Rich Reviews Destined for War: Can America and China escape the Thucydides’s Trap by Graham T. Allison
Recently I read an interesting book on an important current political topic. The title is “Destined for War: Can America and China escape the Thucydides’s Trap.” The Greek historian Thucydides first identified a perilous historical pattern that has since repeated itself many times over the last 500 years. Thucydides described how when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, alarm bells should sound. His observation was, “It is the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” The author, Graham Allison, identifies 16 cases where a major nation’s rise has disrupted the position of the dominant state. Twelve of these rivalries ended in war and four did not. That statistic is a bit unsettling. In the seven decades since WWII the world has prospered without a war amongst the great powers. So now what lies ahead?
This book is not about China, but is about the impact of a rising China on the US and the global world order. Two centuries ago, Napoleon warned, “Let China sleep: when she awakes, she will shake the world.” Today China has awakened, and the world is beginning to shake.
The book provides great insight into life and culture in China and how it greatly differs from western culture. The idea that China might someday become a democratic nation is not going to happen. The people in China see their place and the role of government in ways very unlike how we do in the US. President Xi Ping’s wants to “make China great again.” The deepest desire of over a billion citizens is to make the nation not only rich, but also powerful. These citizens look to the government to lead the economy, not the public sector. China is not just another big player, they are the biggest player in the history of the world.
War between China and the US is not inevitable. When Xi Jinping commented on the Thucydides’s Trap he said, “should major countries time and again make mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.” Will China and the US follow the missteps of Germany and Britain and Sparta and Athens? There is the potential for a positive outcome. Together this can happen by working to truly understand each other’s culture, the dynamics of the populations and the economic expectation of the governments and the citizens. The book details the events that lead to WWI, Cuban missile crisis, as well as many other critical times. I highly recommend this book. After reading it you will develop an insight that will help you better understand the events that unfold in the decades ahead.
– Richard C. Donnelly