DESTINED FOR WAR by Graham Allison
Kirkus Star


America, China, and Thucydides's Trap
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A pertinent study of the relationship between the United States and China, in which “a rapidly ascending China [is] challeng[ing] America’s accustomed predominance.”

Using as point of departure the ancient Greek historian Thucydides’ explanation for the start of the Peloponnesian War (“It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable”), Allison (Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World, 2012, etc.), the director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, refers to the “natural, inevitable discombobulation that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power”—in this case, China versus the U.S. First, the author establishes what China and its ambitious president, Xi Jinping, are after—namely, using geoeconomic strength and manipulation to become the most powerful nation in the world. Indeed, Allison informs his surprised students, China has already surpassed the U.S. as the “manufacturing powerhouse of the world” and also in other areas such as infrastructure, military spending, and investments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. China uses incrementally deployed instruments of “soft power” to establish mastery over its trading partners, employing nicely Sun Tzu’s dictum from The Art of War that “the highest victory is to defeat the enemy without ever fighting.” Relying on the work of the Thucydides Project Harvard, Allison draws on numerous examples over the last 500 years of the violent clashes between upstarts and established powers—e.g., the imperial ambitions of the U.S. under Theodore Roosevelt in challenging Spain at the turn of the 19th century and the world war sparked by competition between Germany and Britain in 1914. While the author offers numerous examples of how a fatal confrontation could erupt between the U.S. and China (e.g., the move for independence by Taiwan), he closes with a set of calming strategies to defuse tensions.

A timely, reasoned treatise by a keen observer and historian.

Pub Date: May 30th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-544-93527-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2017


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