Analysis & Opinions - The Sunday Times

Donald Trump must threaten Kim Jong-un and pray he blinks

| July 09, 2017

Other presidents have ducked taking on North Korea. This one has no choice

‘The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable.” This is the most famous line of Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War. Will a future historian one day write that the growth in the power of China, and the alarm this inspired in America, made war equally inevitable? Harvard’s Graham Allison fears the answer could be “yes”.

Since the election of Donald Trump as US president, the probability of a Sino-American conflict has soared. Last year Trump ran an aggressively anti-Chinese election campaign, repeatedly threatening to impose tariffs on Chinese imports. Trade is only one of several bones of contention. America remains committed to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. China’s island-building programme is designed to make that sea Chinese in fact as well as in name. Trump is less committed than any US president since Richard Nixon to the “One China” policy, which pretends that Taiwan is not an independent state.

But the biggest flashpoint is without question North Korea — which brings me back to Thucydides and Graham Allison’s Destined for War, this summer’s must-read book in both Washington and Beijing.

Thucydides was an Athenian general during the war between the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) and the Delian League (led by Athens), which lasted from 431 to 404BC. The reason his history of the war is still read today is that it pioneered the kind of explanation of past events historians still use. Gods didn’t cause the war. Men did.

If you read Thucydides, you see the crucial role played by smaller powers in leading the two big powers down the road to war. The initial clash was in fact between Athens and Corinth; war came when the Corinthians appealed to the Spartans for aid.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ferguson, Niall.“Donald Trump must threaten Kim Jong-un and pray he blinks.” The Sunday Times, July 9, 2017.

The Author