Published: June 16, 2020

Steve Chan, University of Colorado Boulder 

Published: 2020


The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BCE) ostensibly arose because of the fear that a rising Athens would threaten Sparta’s power in the Mediterranean. The idea of Thucydides’ Trap warns that all rising powers threaten established powers. As China increases its power relative to the United States, the theory argues, the two nations are inevitably set on a collision course toward war. How enlightening is an analogy based on the ancient Greek world of 2,500 years ago for understanding contemporary international relations? How accurate is the depiction of the history of other large armed conflicts, such as the two world wars, as a challenge mounted by a rising power to displace an incumbent hegemon? Thucydides’s Trap?: Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relations offers a critique of the claims of Thucydides’s Trap and power-transition theory. It examines past instances of peaceful accommodation to uncover lessons that can ease the frictions in ongoing Sino-American relations.

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