The world is underestimating the risk of a cataclysmic clash between the United States and China. That’s the belief of Graham Allison, a foreign policy expert who advised every presidential administration from Reagan to Obama.
Allison sees disturbing parallels between the present relationship between China and America and situations that have led to catastrophic wars in the past, The Economist reported July 6. He even has a name for it: the “Thucydides Trap.”
The trap occurs when a rising nation like China clashes with an established power such as the United States. A classic example of the trap was World War I, which broke out because Imperial Germany challenged the British Empire.
Thucydides was an ancient Greek historian who chronicled the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. That conflict led to the destruction of both nations.
Destined for War?
“It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Allison wrote in his new book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?
Allison says war between the two nations is “more likely than not.”
“This alarming conclusion is shared by many in Washington, where Mr. Allison’s book is causing a stir,” The Economist reported.
President Trump’s foreign policy team is taking Allison’s warnings very seriously. Politico reported that Allison visited the White House and met with some of Trump’s top advisers but not the president.
Tensions between the U.S. and China are rising. On Monday, China’s military accused the U.S. of a making a “serious political and military provocation” after the guided missile destroyer USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese base on Triton Island in the South China Sea.
The complaint came on the same day that President Trump lashed out at China on Twitter.
“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter,” Trump tweeted. “So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!”
Allison is director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Last month, Allison told the CBC that he thinks North Korea can be the catalyst for war between the United States and China.
“I think in that sense it’s dangerous,” Allison said of North Korea. “If you asked me what’s a good way to get to war, that would be a good way.”
“If you end up having a war between the U.S. and China, China can deliver 50 or 60 nuclear weapons against the U.S.” Allison said. “Basically, that’s the end of the country as you would think of it. That’s catastrophic.”
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