Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Thucydides Trap

A good number of academics and analysts persist in warning the world about the Thucydides' Trap. 

This is the theory posited by Harvard’s Graham Allison that war between a rising power and an established power is inevitable. 

Thucydides (left) was an Athenian general whose History of the Peloponnesian War (431 BC-411 BC) recounted that "the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable". 

The two key drivers allegedly being "the rising power’s growing entitlement, sense of its importance, and demand for greater say and sway, on the one hand, and the fear, insecurity, and determination to defend the status quo this engenders in the established power, on the other". 

And that describes the situation that China (supposedly the rising power) and the United States (acknowledged as the established power) find themselves in. 

Let’s be honest, the two countries are not even remotely close to starting a war. I don’t believe they want a war anyway. 

Besides, both superpowers know the cost of conflict and neither is prepared to pay. Or willing to pay. 

As for China, even as they are flexing their military muscles here and there – they are just marking their territory and nothing more. 

Besides, China own a lot of US debt, and surely, they don’t want to lose it in a default brought about by war. They also hold vast US dollar reserves, so if the greenback slips in value (which would happen if the US are losing a war with China, hypothetically-speaking), then the Chinese economy is bound to suffer a steep descent. 

Militarily, the US are No. 1 and it is said that they possess a military budget nearly three times that of China. Their military resources dwarf those of the latter – so if the American military were fully committed to a war, China would likely be at the losing end. And should China win, the cost of human lives can be expected to be staggeringly shocking. 

The US have 1.3 million troops on active duty, with more than 450,000 of them stationed overseas – and a significant number is deployed in hotspots around the world, including conflict zones like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan (Business Insider US, August 31, 2017). 

According to www.nationalpriorities.org, since 2001, American taxpayers are paying $32.08 million every hour for their country’s military preparedness, whether at home and/or abroad and including engagements in hotspots. 

I don’t think the American public has any appetite to get involved in a new war. 

Moreover, it is the last thing China want. China, in my opinion, have no interest to establish hegemony over Asia, much less the world. They do not have an expansionist strategy – but merely wanting to be strong enough militarily to be able to defend themselves as well as protect their sovereign interests. 

But having said that, it is not all quiet on the global front. 

We hear loud rumblings and rhetorical proclivities that seem to get more raucous and more frequent – this US-China trade spat is a foolish escalation that does not benefit the two countries. And as I have said, a trade war may flare up. If it does, it will be economically disastrous for everybody. 

Anyway, the “Thucydides trap” will not be sprung because the truth of the matter is, China are not really an emerging power – they’re actually an empire that is 5,000 years old. Therefore, China have nothing to prove. 

Truly, I believe China want peaceful co-existence with the world – but given their calamitous history, they have to show themselves from a position of strength. 

As Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (left) said there is nothing to fear about China. Between his country and China, both enjoy a 2,000-year-old relationship and the latter haven't conquered Malaysia yet! (South China Morning Post, June 19, 2018)

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