve of them. Today, as an unstoppable China approaches an immovable America, and both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump promise to make their countries ‘great again’, the seventeenth case looks grim. Unless China is willing to scale back its ambitions or Washington can accept becoming number two in the Pacific, a trade conflict, cyberattack, or accident at sea could soon escalate into all-out war.
In Destined for War, the eminent Harvard scholar Graham Allison explains why Thucydides’s Trap is the best lens for understanding U.S.-China relations in the twenty-first century. Through uncanny historical parallels and war scenarios, he shows how close we are to the unthinkable. Yet, stressing that war is not inevitable, Allison also reveals how clashing powers have kept the peace in the past — and what painful steps the United States and China must take to avoid disaster today.
I’ll let you know something. Once it was said — muttered and murmured mutedly in order to check for rhyme as it was being etched — on the eve of a known near-certain to be humiliating death — I think here of (a) Icarus (Ancient Greek: Ἴκαρος // sun of Labyrinthine) and (b) the punch-(excuse the pun)-line of the song that begins: “Well they tell me of a pie up in the sky / Waiting for me when I die / But between the day you’re born and when you die / They never seem to hear even your cry” — with an exclaimed uplift of a twist at end (?), the following sombre lines:
❝ Even such is time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days.
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust! ❞
— Walter Raleigh
You see, it was the speaker of those now hallowed lines that said too — in a tome he wrote whist entombed within the rock-like stone walls of The Tower (the Kentish rag-stone of the time now largely reupholstered in Portland stone–i lapse in to remorse, not reverie, as I think of Brighton Rock, Lyme Regis , the Portsmouth Maritime Museum, the third floor exhibition of The Museum of London, Docklands, the National Maritime Museum’s rooms on the Elizabethan era of voyage, discovery and conquer &, Cardiff Docks oh, dear fictitious reader, it’s all moored to the Quay of why and I ask you to pay heed to the following question too: can you tell heaven from hell?) — that, “it is not truth, but opinion that can travel the world without a passport.” Is this, I wonder, a case in point:
D’ya get me? careless whispers; grapes so divine.
— § —
* The ancient Greek historian Thucydides had observed that the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BCE) was a result of the growth of Athenian power and the fear that this caused in Sparta.
In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.
The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. … Read on.
“The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?”
— Graham Allison, The Atlantic, September 24, 2015.