Analysis & Opinions - MPR News

Are the U.S. and China Destined for War?

| May 22, 2018

Two influential people discuss a new interpretation of the changing relationship between the U.S. and China.

National security expert Graham Allison is out with a book he titled, "Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?"

Former vice president and ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale shares his own ideas about this provocative book.

Since Athens and Sparta, many dominant world powers have ended up in wars with rising powers. Can it happen again?

Allison's bottom line is, "avoid unnecessary wars." In his book he introduces a "great thinker," presents a "big idea," and poses "a most consequential question."

The great thinker: Thucydides.

The big idea: "Thucydides' trap: the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power."

The consequential question, which is also the subtitle of his new book: "Can the U.S. and China escape Thucydides' trap?"

If we follow the pattern of history, Allison says, "we could have a catastrophic war." We need to study history, he adds, so we don't make the same mistakes.

"The book is about not fatalism, not pessimism, but about the urgency of trying to study both the mistakes and the successes to apply to escape Thucydides' trap."

Allison says we need to become "more cautious, more adaptable, and more imaginative."

Walter Mondale worries that the corruption and tendencies toward a police state in China show "signs of a dictatorial mind" in its leaders. The key to American success is an open society, a free society, where people can speak and be heard. In China, Mondale said, if you have a different view, you can be "locked up in jail. Or killed."

To listen to their discussion, click here.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham.“Are the U.S. and China Destined for War?.” MPR News, May 22, 2018.