Graham Allison: Destined For War: Can America And China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

Graham Allison: Destined For War: Can America And China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?
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Graham Allison, director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, discusses his latest book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?


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When Athens went to war with Sparta some 2,500 years ago, Thucydides identified one simple cause - a rising power threatened to displace a ruling one. Will Washington and Beijing follow the footsteps of Britain and Germany a century ago? Or will they find a way to avoid war as the US did in crafting a Cold War strategy against the Soviet Union?

Graham Allison: Destined for War: Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?

Destined For War: Can America And China Escape Thucydides's Trap? - Book Review

Destined For War: Can America And China Escape Thucydides's Trap? by Graham Allison

CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES ARE HEADING TOWARD A WAR NEITHER WANTS. The reason is Thucydides’s Trap, a deadly pattern of structural stress that results when a rising power challenges a ruling one. This phenomenon is as old as history itself. About the Peloponnesian War that devastated ancient Greece, the historian Thucydides explained: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Over the past 500 years, these conditions have occurred sixteen times. War broke out in twelve of them. Today, as an unstoppable China approaches an immovable America and both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump promise to make their countries “great again,” the seventeenth case looks grim. Unless China is willing to scale back its ambitions or Washington can accept becoming number two in the Pacific, a trade conflict, cyberattack, or accident at sea could soon escalate into all-out war.

In Destined for War, the eminent Harvard scholar Graham Allison explains why Thucydides’s Trap is the best lens for understanding U.S.-China relations in the twenty-first century. Through uncanny historical parallels and war scenarios, he shows how close we are to the unthinkable. Yet, stressing that war is not inevitable, Allison also reveals how clashing powers have kept the peace in the past — and what painful steps the United States and China must take to avoid disaster today.





“Thucydides’s Trap identifies a cardinal challenge to world order: the impact of a rising power on a ruling power. I read the book with great interest. I can only hope that the US-China relationship becomes the fifth case to resolve itself peacefully, rather than the 13th to result in war.” — HENRY KISSINGER, former United States Secretary of State

“Graham Allison is one of the keenest observers of international affairs around.  He consistently brings his deep understanding of history’s currents to today’s most difficult challenges and makes our toughest foreign policy dilemmas accessible to experts and everyday citizens alike. That’s why I regularly sought his counsel both as a senator and as vice president.  In Destined for War, Allison lays out one of the defining challenges of our time—managing the critical relationship between China and the United States.” — JOE BIDEN, former Vice President of the United States

“One of the most insightful and thought-provoking books I have ever read on the most important relationship in the world: the US and China. If Graham Allison is right—and I think he is—China and the US must heed the lessons in this superb study in order to build a strategic relationship that avoids a war which neither side would win.” — General (Ret.) DAVID PETRAEUS, Chairman of the KKR Global Institute, former Director of the CIA, and former Commander of US Central Command

"The Chinese superpower has arrived. Could America's failure to grasp this reality pull the United States and China into war? [Destined for War] argue[s] persuasively that adjusting to this global power shift will require great skill on both sides if conflagration is to be avoided...[Destined for War is full of] wide-ranging, erudite cases studies that span human history...[A] fine book."—NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“This summer’s must-read book in both Washington and Beijing.”—NIALL FERGUSON, THE BOSTON GLOBE  

"Please read this book because it'll rattle you...[Allison is] a first-class academic with the instincts of a first-rate politician. He brings to the 'Thucydides Trap' an impressive sweep of history and geopolitical and military knowledge. Unlike some academics, he writes interestingly...Allison isn't a pessimist. He argues that with skillful statecraft and political sensitivity these two superpowers can avoid war."—BLOOMBERG NEWS

"A brief but far-reaching book in which potted history is incisively deployed…Perhaps we can avoid war, Mr. Allison says, by negotiating a long peace with China."—WALL STREET JOURNAL

"Allison raises critical issues with a sense of both drama and history. His prose should alarm serious American thinkers... and perhaps divert us from debates over backchannels to Russia, presidential tweets and the ghost wiretapping of Trump Towers.  And if you want some serious strategic imagination, pay special attention to the last ten pages or so. Worth the read."—MICHAEL HAYDEN, former Director of the CIA, in The Cipher Brief

“Can the US avoid confrontation with China? That is the geopolitical question of our age. In most cases, Thucydides was right: when a new power arises in the world, it results in a clash with the dominant power. This important and fascinating book extracts lessons for how we can avoid such a confrontation.”—WALTER ISAACSON, author of Steve Jobs and The Innovators

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


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