We Need to Avoid Thucydides Trap

To understand what is going on in Washington and how it might affect your investments, it is helpful to know what the Generals and Admirals think. What is their G-spot?

They think the world is in a “Thucydides Trap.”

That is the burden of a book by the Harvard sage Graham Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China escape the Thucydides Trap? His discussion of it with reverent investor Kyle Bass on YouTube has some 260,000 downloads.

They think 5G is an ultimate technology that will determine winners and losers around the world. Chinese 5G threatens the West and imperils freedom. So says General Spalding with even more hundreds of thousands of YouTube reverberations.

Among the earliest of historians, Thucydides wrote 2,500 years ago about the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta and the events that finally doomed both of these powers.

Allison sums up the erudite concept: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” He considers 16 instances over the last 500 years in which a hegemonic power such as the US was confronted by a rising power such as China. War resulted 75% of the time.

In the case of Britain and the US after World War II, no conflict erupted. Therefore, Allison has some hope that war avoidance is possible in this predicament. But he sees China and the US on a collision course.

The Generals and Admirals, great men all, were exultant. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis quoted the book and gave it out to visitors to his office. General (ret.) David Petraeus said it was “one of the most insightful and thought-provoking books I have ever read on the most important relationship in the world: The US and China.”

Chinese Influence is Inevitable

Admiral Philip Davidson, chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command, echoes its insights. He ascribes Chinese power in the region to intellectual property theft, intimidation, and corruption rather than to an economy that has grown 20-fold in 40 years through free zones, capitalism, and new technology.

(Yes the Chinese have mimicked the US and copied our inventions but this is good not bad, and nearly identical to the US ascent against Europe in the 19th century.)

Davidson declared yesterday in a speech in Australia that the US is “all in” to resist growing Chinese influence in the South China Seas. Chinese influence in the South China Seas is as inevitable as US influence in the Gulf of Mexico. Admiral Davidson’s insistence on flaunting American naval power in the region is needlessly provocative and gratuitous.

Last year in the academic journal Humanitas, Villanova political science professor Lowell Gustafson explained the real “trap” depicted by Thucydides in his account of the Peloponnesian wars.

“It may be that great powers do indeed desire to rule, but they learn to restrain themselves by accurate calculation of their own power and that of others. They do not engage in wishful thinking and grandiosity. Pluralism, not domination, is the proper end of power politics since power is always distributed to some degree. The trap that Thucydides worries about is not a rear-end collision, but that a great power deludes itself into seeking domination of all others.”

Both China and the US should take note. Gustafson continues: “Graham Allison and American policy makers need to be as self-reflective about America as they are about the rise of China.

“If there is to be real American greatness it needs to be drawn from the vision of an international system of free independent nations who peacefully trade with each other, learn from each other’s cultures, and show restraint.”

My rule is that real threats to the US come from failed states with nothing to lose not from an ascendant country such as China with huge trading interests around the globe. If we didn’t constantly harass the Chinese over their Uighur Islamist problem (over 1,000 incidents; 500 dead), they might well be our allies against real terrorist threats.

The best strategy for American investors is to support capitalist companies in China not trumpery in the South China seas.


George Gilder
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy

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