Destined for War

Destined for War

by Graham Allison

Overview: China and the United States are heading toward a war neither wants. The reason is Thucydides’s Trap: when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one, violence is the likeliest result. Over the past five hundred years, these conditions have occurred sixteen times; war broke out in twelve. Today, as an unstoppable China approaches an immovable America, and both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump promise to make their countries “great again,” the seventeenth case looks grim. A trade conflict, cyberattack, Korean crisis, or accident at sea could easily spark a major war. In Destined for War, eminent Harvard scholar Graham Allison masterfully blends history and current events to explain the timeless machinery of Thucydides’s Trap—and to explore the painful steps that might prevent disaster today.

Deanna Boe (10/24/19): This is a book that should make all of us sit up and take notice as to just what is happening in our politics today in terms of our relationships with countries around the world, especially China. Having lived in eight foreign countries throughout my adult years I have vacillated between our giving aid to foreign countries, to feeling we needed to keep our money here in the United States to help those in need. I am still not 100% sure what is the right answer, but I do know we can not turn our backs on our allies plus the countries throughout the world that are in desperate need. The United States stands between democracy as we know it and totalitarian as promoted by Russia and China. The world we have grown up in is fast changing and I worry what the future holds for my grandchildren. In short, are we “destined for war” with China? If so, can we possibly win? My favorite quote I always displayed in my history classes was by Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past will be condemned to repeat it.”

What does President Xi Jinping want for China? To make China great again! Will he do it like President Teddy Roosevelt did at the turn of the 20th century? Teddy tried to “mold our hemisphere” to his liking i.e. “Walk softly and carry a big stick” was his motto when dealing with Central and South America. China would like to mold South, Southeast, and Central Asia to their liking, all the way to Australia. We have basic differences between China and our values and traditions. Remember they have 1.4 billion people; we have less than 400 million. Xi Jinping said in 2012: “The greatest Chinese dream is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” In just 7 years he is fast proving this. Could there be war? We only have to go back to WW II. Who would have thought Japan would attack a power like the US? The economic restraints we had placed on them gave them no choice.

Economy plays an enormous role in world politics. In 2008 Wall Street ignited a global financial crisis. China managed to weather the crisis without falling into a negative growth, unfortunately, we did. In fact during that period China provided a $586 billion fiscal stimulus. As a result they can now travel on some of the fastest trains in the world between cities. What can we show for our stimulus package of $983 billion infusion? Xi has one political rule for survival: “Never state an unambiguous objective and a date in the same sentence.”

We Americans believe that “political legitimacy of any government can only be derived from the consent of the governed.” Whereas the Chinese believe “performance justifies one-party rule.” From 1949 to today China is “the second largest economy in the world, an industrial powerhouse, and its people live in increasing prosperity.” Just what is happening to the United States today?

Sun Tzu explained in “The Art of War: The highest victory is to defeat the enemy without even fighting.” “China’s history of domestic political upheaval and struggle between competing kingdoms has led its strategists to favor means other than fighting.” What just happened in Hong Kong is an example of that! Economically – how can we win?

There are many examples in this book, too numerous to give, including how President Kennedy did such an excellent job when staring a possible nuclear war with Russia when it came to the missile crises. In short, are we destined for war with China? Hopefully not, but it is obvious to me that the 21st Century will belong to China just as the 20th belonged to the United States.
Rating: *****

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