The Thucydides Trap

Now that sounds like one of those Greek tragedies that you had to read in school, right?

Not exactly but it does have a foot in international relations…..

The likely result of this competition was identified by the great historian Thucydides, who wrote: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

That is the Thucydides Trap……

These days most IR geeks are referring to this in dealing with China-USA relations……

Professor Graham Allison of the Kennedy School at Harvard commonly warns the United States and China not to fall into the “Thucydides Trap.” This trap, he opines, yawns wide because of “the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power — as Athens did in 5th century BC and Germany did at the end of the 19th century. Most such challenges have ended in war. Peaceful cases required huge adjustments in the attitudes and actions of the governments and the societies of both countries involved.”

Source: Beware the “Thucydides Trap” Trap | The Diplomat

If that reference was not to your liking then there is one in The American Conservative……

How do you turn a metaphor into an axiom? Try: “Strategist appropriation.” When writing on politics and war, this means lardering your first few graphs with maxims from so-called “masters of war,” preferably Sun Tzu or Clausewitz. Their unassailable wisdom gives your argument the burnish of authority.

Graham Allison, an academic with plenty of his own Harvard authority, goes a step further. He suggests that the great historian (and not so great general), Thucydides, like Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, offers not just quotable truths but also a fundamental law about how wars often happen: The Thucydides Trap.

Source: Who Did Thucydides Trap? | The American Conservative

Or maybe this one will help……

Thucydides is nowadays all the rage. Presidents, members of Congress, admirals and generals, foreign policy and national security professionals, scholars, and news commentators invoke his name and refer reverently to his history as offering ancient wisdom on politics, ethics, strategy, and war. Not bad for a disgraced general who turned to writing history after his fellow Athenians held him responsible for a major military defeat and sent him packing into exile

Source: Thucydides and the Tragedy of Athens: A Parable for America | RealClearDefense

Foreign policy wonks have been invoking Thucydides since the Iraq of 2003…….and the Middle East is still a good example……

Once again, realism is in vogue. Apparently the White House is quite fond of the Peloponnesian War and wants to use it as a guidepost for contemporary foreign-policy challenges. If this feels like déjà vu, you’re not alone. Foreign-policy scholars have been invoking Thucydides since the 2003 Iraq War, when Washington-as-Athens comparisons were all the rage.

The China-US relations are tenuous at best…….things could go side ways in a blink of an eye…..the only way to keep this from spiraling is with a strong diplomatic corps……something we are lacking at this time…..then the “Trap” is a possibility.


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