The Thucydides Trap
The Thucydides Trap
  • 승인 2019.04.06 18:10
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The Thucydides Trap
-The Prediction Theory of War-

Kwon Sho-young, Reporter

Readers, have you ever heard about the term “The Thucydides Trap”? It was chosen by prestigious newspaper “Financial Times” as the ‘Word of Year’ last year. It was expected that it can make it possible to predict future diplomatic relations between U.S and China. Aren’t you curious about the meaning of the word, origin and historical examples? Then, let’s find about it together!

● The Origin of Thucydides Trap
Graham Allison, an American political scientist and professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University created the term “Thucydides Trap,” which means that when one great rising power threatens to displace another, the result is almost always war. He recalled that when he made this word, he was inspired by Thucydides’ interpretation of the war between Athens and Sparta.
So who was Thucydides? And how did he explain the war between Athens and Sparta? Thucydides was a father and founder of history. Amazingly, he was also a contemporary of a famous Chinese thinker, Gongja. He wrote the first ever history book called History of the Peloponnesian War. It’s about a war between two great cities in ancient Greece, Athens and Sparta. Sparta was the ruling power in Greece for 100 years. However, Athens was gaining power in various fields. Athens’ development in architecture, philosophy, history, and democratic society made them strong. The Spartans thought that Athens is changing its status quo and they were fearful of losing their position as the strongest city. So, Sparta broke out the war. Thucydides coined the sentence, ‘It was the rise of Athens and this fear instilled in Sparta which made the war inevitable.’

● Thucydides Trap Cases
Knowing about some similar cases that occurred might help you to become a great predictor of the future. Here are a few instances of Thucydides Trap that the Harvard research team has researched. There were 16 cases about a rising power threatening to replace an existing power. Unfortunately, twelve of them ended in war. There are also cases that most people may have heard about. For example, the battle of Jutland (1916), which was caused because of the rise of Germany. The Pacific War (1941) with which Japan challenged the United States, which emerged as the strongest nation in the 20th century. In addition, there is also an example, which is not written in the cases of Harvard’s research. It’s the War of 1812, which was a conflict between the U.S. and the U.K. This war started at the time when the U.K. blocked the U.S.’s domestic development plans by giving arms to the American Northwest Indians.
After reading all this, aren’t you curious about the latest case of No War? At the conclusion of the Cold War, Germany was destined for a return to economic and political might in Europe. When West German chancellor Helmut Kohl made a remark about reunification at the conclusion of the war, status quo powers in Europe, meaning the UK and France, balked at the prospect of a newly rising Germany. Their fear was understandable, because a reunified Germany could make it the most popular country and gain more economic and political power. Nevertheless, Germany was able to be strong in those fields, peacefully. How was that possible?
According to Harvard University, Germany’s peaceful rise was due to its strategy of assuaging European suspicious through open gestures of belief and seeking interdependence with its former enemy forces. And German leaders decided not to redevelop a military presence commensurate with the nation’s economic power.

● Can the U.S. and China Avoid a Thucydides Trap?
What do you think the latest global issue is? It’s the rise of China. In 1978, 90% of Chinese lived below the extreme poverty line. But in 2018, 99% lived above the extreme poverty line. Historians have called the last century as the “American Century.” The U.S. occupied half of the world’s GDP and had strong military forces. So, China, being a more powerful country, comes as a threat to America’s position. One recent issue in global news is a ‘trade war’ between the U.S. and China. It’s not a real war, but as long as the Thucydides Trap exists, it could be.
The U.S. and China are adding more tariffs on each other. This war began when China imposed a 25 percent tariff and the US retaliated with added tariffs. Will the U.S and China start a war, or will this be the fifth case of no war? According to the Thucydides Trap, there is a possibility of war, but at the same time, it could be the fifth case of No War. For more explanation, let’s take a look again at the example case of no war that is written above.
Germany, namely a rising-power country, presented a lesson of continual gestures of friendship and understanding, which are needed to overcome fear between rival nations. Expanding defense spending to match economic development can create conflict. To sum up, through open gestures, including integration with former enemy forces, decreasing defense spending made them escape the situation of the Thucydides Trap. From this lesson, it is recommendable for the U.S. and China to extend gestures of goodwill to each other and make an effort to continuously deal wisely in economic decisions.

Most of you readers might already know the phrase “History repeats itself”. However, have you ever applied this word to everyday-life issues? From the information you read, it would be a great opportunity to predict recent overarching diplomatic issues. Hope you also realize a quote that philosopher Santayana made, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

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