When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one, the most likely outcome is war. Twelve of 16 cases in which this occurred in the past 500 years ended violently.
Today, an irresistible rising China is on course to collide with an immovable America. The likely result of this competition was identified by the great historian Thucydides, who wrote: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”
But the point of Graham Allison’s latest book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? (Scribe, 2017), is not to predict the future, but to prevent it. Escaping Thucydides’s Trap is not just a theoretical possibility. In four of the 16 cases, including three from the 20th century, imaginative statecraft averted war.
Can Washington and Beijing steer their ships of state through today’s treacherous shoals? Only if they learn and apply the lessons of history.
Join Graham Allison as he discusses Destined for War and poses hard questions for two proud nations. He asks if China is serious about replacing the US as the dominant power in Asia in the foreseeable future, if Americans could accept becoming No.2, and whether war between Washington and Beijing is inevitable.