Thucydides trap – a newborn strategic concept

by Gotthard Frick, Bottmingen

Anyone who remembers his history lessons from long ago may still know that Thucydides, a strategist and author, lived in ancient Greece. Athens, the then “great power”, watched the emerging Sparta with increasing displeasure. The competition between the two finally erupted in the 5th century BC in the long Peloponnesian War, which led to the defeat and loss of importance of Athens (Thucydides reported in detail on this under the title “The Peloponnesian War”).
  Graham T. Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard Kennedy School, wrote in his book “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?” (2017) coined the term “Thucydides Trap” and means developments such as those that affected Athens and Sparta at the time and for example the USA and China today.
  This means that a dominant great power feels competitive, ousted, and then seriously threatened by a newcomer, which may lead to a war. (The new Chinese defense law, which is about to come into force, supported by massive armament, does not bode well in this regard.)
  In an interview with Professor Allison in the leading daily of the CPC, the “Global Times”, on 13 December of last year, one can read that even Xi Jinping, the President of China, has already mentioned several times the tensions and the danger of war with the USA and spoke about the “Thucydides Trap”. Because of this, the Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi demanded a few days ago that China and the USA must start negotiations at all levels and seek lasting solutions in order to coexist peacefully (“Global Times”: Compete and Coexist). “Thucydides trap” is likely to have found its place as a new term in the dictionary of strategy. In the May 2019 edition of the Allgemeine Schweizerische Militärzeitschrift, the author demanded for the same reason: “The world needs a new Peace of Westphalia.” •

(Translation Current Concerns)


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