Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

– Good evening everyone, and
welcome to tonight’s event where we are going to
discuss Destined for War, I hope with a question
mark connected to it. Can America and China
escape Thucydides’ trap? And this is the new book
just about to come out from Graham Allison. My name is Arne Westad, I’m going to be the moderator tonight and I teach here at the Kennedy School. Let me just briefly
introduce the other speakers. Graham Allison, who has written this book. He is one of the people I’ve
probably learned the most from since I arrived here
at the Kennedy School. He’s the Director of the Belfer Center, and a former dean of the Kennedy School. Ambassador Samantha Power, who just stepped down as
this country’s representative at the United Nations, but was also been a faculty member here at the Kennedy School in the past, and we hope also in the future. And Neil Ferguson, who hasn’t been a faculty
members at the Kennedy School, but very much a faculty member at Harvard, who is now, as Graham likes to put it, on temporary leave out in California, but we also hope at some
point to see back here very often, very frequently. So, we have a stellar group of people who will be discussing this tonight. You will also have a chance
to join in as you would. We have microphones around in the room, two down here and two upstairs. But I wanted to start first by Graham introducing the book, and then to have brief
comments from Samantha and Neil and then a little bit
of a discussion up here and then I will turn to
the audience for questions. So we’ll have a two part series with regard to the discussion today. So Graham, first of all
congratulations on the book, looking forward to hear more about it. Oops. – Well, thank you very much, and thanks for the fellow panelists. The book is finished. It’s gonna be published on May 30th, but you can go to Amazon
now and do early orders if you’re interested. (chuckles) And Arne asked me to
take about six minutes to give you the kind
of core of the argument or at least interest you in the subject. And given the limited amount of time, I’m gonna make three points. First, I’m gonna offer a big idea, a concept that, when one uses it, can help clarify what’s happening in the relationship
between the US and China. Secondly, I wanna introduce
you to a serious thinker. I hope for most of you
this is a reintroduction, but just in case, and to try to encourage
you to read his book. That doesn’t include
any of the people here. There are many good books
to read on the panel. But this fella’s been dead
for quite a long time. And third, I wanna give
you starkly three facts that will help sketch for you the cardinal challenge
in international affairs for the rest of your professional lives. So that leaves about five
and a half minutes left. It’s gonna be at a fast pace. First, what’s the big idea? What’s the concept which, if you use it, will help better
understand what’s happening in the relationship
between the US and China that you see in your face every day, as Xi Jinping comes to visit for the summit with Trump
in a couple of weeks, or as you read or hear, China has moved ahead in this
direction or that direction. So here’s the concept. When a rising power threatens
to displace a ruling power, alarm bells should sound,
extreme danger ahead. This is a big insight
earned for us by Thucydides, and Thucydides said, famously, “It was the rise of Athens “and the fear that this
instilled in Sparta “that made war inevitable.” This was the war between Athens and Sparta that basically destroyed classical Greece. So, in the Thucydides trap study here at the Belfer Center, we’ve developed a
Thucydides trap case file, and if you go to
Thucydides trap case file, you can look at the file, and
you can look at the cases, and you’re even invited to
provide additional cases. In any case, in the
last five hundred years, which is what we’ve looked at, there have been 16 instances
in which a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power. This starts at the end
of the 15th century, early 16th century, with Spain rising to challenge Portugal, and goes down to current events, where in the post Cold War period, Germany has emerged as the
dominant power in Europe, with whatever consequence that’s had for France, and for Britain. So in 12 of these cases,
the outcome was war. In four of the cases,
the outcome was not war. If you want to think
about the cases of war, think back a hundred years ago today. What was happening? So, there was the rise of Germany, there was the fear that
this instilled in Britain. This was the major factor
producing WWI in 1914. This was a conflagration
that became so devastating that historians were required to think up a whole new category. So they called it World War, that’s why it’s called World War I. And actually if you go back a hundred years ago today in the US, what was going on? There had just been an election in 1916. Woodrow Wilson had been reelected. What was the principle
platform for his reelection? He kept us out of war, and
he’ll keep us out of war. So he was still struggling
to stay out of the war as late as today, though
by the 6th of April, 1917, the US was in the thick of it. So that’s the big idea. The serious thinker. So, the first thing is how do you pronounce this fella’s name? (laughter) – This trap, I find difficult, because I even don’t know
how to pronounce his name. (laughter) – You know, the Thucydidean trap that people talk about. – [Presenter] Thucysides’ trap. – Thucydides trap. – Okay so, how do you
say this fella’s name? Thucydides, now let’s
see if you can say that. Thucydides. So, if you don’t learn
anything else tonight, you should learn how to pronounce the name of a very serious
thinker, Thucydides, okay? Even though you have to
practice a little bit. So, who’s Thucydides? First, he was the founder
of history as we know it. He was the founder of history as the account of factually
what happened and why. You can have a little bit of a debate about Thucydides and Herodotus, but Herodotus still has a theme and arranges occasionally
mysterious elements that come into the picture. Thucydides thought his job was to document what happened and why. Secondly, we have the founder of what we’re calling here
locally, applied history. So, applied history, is the explicit attempt to
clarify current challenges by reflecting on, and examining,
the historical record, particularly precedence and analogs. The foundation of this was a book by two great Kennedy School professors, Ernest May and Dick Neustadt, and a book called Thinking in Time, that again, you can buy and read. It’s a great read today. In any case, Neil, and Arne, and myself, Fred Logevall and a number of others here, have been trying to
revive applied history. But Thucydides was actually
the first practitioner of it. He says, I’m writing this book so that future statesmen
and generals and citizens will not have to make the
same mistakes we made. Now, that requires of course reading to discover what those mistakes
were, and thinking about it. – Thirdly. – We’re going to have to manage that competition between us and Chine. There’s another piece
of wisdom from antiquity that says fear, honor, and interest always seem to be the root causes of why a nation chooses
to go to hostilities. – So this is our Secretary of Defense at his Confirmation Hearing, and as he’s quoting Thucydides, Thucydides says, why do nations fight? For three reasons. Interests, fear, and honor. Now from that, a long tail follows, but in any case, a very crucial insight. And thirdly, Thucydides was the founder of what we think of as Realpolitik, or realism, in current
international affairs. If you look at this Melian Dialogue quote, and again, lot that follows from that, as he says, right, as we think about it, is really a concept that only arises between equal powers. Otherwise, “The strong do what they will “and the weak suffer what they must.” So, Thucydides. You know how to pronounce it? Yes. Spelling it, that maybe is too hard. Okay. Third, what will be the defining challenge for the rest of your professional life? Well, terrorism is a big issue. Resurgent Russia is a big issue. Maybe an uninhabitable
environment can be a huge issue. Certainly global inequality, perhaps a Hobbesian
struggle for water and food. You can think of a lot of categories. My belief is that the cardinal challenge for the rest of your professional lives will be the rise of China and its impact on the US and
the US and international order that has been the foundation for the 70 years of peace,
that is, not great power war that our colleague at
Yale calls The Long Peace, a very unusual period if you
go at a broad historical sweep. So if you can read this, the question is, first, when will China become number one? So, for automobiles, for, let me see, since that
one’s too hard for me to read I’ll read this one. Manufacturing, trading,
middle class, billionaires, patent filings, supercomputers,
artificial intelligence, primary engine of economic
growth, economy and GDP. So, when could that happen? And the answer is, already. So, auto-maker in 2009, but if you jump down
to the economy and GDP measured by purchasing power parity, which is the yardstick that
the CIA and the IMF say is the best yardstick for
measuring international economies. At the 2014 meeting of the
IMF and the World Bank, the big headline news was
“China now number one.” So therefore what? What does this have to do
with the US place in the world and the way the world works? So, if you think about
this in terms of a seesaw, that’s what this graphic does. So US is on one end of the seesaw, China’s on the other end. In 20… 2004, you can see China
was about a quarter the US. In 2014, equal. And in 2024 it’s gonna, on
the current trend lines, it’ll be about 40% larger. So again, in your lifetime,
that’s what’s happened, and the US has been having an
argument about a pivot to Asia in which we talk about whether we put more weight on our left foot,
which is the Middle East, where we’ve been entangled, or our right foot, which is Asia. But all the while, the seesaw
just seems to be moving to the point that our feet
are not on the ground. So finally, are China’s leaders serious about displacing the US as
the predominant power in Asia in the foreseeable future? If you’re talking to Xi Jinping, when he’s talking privately, does he say that’s what we’re doing? The world’s best China
watcher was Lee Kuan Yew. I asked him this question back in 2013. Most people, when you
ask them this question, especially China specialists, say, “Oh, on the one hand, on the
other, it’s complicated.” He says, “Of course! “Why not? “Who could believe otherwise? “How could they not aspire
to be number one in Asia “in the foreseeable future,
and in time, in the world?” So to conclude, the question of, well, how’s this gonna work out? And the answer is, I would like to say, read my book and you’ll
understand the answer. That would be false and incorrect. I would say, this is
gonna be the challenge for the rest of our lives. And the question is whether, will we follow business as usual? And if we do, I think
we’ll get history as usual. Or, could we imagine a
surge of imagination, if we recognize a dangerous situation, a surge of imagination
as remarkable as that that occurred as the US
created a Cold War strategy for dealing with the Soviet surge, in which we had, quote, “War” but not really a war like
Thucydides trap file, a war in which there were
not bombs and bullets. So I think that’ll be the
challenge for all of us and especially for younger
folks at the School, both Americans and
Chinese thinking people, to wrestle with. – Thank you, Graham. That’s excellent. What’s interesting with Thucydides is that he himself, of course, opens up for that possibility
in the first book. I mean, he says that
destiny brings this forward, and he was a strong believer
in destiny, the broad sense, but he does in no way believe that the people who made
the decisions themselves were brought along on this wave of history that they could do nothing about. It was their decisions that led to war and the ideas that they took on board. So I want to– – One of the great things he does and in fact, in that last slide, I was pointing out to you, that you can just go down now tonight and download for free,
the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides’ book, and if
you read just Book One, you’ll see he gives an
account of the debate both in Athens and in Sparta, in which it’s clear it
could go either way. But people are making choices on the basis of their
understanding and their analysis and he’s blaming some choices
and favoring some others. So he does not, when he says
that the war was inevitable, that’s hyperbole, it’s exaggeration for the purpose of inferences, and I think for a read, I would say, if you download The Peloponnesian War, which you could have for free, and if you read only Book One, it’ll be worth your Harvard
tuition for the week for sure, for sure.
(laughter) – So you can read that one first, and then you read Graham’s
book afterwards, right? You can get the connections
between all of this. So Samantha, I was
thinking just about that, I mean, the general forces that are pushing in the
direction of conflict, maybe not war, but certainly
conflict between the two. But obviously there are other sides to the US-China
relationship today as well, which you have observed firsthand, which seems to be more
complex than that pattern. – Well, let me first say it’s great to be back
at the Kennedy School, and when I was last here, I used to sound off and
speak my mind very freely, then I went into
government, and I learned, Cass, my husband and I,
both went into government having been academics speaking freely, and it was so risky every time we opened our
mouths while in government that we decided, as a couple, that we would begin every sentence, when we spoke publicly,
with the following clause, “As president Obama has
said from day one…” (laughter) So, no matter what we said, it was likely to draw less scrutiny. So I just would like,
in the spirit of that, which I don’t get to do anymore, as President Obama has said from day one, buy Graham Allison’s book. (laughter)
Okay, people? So, before I get to your question and give you the vantage
point I would have after eight years of working
on multilateral issues, the last four of which
were up close and personal with my Chinese counterpart, I do wanna do what Graham really can’t do for the book
himself, or could do, but is showing great
restraint in not doing, which is, I really wanna
advocate on behalf of this book. So, this book is a very
important public service, and it’s a public service in two forms. I think one, on substance,
which I’ll touch upon, and the other, in form,
which he has touched upon, and I will underscore. On substance, it’s just
a public service frankly to have in one place the qualitative and quantitative analysis of what is happening in
the geopolitical system with China’s rise. And it was interesting, Graham, when you read out your chart there, and then you asked people,
in effect, in their heads to think about when would
China be number one, and then you said they
were already number one, everybody gasped. That was my experience
of reading the book, and I know a fair amount and have read a fair amount about China, and I’d give you one even
more gasp-worthy statistic that really stood out at me, which was just emblematic
of so much, I think. Between 2011 and 2013, China both produced and used more cement than the United States in the entire 20th century. So, every page in this book
has little factoids like that where you’re like, whoa. I mean, that’s whoa-worthy. And so that’s its own service. I think then, what you’ve heard here, and fundamentally the thesis of the book, drawing on not only the
Athens-Sparta conflict, but these other cases where a rising power
challenged a ruling power and looking structurally at the, as Graham put it in the book, the discombobulation that is inevitability going to cause the status quo power, the power that is benefiting
most from the status quo, and the, I think you put it, transitional friction, which is the optimistic
way one can imagine, in the cases that didn’t
turn into conflict, it proved to be friction
that didn’t produce conflict, but nonetheless, these
are gravitational pulls that have to be managed
as a structural matter. But what I think makes Graham also unique in writing a book like this is, he has served our
country in the government and ever since he left government, has been in constant
contact with policy makers. So what you also get in the book is a combination of this, you know, analytic backdrop, the historical sweep, and lessons from history, but also an operational understanding of the limits to which policy makers are actually bringing this kind of history and this kind of structural and tactical understanding to bear. And it is… It is not as blunt as it could be, but it does make the point
about how uncomfortable much of what lies within the
four corners of this book, how uncomfortable it makes policy makers. And I think there’s a deep truth in that. Nobody wants to grapple
with any conception of the sun setting of their influence or their power in the world. But he also, because he’s
served in government, and is a watcher of real
world current events, I think the familiarity, particularly when, in
the back of the book, he gets into some scenarios about how it is that conflict could happen or could get diffused, but the appreciation for how
small an initial incident or how mild an initial trigger, or how mild seeming an
initial trigger can be, and the appreciation for the proximity with which the United States and China are operating together, in
terms of their leadership, our share of leadership in the world, but also even just militarily, the proximity of our ships traversing what we believe to be free and
open sea lanes, and so forth, and they have a different
historical conception of freedom of navigation and what it entails for them
and their sovereign rights. But that proximity, and
the risk of an accident, or something small that
turns big in a hurry, I think that, again, sort of
cautionary cloud, if you will, that you will carry with
you as you go forward only underscores, I think, the urgency of the point that Graham made in closing, which was how we have got to
wrap our minds around this. And I think this is a great foundation but it sets us forth to
do more strategizing. And on that score in terms of form, ’cause
that’s on substance, I think what the book is, and what I think the efforts that Neil, and Graham,
and others are making, and I certainly would support
in every fiber of my being, but history is not present enough in senior decision-making discussions. There is just not enough
knowledge of history in the room. It’s not as if people are dismissive. Frankly, when people chime
in, in my experience, at the highest levels of government, with historical perspective, it is actually a breath of fresh air. But for whatever reason,
what has been adaptive in how people ascend in
their career trajectories does not appear to have
been a CV like Neil’s. It is, again, a different
kind of backdrop. So I think it’s gonna take more than, it’s gonna take historians
and students of history, you don’t need to be a
professional historian to bring history to bear, being more energetic in projecting forward their perspectives, but it’s also gonna take more thinking at the
highest levels of government about how to seed this and incentivize it. If I may briefly, ’cause
Graham really should be doing all the talking tonight here, but just to speak about the rise of China from the standpoint of having
worked with them so closely, as you asked. It’s curious actually,
at the United Nations, because China, if you read this book and you look at the trend lines, the fact of the matter is the United States was
the primary architect of the structures, the
post-WWII institutions, that I think the book argues rightly, we also are primary beneficiaries of. And there’s a kind of stated
and implied thrust to this, that China’s gonna wanna
renegotiate the rules in the international system, once all the trend lines
that you’ve described, the gaps between them and
us on the economic front, become more great. One doesn’t really see that yet. Indeed, I would say that China, you know, there’s the famous expression of hide your capabilities,
and bide your time. I think we are only, in my last year in New
York, out of four years, only then did I really start to see China asserting itself
outside its narrow sphere of North Korea, Burma to some extent, certainly anything Taiwan related. I mean, really using its leverage to ensure that citizens of Taiwan did not have full access
to the UN, and so forth. I mean, the core neighborhood issues and primal issues for China drove them, but what also started to happen is, within this system that,
on Graham’s telling, over time they should want to reshape and the rules that they
should want to rewrite, they really started to embed
themselves more and more within the UN structures. And the best and least
heralded example of this is peacekeeping, where they went from being a non-factor a decade ago, to now having nearly three thousand troops active in peacekeeping
missions around the world, including infantry for the first time, which has just happened
in the last couple years. They just last summer took their first ever
casualties in UN peacekeeping, and that raises a really
important question about when China is in the world, and this is true in the economic
development sector already, how are they in the world? Are they in the world
bunkered, and insular, and inward-looking, and superior, or are they out and about doing the bidding of the UN principles as we traditionally have understood them? In taking casualties, their instinct, I think, has been to bunker down, but President Xi has
also made an announcement that they’re, in addition
to the nearly three thousand that they have active in some of the world’s
most dangerous places, they’re also going to create
an eight thousand man, and woman maybe, rapid reaction force, which they announced two years ago and the UN is in negotiations
with them to create that. Now, if that exists as
a rapid reaction force and doesn’t deploy rapidly,
and doesn’t use force, it’s not going to fit the bill. But I think it’s an example, a sort of, at least a, I don’t
want to call it a trend, because right now they’re still in the hide your capabilities and bide your time, I think, framework, within the UN, coming out of it slowly. But so far, you have not seen China seek to rewrite the rules of
the road, as they have evolved. But peacekeeping is a good example of a cutting-edge field where, if they were to deploy
that eight thousand, along with their three thousand, they would be the number
one peacekeeping force in the world. They are now the number two
donor to UN peacekeeping. Of the P5, the veto holders, we’re constantly creating
peacekeeping missions, changing mandates, trying to respond to issues on the ground, they’re the one now who get to say to the other
members of the Security Council, what do these other countries know? We’re actually there in South Sudan, we’re there in Mali. Listen to us as to how that
mandate should be rewritten. So if they end up going
in a more traditional and a more conservative
and less active direction, that’s gonna have a major impact on the extent to which civilians
get protected in the world. Very last point, ’cause
there’s lots to say about China at the UN, but I did wanna move away from that and just note that the most
chilling part of this book is the close, where Graham reflects on domestic politics in both
countries, the brittleness, although I think, because
you know the American system, and our foibles, and flaws, and trends right now so much better, I think that reads as an
even more chilling dimension to this, you know, this historical encounter
between these two countries. But… How we can have that kind of enlightened strategic thinking within government, given some of what’s going
on in government right now, but well beyond that, how our politics, and this is a point you make very sharply, but how our politics will handle an assertion of power and strength, and an attempt to rewrite the rules. And one example is we actually modestly adjusted the IMF voting rules, back, when was it, 2010, and we couldn’t even
get it through congress for five, six years, and these were just to actually
give the emerging powers more weight in voting, commensurate with their economic clout, because congress is like,
“No, we don’t feel like it.” And not withstanding, the
fact that we, the executive, in using our foreign policy judgment, deem that good, all things considered, for US interest as well as
for the international order. So I think this point about politics is the most damning and worrying dimension of the trends that Graham has put forward. And I should say, sorry, last point, but the assumption Graham, in this book, and Trump was elected, you managed to get in a
fair amount about Trump and amend the book to encompass
some of what he’s up to, but the assumption in all your cases is that the ruling power
wants to stay a ruling power, and that the rising power is
challenging that ruling power. Now we have a ruling power
that’s walking away from, so what does that mean? How does that fit into the history, if it’s us ourselves who
are cutting UN funding and saying to China, Okay, now you become the largest donor,” taking away our own influence, if it’s us walking away from
the Paris agreement on climate, allowing China to lead the world on energy and the environment, as well as in all the
other issues you mentioned, that’s, to me, a major own
goal in terms of our interests, but it’s also an interesting dimension to who’s displacing whom, if it’s something that’s self-inflicted in the way that what the
current administration is doing seems to be. – Excellent. Those are some of the really
big questions to discuss here. I mean, the issue, what can China do when
it actually has risen? There might be some disagreement in terms of whether that
has already happened or is about to happen, and I guess that depends a little bit on where you see it from, in terms of intentions or capabilities. The other one is, is there something in
the domestic politics particularly of these two countries, that seem to draw it away
from any kind of understanding in terms of the broader
implications in a global sense? Now Neil, you underlined
integration as part of this, but as your own work in the past dealing with WWI has shown, integration in economic terms is not enough to prevent
conflict, and in some cases, might actually be a
stimulant for conflict. Yes. – Well, thanks very much for inviting me to come back to my old haunt here, and it’s a great pleasure to come back and find Samantha back
at the Kennedy School. I must say, if somebody had
told me eight years ago, Samantha’s going to have a
tremendous success in Washington and then in New York, in
the Obama administration, so successful that, by the end, she will be the guest of honor at Henry Kissinger’s Christmas dinner, (laughter) I would have thought
they were smoking weed. But there you were in
December of last year, being toasted by Henry
Kissinger, and I have to say, I thought that was a great sign of how you had matured in your attitude (laughter) towards international relations, because that was certainly not the Samantha Power
of A Problem from Hell. I’m teasing you. – Thank you very much. – It was certainly good that
you were in touch with him because, let’s face it, no western statesmen
has thought more deeply about the US-China
relationship than Kissinger, who, in many ways, was the
man who opened the door that had been closed
between the US and China when he went there in 1971. So, this seems an appropriate moment to allude to his contribution. You know, I was reading
Thucydides here, teaching a class, and it suddenly struck me how American the Athenians sometimes sound in the way that they
rationalize their empire. “Oh, we didn’t really want this empire, “but we had to do it.” Why aren’t you more
grateful for our empire? I thought, why does that sound familiar? I do think it’s therefore very
well worth reading Thucydides and reading Graham’s
excellent book after it. It’s a terrific read, and it’s a perfect illustration of what I think we’re trying to do when we talk about applied history. If you go to that chart that Graham showed you
at the back of the book, there you have 16 cases, all but four of which end in war. So I spent a bit of time perusing these, thinking, I’m sure I can
find some holes in this list. But let me focus on the four exceptions, ’cause I think they’ll help us think about what might be the options
today for the US and China if they’re going to avoid
the Thucydides trap. So you’ve got Spain and
Portugal in the 15th century, the UK and the US in
the early 20th century, the US and the Soviet
Union in the Cold War, and then the UK, France,
and everybody else, and Germany, in the period
of the late 20th century. And these are the four cases that Graham suggests didn’t lead to war. Since all the others did,
maybe we should focus on those. How did that work? Well, one was an agreement
to divide the world, and that’s what Spain and Portugal did. One was a sort of tacit
agreement to cooperate, which is really how the US and the UK managed the rise of the US. The Cold War, which was
pretty hot in the third world, but stayed cold in the developed world, stayed cold because of deterrence. And then the final case,
which is Western Europe, conflict was resolved through integration. Now I’m not sure just how
many, if any, of those models are applicable to the US-China case today. I agree with you, Graham. There is certainly some truth in the argument that
they’re on collision course, which I think is your central theme. I don’t think there’s ever
been a rise, in economic terms, as rapid as China’s. If you think back to 1980, it was 2.3% of world GDP,
using your favored measure. And now it’s more like 18%. That’s extraordinary, that’s meteoric. Even Germany, and the United States, in the late 19th century, did not close the gap
with the UK that rapidly. And I think, in that sense, this is a very worthwhile
historical analogy to explore. In On China, Kissinger really emphasizes the parallel between China and
Germany, the US and the UK, a hundred years ago,
just a little bit more, he argues there was a
very similar situation. Britain was somewhat self-confident, suffering from some fiscal strain. There was the politics of
populism and progressivism, and there came Germany, building its navy, its economy growing significantly
faster than Britain’s, a sense maybe internally of a potential domestic political crisis, but a reservoir of nationalism that could be tapped by the leadership, but that does seem like
the best of all the cases, the best fit of all the cases to the US-China relationship today. I think, if one reflects
on how things have changed since you left office, and the Trump administration came in, I’m quite glad I don’t
need to begin any sentence by saying, “As President
Trump has said from day one,” but the people how do have to say that include people like Steve Bannon, who very clearly has the intention of confrontation with China, has talked in confrontational language, and so have many people
in the administration. That’s a very striking
feature of the situation that has changed in the
space of just a few months. But, having said all that, we do have to be a little bit careful of what I’ll call Paul Kennedy syndrome. Paul, who teaches at rival liberal arts
institution in Connecticut, famously published The Rise
and Fall of Great Powers, which was applied history
in its day, back in 1987, but it implied that West Germany and Japan were about to overtake the United States and that the United
States had better shape up if it was to avoid what
the Italians call sorpasso. I think we need to be a little cautious about replaying some
of Kennedy’s analogies when we make this analysis. Number one, the US is still
miles ahead militarily. The gap is far wider
than it was even in 1914, between Germany and the UK. To Arne’s point, economic interdependence
was very high in 1914 but it’s even higher today. The exposure of the
major US multinationals to the Chinese economy, their
dependence on globalization, was wonderfully illustrated
just a few days ago in Beijing. I was at the China Development Forum and there were the CEOs of
all the major companies, paying homage if not tribute,
to Premier Li Keqiang. There is a lot at stake, more, I think, at stake
for American business, than was at stake for
British business in 1914. And let me add one final point, and then we should throw
it open to discussion. China’s leaders know that they do not need war, should positively avoid war, and cold war, in order to
surpass the United States. They watched as the Obama administration pretty much failed to
execute a pivot to Asia. And now they watch its successor, essentially, as you rightly say, Samantha, vacating the role of global leadership, walking away from the
international institutions that have served the United
States so well since 1945. And I was very struck in Beijing, I’ve just been there for a week, by the self-confidence I encountered amongst China’s leaders, that history is going their way. There are a whole bunch of
respects in which this is true. Just think of one, which I
wrote about the other day, the way that China kept
Silicon Valley at bay, the major companies of the
United States technology sector which took over the rest of the world, were successfully excluded
by Chinese policy, and now all the major functions
that are performed for us by Google, and Facebook, and all the rest, are performed by Chinese
companies for the Chinese. I think they will probably leap frog us in financial technology
the way things are going. So they look at the world today, and they, I think, feel
a lot less trigger happy than their German
counterparts were in 1914. And there’s a reason for that, and this is what I’ll
conclude by observing. Unlike our leaders, China’s
leaders apply history. There is no more historically-minded leadership elite in the
world, to my knowledge, than the Standing
Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. And that may be why we won’t
end up in the Thucydides trap, there, I nearly mispronounced it, because they know about it, and they are really carefully
formulating strategy to avoid falling into it, even if Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are wont to jump in themselves. – Thanks, Neil. I must confess, referencing Paul Kennedy, that one of the things that has worried me with China’s newfound
confidence in a lot of areas is what Paul termed imperial overstretch, certainly with regard to its own region, that this is happening a
bit too soon, in many ways, for what China is capable of doing, at least in a integrationist or deliberative kind of
framework within Eastern Asia. I wonder, Graham, would it be possible, just because we’re
running a little bit late, is to open up for questions
from the audience, take a few of those, and then turn to you so you can respond to what Samantha and
Neil have been saying. So, we have one question over
there, someone I recognize. Nick, please go head. And do line up behind the mics. We’ve got two down here
and then two up, yeah, right in front there. Please. – Thank you. Good afternoon, thank
you all for joining us. My name is Nick Ackard, and I’m a senior
concentrating in classics, so I was delighted to hear Thucydides, and getting a secondary in government. – You’re one of the few people who know something about
Thucydides here with me. – I don’t think anyone does,
he’s kind of confusing. (laughs) But in all seriousness, actually, I had a question that was inspired by both Ambassador Power and Professor Ferguson’s point, which is, I think that the amount of evidence so far seems to display China as a
form of revisionist actor, and we’ve seen Martin Jacques’
When China Rules the World and Richard McGregor, The Red Machine, similar kinds of arguments. But I heard an interesting
counter argument that I’d like to hear
your opinion on, which is, in order to be a revisionist actor it seems like you have to be
upset with the status quo, but the US and China tend to
support similar institutions. It seems like the US does
not support the ICC, the ICJ. The same thing is true of China. They don’t support the
Ottawa Landmine Treaty. And so my question is, to what extent can we really
perceive China as revisionist, ’cause that seems core to
the thesis of your book? – Thanks, it’s a good question. Please, sir. – My question is, first of all, I’m Tom, I’m with MPA
at the Kennedy School. My question is about, you know, the next eight years
are probably going to be in a Trump administration, I’m wondering about security. Shouldn’t we welcome that fact that there’s a passage
of baton towards China, because I’m thinking about
your article, Professor Power, Bystanders to Genocide, and I’m wondering if
we, in the last years, looking at the state of the world, if we are to put ourselves
in the frame of your article, if we haven’t been, in a way, bystanders to a very
unacceptable situation with regards to Syria, with regards to a serious
involvement in Africa. I’m wondering therefore
if it’s not a good thing, given what may be perceived as a failure, the fact that there’s a
passage of baton towards China. Thank you. – Thanks, one final question up there and then I’ll turn to Graham. Yeah, please sir. – My name’s Kevin from the Kennedy School. Building on what Neil said with the analogy to the rise of Japan and our similar analysis
back in the eighties, now are we kind of
overestimating, or mis-projecting, where China will go, and how much does this thesis depend on China’s continued
trajectory with rapid growth, and in particular, how do you react to the analysis by Larry
Summers and Lant Pritchett about regression to the mean and how China’s growth this past decade
and a half is unprecedented. Should we continue to expect that or is it just an anomaly
that’s gonna disappear? – Okay, thank you. Graham, I turn to you. Then we’re gonna take a few more questions and then bring Samantha
and you back into this. – I’ll just try to, given the time, I’ll try to be quick on the question of what has happened to date. I think the main point is we haven’t yet had
time to be astonished. So if you just look at what has happened over the last 30 years, basically every two years, China’s increment of growth is bigger than the economy of India. So that was two years
ago, and two years ago, and two years ago, but we talk about India
and China as competitors. So I think we haven’t
recognized what has happened, that’s point one. Point two, will trend lines continue? The answer is, of course they won’t. But the question of,
when will they change? So, a number of people, including many of our colleagues here, have been bearish about
China for at least a decade. I’ve been bullish about
China for at least a decade. That’s been a very good bet, okay? So, if you look at the main
storyline in American press, if you take all the elite
press the last three years, about China and economy,
what’s the main storyline? We do a word cloud, it’s
called China slowdown, and if you look at it
about the American economy for the last three years, the main storyline is American recovery. So, China has slowed down,
and America has recovered to what per cent, how many times US growth,
is China’s growth? So, US is growing at x, China’s growing at, which
slowed down at what? The answer is 3x plus, and actually, in the period
since the financial crisis, that gap has grown,
not shrunk, not shrunk. So the US has hardly grown at
2%, all of the 21st century, and China has been growing, this year it’s gonna be,
it’s not gonna be so good, it’ll be 6.5%. People say, “Oh, well, what’s 6.5?” That’s three times two. Secondly, on the bystander
point, I think that the… While there’s a lot to be said of the things that the Obama
administration didn’t do, as a bystander, if you ask, in what instance have China involved itself in
resolving anybody’s problem other than its own narrow terms, I can’t think of an example. So, if it’s China rules
as compared to US rules, if that’s the comparison– – Ebola maybe would be the
one you could give them– – Okay, Ebola might, that’s being fair. But as a general matter. – [Samantha] A general matter, totally. – And then finally on the
revisionist power point, seems to be that if you look at the Chinese perception of their region, and you and I, I think,
would think the same thing, if you ask why is it
that the American Navy is the arbiter of events in a sea that’s called
the South China Sea, and in another sea called
the East China Sea. So one of my Chinese colleagues asked me, he says, “Go back and look at your map,” and he says, “How are
these oceans called?” It’s not called the American Sea, it’s not called the Asian Sea. It’s called the South China Sea. So when China looks out, they see the American
Navy there as an anomaly. And we say to ’em, but this has
provided the most stability, and the greatest opportunity
for growth you’ve ever seen. They answer, that’s true. But they say, “Well, but that
was then, and now it’s now.” And if you look, I have a
very interesting chapter on if Xi’s China were just like us. So if you go back to Teddy
Roosevelt a hundred years ago, and look at the way that
he thought about the Brits providing, they’ll just
take care of the oceans around the Caribbean,
or even in the Atlantic, he thought, it was great
that you did this for me for a hundred years,
I appreciate it a lot, but he didn’t say that, but in any case, be gone, or else fight. – I guess part of the problem is that, when it comes to the
designation of these seas by people locally, say
Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, who’d have all the names for
these maritime areas as well. So it’s not just on the US side. We’re gonna do a few more questions then I’m gonna turn over
to Neil and Samantha. Yes, please. – [Sam] Hi, thank you. Sam Benjamin from the Kennedy School. – Please be very, very
brief now because we’re running out of time.
– I will, okay. So the last 70 years was not
just about the US world order, the peace was also created by this commitment to globalization. In 2016, and that has created
what John Nye has said, you know, anti-government
and stuff like that. Last year in 2016, we have
seen the UK and the US adopting anti-globalization attitudes, in particular economic
nationalism and protectionism. How do you think that, what does that mean for conflict between America and China? Would that mean that the
US and the UK, the West, would slowly decrease
relevance in the world, or would a trade war with
China trigger some accident that might cause something
bigger to happen? – Okay, thank you. Sir. – Dan Hennerhan, a student
at the Kennedy School, and someone who is not at all surprised by Ambassador Power’s successes. (applause and cheering) A lot of American allies
in Asia, such as Australia, are increasingly becoming economically integrated into China. How should they manage
the Thucydides trap? – Good, concise question. Good concise point as well, actually. Yes please, over there. – I will try. My name is Nyema Greene,
I’m a PhD student here and a former Kennedy School student. I’ve got a question for
both Professor Allison and Ambassador Power, and
it has to do with norms. So, you talked a little bit about how China’s rise has
affected or not affected the international system structurally, but what does the rise
of China mean for norms? Like norms of governance,
norms of human rights. Some have said that, as they’ve gotten more integrated
into the United Nations, they’ve actually become more socialized towards Western values, but I wonder what’s gonna happen
as they get more powerful. – A very good question. Yes, please. – Hi, my name is Ali Wein, I’m a second year MPP student here. And there was a chart
that appeared earlier in the PowerPoint presentation, showing different metrics by which China has
eclipsed the United States, but I still suspect that most people wouldn’t call China the
world’s pre-eminent power. So, if and when China becomes number one, however we define it, what
should we be looking for? What would be the characteristics of an international system,
or US-China relations, in which China has indeed become the world’s preeminent power? – How do we see it when it’s happened, or has it already happened? – Steve, I’ll do you first. – Steve Callahan, the
Kennedy School faculty. How should we interpret the fact that the senior Chinese leadership constantly says they do not
believe in the Thucydides trap and that China and the US have far more in common
than separates them? – Maybe I could do this in reverse order, so start with you, Neil,
and then do Samantha, and Graham as well, if you want to do. – I didn’t say I was surprised
by Samantha’s success. I was surprised by her
friendship with Henry Kissinger. Let me take that last point first, rather, the penultimate point first, because it’s absolutely right. China is not number one, because those are not the
most important measures from the vantage point of power. Let me just throw out a few
that aren’t in Graham’s table. If you do gross domestic
product in current dollar terms you find the United States is far ahead. If you do gross domestic
product per capita, the US advantage is five to one. The US currency is the
world’s reserve currency. As long as the Chinese
have capital controls, the Renminbi is not going
to displace the US dollar, and I could go on. There’s a sense in which, even with Mr. Trump as president, the US owns the international order and plays a key role in
international institutions, however much he may despise them. Who called the shots at the
G20 meeting this weekend? Steve Mnuchin. When he said we’re not putting free trade in the communique, guess what happened? So I think we need to recognize that we are still quite some way away from a sorpasso that would put China in a position of being
the preeminent power, and above all, in military
terms, it is still far behind. One of the first questions asked, if we should think of
China and the United States as being, in some measure, similar in their attitudes
towards the international order, your question about revisionist powers and Martin Jacques’ book. I think that’s a good insight. In many ways, with their
insistence on national sovereignty, the United States and
China have much in common. They have, I think, a potential
for closer collaboration. When Kissinger has written
about co-evolution, I think he’s driving at this point. And late last year, after
the election result, he and I collaborated on a piece that was published in
The American Interest, arguing that the logical thing for a Trump administration to do would in fact be to pursue
closer relations with China, rather than to play hardball in the way that Steve Bannon recommends, and I still think that’s
an option on the table, because when you think, just to turn to the Syrian
question for a minute, when you think about
Middle Eastern stability, the Chinese have an
increasing interest in that, not least because they are becoming the most important
importer of fossil fuels from the Middle Eastern region. The real pivot that would
make strategic sense would be one in which the Chinese were obliged to pivot to the Middle East and make even more of a contribution than they’ve begun to make,
in stabilizing the region. I remember Martin Dempsey coming here when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and said, do we even have a strategy? Is our strategy just trying to hang on? And I said, look, the only
thing that makes any sense is to try and get the Chinese to own a proportionate stake
in the international order that they benefit from, ’cause in many ways they’re free riders, as long as we’re providing what passes for stability in the region. Somebody asked, and I forget who it was, are we actually in danger
of over-estimating China? Now, this is a really,
really important point. Imagine this scene. It’s, I think, Saturday, and
we’re in a Hutong in Beijing, me, Michael Pettis, Larry
Summers, and Martin Wolf, with about 30 of Michael Pettis’ students, debating precisely this point. Michael is somebody who’s argued for ages that China’s just bound to come to a grinding halt eventually, not to suffer a massive
crisis, but to slow down, because of the sheer arithmetic of rising debt and slowing growth. And so we spent a good two
hours debating this point. It’s absolutely the case that China has achieved its
most recent period of growth with a rising burden of debt, and there’s a certain irony here. Once upon a time, China and America looked
like economic opposites. Ten years ago, when I first published an
article about Chimerica, I joked that it was a kind
of marriage of opposites, because one did the exporting,
the other did the importing. One did the saving, and
the other did the spending, and so on. They have grown alike,
like some married couples. It was either divorce, or convergence. They chose convergence, and now what is the Chinese
economic growth model? Rising burdens of debt, shadow
banking, real estate bubbles. Is this sounding at all
familiar to you Americans? So there’s a sense in which China has shifted its economic model and its increasing reliance on debt and its vulnerability
to financial complexity, I think, are real reasons
to expect trouble ahead. Chinese leadership is more
focused I think, in the end, on resolving these economic
or, broadly, domestic problems, than on becoming a superpower. I think that’s not their top priority. The top priority is how do you deal with over-capacity in heavy industry? How do you deal with
all of this complexity in the financial system? How do we keep the show on the road in a sustainable way, that is really their
number one preoccupation, because if they fail to do that, their nightmare of Dongdang, of turmoil, suddenly becomes a reality. And I think, in that sense
too, and here I’ll stop, there is a possibility for
US-Chinese cooperation. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, after all the chess-piecing
and the aggressive rhetoric, when Xi Jinping comes to Mar-a-Lago, (laughter) which is kind of like Nixon in China, only a kind of farcical version. But when Xi Jinping comes to Mar-a-Lago, there’ll suddenly be a great deal, and there will be a handshake, and we’ll suddenly realize that, despite appearances to the contrary, Donald Trump thinks that
he’s a great leader. That’s a distinct possibility. From the vantage point of the Chinese, they kind of think
that’s where it’s going. They’ve read The Art of
the Deal, has anybody here? Put your hand up if you’ve read Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal? So it’s like, what are you people doing? Do you have no interest in
the way this man thinks? He is the most powerful man in the world. I know you would rather just watch Colbert and have fun at his expense, but he has a theory of the case, and the theory of the
case is, in a negotiation, you open very strongly,
and then you negotiate. And that’s what the Chinese
think that Trump has done since his election. All the aggressive rhetoric, they see as being an opening play, which will culminate in a great deal. So don’t be surprised if,
instead of the Thucydides trap, we end up with a great deal. – In Mar-a-Lago, of course. Samantha. – The only footnote I’d
offer to Neil’s last point is that there will not
be a great deal to be had in Mar-a-Lago any time
soon, in part because, drawing on something
that Neil said earlier, foreign policy and
geopolitics are hard enough when you’re paying attention. (laughter) When you’re steeped in the details and when you have the discipline to pull back and think longer term. When you study history and know tactics, I mean, it’s really hard, but they cannot be ripe to take advantage of some of the structural
forces in the world that actually do push us
together, pull us together, they will not be ripe to take advantage of those opportunities until they value knowledge
and professionalism, period. So, that’s on that. (laughs) On the larger, there
are a set of questions, one of which has been
touched on by Graham, but to dwell on a little bit. First, there was a great
question I thought, about are we more alike than we think within international institutions? Is China as revisionist, and I was sort of trying to get at that a little bit also in my opening comments. And the ICC, land mines were invoked. I think we do have a powerful attachment to sovereignty, culturally,
almost theologically, and we have that in common. Even though a lot of the
statistics that Graham brings forth and that we know about, about China, in the post-WWII period, or
pre-1980, or pre-21st century, they’re not in the game. They were grandfathered in
within the UN after WWII. They got the veto, not this
China, subsequently this ChIna, but nonetheless a China,
got grandfathered in, and so they are the beneficiaries of the same rules of the road almost as if someone were taking a snapshot of the power dynamics today. Now, that doesn’t mean the rules, that all the rules are rules
that they would’ve written, needless to say, but that
veto is a very powerful thing. And they have had it for some time, they have used it relatively sparingly. It has been disappointing frankly to see the kind of mimicry that
has characterized, I think, their policies towards Syria and Ukraine. There’s been some divergence with Russia but not as much, given China’s attention to sovereignty, and to territorial integrity. There was a period where
it looked as though they would break with Russia on that, and in the end, ended up just falling back into again, relative deference. But I think what’s the best example of the premise behind
the very good question is China’s violent opposition,
not yet actually violent, but vehement opposition to
Security Council reform. I mean, they are the most conservative. They will throw their bodies in the tracks to prevent the Security Council from being, quote, “Modernized.” And of course, that has less to do with the abstract idea of whether rules should be renegotiated, and much more to do with Japan and India. But, in order for Security
Council reform to happen, the countries on the Security Council have to be prepared to support that, and I just can’t see that happening any time on my time horizon,
anyway, on this earth. So, to draw that question together with the excellent question about norms and then what does it mean if they begin to lead more within the
institutions, for norms, I think that’s a key difference. So on this question of, do we converge… They fundamentally do not agree, or do not act as though they agree, I don’t think they can afford to, given the domestic situation, they do not act as though they agree that bad governance is
itself destabilizing. So their form of stabilization, their idea of how you
get peace and security, which is what we’re all nominally for, is more governance, more government. And over the course of
the last couple of years, and this is of course true of Russia also, but it really wasn’t clear
whether there were lines that governments could cross, and forfeit China’s relationship. So you would think that
the gassing of 1500 people, even if human rights people, as such, that’s just bad from a
disarmament standpoint to have chemical weapons
used as a weapon of war and even in a relatively routine manner. They just didn’t get
that worked up about it, that didn’t affect their relationship with the Syrian government
in any real respect. South Sudan, where they
have a lot of leverage that they could be playing right now with the oil investments
that they’re making, they’ve appointed an envoy,
the envoy travels there often. They’re really investing
in their diplomacy and their kind of cadre of envoys, but it’s not clear what happens behind, we know they don’t publicly criticize. Fair enough, they have their own approach, but it’s really, one has
rarely seen the needle move in the wake of a Chinese
diplomatic deployment. You don’t get the sense that
much is being leveraged, and it’s just a deference to the state that fundamentally, at least my understanding of
how these conflicts arise, if the state is killing its people or stealing its country’s national wealth, there’s going to have to be
some more pushback from China for it to be a constructive player. And the very last thing I’d say, a stark example, I think, of the concern behind
the question about norms, I mentioned in my opening comments that China has now moved, in terms of its financial
contributions to the UN, to being number two
behind the United States in the peacekeeping budget, and number three behind
the United States and Japan in the regular budget. And we, again, I watched
these budget negotiations, participated in these budget negotiations for four years in New York, and by and large, until last year, China tended to sit relatively quietly in the budget negotiations, on the side of developing countries who tend to just want more budget, more money for more jobs,
for some good programs, but that’s the traditional tension, right? Between the developing G77 countries and the big donor countries, where we try to discipline the process and it ends up being very tense. And China has tended always
to even sit physically on the side of the room
with the G77 countries. And this last year, for the very first time
in the negotiations that I’ve been privy to, and I imagine in the
decades of negotiations that preceded me, China moved its chair away from the G77, but not with the donors. So they sat in the middle, but their positions were
positions by and large and again, we, the Obama administration, really wanted to fund good UN programs, so we weren’t being
ruthless from the standpoint of just slashing and burning, or whatever, but we were very budget
conscious, given our share, and given the amount
of bloat in the system, and the arguments, even though they would
not sit on the donor side of the ledger, and for the
first time were sitting apart, they were, for the first time,
genuinely budget conscious, which has something to do
probably with their economy but has a lot to do with
their share of the UN budget and needing to be responsible,
given that it was going up. And the peacekeeping budget’s
a 8.5 billion dollar budget of which they’re now at 10 or 11%. In any event, so that seems, so when my budget team came back, they said, “The most
amazing thing just happened. “For the first time, this just happened.” I said, wow, we’re gonna
have an easier time now on these budget negotiations. They said, “Yeah,
there’s just one problem. “All the budget cuts that
they were arguing for “was to cut the human rights positions “from UN peacekeeping missions.” (laughter) So, where they were
looking to find savings were not the place that we were
gonna look to find savings. So, we will find these
marriages of convenience and merges of interest up to a point, but unless, again, we
converge in some fashion in believing that when
you’re abusing your people or stealing from your people, or, you know, you name it, that that is, over time, not
gonna be good for the country, not gonna be good for stability,
nevermind human rights. You’re going to see that
leadership exercised in a manner, I think, that
continues to create tension. – Just a quick note, to add to that. One of the most striking
things about last year in China was discovering that the Chinese elite actually wanted Donald Trump to win, and the reason that I
heard most often adduced, aside from Hilary Clinton’s association with the pivot strategy, was human rights, that she would bring up
the issue of human rights, had done it in the past, and Donald Trump, he’s a businessman, we can deal with him. And that’s something that
wasn’t widely appreciated here. – I think that’s entirely right, not just connected to human rights issues but in more general terms as well. So Graham, Samantha is saying
that China’s chair is moving. And Thucydides tells us that
the performance of power is something that is very important. It’s not just about what you say, it’s not just about the rhetoric, but it’s also how you
actually present this. So is that a sign, in Thucydidean terms, that things may be moving? – It’s a good question. Let me connect it to agree strongly both with what Samantha
said about the norms, and Neil’s point about the convergence, because I think every day, we will see more evidence of a China that is more powerful, and
that behaves like China. And that will be extremely uncomfortable, because China is quite like
us, so this convergence. Now, this book was written without, I mean, it took me five
years to write this book, so I’ve worked at it for a long time. This was not written with
Donald Trump in mind. But, as I say in the preface, if Hollywood were producing a blockbuster on China and the US on the path to war, central casting could not have come up with a better lead for Team
America than our president. And actually, if you look, the similarities between our president and President Xi Jinping,
are way under-appreciated. So, both are driven by a common ambition, and Xi said this first,
to make China great again. That was his line before
it was Trump’s line. Two, they identify the
nation ruled by the other as the principle obstacle
to their own greatness. Three, they take pride in their own unique
leadership capabilities. Four, they see themselves as playing a central role in
revitalizing their nation. Fifth, they’ve announced
daunting domestic agendas that call for radical changes. And finally, they’ve fired up
populist nationalism support to, quote, “Drain the swamp again.” The Chinese, they have
their own version of that, of corruption at home, and
confront attempts by each other to thwart their nation’s historic mission. So I think Thucydides would say, I’m sitting on the edge of my chair watching this development. I don’t take away from this
any fatalism or pessimism. The purpose of the book is not to forecast some catastrophic future, but as the line would say, to prevent it. The proposition that,
in four of the cases, this didn’t turn out
badly, as Neil reminded us, means that if we were smart enough to look at those cases, and
look at the other cases, and look at the situation,
and look at our interests, the interests of the parties, if they should find themselves at war, no one after the fact would
think this was a good idea. It reminds me hugely, and I’ll just stop with this one, of WWI. At the end of WWI, how did that work out? So, the Austro-Hungarian empire, gone. Empire dissolved. Kaiser, gone. Russian Tsar, overthrown
by the Bolsheviks. France bled of all of its
youth for a generation. And England, shorn of
its treasury (mumbles). So if you’d have allowed people a do-over, nobody would’ve made the
choices that they made that produced this outcome. So I would say, if we think about that, and you think about the agendas, as both Samantha and
Neil said, that press, I mean, Xi Jinping has way more to do than worry about the US. So if somehow everything could be, and the US, if you look at our society, has way more to do than worry about China. So I would say there’d be more than enough for the parties to work on
in their domestic agendas in ways that would
actually be cooperative. I think that’s the challenge. – So, read the book. You can’t get a better
introduction to applied history, hold the book up, Graham, you actually have a copy of it here, than this one. – This is just the galley. – But even so, you can see the title. Congratulations on the book. My thanks to everyone on the panel, Graham Allison, Samantha
Power, Neil Ferguson. Thank you for a great discussion.

100 thoughts on “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

  1. Agree, the only path that would pave the mediation is a general agreement that covers all facets of integrational steps-to-be-established

  2. Difference is USA FALSE FLAG ADVENTURES like friendly fire only leaves the dead behind. Wars built on LIES by USA regime from Vietnam to IRAQ, Lies that send your kids to death or suicide. USA regime no.1 in global arms sales death profits, always first to kill first to sacrifice their kids. First to kill, nukes, napalm ,depleted Uranium, Cluster bombs, Agent orange, Drone kills that floods Europe with refugees, Shame USA Regime.

  3. WHAT CRAP You think China will bomb 18,000 Wal Mart Stores and bomb their own plastic shit???
    First was British Empire transferred to USA with little friction, and NOW NSA 5 eyes rules over all.
    USA says "We own the world the land, waters, air and cyber and outer space" "full spectrum domination"
    says USA REGIME, my way or no way at all.Thanks USA. SAM POWERS willful blindness, ignorant she ignores human life,propaganda using children. SHAME.

  4. Trump suffers from Narcissism, He swings from wounds to rage, from poor me to your fired. Trump ran away from military during Vietnam and never served yet loves the military, "the best in the world", this is part of his disorder. America is a culture of Narcissism therefore willful blindness, denial, refuses to recognize Trump´s personality disorder Narcissism. Shame the world is been taken for a turbulent ride. Good Luck Folks, 320 million Americans and this is the best you can do, shame.

  5. Bombing SYRIA over chocolate cake, perfect example of Narcissism disorder. Swings from wounds to rage and secrets in between. Wake up folks, smell the stench of Narcissism. Remember USA America´s history starts with Native Indian Genocide, then Black Slavery then Monroe Doctrine Latin America. USA regime kills 3 Million in ASIA Vietnam ,Laos,Cambodia. ETC Obama Butcher of Middle East, drone kills in 8 Muslim countries and floods Europe with refugees and now Genocide of YEMEN. China wants nothing to do with USA regime World killing machine. Therefore America does not teach history because THEY USA looks real bad, shame.

  6. Yes POWERS A WARMONGER SHAME. VETO is BULL shit, USA after all the world said,Do not attack Iraq" and these idiots Bush said" God told me to attack Iraq." So the hell with this world America´s interest in Attacking Iraq. THIS is Height of Arrogance & ignorance. Shame SAD SAM. Agent Orange Depleted Uranium in Iraq Cluster Bombs in Yemen Shame USA regime always first to kill.

  7. Niall Ferguson nailed the Xi-Trump proto-bromance on its head before it happened – that there is a deal to be had (albeit early days). Samantha Power is an ideologue who if in power is far more dangerous to the world than Trump is. If you know him, he just wants to make money, for him and for his country. Btw, Samantha didn't read the Art of the Deal. Why is that? She had no time or she can't accept that there are people who hold different world views than hers? The professor who brought forth the Thucydides thing said he's neither pessimistic (Samantha's China's bad record of governance will ruin everything) or optimistic (Niall Ferguson's China-US convergence). My feeling is that he's not overly concerned. Great video. Learned a lot today, thanx.

  8. I feel that we need to be very suspicious to the intention of Graham Tillett Allison. He seems try to trick US and China to have war and fight each other to death. Then Britain and Europe and Russia and Japan will be the remaining superpower in the world while US and China will be just ruins. I know Japan also really really wants US and China to have war.
    Advocating war between US and China is not for the interests of US.

  9. For my money, the optimum way forward for the United States is to progressively abandon the role of world leader and policeman, in favor of transactional nation to nation deals. To abandon our commitment to Bretton Woods, the UN, and other world policeman functions, and to only involve ourselves where we our middle class is benefited. While we do this the United States should phase in the trade barriers and currency manipulations indulged by the other great powers of the world, ruthlessly enacting only those policies that profit us.

    The United States should do everything in it's power to draw China into being the under writer and protector of globalism. They simply are not ready to carry the burden of such roles. Do everything in our power to facilitate their new silk road. Draw them into being the primary under writer of the UN, and peace keeping, and anti piracy roles. Draw them as deeply as possible into the chaos and mayhem that is normal life across the Muslim arc and Central Asia. All the while, focus on retooling our industry to the next industrial revolution, renewing our infrastructure, and rebooting our military readiness.

  10. The chance of war between the two is very low.

    China sees it adequacy at present but is optimistic about its future.

    The US is sane and has in the past 60 years become socially progressive. The US is and will continue to be decent enough to not start a war that will kill millions in Asia.

    One will have to ask how will a war start?

    The US merely challenging China in the SCS will not lead to much as long as the Chinese does not attack the US. The US cannot deter China's comprehensive national development in the next 20-40 years.

  11. Similar to the prevalent ignorance of history, especially applied history, among politicians, the absolute majority of the MSM members lack even a rudimentary knowledge of history (a suspicion confirmed by the Greatest living American Philosopher and historian Victor Davis Hanson). Most of them came out of very PC and shallow college JOURNALISM programs (in the neighborhood of Polisci range intellectually in terms of academic rigor) and know nothing about what let to the War between the Spartans and the Athenians and what lessons could be drawn from it. It probably should not surprise anyone if the majority of the MSM members think Thucydides is a watering hole in DC or a celebrity frequented restaurant where leakers and Obama cronies trade their unlawful secrets.

  12. I am optimistic toward China-USA relationship. Small conflicts might happen, but no war. 1. Although both USA and China have different political systems, they have very close economical connection. 2015 replaced Canada China became USA biggest trade partner, no one could or dare to pay so much price for the war, and no one wants to shoot their own foot; 2. USA failed its home work, it has no more money ball to play, except Chinese steady rising; 3. Although Soviet Union and USA had luckily no war after WWII, China and USA had actually two big direct and serious wars: Korea War and Vietnam War. USA army might know what kind of bitter taste in fighting with "poor" Chinese army, which was considered by western as being armed with stone-aged equipment; 4. Good news is until now both Trump and Xi seem having the similar important domestic agenda: make their country great again. They have no choice, but work together cooperatively to face the great deal of challenges ahead; 5. Nowadays situation is totally different from that in WWI, both England and Germany had no nuclear weapons, which could eliminate our human beings away from the earth many times. That is also the reason why there was no real war between USA and Soviet Union during the Cold-War. So, there is obvious no "Thucydides" possibility, as long as both are really care about themselves or their people. Some westerners, like these panels, might fall into another their imagined trap because of their arrogant western cold-war mindset. Or, if they don't "cry" they might get no "milk" – money funding from the USA interest groups.

  13. Niall Ferguson was right on the button about what would happen when Xi JinPing meet Donald Trump; almost prophetic in this regard. Samantha Power was completely off the mark. A reflection of performance at the UN.

  14. @1:02:00 these people need to stop making the mistake of thinking Trump is stupid.
    It doesn't help anything and they have been proven wrong over and over and over.

  15. The British gentlemen is making some very good point. His criticisms of China are fair and constructive. Samantha, on the other hand, talks like an empty vessel filled with unrealistic and impractical ideologies. Her speech on the issue of Israel in UN was what gave me the negative impression of her. She never stop talking about the Human right, and rightfully so if she had constructive criticism on that matter, but all she's really defending is the western liberal propagandas. If there'll ever be a war between China and The U.S, it will likely to be triggered by immature politicians, or academics as she like to identify herself with, such as her.

    Great session despite some annoyances! Looking forward to read the book.

  16. USA should be alarmed itself first if USA would like to set up two front lines to China and Russia, alone Russia already has enough nuclear weapons that could wipe USA many time away from the earth. USA should change their arrogant policies toward other countries and respect others.

  17. At the risk of sounding sexist, because anytime you criticize a female these days you're either sexist or a misogynist, Samantha Power added nothing enlightening to this conversation. I liked the analysis provided by Niall Ferguson but he makes clear his bias of the political elite when he bashes Trump and mostly Bannon. I'm certainly no academic scholar (something I'm not ashamed of) but it doesn't take a scholar to understand that words stated during the political race mean nothing. It's the actions that take place when and if one is elected or appointed to their position that is the essence of policy. In addition, all political leaders use rhetoric as part of global political strategy. So it should come as no surprise that what any nation's leader says isn't what is actually taking place behind the scenes and out of the public and elite media's forum.

  18. Now, domestic consumption is a key element of China’s development and stability. China’s economy is moving from exports toward domestic consumption. In the next stage the whole world, not only China, will move away from carbon fossil energy toward new energy production technologies. This is and will be the game changer.

  19. This is surprisingly objective. They didn't even fall back on democracy and human rights that much, which is highly abnormal considering that's what the academic type usually use to justify the thousand-year American reich.

  20. Experience shape your view. The lack of understanding of China is astonishing.
    Look at China with western eyes——-> xenophobia.

  21. It's always interesting to see a group of white men gathering to explain the motivations of non-white actors with absolutely no regard for their absence in these crucial conversations.

  22. It's always interesting to see groups of white men gathering to discuss the motivations of non-white actors. Are there so few non-white international relations experts that we cannot invite them to challenge notions in these conversations?

    I'm thankful for Dr. Allison's work, but it would be interesting to see him in conversation with his Asian counterpart with regard to his book.





    neocon :









  24. Pundits like them had predicted China's collapse for the last 30 years! What does that tell you with the opinions today?

  25. I was going to read the book until Power praised it. Power is a shallow NEOCON hack who isnt fit to wash dishes. She worked to destroy democracy and incite war in the Ukraine in order to threaten Russia and Americans should have zero respect for that.

  26. Would China be the economic power it now is if American corporations never outsourced so much manufacturing from America to China? If China's economic gravity is derived from its manufacturing base then why doesn't the USA put in place a policy to revive and strengthen its manufacturing?

  27. I guess that Graham Allison purposely ignored to comment on Niall Ferguson's point.
    He did not have any other choice, as it makes his academic approach completely useless.
    Graham Allison has based his whole book on assumptions for 21st century's politics and economics on a 2,500 years old Historian, Thucydides.
    Niall Ferguson brilliantly, brought up the fact of US business exposure to Chinese economy, as well as that China holds $1.24 trillion of US bonds and other titles.
    This is showing that China trusts the US economy, so WHY on Earth would they go to war against them?

  28. China has its own structural challenges to deal with, we have to be careful to avoid being too deterministic. Widespread income inequality, internal unrest in Tibet and East Turkestan, HUGE national debt (300% of Chinese GDP), deep inequality between regions, dependency on American and Japanese top technology, demographic issues as its large population is getting old and the effects of the 'One-child policy' are beginning to take its toll, etc. It is LIKELY that China will threaten US hegemony, but that is far from saying it WILL happen.

  29. Nothing came from the Mar-a-Lago incident. Powers was correct. The geopolitics did got in the way. Ferguson prediction of a possible deal was wrong.

  30. war or not it depends on usa doesn't it? usa is the power incumbent. when it is sliding from the seat of power, is it willing to go nuclear in the attempt to retain it? nukes change the entire equation.

    if I was china, I would get more nukes just to protect it self from usa. there are alot of arrogant crazies in DC. nukes = no trap but big bangs.

    this neil guy is smart as fuck 🙂 ms powers is really really bad at QA.

  31. Yes they can escape it and the reason is simple. Nuclear weapons. Russia and the US never clashed openly even though the USSR was a serious threat to the US at one point. China also has nuclear weapons. A war between China and the US would be apocalyptic for both countries and would likely pull in most of the world. Leaders understand this.

    China and the US aren't going to war.

  32. what peace he talking about we are at war right now and how many wars america has start for the last 70 years he is joking I think serious people like him say those thing's unbelievable

  33. Sure… fight the Chinese…. why not? Fuck it, let's crash our economy and starve out 100 million rural Chinese for ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOTHING.

  34. it will be best for the world if America and China go to war immediately. It would destroy all US puppets like England and Pakistan etc and make the world safe for Hinduism and Buddhism.

  35. Don't let China export their unfair practices in our world at any cost ! Chinese greed has no limit. They poison our economy because they want to win it all and don't share anything. For people who live in China we have a word : Chinese never look for a win-win and balance deal but a double win where they win it all. That leaves the world with very little. That's their mindset. A growth without morale and value such as China can't result a sustainable power.

  36. Anyone else find it distracting–Ambassador Power's manner of expressing herself is such a spot-on… for lack of a better word… 'impression' of her former boss (President Obama)? No disrespect to either of them intended, in any way. In fact, the ambassador is clearly a person with very keen, erudite opinions on some of the most important matters of our time. But I couldn't detach myself from her body language, her gesticulations, the cadence of her voice and pretty much every rhetorical nuance she expresses–they are all, point-for-point, mirror images of Obama.

  37. China has stolen American industry and patents. They poison our population with their products. That is war to me.

  38. 1. Graham Allison has never been in China, according to his confession somewhere. That means he knows very few about China. His "Thucydides Trap" in the world would be his one-side imagination. 2. Since long there has been no internal political consensus between the American population, parties and elites because of clear USA economical decline, except their arrogant religious political correctness. 3. USA could not play the positive or constructive role in the world, rather as a trouble maker because its decision making would be seriously influenced by its interests groups. Otherwise, there would be no 13 wars after WWII. 4. No matter how strong USA would be, same time fighting with Russia and China means that USA has lost its game from the beginning.
    Conclusion: USA has been fell into its own trap, which has been created by USA itself, and now the trap would become bigger and deeper if USA don't have its own political structure reform. USA's main enemy is itself, neither China, nor Russia, nor any other country.

  39. Great to hear Niall Ferguson finally weigh in on this issue. His pet theory on "networks" never took much hold in the public mind nor do I believe his peers.

  40. it is very funny to see an american talking about human right..
    to me…. the american should be the last on the list to talk about human right..

  41. ahahah no ones gonna invade china nor india.. and china has NO NAVY.. its over for china and there will be no war with china, except maybe ww3 and russia and china

  42. in the past I heard talks about the threat of a rising China and the intention of containing China from both sides and wasn't sure to what extent that's true. With the publication of Grahm Allison''s Destined for War, I am finally convinced that this kind of mutual distrust has a basis and is very real and will have big impact on the shape the world takes in the future.

  43. Don't believe him what he presents this youtube and other, some of most facts lie and really untrue. Also distort the actual facts, just propaganda and talk to much. He is good to pretend and distort the facts of Lee Kuan Yew story. Absolutely do not believes Thucydides’s Trap term that is related to initial to war. This is only just confused, pretend not to be blamed who keen to ignited the war between two or more countries. Survey look at the past, long plan, design, strategies etc history behaviour activities happened from time to time organize military drills prepare cause war. As the US in the past had done so many-100 wars, are consider confirmed not related to this term Thucydides’s Trap between other countries. Cos” the US had conducted, occurred attack, invading as they like without UN approval. It's to divert people opinion to be true to fall influence to Thucydides’s Trap. Is rubbish.T his publish is to proclaimed and accuses the term means to avoid to be a fault and blame themselves. Absolutely, he promotes US war rather than Peace with other contender countries..

  44. And when in world history has a State of 1.3 billion people reached no. 1 in the world in competition with America? No precedent here.

  45. No idea what the European moderator is saying 90% of the time.
    Completely useless to put someone in charge with such a thick accent.
    Get it sorted Harvard!

  46. Niall has such an annoying and condescending voice. Maybe he can't help it, but he should try to sound less like an ass.

  47. People who pro communist china are mostly ignorant. They have no idea what the world used to be like before USA and its freedom spreading or democracy period. Since you are so pro dictatorship then I think you deserve to be under dictatorship and live lives without freedom and democracy. A person like me surely gone by then hahahah

  48. The attacks on Samantha Power, below, are pitiful and demonstrate why so much of the world is floundering.
    Bill Gates, in response to a question, told an audience in Saudi Arabia some time ago, that NO he could not see the nation advancing if it held back HALF of its potential (women).
    Pretending superiority by sex or by nation is a fool's game.
    Recognizing our common humanity is the way forward and THAT takes looking past your own selfish perspective and self seeking policies in every case.
    There ARE win/win solutions (and the alternative is DEATH/DEATH – not just lose/lose.)
    MIGHT was NEVER RIGHT- not even for the RELIGIOUS WRONGS.
    Bullies did win for times in history but it was never the optimum for the CITIZENRY.

  49. And yet the US and Europe insists on mass immigration from Low IQ religious nutters from the third world to compete… we already lost this battle unless we can come up with a wildcard.

  50. This is why China's building up it's military closing its economy and exerting greater control of its land sea and domestic population all the while building new roads of development to the rest of southeast asia,europe(western and eastern),Africa,the middle East, and South America

  51. 23:00 History is not present enough in senior decision making discussions. There is not enough knowledge of history in the room…..

  52. If they get a Chinese on board, they would be exposed as hypocrites and liars. Without objective dissenters, they can reinforce each other demonising China. Samantha Powers' time in the UN tells you all you want to know about her. She is still reinforcing the lie about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Govt when the finger was pointing at the so-called White Helmets backed by the US.

  53. I agree with Samantha! There will be no deal- why would the Chinese want a deal, anyway! They have an Emperor, not a Democrat! Emperors want greatness!, not deals-

    Greatness for Chinas ruling elite, means Imperial Power- not Free Trade!

  54. Presuposes that both America and China don't consider war a positive and useful tool – which contradicts the principles of geopolitics which they both follow.

  55. China has land disputes with India Philippine Vietnam Taiwan Japan South Korea and Russia and It's replacing the military power force of US, will this be good news for the world? How could not US keep interests in the region without a fight?

  56. o look!
    it's that redhead chick who wrote about a problem from hell and then went on to get a couple hundred thousand syrians killed with that ridiculous and already proven wrong neocon regime change crap which crippled some of my friends.
    Hi bitch. Put on the scumbag steve hat. You earned it.

  57. Few comments about Graham Allison's part in the discussion – not his book. Very well reasoned and seems to outline a scenario which is likely to be around the corner.

  58. The political system of the US isnt even remotely close to being a democracy. The only thing resembling it is the fact that they have many dictators. (bezos, walton, pfizer, zuckerberg, etc)

  59. Let’s be honest, US also violently rejects the idea of including Germany or Brazil to be a permanent member of the Security Council.

  60. Thucydides’s Trap is a stupid idea proposed by Graham Alison.
    China is not a western city. They have their own way of managing the Sino-American relationship without firing a shot.

  61. I worked for Nortel who went out of business. Nortel was a major employer. I read recently on the Internet that China might have hacked Nortel which contributed to their downfall. If so, Chinese hacking has a direct affect on people's jobs and families livelihoods in the West. 5G mobile data networks may make it worse.

  62. They forgot to mention that we are all a bunch of liberal snowflake pussies today that are too addicted to gadgets and entertainment to ever consider fighting a war with each other.

  63. Thucydides, since he was Greek, should be pronounced Tukidides (with hard k (as in key) and e like in -e-nvelope) that is his real name. Harvard professor could spend 5 min online to check it out, before he started to teach Chinese officials how to pronounce it…in english…
    ……..and this would be the best way to explane US-China relationship and “trap“ Cninese pretend that they are not really smart (specially with foreign languages!!! hah) and from the other side – there comes load of hubris…. keep on paying horrendus amounts for tuitions

  64. The US sees China as an emerging power, and China sees itself as merely regaining lost market share from its dominant past. China views the US as a prepubicent country, of merely 200 plus years old and in the state of economic and moral decline.

  65. Nuclear capable jets, subs, and ICBMs ate all you need to guarantee mutual destruction amongst super powers. War ships are so 1950s technology, floating death traps.

  66. Well, Nial… the Greeks also gave us the word ‘ hubris ‘. What have they learned from history ? Apparently, that they could claim the entire South China Sea. You guys can wake the fuck up…. Australia is devoid of population. Speak up, Nial !

  67. She and Obama (and Bush and Clinton) been playing checkers with China. Trump's playing chess, and he's pinning them left and right.

  68. Ms. Power is cut from the same rhetorical cloth as President Obama. She has the same stream of thought pattern: professorial: defining, explaining, digressing, and ending with "further study." Complete with hand waving and monotone. Sometimes it appeared that Obama was putting himself to sleep with his droning. But in any case, if forced to choose between our last two Presidents, at least Obama was articulate — if overly so — and, unlike President Trump, said the untrue thing reluctantly and sparingly, rather than a handful of lies per minute.

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