Overview

The goal of the Thucydides Project is to illuminate the challenge both America and China face as China rises to rival U.S. predominance in Asia today, and in time the world. As part of the Applied History Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center, the Thucydides Project is exploring this challenge by examining historical precedents and analogs. The 16 cases identified in phase one of the project include all instances since 1500 (that we have been able to identify and review) in which a major “ruling power” was challenged by a rapidly “rising” power. In identifying these cases, we have followed the judgment of leading historical accounts—specifically resisting the temptation to offer original or idiosyncratic interpretations of events. Each case is, of course, unique. As our late, great colleague Ernest May taught us, when thinking about historical comparisons, we must examine differences as well as similarities. The cases included in the current file offer sufficient similarities to be relevant for comparison.

Related products from members of the Belfer Center include Kevin Rudd’s “U.S.-China 21: The Future of U.S.-China Relations Under Xi Jinping: Toward a New Framework of Constructive Realism for a Common Purpose.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, April 2015; Robert Blackwill’s and Ashley Tellis’s “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China,” Council on Foreign Relations Special Report, April 2015; Richard Rosecrance’s and Steven Miller’s “The Next Great War? The Roots of World War I and the Risk of U.S.-China Conflict,” The MIT Press, December 2014; and Graham Allison’s, Robert Blackwill’s, and Ali Wyne’s “Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World,” The MIT Press, 2013.