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Is a Large-Scale U.S.-China War in Our Near Future?

"China News 4 Ways How Chinas Military Stacks Up Against the US" by Asitimes is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s become a common fear among the American public that a world war will break out between the U.S. and China. Even video games set in a future war depict the scenario. How likely is this conflict, and why are so many confident that it will happen? 

Tensions were especially high last year with the previous administration, although still prevalent with Biden as president. In his article, “The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S and China Headed for War?” author Graham Allison claims through his research that the Thucydides Trap makes war between the two countries more likely than not. Thucydides’s Trap rests on the idea that the challenging of a ruling power by a rising one makes war very likely.

A prime example is the Peloponnesian War, where Sparta’s fear of Athens lead to conflict. Allison analyzes 16 examples over the past 500 years in which a rising country challenged a ruling one. He found that war occurred in 12 out of the 16 cases. The Thucydides Trap can be applied to the U.S.-China relationship, with the U.S. as the ruling power and China as the rising power. Allison cites China’s economic and military growth as proof of China’s rise. He writes that the ruling power’s “fear, insecurity, and determination to defend the status quo” drives a pattern of war, and these characteristics can especially be seen in the behavior of the United States. 

Allison states that war is not inevitable, as proven by the 4 out of 16 cases where it did not occur, and asserts that world leaders must learn from historical examples of peace between rising and ruling powers, such as the U.K. and U.S. in the early 20th century. I agree with Allison’s contention that the U.S. should work towards a stable relationship with China. However, given some predictions that Biden will likely direct attention towards domestic issues rather than geopolitical ones, I am unsure of whether the U.S.-China relationship will be given the attention it needs. Ultimately, much change and action are needed from both sides if we want to escape the Thucydides Trap.

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