The “Thucydides Trap” refers to the Athenian historian Thucydides (460-400 B.C.), who wrote, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” The “trap” refers to when two superpowers approach each other in strength, they are often trapped into going to war. “Superpower and Upstart: Sometimes It Ends Well” by David E. Sanger in the New York (NY) Times, on January 22, 2011, stated:
“Both Mr. Hu (leader of China—ed.) and President Obama (leader of the United States—ed.) seemed desperate to avoid what Graham Allison of Harvard University has labeled ‘the Thucydides Trap’ — that deadly combination of calculation and emotion that, over the years, can turn healthy rivalry into antagonism or worse.”
Graham Allison, an American political scientist and Harvard University professor, explained further in “Avoiding Thucydides’s Trap,” published in the Financial Times (London) on August 22, 2012.
Thucydides (/θjuːˈsɪdɨdiːz/; Greek: Θουκυδίδης, Thoukudídēs, Ancient Greek: [tʰuːkydídɛːs]; c. 460 – c. 400 BC) was an Athenian historian, political philosopher and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of “scientific history” because of his strict standards of evidence-gathering and analysis of cause and effect without reference to intervention by the gods, as outlined in his introduction to his work.
Wikipedia: Graham T. Allison
Graham Tillett Allison, Jr. (born 23 March 1940) is an American political scientist and professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He is renowned for his contribution in the late 1960s and early 1970s to the bureaucratic analysis of decision making, especially during times of crisis. His book Remaking Foreign Policy: The Organizational Connection, co-written with Peter Szanton, was published in 1976 and had some influence on the foreign policy of the administration of President Jimmy Carter which took office in early 1977. Since the 1970s, Allison has also been a leading analyst of U.S. national security and defense policy, with a special interest in nuclear weapons and terrorism.
He coined the phrase Thucydides Trap where a rising power causes fear in an established power which escalates toward war. Thucydides wrote: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”
New York (NY) Times
Superpower and Upstart: Sometimes It Ends Well
By DAVID E. SANGER JAN. 22, 2011
WASHINGTON — For a superpower, dealing with the fast rise of a rich, brash competitor has always been an iffy thing.
So while no official would dare say so publicly as President Hu Jintao bounced from the White House to meetings with business leaders to factories in Chicago last week, his visit, from both sides’ points of view, was all about managing China’s rise and defusing the fears that it triggers. Both Mr. Hu and President Obama seemed desperate to avoid what Graham Allison of Harvard University has labeled “the Thucydides Trap” — that deadly combination of calculation and emotion that, over the years, can turn healthy rivalry into antagonism or worse.
New York (NY) Times—Schott’s Vocab
The Thucydides Trap
JANUARY 31, 2011 2:00 PM January 31, 2011 2:00 pm
The theory that American anxiety about China’s increasing power might evolve into animosity and aggression.
(After Thucydides’s account of the causes of the Peloponnesian war.)
The Thucydides Trap: The theory that American anxiety about China’s increasing power might evolve into animosit… http://nyti.ms/gMLsRK
1:12 PM - 31 Jan 2011
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard University)
“Avoiding Thucydides’s Trap”
Op-Ed, Financial Times (London)
August 22, 2012
Author: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School
China’s increasingly aggressive posture towards the South China Sea and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea is less important in itself than as a sign of things to come. For six decades after the second world war, an American “Pax Pacifica” has provided the security and economic framework within which Asian countries have produced the most rapid economic growth in history. However, having emerged as a great power that will overtake the US in the next decade to become the largest economy in the world, it is not surprising that China will demand revisions to the rules established by others.
The defining question about global order in the decades ahead will be: can China and the US escape Thucydides’s trap? The historian’s metaphor reminds us 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.
Thucydides wrote of these events: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Note the two crucial variables: rise and fear.
For Academic Citation:
Allison, Graham. “Avoiding Thucydides’s Trap.” Financial Times (London), August 22, 2012.
OCLC WorldCat record
Thucydides’ trap : on the possibility of war between the United States and China
Author: John Guen-Murray
Dissertation: Thesis (B.A.)—Lake Forest College, 2013.
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript Archival Material : English
When assessing Thucydides’ trap in contemporary global politics, modern Realists use material power as the basis of their assessments, yet there exists another type of power found in Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War. The purpose of this paper is to show that power has two aspects. First, the quantifiable, or measurable power: economic, military, and technology. Second, abstract power, a perceived power, which is not quantifiable, this type of power is Phobos. Thucydides’ trap predicts war is the inevitable result of a rising power approaching the power of a hegemon. China is rising, and the United States is hegemon. We will supplant material power for abstract power in our assessments of Thucydides’ trap, with the purpose gauging the possibility of war between the United States and China. Our findings show that war between China and the United States is unlikely in the near future.
OCLC WorldCat record
Can China Avoid the Thucydides Trap?
Author: ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI Affiliation: One of America’s pre-eminent strategic thinkers, comments on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s worldview. Brzezinski was national security advisor to US President Jimmy Carter. His latest book is Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication: New Perspectives Quarterly, v31 n2 (April 2014): 31-33
Database: Wiley Online Library
Despite grand visions of a cosmopolitan planet living in peace, the first globalization at the turn of the 20th century descended into World War I as the old empires scrambled to preserve themselves as others sought self-determination. Powers on the losing end of that war reasserted themselves in yet another worldwide calamity within decades.
After World War II, in the early 1950s, with the victorious American-led alliance in the driver’s seat, institutions such as the United Nations and the Bretton Woods arrangements created a global stability that enabled peace, prosperity and the “rise of the rest.”
In 2014, the world order is shifting again with the rise of China reviving in Asia the very kind of nationalist rivalries that led Europe to war twice in the 20th century.
Will we be able to build new institutions that accommodate the new powershift without resorting to war, or will the second globalization collapse as well? Top strategists from the US, Japan and China respond to this momentous question.
Is Thucydides Helpful in Explaining Sino-US Relations?
Is conflict exceedingly likely when a rising power approaches parity with an established power?
By Alek Chance
May 20, 2015
Since Graham Allison coined the phrase a few years ago, few American discussions of the U.S.-China relationship go by without somebody bringing up the idea of “Thucydides’ Trap.” Even President Xi has adopted the phrase, urging the US and China to work together in avoiding it. What is suggested by this “trap” is the notion that conflict is exceedingly likely when a rising power approaches parity with an established power. In other words, the trap is shorthand for what Western political scientists call power transition theory.
In fairness to Graham Allison, the “Thucydides trap” coinage was not meant to engender sense of fatalism, but merely to impress upon American audiences the great geopolitical significance of China’s rise. However, without elaborating upon the mechanisms that allegedly facilitate it—the particular clashes of interests likely to occur between different kinds of powers—the idea of the trap only serves to reinforce an abstract sense of competitiveness in international relations that is divorced from the actual motivations of real states.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • Wednesday, May 20, 2015 • Permalink