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

About the Book

One of history’s deadliest patterns

When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one, the most likely outcome is war. Twelve of 16 cases in which this occurred in the past 500 years ended violently.

A perilous trap but uncertain outcome

Today, an irresistible rising China is on course to collide with an immovable America. 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.”

But the point of Destined for War is not to predict the future but to prevent it. Escaping Thucydides’s Trap is not just a theoretical possibility. In four of the 16 cases, including three from the 20th century, imaginative statecraft averted war.

Can Washington and Beijing steer their ships of state through today’s treacherous shoals? Only if they learn and apply the lessons of history.

Avoiding catastrophe

If Hollywood were producing a movie about China and the US on a path to war, central casting could find no better American lead than Donald Trump. His insistence on “blaming China first” portends a blockbuster finale. Will Washington and Beijing follow in the tragic footsteps of Britain and Germany a century ago? Or will they find a way to avoid war as effectively as the US did in crafting a Cold War strategy to meet the challenge posed by the Soviet Union? In Destined for War, eminent Harvard scholar Graham Allison explains why Thucydides’s Trap is the best lens for understanding the most critical foreign policy issue of our time.