Can the United States and a Rising China Avoid Thucydides’s Trap?

Thucydides, a general in Ancient Greece, was exiled from Athens after failing to reach the city of Amphipolis to prevent takeover by the Spartans. In exile, he wrote a history of the 27-year Peloponnesian War and determined, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” That one sentence inspired Harvard political scientist Graham Allison to research 16 major power rivalries over the last 500 years between reigning and emerging powers. Not all rivalries led to war, and Börje Ljunggren, author and former Swedish ambassador to China, analyzes Allison’s arguments on whether the United States and China can escape the Thucydides’s Trap. “Allison’s ultimate ambition is to raise awareness and prevent collision between the United States and China,” Ljunggren writes. “He identifies four core ideas based on ‘structural realities’: clarifying vital interests, understanding the aims of the other, crafting strategy and addressing national challenges. Predictability is crucial.” Sources for unpredictability and confrontation are many, from Chinese ties with North Korea along with claims in the South China Sea to controls over currency or human rights. Yet the world’s largest economic and military powers share common interests. Ljunggren concludes, “there is ample scope for joint efforts beyond distrust.” – YaleGlobal