Posts Tagged ‘United States’

I’ve only just come across this example of the use of Thucydides in a discussion of contemporary international relations (thanks to Ben Earley for the reference): according to an article in the Financial Times by Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, relations between China and the USA need to be understood in terms of the ‘Thucydides trap’, the inevitable tension that arises when a rising power rivals a ruling power:

Thucydides wrote of these events: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Note the two crucial variables: rise and fear. The rapid emergence of any new power disturbs the status quo. In the 21st century, as Harvard University’s Commission on American National Interests has observed about China, “a diva of such proportions cannot enter the stage without effect”. Never has a nation moved so far, so fast, up the international rankings on all dimensions of power. In a generation, a state whose gross domestic product was smaller than Spain’s has become the second-largest economy in the world. If we were betting on the basis of history, the answer to the question about Thucydides’s trap appears obvious. In 11 of 15 cases since 1500 where a rising power emerged to challenge a ruling power, war occurred.

It does make an interesting change to see the US characterised as Sparta rather than Athens, the normal comparison; (more…)

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Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword. Those who persuade funding bodies to give them money on the basis that their research project is really with-it and relevant to contemporary issues shall spend their time worrying that everyone may suddenly lose interest. Thucydides was the classical text of choice for the two Iraq conflicts, whether deployed to justify an overwhelming ‘shock and awe’ approach (and I really must get round to finishing the article in which I reveal the real source of Colin Powell’s misquotation to support his strategy…) or to argue in favour of toppling Saddam; what about now..?


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