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Are China and the United States destined for war?

Xi Jinping wants to make China great again & Trump has expressed similar hopes for his own country

Jack Bowers The Conversation 

trump, jinping, Xi, Donald
Donald Trump and Xi Jinping

 

By 431 BCE, under the leadership of Pericles, Athens had become a formidable maritime power whose empire extended across the eastern Mediterranean region. Its challenge to the supremacy of Sparta, the warrior nation of the Peloponnesian peninsula, was obvious. According to historian and general Thucydides:

Growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made [the Peloponnesian] inevitable.

Graham Allison’s new book, Destined for War, suggests a modern parallel in a rising power (Athens/China) causing fear in an established power (Sparta/the US) in which the necessary trust in one another is lost, and becomes inevitable.

But the analogy has its limits. All too often the who, when and how of the next have been confidently predicted. Very rarely has anyone got it right.

Athens and Sparta exercised power very differently from their analogous contemporaries. Over the four decades before the war, Athens had become the regional muscle, rather more like the than China, extracting payment for providing security. The Athenians were primarily traders, providing a envelope while also securing resources for themselves.

Like the Chinese, the Spartans were focused more on maintaining territorial security. Most of the Peloponnesian peninsula was under Spartan control. Their strength came with the land and their exercise of a military regime depended on an often rebellious population of slaves known as Helots.

Athens had transformed its prosperity into a tightly controlled corporate empire. Similarly, today, the has exerted considerable influence over strategic hotspots. Countries like have effectively outsourced their security risks.

Sparta maintained a looser confederacy of alliances of which less was demanded, and less given. too has used soft power, offering aid and investment across the Pacific and Africa, buying influence rather than extracting power.

We might see a certain aggressiveness about the that reminds of the image of Sparta as a warring nation. But, in fact, Sparta was somewhat insular and inward-looking. China’s expansion might remind of the growth of the Athenian empire, but Athens had little land and few prospects – it depended on an empire to secure resources, very different from the situation.

Allison is acutely aware that his analogy to the fifth-century is a provocation. With his colleagues at the Belfer Center at Harvard, Allison’s Thucydides’s Trap Project has studied 16 significant conflicts from the last five centuries. Twelve of those led to The others only avoided through significant adjustments in the attitudes and postures of both sides.

There is no doubt that is rising. The GDP of surpassed the GDP of the US (on purchasing power parity terms) in 2014. By 2019, it will be 20% larger. While the can only manage a growth rate of 2.1%, continues to grow by at least 6.5%.

As former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd once observed, is experiencing “the English and the global information revolution combusting simultaneously and compressed into not 300 years, but 30”.

The fearful West is apt to ignore the considerable internal tensions that faces. The Communist Party has a social contract with its citizens: the price of authoritarian rule is to provide economic opportunities for all.

While the vast majority has prospered under its regime, inequality has risen exponentially between China’s urbanised east coast and the rural hinterland. Balancing the forces for social on the coast and economic prosperity inland requires withering complexities.

Ironically, as part of the “One Belt One Road” initiative, the bought the port of Piraeus, the Athenian port that was the axis around which the Athenian empire once turned.

But this highlights China’s distinctly bifurcated view, between a maritime expansion of influence and a new Silk Road, designed to compete with for economic and political dominance in is a speeding juggernaut, precariously balanced between its and domestic aspirations.

President wants to make great again. Allison’s prescient analysis shows that, despite Xi’s nuanced understanding of China-relations compared with President Donald Trump’s infantile floundering on the world stage, the aspirations each has for his country are remarkably similar.

But, unlike the bipolar world of the Ancient Greeks, the system since the Cold has been characterised by multipolarity: China, the US, the European Union, Japan, and each has an opportunity to exercise power more independently, or perhaps interdependently.

Allison’s book makes a fascinating and worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the nature of power as a function of the nation-state.

Through his analysis of the four case studies in which was avoided, Allison gives “twelve clues for peace”, including practical examples of how Thucydides’s Trap was avoided. These include insights into the nature of leadership, how power is enacted, the opportunities and entrapments of alliances, and much more.

Thucydides spoke of the motivations of being fear, honour and interest, and it’s the same today. These motivations come largely from within – they are not imposed by other countries from outside.

Ultimately, countries go to when their respective grand strategies – the exercise of power in the world for national interest – become misaligned with the expectations of their respective domestic audiences. That is, the trap for both the and is to manage domestic expectations, and to harmonise those expectations with the exercise of influence.


Jack Bowers, Senior Lecturer, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

First Published: Wed, June 21 2017. 09:16 IST
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