Wednesday June 14, 2017

Are U.S. and China headed for war?

Graham Allison lays out the possible route to a Sino-American war in his new book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?

Graham Allison lays out the possible route to a Sino-American war in his new book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

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Thucydides had some ideas about what was really behind the Peloponnesian War that saw Sparta take on an upstart Athens nearly 2,500 years ago.

And according to Harvard professor and former U.S. assistant secretary of defence Graham Allison, if China and the United States do not learn the lesson of that war, the two nuclear powers could find themselves in a tragic military conflict that could leave millions of people dead.

Allison lays out the possible route to a Sino-American war in his new book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? He says possible war scenarios between Beijing and Washington have been war gamed by the Pentagon and the lessons learned should be unsettling to the world. 

Graham Allison

Graham Allison served as the assistant secretary of defence for the Clinton administration. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

"In these games which have been played over and over, even though people know they don't want to get to the end of the game in which Americans and Chinese are killing each other, the process turns out to be a lot easier than you would suspect," Allison tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The underlying cause for a possible war between China and the United States is a dynamic called Thucydides's Trap, which says that a ruling power fearing the rise of another power will react often violently to keep the emerging power down, says Allison.

"Business as usual in the case of U.S. and China will likely produce history as usual and in this case it would be catastrophic."

In his book, Allison lays out a number of frightening scenarios that, through folly or misunderstanding, could lead to war.

'Central casting could not have found a better lead for Team America than Donald Trump.'- Graham Allison, Harvard professor

They include an accidental collision between a Chinese and American ship in the South China sea and a move by Taiwan to seek independence through provocative actions.

But he believes the most likely cause of war between the two powers will be the collapse of the North Korean regime and the chaos that would follow. 

He points out that President Trump has already made it clear that he would not allow North Korea to develop intercontinental missiles capable of hitting North America.

He says the impulsiveness of the new U.S. president makes the likelihood of war with China that much more possible. 

"I think if Hollywood were making a blockbuster pitting China on the path to war with the U.S., central casting could not have found a better lead for Team America than Donald Trump."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.