Thucydides Trap – are China and America destined for war?
I am of course no fortune teller nor historian and I do not blog on politics. But this question is of immense importance which may affect many millions of life, not to mention destroying carefree living directly for at least a quarter of the World’s population (based on estimated 2017 population in the World at 7.5, China 1.39 and US 0.326 Billion- according Worldometers)- that is why I am interested to ponder and read about. So is there a Thucydides Trap now and is that the World’s destiny? Interested in some scholars’ views, read on…
The Thucydides Trap came from the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) between Sparta and Athens – the resident power and the rising power then. The History of the Peloponnesian War (Greek: Ιστορία του Πελοποννησιακού Πολέμου) is a historical account of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), which was fought between the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) and the Delian League (led by Athens). It was written by Thucydides, an Athenian historian who also happened to serve as an Athenian general during the war. His account of the conflict is widely considered to be a classic and regarded as one of the earliest scholarly works of history – in 8 books (Source: Wikipedia). This topic has been of intense research amongst historians for long. Many concluded that this Trap was unavoidable and history would repeat itself now. I was given as a gift by a friend a few books in Chinese on this topic, (these are two of them –2020中國與美國終須一戰－－當中國的復興之路遇上美國的重返亞洲 (published 17 July 2014); and 地緣政治與中美博弈：遏止中國崛起，美國最後五年倒數計時) (published 19 May 2016), which in summary ‘concluded’ the same. Much of the arguments for this stemmed from his research which concluded in two major contributing factors:-
- the huge unsustainable debt of USA (he predicted that by 2025 or so would reach 25% of US’s GDP which he claimed would be unsustainable by any nation), and war would be a ‘ready and effective’ solution to clean the slate and start all over again. And this is set against the very rapid rising economy of China creating a huge trade imbalance.
- the recent and rapid advance in Chinese military power with the powerful and accurate Beidou GPS and advance radar systems (including the‘ghostly’ quantum radar that can spot US …, , etc), and enabling effective weapons against large sea based targets – in effect aircraft carriers. This the author claimed would tip the balance of military edge against US in the next few years if China is allowed to continue. Hence the window for US to ‘stem the rising power in its bud’ is closing fast.
There are many books which push the warning bell about the unavoidable Thucydides Trap that America (World’s 3rd most populous country) is on a collision course with China (World’s most populous country); e.g. Howard W. French’s (a former reporter for The Washington Post and The New York Times) EVERYTHING UNDER THE HEAVENS, How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power, published 14 March 2017; the same is also much advocated in the latest book- Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by a Harvard Professor – Graham Allison (associated with the Kennedy School of Government) – available from Amazon on 3 July 2017. As I have yet to have the privilege to read this book, my information came from this review by Arthur Waldron who is the Lauder Professor of International Relations in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. I was delighted to read Waldron’s review as I tend to agree with him, and I hope I am right.
Waldron started his review by saying that perhaps the two greatest classicists of the last century, Professor Donald Kagan of Yale and the late Professor Ernst Badian of Harvard, long ago proved that no such thing exists as the “Thucydides Trap,” certainly not in the actual Greek text of the great History of the Peloponnesian War, perhaps the greatest single work of history ever.
Waldron has quoted many examples in history including from the last century that such Thucydides Trap did not happen (I recommend that you read his review which is very interesting). There is no Thucydides Trap, he claims with these interesting views- .” it’s far more likely, but certainly not as sexy, to believe that there will be no “destined” war between China and the U.S. because the Chinese might actually have a clearer reading of history than the scholars at Harvard.” ; “The problem is the pervasive lack of knowledge of China — a country which is, after all, run by the Communist Party, the police, and the army, and thus difficult to get to know. This black hole of information has perversely created an overabundance of fantasies, some very pessimistic, some as absurdly bright as a foreigner on the payroll can make them.”
One of the reasons he based his conclusion on is that- “In the decades ahead, China will have to solve immense problems simply to survive. Neither her politics nor her economy follow any rules that are known. The miracle, like the German Wirtschaftswunder (also known as The Miracle on the Rhine), and the vertical ascent of Japan, is already coming to an end. A military solution offers only worse problems.”. And I totally agree with Waldron that “Perhaps not war, but cultural and political synergy, is what is, in fact, “destined.””. Call me an optimist, but I really would love the blessing of our generation (i.e. not experiencing major wars) to continue!
Credit and Sources:-
World Population Clock: 7.5 Billion People (2017) – Worldometers. (2017). Worldometers.info. Retrieved 19 June 2017, from http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
Arthur Waldron (2017). Supchina.com. Retrieved 19 June 2017, from http://supchina.com/2017/06/12/no-thucydides-trap/?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits
Wikipedia on History of the Peloponnesian War. (2017). En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 19 June 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Peloponnesian_War
2020中國與美國終須一戰：當中國的復興之路遇上美國的重返亞洲 – 大雁出版基地. (2017). Andbooks.com.tw. Retrieved 19 June 2017, from http://www.andbooks.com.tw/book.php?book_sn=1120
地緣政治與中美博弈：遏止中國崛起，美國最後五年倒數計時 – 大雁出版基地. (2017). Andbooks.com.tw. Retrieved 19 June 2017, from http://www.andbooks.com.tw/book.php?book_sn=1530
Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power: Howard W. French: 9780385353328: Amazon.com: Books. (2017). Amazon.com. Retrieved 19 June 2017, from https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Under-Heavens-Chinas-Global/dp/0385353324/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497880419&sr=1-1-spell&keywords=frence+everything+under+heavons