The Thucydides Trap theory created by Professor Graham Allison from Harvard University has been making headlines during the past five years, particularly since the recent release of his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides Trap?
Based on the ancient Greek historian Thucydides` famous statement, "It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable," Allison has selected and analyzed 16 cases of rising powers mostly in Western history challenging the established powers. He finds that 12 out of the 16 cases resulted in war.
Based on his study of these cases, he predicts that the competition between the US, an established superpower, and China, a global rising power, will, in most likelihood, result in war if effective preventive measures are not taken by both sides.
In my opinion, Allison`s theory appears to have been legitimizing and guiding US military action against a globally rising China to maintain American leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and America`s global supremacy. He has talked much less about how to overcome the trap if at all.
Specifically, there are three major concerns in Allison`s theory as follow:
First, Western biases. Most of Allison`s earlier cases of the so-called Thucydides Trap are rooted in the European context. Such cases cannot be assumed to occur in a different context such as Asia or China.
Second, inaccuracies and falsehood. Upon my own analysis, while 12 of the 16 cases are reported to have resulted in war which constitutes a 75 percent of the probability of war, only three out of the seven cases of the entire 20th century resulted in war. This gives an approximately 43 percent probability of war, with a 57 percent probability of no war or peaceful settlement.
Third, ulterior motive. Why has Allison been feverishly promoting it despite the fact the theory does not hold? My guess is that he intentionally or unintentionally is trying to escalate the conflict between the US and China.
The goal of Allison`s study appears to be to manufacture consent among the American public and America`s international allies about a need for war with China. The theory has been publicized so effectively that even Chinese President Xi Jinping was informed of it and provided a response. Xi said, "There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistake of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves." Xi`s view was recently echoed and affirmed by James Mattis, secretary of defense of the Trump administration. How should peace be maintained and war prevented between the US and China? Some argue that the US should give up universalism and exceptionalism. While this takes time and can only occur incrementally, the US at least can start engaging China on a new platform - the Belt and Road initiative (BRI).
BRI, a win-win economic-cultural strategy of global interconnectivity, can be an effective tool to materialize Xi and Trump`s shared vision for a peaceful and results-oriented relationship between the US and China. BRI, with a focus on infrastructure construction, could help the US with its plan to rebuild its infrastructure.
President Trump has just expressed his willingness to participate in BRI, which can and will hopefully overcome the Thucydides Trap and extend peace between the US and China and indeed globally for another 50 years. In the process, both the US and China can and will become great again. With this in mind, it is hopeful that Professor Allison will revise his theory.
The author is a PhD and professor of communication and global studies at the School of Communication, Chapman University, and a research fellow at the National Academy for Development and Strategy, Renmin University of China. firstname.lastname@example.org