Book: Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

Author: Graham Allison

Review by: Bruce Allen, honorary consul of the Principality of Liechtenstein in Georgia

Bruce Allen

As described by the eponymous Greek historian about the war between Athens and Sparta two and a half millennia ago, Thucydides’s trap is a situation where a rising national power displaces a longstanding dominant power.

In international affairs circles, it’s en vogue today to use this device to spark conversations about the United States and China, which some see as being on an inevitable collision course. 

Historically, the pattern is that the dominant power feels threatened by the ascendant power, pre-preemptively starting a war in hopes of halting its rise before it accumulates equal strength and wealth. In 12 of 16 such situations examined over the last 500 years, this has been the result. 

Specific examples of the trap include when Germany threatened the dominant power of Britain, resulting in World War I and subsequently World War II, as well as when the rising Soviet Union threatened the United States in the 1950s, causing The Cold War despite the fact that the conflict never took the form of a shooting war. Still, remember that 75 percent of the examples of the trap did result in hot wars, and only four ended relatively peacefully.

In Destined for War, author Graham Allison insightfully discusses the possibility that the U.S. and China will fall into Thucydides’s trap. He treats the subject fairly and does not make any hard and fast predictions as to the likelihood of any particular outcome in the current situation.

He does, however, present a lot to think about, at a time in history when thought and reason, as well as restraint and knowledge of history, might mean the difference in world peace and prosperity — or yet another century of lost youth, progress, wealth, art and human happiness. This is an important read at a pivotal moment during which world leaders will decide whether history repeats itself.

Read previous reviews by Dr. Allen: 

Books 2018: Chasing Mussolini’s Lost Bugattis Through Ethiopia

Books 2017: The Artful Story of a Gentleman in Moscow

Books 2016: The Female War Correspondent the U.S. Forgot

Books 2015: America’s Fertile 19th-Century Relations With France

Books 2014: The Assassination of the Archduke

Books 2013: A Tale of Two Presidents, the Press and a Polarized Nation

Editor’s note: This review is part of Global Atlanta’s annual project asking influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued each year since 2010. Purchases through the Amazon affiliate links at top will provide a commission to Global Atlanta. All books were chosen and reviews written independently, with only mild editing from our staff.

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