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What an Ancient Historian Says About the U.S.-China Clash

Historians in the News
tags: China, Thucydides Trap



Are the U.S. and China doomed to battle? Or to put it another way, are they Sparta and Athens? That’s what’s meant when foreign affairs observers toss around the phrase “Thucydides Trap.” Thucydides (thoo-SID-i-deez) was a Greek historian in the 5th century B.C. who explained the Peloponnesian War of his day as an inevitable clash between Athens, a rising city-state, and the already established superpower, Sparta.

1. Who came up with the Thucydides Trap?

Not Thucydides. He was a historian trying to explain what had already happened rather than seeking to predict future events. The modern term was coined in 2012 by Graham Allison, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Allison argued that as China becomes stronger, it will threaten to displace U.S. influence, which could result in an unhealthy rivalry leading to armed conflict.

2. Does the trap explain other conflicts?

Allison counts 16 cases in the past 500 years in which rising powers threatened to dislodge dominant ones, with 12 resulting in war. In the run-up to World War I, for example, Germany sought to assert its military might over Europe and to create its own empire overseas, straining relations with the leading power of the day, Britain. Similarly, the Thirty Years’ War of the 1600s followed rising tensions between emerging Protestant powers, initially a collection of German and Dutch states, and the established Catholic one, the Holy Roman Empire.

3. Is the trap inescapable?

No. World powers can coexist peacefully. ...

Read entire article at Bloomberg

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