Navigating the Thucydides Trap: An Extensive Analysis of “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” by Graham Allison (2017)


“Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” by Graham Allison, published in 2017, offers a compelling examination of the historical pattern known as the Thucydides Trap and its implications for the growing rivalry between the United States and China. Drawing upon insights from history, political science, and international relations theory, Allison explores the dynamics of great power competition and the risks of conflict between an established hegemon and a rising challenger. In this extensive exploration, we will dissect the key themes, historical precedents, and strategic imperatives presented in Allison’s thought-provoking work.

Understanding the Author:

Before delving into the themes of “Destined for War,” it is essential to understand the author’s background and expertise. Graham Allison is a renowned scholar of international relations and national security, with a distinguished career spanning academia, government service, and policy analysis. As the founding dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Allison brings a wealth of experience and insight to his analysis of great power politics and strategic competition.

The Thucydides Trap:

Central to Allison’s analysis is the concept of the Thucydides Trap, derived from the ancient Greek historian Thucydides’s observation that the rise of Athens and the fear it instilled in Sparta made war inevitable. Allison applies this historical analogy to the contemporary rivalry between the United States and China, arguing that the ascent of a rising power (China) and the anxieties it provokes in an established power (the United States) create conditions ripe for conflict. He warns that throughout history, such power transitions have often led to war, with catastrophic consequences for both sides.

The Rise of China:

Focusing on the case of China, Allison examines its remarkable rise from a poor agrarian society to a global economic powerhouse and strategic competitor to the United States. He explores China’s ambitions for regional and global leadership, as well as its growing military capabilities and assertive behavior in the Asia-Pacific region. Allison highlights the challenges posed by China’s rise to America’s status as the preeminent global power, including competition for resources, influence, and security interests.

The American Response:

Allison also scrutinizes the American response to China’s rise, examining the policy debates and strategic choices facing U.S. policymakers as they seek to manage China’s ascent while protecting America’s interests and values. He explores the dilemmas of engagement versus containment, cooperation versus competition, and accommodation versus confrontation in U.S.-China relations. Allison emphasizes the need for strategic foresight, diplomatic agility, and military preparedness in navigating the complexities of great power competition in the 21st century.

Escaping the Trap:

In offering his reflections on whether America and China can escape the Thucydides Trap, Allison presents a nuanced assessment of the factors that could mitigate or exacerbate the risk of conflict between the two powers. He explores the potential pathways to peace, including diplomatic dialogue, confidence-building measures, and institutionalized cooperation, as well as the role of leadership, public opinion, and domestic politics in shaping the trajectory of U.S.-China relations. Allison argues that while the Thucydides Trap presents a formidable challenge, it is not an inevitability, and that both countries have a shared interest in avoiding the mistakes of the past and building a more stable and prosperous future.


“Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” by Graham Allison stands as a seminal work that offers invaluable insights into the risks and opportunities of great power competition in the 21st century. Through his rigorous analysis, historical perspective, and strategic foresight, Allison provides readers with a deeper understanding of the dynamics driving U.S.-China relations and the imperative of escaping the Thucydides Trap. As we confront the challenges of an increasingly multipolar world, Allison’s work serves as a timely reminder of the importance of strategic thinking, diplomatic engagement, and cooperative leadership in managing the complexities of great power politics and preserving global peace and stability.

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