Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

Cold War II

| Mar. 11, 2019

If you’d told me this time 30 years ago that the United States would be in another cold war with another communist superpower by 2019, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that, simultaneously, socialism would be the height of fashion with young Americans, I would have directed you to a psychiatrist.

But here we are. Almost exactly three decades ago, Francis Fukuyama published his seminal essay “The End of History?,” hailing the victory of liberal capitalism over all its ideological competitors, but especially over communism. The essay he needs to write today is “The Upend of History?”

Back in 2016, a cold war between the United States and China seemed like the febrile fantasy of Steve Bannon and a few fringe academics. Even Donald Trump’s campaign threats to impose tariffs on Chinese goods struck me as a throwback to an earlier era. I should have listened more to Graham Allison, another Harvard-trained veteran of US national security policy. When he told me he was writing a book on the US-China relationship with the title “Destined for War,” I was incredulous. Chapeau, Graham. You were right.

“When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power,” Allison wrote in 2017, “alarm bells should sound: danger ahead. China and the United States are currently on a collision course.” It’s as if Allison’s “Thucydides trap” — derived from the ancient Greek historian’s observation that war between Athens and Sparta was unavoidable — has a magnetic force, drawing the United States and China toward it.

“What made war inevitable,” wrote Thucydides, “was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” In the space of barely a year, Americans have suddenly grown fearful of the growth of Chinese power.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ferguson, Niall.“Cold War II.” The Boston Globe, March 11, 2019.

The Author