May 1, 2014

Escaping the Thucydides’ Trap: How Do the U.S. and China Avoid Rivalry and War?

Michael O’Hanlon, The Brookings Institution

O’Hanlon has established a realistic approach to avoid rivalry. He emphasizes that “predetermined conflict isn’t real, but neither is predetermined peace.” The United States and China don’t have territorial wants that they both claim. However, our allies do have overlapping territorial claims with China and this is where a lot of the conflict comes from. Examples of this would be Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands – which O’Hanlon has presented before. Due to the act that people are more historically informed and can learn from past mistakes, it is easier to avoid conflict. However, there is a sense of insecurity when an established power sees a rising power as a threat. He goes into two popular solutions: abandoning allies and trying to outcompete China. Negatives and positives are discussed for both of these scenarios. He explains that abandoning our allies could be detrimental because the number of allies we have results in higher military spending and a higher GDP between Western allies. Secondly, O’Hanlon dismantles the second solution because we cannot try to out-compete China as the US did with the Soviet Union because the Chinese have a much healthier economy than the Soviets did, and China is still growing. O’Hanlon is confident that in order to avoid rivalry or war, you need to have a “philosophy that blends a commitment to strategic resolve and strength with an effort at reassurance.”