The term ‘Thucydides Trap’ has become a hot topic after American political scientist Graham T. Allison published his book ‘Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides Trap?’ in 2017.
It suggests that a war is likely to happen when an emerging power, say, a ranked number 2 power (#2), threatens to displace an existing hegemon (#1). The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) between Athens and Sparta was quoted as an example.
Assuming Professor Allison is correct that the fight for global leadership (I personally do not think Beijing wants to shoulder this unbearable burden) is inevitable, thus resulting in a ‘war’ between #1 and #2 to determine who will lead the world in the 21st century, this war is not necessary to be a ‘hot’ war (CNBC article posted on China News July 19).
Between Athens and Sparta in the ancient era, there was no alternative to a bloody combat. Nowadays, a great variety of weapons are available for a fight. Alongside the ‘hard power’, there are ‘soft power’ and ‘sharp power’.
At least two reasons explain why a ‘hot’ war is not on the table, however tense the fight or competition between these two rivalries may be.
First, the anti-war sub-culture against a full-scale international war after the Vietnam War still dominates the mass values in all civilizations. The so-called wars in Afghanistan (2001- ) and Iraq (2003- ) are essentially a cat-and-mouse game between a giant and a kid. The civil war in Syria is a proxy war rather than a direct combat between the U.S. and Russia.
True, an increasing number of Americans turn to dislike Beijing and also the rise of the Chinese influence worldwide. Yet, it is still far from feeling a real threat from China, if taking reference from history regarding Nazi German attack onto Britain and Japanese bombing of the Pearl Harbor. It is impossible to convince the mass public that it is a must to ask American soldiers to die for protecting a remote island in the West Pacific or a rock in the South China Sea.
In the USA today, every single human life counts and matters very very much.
Second, both the U.S. and China dare not to engage into a ‘blind’ hot war. In Jan 2007, China launched a missile to shoot down a satellite successfully. In fact, it is by now no longer a difficult task. In March 2019, India also shot down a satellite.
Once a hot war really begins between high tech countries like the U.S. and China, the first round of things to do are to shoot down each other’s satellites, destroy the internet cables under the oceans … etc. Without these advanced communication vehicles, is it a joke to ask your soldiers to fight in conventional battles as their great grandfathers did in WWII? Is it too risky to expose your soldiers to the, say, 21st century land-to-sea missiles under the cover of the 20th century communication technology?
So, no need to worry. Sit down to see how Washington and Beijing fight a new form of Cold War which is not bloody, but more interesting than the spy movies.
The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.