Book Review of Allison (1917), Destined for War Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap.docx

Book Review of Allison (1917), Destined for War Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap.docx

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  Allison, Graham (2017), Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?  , New York, Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt, pp. xx+364,   ₹ 952/- Transition of power from one hegemon to the next are periods of extreme upheaval and destruction in international history. One finds three such cases in the modern world. First is the period of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) at the end of which France took over from Spain as the new hegemon, second is the period of the wars waged by revolutionary France and France of Napoleon (1792-1815) at the end of which Britain took over from France as the new hegemon, and third is the period from the Great War till the Second World War (1914-1945) at the end of which the United States took over from the United Kingdom as the new hegemon of the world. Many historians of international politics are saying that the world is once again moving towards a similar phase in history. Power in the international system is shifting from the West towards the East, or to be more precise, from the United States towards China. Though the United States is still the most powerful country, it appears exhausted and is draining out. On the other hand, China is fast catching up with the United States as its rival and peer. Daily news headlines and reports, these all point towards this unfolding reality. Today China is certainly much stronger and more assertive than any time in its modern past. Naturally, this increased strength and swag of China has kindled an academic-cum-popular debate regarding its implications for  international order and peace. Authored by Graham Allison and published by Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucyd  ides’s T  rap?   is one of the latest and most prominent books to join this debate on rise of China and its global impact. Allison, a long-time academic at the Harvard University, has coined a new term Thucydides’s T  rap  to capture the possible consequences of emergence of China as almost equal to the United States as a great power. Thucydides’s Trap, according to the author , means “ the natural, inevitable discombobulation that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power ” (p. xvi) . In this present seventeenth case of Thucydides’s Trap, Allison sees China as the rising power whereas United States is designated as the ruling power. Wh en stuck in Thucydides’s Trap, “ not just extraordinary, unexpected events, but even ordinary flashpoints of foreign affairs, can trigger large-scale conflict ” (p. 29) . In the previous sixteen cases of Thucydides’s Trap identified over the last five -hundred years, an overwhelming twelve of them have resulted in devastating war between the rising and the ruling powers. The fact that a quarter, or four, cases of Thucydides’s Trap did not   result in war informs us that “ the severe structural stress caused when a rising power threatens to upend a ruling one”   can be managed rather peacefully (ibid). To sum up, Allison cautions us about our impending fall into Thucydides’s Trap while c ounselling us how to break the trap without it resulting into large-scale violence and war. This is the express motive of this book.   There is no doubt that increased power of China has brought it increased imprint and influence throughout the world. It has become an important international actor in South and Central Asia, Africa and Latin America, and has even managed to penetrate many countries of the West. It no more restrains itself in the name non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. Compelled to bring order and secure its interest, China has been taking sides in the domestic matters of many countries. Though the second Cold War is yet to begin, international rivalry between the United States and China for political heft and economic interest has greatly intensified in the last few years. Despite all this, Jinping ’s  China is yet not as strong as Theodore Roosevelt’s United States before the First World War or Stalin and Krushchev’  s Soviet Russia after the Second World War, as Allison would like us to believe. Actually, all the talk about China’s rise is based on relentless increase in its economic size since the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in late 1970s. And measured in purchasing power of their respective currencies, China may be as big, or even slightly bigger than the United States. But measured in US dollar, a currency of international exchange and reserve, Chinese economy is little more than half the American size. And even if China is as big as America (in PPP), it is not as rich as America. The United States is four times richer than China. Extraction of wealth for a hegemonic war –  which is what could be one of the results of the so-called Thucydides ’s  Trap  –  is easier in a rich country than in a poor one. Extraction of wealth in poorer countries after a limit can cause revolt. Widespread rebellion and later Bolshevik revolution against Tsarist Russia while it was still involved in the Great War is a case in point. Russia was the poorest of the five great powers to enter the First World War. Moreover, equality in economic size does not mean equality in military strength. As Fareed Zakaria has shown in his study From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World R ole , it takes some time to convert wealth into power. It took the United States around quarter of a century from being the richest to being the strongest country of the world. Though Jinping’s China has a global reach, it is yet not a full-fledged great power on par with the United States. However, the merit of the monograph under discussion lies in the fact that it has successfully highlighted the twilight period in international politics when an established hegemon is declining and a new hegemon is yet to rise. Such periods of transition are full of confusion, upheaval and conflict. Thirty years from 1914 till 1945 was one such period in the immediate past when the Great Britain was declining and the United States was still to fully rise. Pocked with two aborted German attempt at hegemony, the result of this transition of power was two wars so widespread and devastating that a new term ‘world war’ was minted to understand and describe them.  Policy-makers both in China and the United States would do good to read  this Allison book to think and devise ways to avoid the probable cataclysmic conflict between their respective countries in some time in the future.
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