Will the US and China fall into the trap of Thucydides?


By Aliénor Barrière.

Before Donald Trump goes to the assault of America with great strokes of "Make America great again"another man carried this ambition for his country. This is Xi Jinping.

To do this, he announced clear goals and deadlines: in 2025, China covets the place of dominant power in major markets in ten advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and quantum computers. By 2035, China plans to be the leader in innovation in all advanced technologies. And in 2049, for the hundred years of the People's Republic of China, to be world number one, point. This includes the People's Liberation Army, to which Xi Jinping asked to prepare for "A global military struggle that will be a new starting point". A whole program, then.

So, while the United States has lived their identity as a world leader for half a century, the balance between the powers could be challenged by the will of a man? Whatever one thinks of it, Xi Jinping gives himself the means of his ambitions by impelling to his country one of the most formidable growth that our History knew: between 1978 and 2014, the number of Chinese living with less than two dollars a days has gone from 9 out of 10 to less than 1 in 100.

This is a spectacular advance that has been further boosted by many technological prowess and has a direct impact on GDP: in 2004, China's GDP was half that of the United States. In 2014, he equaled it, and in 2024, if China maintains its trajectory, it will exceed 50%.

So we end up with an American power firmly anchored on the surface of the globe, and a Chinese power that imposes its rebirth forced march. The outcome of such a sequence has been theorized by Thucydides, it is war.


Political scientist Graham Allison coined the phrase " Thucydide trap To express this polemological phenomenon: "The Thucydides trap is a dangerous dynamic that comes into being when a rising power threatens to replace a hegemonic power, like Athens, or Germany a hundred years ago, or China today, and its impact on Sparta. , or Britain a hundred years ago, or the United States today ".

Indeed, in many ways, the Athens of Pericles has striking similarities with China's Xi Jinping. A power in the hands of one man, whether President or Prime Minister. The will of the people reduced to the skin of sorrows, whether in an authoritarian state or in a political system based on slavery that has only 14,240 citizens for 400,000 Athenians.

For we must not forget that the Athenian democracy had democracy only the name; Did not Pericles say, "This Empire you can not renounce, even if now, out of fear and love of rest, you are performing this heroic act. Think of it as a tyranny: to seize it may seem an injustice, to renounce it constitutes a danger. " ?


And of course, the similarity that interests us most today: the rise and the dazzling ambition of a power. That of Athens was carried by Pericles who wanted to make it the school of Greece. At the end of the wars, the Greek cities formed the League of Delos to free the cities still in the hands of the Persians and to protect themselves from any new attack on their part. This military defense organization is based on a common fleet.

Athens having the largest fleet, she had the command of the military operations, and therefore the free disposal of the finances. As many cities did not have boats of sufficient quality to bring to the League, they replaced the contribution of ships by paying a tribute to Athens. Gradually, only the latter and three other cities (Samos, Chios and Lesbos) paid their contribution in ships. The hundred and fifty others had become tributaries of the city of Pericles.

The latter then decided to transfer to Athens the treasure of the League, which was previously on the sacred island of Delos. From that moment, Pericles undertook colossal work in his city, the best example of which is of course the Parthenon, which Andre Bonnard sees as what indissolubly binds his policy of great works to the need to exploit the Greeks the Empire to pay the price. To the recriminations of both, Pericles replied that as long as Athens guaranteed efficient protection on the Aegean Sea, she was free to dispose at her ease of the funds paid by the other cities.


This use of the tribute, as well as the bloody repressions of Pericles on the cities that sought to be untied of him, led to growing concern among the Lacedaemonians, which reached its height when Pericles revealed his plan for Panhellenic union, circa 446 BC -Christ. They refused to participate in the congress, because its convocation by Athens implied its supremacy.

For Thucydide, it's good "The rise of Athens and the fear it instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable". Pericles would surely have proved him right, he who harangued the Athenians as well: "Convinced that happiness is in freedom and freedom in courage, look face to face with the dangers of war."

Graham Allison has thus observed the last five centuries, and has identified sixteen situations where a hegemonic power is competing with an emerging power. In twelve cases, this state of affairs led to the war. He also notes that the two states generally do not want war; it is always a third party that plays the role of detonator, mechanically leading the powers to confrontation. In Greece, it was by cities such as Megara, a hundred years ago by the assassination of Archduke Frantz Ferdinand and today, the North Korean Kim Jong-Un could quite play this role.

Despite repeated efforts by Donald Trump to stop this detonator, US-Korea relations came up against a wall when the issue of the denuclearization of the Asian country was discussed at the Hanoi summit. It is therefore towards the old "brother country" that Kim Jong-Un is turning today, further siting Russia in the great concert of Nations.

At the time of the redeployment of States on the international scene, should we then follow Xi Jinping and create a new form of relationship between the great powers? Let's listen to one last Thucydide recommendation: "Put happiness in freedom, and freedom in valor".


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.