Destined for War? US-China Relations in 2017 – Political Scientist Graham Allison

MATT JAFFE: Good afternoon. I’m Matt Jaffe. I’m the interim executive
director at the IOP. This afternoon, we
are honored to welcome Graham Allison to discuss his
new book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape
Thucydides’s Trap? We are really grateful to
our partners at the Paulson Institute and
Harris Public Policy for helping to make
this event possible. And I wanted to note
that this event today is the first in Paulson’s
Contemporary China series that is a monthly series. And the next one will be
occurring on November the 3rd. Before we begin, I also
wanted to plug an upcoming Institute of Politics event. We will be welcoming
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro on Monday. Rosa DeLauro is
the representative for Connecticut’s 3rd
Congressional District. She will be here
discussing her new book about the social safety net. And she’ll be signing
copies after the program. That conversation will be
moderated by Crystal Coats. Crystal is the Director of
Civic Engagement at the IOP. You can sign up for that event. You can also sign up for other
IOP events at our website, Also, I wanted to mention
a few housekeeping notes about today’s event. Towards the second half
of the conversation, we will open up the
floor to take questions from you in the audience. If you have a question, please
raise your hand, and a mic will be passed around to you. And as always, at IOP
events, we will give priority to student questions, and
the first three questions will be asked by students. Now, here to formally introduce
our speaker is Ronen Schatsky. Ronen is a second-year
student from New York City. He is here studying public
policy and economics. Ronen has been deeply involved
in the IOP Fellows Program where he is currently a
team leader for our Fellows Ambassadors. Please join me in welcoming
Ronen to the podium. [APPLAUSE] RONEN SCHATSKY:
As Americans, it’s easy to feel that
the danger of war is something we’ve
left far behind. But we should never be lulled
into a false sense of security. Advanced as we are,
enlightened as we are, there are grim patterns
in international politics that repeat themselves
throughout history. And right now,
tensions with China raise the very real question
whether 10, 20 years down the line, our two countries
could find ourselves in a serious confrontation. To give us some crucial
insight on this question, we are fortunate to
have with us here Dr. Graham Allison in a
discussion with Dr. Evan A. Feigenbaum. Dr. Allison is the
Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at
Harvard’s Kennedy School where he served as dean
in its formative years. For decades, he has led the way
in revolutionizing our approach to foreign policy. He ultimately went on to share
his expertise in the Reagan and Clinton administrations. Under Bill Clinton, as
Assistant Secretary of Defense, he orchestrated the safe removal
of thousands of nuclear weapons from former Soviet countries. This earned him the DOD’s
highest civilian award, the Distinguished
Public Service Medal. Until just this past
July, Dr. Allison was also the director of
Harvard’s acclaimed Belfer Center for Science and
International Affairs. Dr. Feigenbaum is the vice
chairman of the Paulson Institute here at U of Chicago. A longtime Asia
expert, he led much of the Bush
administration’s Asia policy in the state department,
working closely with Secretaries of State, Colin
Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Recently, Dr. Allison has been
thinking a lot about China. He’s observed that a
proud nation on the rise will often clash with
an established power, paranoid that its time is up. He calls this phenomenon
the Thucydides’s trap. In his book, Destined
for War, Dr. Allison examines this pattern as it
has manifested itself over time and applies his analysis
to our current relationship with China. So should we be worried? Should we all start learning
Chinese characters right away? Let’s see what the
experts have to say. Please join me in welcoming Drs. Graham Allison and
Evan Feigenbaum. [APPLAUSE] DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: It’s a
great pleasure and honor for me to be here [INAUDIBLE]
today, especially to be doing an event with
the Institute of Politics since [INAUDIBLE] was
talking about creating it, I talked to him a lot since we
have an Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School. And in particular,
to share the stage with Evan Feigenbaum,
a colleague for a couple of decades, from
the period in which initially I hired him at the Belfer Center
to open our China project. And he began
explaining to me, who had not been interested
in China before that. You know, China– you should
probably think about China. It took me a while. Just little by little,
I’m a slow learner. But over time, I came
to focus on China. And my old professor at
Harvard, Henry Kissinger, kept telling me the same thing. And I was trying to do
a book on Lee Kuan Yew, and Lee Kuan Yew kept
saying the same thing. Maybe I should remember what
Evan told me in the beginning. DR. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: But
you didn’t learn Chinese. [LAUGHTER] DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: If
I were smarter or more agile with language, I
would have learned Chinese. And if I were you giving
you one piece of advice for those of your students,
I applaud your efforts to learn Mandarin. I’d say that’s a– I would like to
speak English first. But I would speak
Mandarin second. In any case, let me give you
the– in about 10 minutes, quick– the elevator version of the
argument for the book, which I hope you’ll become interested
in, and you’ll get a copy and you’ll read. So I’m going to,
as the book does, introduce you or, for
most of you, I hope, re-introduce you
to a great thinker. I’m going to present a big idea. And then I’m going to pose a
most consequential question. So the big thinker
is Thucydides. Now, having published this
book about three months or four months ago, I’ve
discovered, in talking about it in various places,
two things about Americans. First, they don’t
like multi-syllabic. That’s challenging. And second, Thucydides
is a mouthful. So, for sure, you’re
going to at least learn one thing here today– how to pronounce
this fellow’s name. We’re going to do it in
unison– one, two, three. ALL: Thucydides. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON:
One more time. ALL: Thucydides. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON:
So who was Thucydides? He was the father and
founder of history. He wrote the first
ever history book. It’s called The History
of the Peloponnesian War. History, as he defined it,
being the account of what actually happened– the choices of human beings
and their consequences without the benefit of
mythology or spirits or other external themes. So the father of history. And you could actually
download his book for free, his History of
the Peloponnesian War. Read just the first
100 pages, book one, and if it doesn’t knock your
socks off, I’ll be surprised. So the big idea,
Thucydides trap– this is a term I coined
about six years ago to make vivid Thucydides’s
insight about what happens when a rising
power threatens to displace a ruling power. And Thucydides’s proposition
and Thucydides trap is the dangerous
dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens
to displace a ruling power. Thucydides observed this
phenomena in classical Greece. As Athens rose, they
challenged Sparta, which had been the dominant
power in Greece for 100 years. In the book, I have a
chapter on World War I and the rise of Germany,
which impacted Britain, which had ruled the world in an
empire in which the sun never set for 100 years
and China as it’s been rising over the past
generation to challenge the US. So just in a word– Thucydides’s trap is the
dangerous dynamic that occurs. And, in general,
when a rising power threatens to displace a
ruling power, poop happens. So I look at the last
500 years in the book. I find 16 cases in which
a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power. Twelve ended in war,
four in not war. So Thucydides’s line about
inevitable is hyperbole. That’s an exaggeration. But to say the odds are
not good would not be. Finally, the
consequential question, as I think the introduction
already suggested, the subtitle of the book is
called Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? And that’s a big question. And my answer on that in the
book is rather professorial. I apologize, but that’s my job. So the answer is no and yes. [LAUGHTER] So no. If the US and China insist on
business as usual, and that’s how I would characterize the
last 20 years in relations between the US and China, both
under Democratic and Republican administrations, then I think we
should expect history as usual. And history as
usual, in this case, would be a war, even
a catastrophic war, despite the fact that
nobody wants a war. But yes, we can escape
Thucydides’s trap if we take to heart
Santayana’s great line, “Only those who refuse
to study history are condemned to repeat it.” So there’s no obligation that
we make the mistakes that have been made in previous cases. But if we insist on business
as usual, we’re likely to. So that’s the big picture. WANG XUEXIAN: Now
first, I want to make a comment about this trap. I find it difficult
because I don’t even know how to pronounce his name. GENERAL MARK MILLEY: You
know, the Thucydidean trap that people talk about. XI JINPING: The so-called
Thucydides trap– FAREED ZAKARIA: The
Thucydides’s trap. TOM DONILON: Thucydides’s trap. MALCOLM TURNBULL: The
Thucydides’s trap. JOHN KERRY: Thucydides’s trap. GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS:
The Thucydides’s trap. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: So this
idea has made its way quickly into the policy debate. Xi Jinping picked it up
early on and has actually been challenging the
Chinese strategic community to think about how to
escape Thucydides trap. But that was a topic of
conversation between Obama and Xi at Sunnylands– a general part of
the conversation. For those of you for whom
this still seems, especially undergraduates, a little
far fetched, Thucydides is now even more famous. The blockbuster of the year is
a movie called Wonder Woman. I’m not going to tell
you all about the movie, but in any case,
at one point, she’s trying to impress
Ludendorff, who’s the military leader of Germany
at the end of World War I, that they should stop the war. She’s come to stop the war. And he tells her, “Peace
is only an armistice in an endless war,”
thinking that he’s going to put her down. And she says immediately,
“Thucydides.” And he’s flummoxed. So particularly for
those of you who want to make sure you’re
ready in case somebody gives you a quote,
answer, “Thucydides.” In the longer version of
this, I organized the comments as answers to three questions. So I’ll state three questions. I’ll give you my
tweet-sized answer. And then I’ll say just
a word about each. First question– what has
been the geopolitical event of the last 25 years,
of this past generation? Second question– what will
be the geostrategic challenge for the next 25 years,
as far as we can see? And the third question
is, can the US and China escape Thucydides’s trap? Or are we going to find
ourselves in a war? In answer to the first
question, the geopolitical event of the past quarter century
has been the rise of China. Never before has a country
risen so far, so fast, on so many different dimensions. Most of us haven’t
been watching. But I quote Vaclav Havel,
the former Czech president, with a great line
in which he says, “Things have happened so fast. We haven’t yet had
time to be astonished.” So I would say,
look at the facts, and you will be astonished. Second, what will be the
geostrategic challenge the next 25 years? The impact of the
rise of China– the impact of the
rise of China– on the US, on Americans’ sense
of their role in the world and on the international
order that the US built in the wake of World War
II and is underwritten for seven decades since then– seven decades, which, as the
introduction reminded us, have been without great
power war, which is in itself a historical anomaly. So the strategic
challenge going forward, the impact of the rise
of China on the US and the international order. And finally, on the question
of whether the US and China can escape Thucydides’s trap
or will find themselves dragged to war, we need to remember
that Thucydides’s insight about rising power versus
ruling power is not– let me say it again, not– that the rising power thinks,
I’m big and strong enough. It’s time for me to fight Evan. And it’s not that Evan
looks at me and says, this upstart is getting so
strong that pretty soon he’s going to challenge me. I should fight him now. Instead, what happens
is, during this dynamic, a third-party action
that’s unintended by either of the primary competitors
that would otherwise be inconsequential or easily
managed leads one of them to react and then the other. And one thing leads to
the other and a cascade, at the end of which they
find themselves in war. And if we go to the
Athens and Sparta story, it’s Corinth and Corcyra. If we look at World
War I, how in the world could the assassination
of an Archduke have produced a
conflagration that was so devastating that
it required historians to create a whole new category? That’s why it’s
called World War I. And in the current case, I
would say the chief candidate for this role is Kim
Jong-un, who we’re going to see in the
months immediately ahead either acquire the
ability to strike San Francisco with
a nuclear weapon, or we’re going to strike him
to prevent that from happening. So that’s the
tweet-sized version. Just a little more and
then I’ll stop here. Well, here’s she
and Obama talking about Thucydides’s trap. Rise of China– and for those
of you haven’t been following, I have, I think, the
best 20-page summary of what’s happened over the
last 25 years in the China case. And one of the
illustrations I offer is this bridge at Harvard,
which Evan will remember. It goes across the Charles
River between the business school and the Kennedy School. I can see it looking
out my office. The discussion of
the renovation of it began when I was dean
of the Kennedy School. I quit being dean in 1989. The project began
in earnest in 2012. It was a two-year project. So the traffic
has been horrible. In 2014, they said,
it’s not finished. It’ll take another year. In 2015, they said
it’s not finished. It’ll take another year. In 2016, they said, we’re
not going to tell you when it’s going to be finished. There’s a bridge just like
this in China in Beijing called the Sanyuan Bridge, which
actually it’s 2 and 1/2 times bigger than this in
terms of traffic flow. The Chinese decided in
2015 to renovate it. How long did it
take to complete? How about a guess? 43 hours. 43 hours. This is a YouTube. You can go watch it. Actual picture that’s
just sped it up, and you could see the timeline. 43 hours. If you look at
high-speed rail, the US has been building its single
piece of high-speed rail from San Francisco to
Los Angeles for how long? 10 years. When is it going to be finished? Currently, they say 2029, but
many people believe never. In the past 10 years,
how much high-speed rail has China built
that’s running today? 16,000 miles. 16,000. In the book, I give
you a little checklist that I do of when
could China become number one, 26 indicators? Look at it. You’ll enjoy it. Second question– impact of
the rise of China on the US. And this is a
cartoon that I made for testimony to the Senate
Armed Services Committee back in 2014 when a
former student, who’s a member of the
committee, asked me if I would testify
about the big picture. So one way to think about what’s
happened with the rise of China is to imagine a seesaw
in a kid’s schoolyard with the US sitting on one
end of the seesaw and China sitting on the other end. So in 2004, China’s about
20% the size of the US. In 2014, it’s slightly larger– equal or slightly larger. On the current
trend lines in 2024, it’s going to be 40%
bigger than we are. Say, whoa, wait a minute. Nobody told me. China’s economy today is bigger
than the US economy measured by the single best yardstick
for comparing national economies in the judgment of
the IMF and the CIA, namely purchasing power parity. That was the big takeaway
from the 2014 IMF World Bank Meeting. It has not sunk in on Americans. You will not read this in the
Chicago paper or the New York paper or the Boston paper
or the Wall Street Journal. So the impact of the rise
of China everywhere– if you haven’t seen China in
your face and in your space, crowding you, you either
haven’t been looking, or you should just
wait a minute. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:
The committee meets today to consider the
nomination of General James Mattis to be the Secretary of
Defense of the United States. I thank both Senator
[INAUDIBLE] and Senator Cohen for being here. SECRETARY WILLIAM COHEN:
He’s probably the only one here at this table who can hear
the words, Thucydides’s trap, and not have to go to Wikipedia. SENATOR ROGER WICKER: Of
course, Secretary Cohen has insulted every
member of this committee by suggesting that we don’t
readily understand that. GENERAL JAMES
MATTIS: We’re going to have to manage that
competition between us and China. There is another piece
of wisdom from antiquity that says, “Fear, honor,
and interest always seem to be the root causes
of why a nation chooses to go to hostilities.” DR. GRAHAM ALLISON:
Mattis, who’s also a big reader of Thucydides– that’s another line
from Thucydides. So the another one
that I give you is an epic graph to
one of the chapters. So I’m only focusing on
one big idea in Thucydides. There are a lot of
big ideas there. Actually, I have an
epigraph from Thucydides at the beginning of each
one of the chapters just to try to whet your appetite So finally, we get to North
Korea just for one second, and we’ll stop here. So at the Mar-a-Lago Summit
between Trump and Xi in April, Trump said to him,
“North Korea is the test of our relationship. You can solve this problem. But if you don’t
solve this problem, I will solve this problem. And you won’t like
the way I do it.” And then he served him chocolate
cake at the opening dinner, excused himself, went
to the room next door, and announced that the US
was launching 59 cruise missiles against
Syria to punish Assad for the use of chemical
weapons and just to underline the message. So there’s no question whatever
that Trump can order a cruise missile attack on North
Korean ICBM launch pads to prevent them
completing the ICBM tests, which if they complete,
will give the capability to strike Los Angeles or San
Francisco with nuclear weapons. So that’s a fact. The question is,
what comes next? And when that question
has been addressed on multiple previous occasions
in the US government. When Evan was in
the government, when I was in the Clinton
administration, we looked at this
very carefully. The overwhelming estimate of
the intelligence community is that North Korea will
respond by attacking Seoul, the capital of South
Korea, where there’s about 20 million
people, including 200,000 Americans, who live. And they can kill hundreds
of thousands of people overnight with artillery shells. And then we respond by
suppressing those attacks. Otherwise, they’ll kill more. And then, if we go over
after all the targets that can attack
South Korea, that’s a couple of thousand
[INAUDIBLE].. So then, that’s the
second Korean War. And how the first
Korean War work out? I would say, go read about it. In that case, North Korea
dragged China and the US into a war with each
other that neither wanted. 50,000 Americans died, most
of them killed by Chinese. And a million Chinese
died, most of them killed by Americans, and
several million Koreans. So could Kim Jong-un drag
US and China into a war? Well, excuse me, the Kim
regime already did once. So could this happen again? And I would say, I hope not. I pray not, but it could. So maybe that’s enough
to get us started. Great, well thanks, Graham. And welcome to Chicago. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: Thank you. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: Two
things at the top– first, I want to thank the
Institute of Politics. We always enjoy working
jointly, the Paulson Institute and our next door neighbors
actually over on Woodlawn Avenue. So terrific to do a
program with you again. Second, a real
pleasure to do this with Graham, who, as he said,
if I may return the compliment, we’ve known each
other a long time. In fact, you knew me when– I think we first
met in the mid-1990s when I was a newly minted PhD
doing a post-doc at Harvard. The world was a
lot different then. So we’ve traveled a long
way, but so has the world, as Graham implied in his talk. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: At
least I had the good fortune to recognize talent. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: Thank you. Thank you. All right, so we’re going
to have a little bit of a conversation up here. And then after a
bit, I’ll open it up, and we want to get
you involved too. I was thinking maybe
we could start– there’s a lot of different
ways we could go on this. But maybe, let’s
start by talking about China a little bit. So, like you, my
background is mainly geopolitics, national security. And you’re making essentially
a geopolitical argument about a geopolitical trap. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: Right. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: And so,
given my background, when I hear about a geopolitical
trap, I get all excited and bothered by that. But these days, I
run an institute here on campus that’s mainly
focused on economics and political
economy where we look at China through the prism,
not of a geopolitical trap, but of actually a
very different trap, the so-called
middle income trap. And the World Bank did
a study a few years ago that showed that, in 1960,
about 101 countries had achieved middle-income status. But by 2008, only 13
of them had managed to transcend
middle-income status and become
high-income countries. And one of those 13 was Greece,
which is not looking so good these days. All right, so the
bottom line is, if you look at the story
of economics and not just geopolitics over the
last half century or so, it’s clear that, for a
lot of countries including but not limited to China,
escaping the middle-income trap can introduce all
kinds of contradictions into your development process. It’s a drag on growth. It’s a drag on
income inequality. It’s a drag on your development. And for economists
looking at China, this is a big
obsession these days. And so, that being
the case, it really begins to get to
the question of what happens if China
can’t get through that and what kind of China
we’re dealing with and the relationship between
what’s happening domestically in China and some of these
geopolitical effects. Now I hear two arguments
a lot these days, which are flatly
contradictory of each other. One is that China has all
these internal problems. It’s beset by contradictions
and development challenges. And therefore, it will be
necessarily focused internally on solving these many problems. It can’t deal with all
these external challenges. And so the argument is not
quite, don’t worry about China. But let’s face it– in the
great scheme of its priorities, whether it’s Xi Jinping
or the next leader, China is going to have to focus
internally on its problems. And that will mitigate and
have a tempering effect on Chinese behavior externally. I think that people,
especially in Washington, who advance precisely
the opposite argument– kind of a version of the
diversionary war argument– that, amid all these internal
contradictions and challenges, China’s leaders will want
to distract the public with bright shiny objects of
nationalism and foreign policy adventures. Now you can run that
argument either way, but either way, it gets at this
question of what kind of China we’re dealing with. And China, as you know,
sometimes we hear the story, it’s going to collapse
by next Tuesday. Other times, we hear it’s going
to be the great juggernaut, the next power. It’s going to supplant
the United States. The story is more complex,
but I’m wondering– talk a little bit about
what kind of China we’re dealing with and whether
and how internal contradictions can shape or not that
kind of external behavior that we’re likely
to see from China. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON:
OK, thank you. I mean, that’s a spectacular
question and actually– EVAN FEIGENBAUM: The two traps. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: –you’re
in a better position to think deeply
about this than I am. So let me do one more
shout out for Evan and also the institute. So you all have a
fantastic resource here. I don’t quite know how
the Institute of Politics and the University of Chicago
and the Paulson Institute interact. But there’s no better
place in the country to focus on the questions
of the real realities about the economics and
finance of China than the work that Evan and Hank Paulson
and group are doing. So I read it with
great interest. And I think the
special benefit of it, relative to most of the
other academic competitors, is it’s by people who
actually have been in the middle of government,
who’ve talked to people, who’ve engaged with their
Chinese counterparts, and therefore have informed
judgment of a different sort than just doing an
abstract macro analysis. I am familiar with the
middle-income trap. And I’m familiar with
the World Bank study. I have this argument with
my colleague, Larry Summers, who he and I co-chair China
Working Group at the Belfer Center. And Larry has been bearish
about China for a decade. Every year, we make a bet. And I’ve been bullish
about China for a decade. I’ve won all the bets so far. So I think it comes
down to a question about the competence
of the government, if I were taking it as a– just to be brief about it. And the competence
that’s been displayed by the Chinese
government in coping with the challenges they
face has been, to me, quite impressive. And I have the benefit of
having some insight about this from a fellow who’s Xi Jinping’s
chief economic advisor, whom you know, Liu He, who
was a student of mine 20 years ago at
the Kennedy School. And he can describe,
as I say in the book, he says, we have 17
insurmountable problems. That was at least the
last time I had seen him when I’m writing in the book. And he describes
each one of them in greater depth
than any analysis I’ve seen by Westerners of it. And then he smiles and says,
we’re going to overcome them. So they get up in
the morning thinking they have
insurmountable problems, and that’s what they’re
trying to work on. Now you and I know that we look
at the history of these things and think, wait a
minute and especially in the case of China. I mean, Singapore–
well, at least they’re trying to deal
with six million people. And they managed
this extremely well. And Xi Jinping imagines he
can be like Lee Kuan Yew. So that’s his hope
and aspiration. But how about with
1.4 billion people and with all the complexity,
I think, you know, uncertain. But if I were betting
it, it was improbable that they could have
sustained the rate of growth they have for 10 years. And then it was improbable
for the second 10 years. And it was improbable
for the next 10 years. We know for sure– was it the Herb Stein law– a trend that cannot
continue forever won’t. But I did the Allison
footnote to that, which is that it’s much easier
to predict that something will happen then when. So I go to the doctor,
and he says, “Graham, you’re going to die.” I say, “I got that already. Now, when? When?” That’s what’s interesting. So who knows? I wouldn’t bet
against it though. The second thing
I’d say, which I say in the conclusion of the book– Evan will remember. In the course that I teach
at the Kennedy School, I have a kind of a
crazy idea about what I call the Martian strategists. So it’s a way of trying to
get outside of our own skin looking down on what’s going
on here on planet Earth. And in my picture, this is a
lady, a strategist [INAUDIBLE].. Let’s just imagine she
parachuted into Mar-a-lago with Trump. And I think she would say to
them, you each have– each, each– have an almost
insurmountable problem that, if you fail to
address successfully, the rest is not going
to matter very much. That’s a prerequisite to
whatever else you want to do. And it’s right inside
your own border. And the question for
each of you is, are you able to govern yourself? And she would say, looking at
the record the last 10 or 20 years, I doubt it. One of you’s got a
dysfunctional democracy that’s going to be
consumed by its own. And the other one is
trying to retro-fit an authoritarian system that’s
an operating system that is Lee Kuan Yew told Xi Jinping. You can’t sustain in a world in
which people have smart phones. It just doesn’t work. So I would say it’s a big,
big governance challenge in both places, huge for China. But I would say huge for us too. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: But from a
strategic planning perspective, you’d say we, the United States,
have got to presume that, even if we don’t
know the timeline, and even if we presume there
are bumps in the road, that between point A
and point B, we’re going to face the
kind of challenge that you’re arguing about. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: I would say
that the baseline projection that I would propose
we plan against is a China that continues
growing about three times the rate we do. And you can then
run that out, and it doesn’t matter whether
it’s 10 years or 15 or 20 and that they are
eager, not only a China that will be bigger
and stronger financially, but that aspires, as Xi
Jinping is quite clear, to become predominant
in its neighborhood. On the other hand, and
I think your point is just right about this,
and geopolitical arguments go back and forth, suppose
that the Chinese economy began to not perform. So now you revise
it to Xi Jinping, and your legitimacy is built
on his new accommodation, which is we deliver the
goods, economic growth, but also a very significant
revival of nationalism built on national pride
that we’re finding standing up and re-establishing
our established place. So if you were not able
to stand on the first leg, the temptation to stand on the
second leg would get larger. So there’s dangers in that
option, I think, as well. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: So what are
some of the mitigating factors? I was looking at the book. I think– I don’t remember
all of the cases exactly, but I think most of
the non-war cases are clustered toward
the 20th century. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: The two
biggies that are mostly– EVAN FEIGENBAUM: All
right, US, Soviet Union. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: –by the
US Soviet Union in the Cold War and the rise of US displacing
Britain at the beginning of the 20th century. So that’s pre-nuclear. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: Right,
it was pre-nuclear. Right, but they tend to
cluster at the more modern end of the spectrum, which
gets at the question of whether something’s
happening in terms of the evolution of
international history. So China, you know, one factor
could be nuclear weapons. China has had nuclear weapons
since 1964, vastly predating the economic rise
in the country. The demise of an emphasis
on colonial empires, ideologies of
empire, to scramble for overseas possessions. How should we think about some
of the structural factors that might be changing
internationally that would mitigate some of
these intrinsic competitive dynamics? And how much do nuclear
weapons matter, the fact that the US and China have
them targeted at each other? DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: Fortunately,
for all of his economics, Evan hasn’t gotten
away from his origin. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: Yeah,
I love the nukes. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: I
appreciate and applaud that. So when I tried to do an
analysis of this sort, and I talk a little bit
about this in the conclusion, I say start with the
structural realities. Identify as best you can the
objective structural realities and the trend lines. So there’s three big
mitigating factors as I see it. First, there’s nuclear weapons. China and the US
now have reached levels of arsenals
that establish mutual-assured destruction. What that means is that, if
we do our best to disarm them, they can still destroy us. So therefore, anybody who
goes into either leader and says, “I have a good idea. Why don’t we have a nuclear
war with the other,” knows that they’ll be dismissed
to the asylum as being insane. That’s committing
suicide for your nation. So that’s a big,
big, big bedrock. That doesn’t mean
risks can’t be taken. That doesn’t mean
the Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t happen where
there was one in three chance of a nuclear war. So it’s not a 100%
guarantee, but it’s a big, big [INAUDIBLE] factor. Secondly, the US and China
have got their economies so entangled and intertwined
that, if there were a war, Wal-Marts would be empty. And Chinese factories would
be producing stuff for nobody. And we couldn’t get a
loan to cover our deficit. So I think, you look
at that situation, you say, wait a minute. That’s a high degree of
economic interpenetration and interdependence. We should also remember,
just on the other side, that, prior to World War
I, Britain and Germany were very thickly woven together– so thickly that somebody wrote
the best seller in Europe for the decade
before World War I was Norman Angell’s famous book,
The Great Illusion, which said, there can’t be war
anymore because the winner will lose more than the loser. So war is not profitable,
so people won’t fight wars. That didn’t turn
out to be right. Thirdly, there’s climate. And while that’s not a unanimous
view in the US [INAUDIBLE],, I think everybody who’s
looked at the evidence sees that, if we
just keep emitting greenhouse gases the
way we’ve been doing, we’re going to have an
uninhabitable environment in 100 years or sooner. And if China were to
do the same the same. So neither of us can
solve this problem. So get three big big areas
of serious joint-shared vital interests. So that ought to
provide a framework within which then to cope
with the minor other elements like North Korea. So I would say that that would
be the elements from what you would hope, and
structurally you could construct a way of
then coping with the asides. I think now the asides are first
that China very understandably, as a rising power that
gets bigger and stronger, finds it anomalous that the
US is the dominant power in Western Asia. So great powers historically
are uncomfortable with foreign powers on their
borders and the adjacent seas. I have a great chapter in the
book on if Xi’s China were just like us, which Americans have
found somewhat uncomfortable. So this reads the rise of
the US through the eyes of Teddy Roosevelt in
the period after 1897 when he went to Washington
to become the number two person in the Navy. And it’s a pretty amazing story. In the decade that
followed, the US seized on a mysterious
explosion in Havana Harbor to declare war on Spain
and liberate Cuba, take Puerto Rico. That’s how Puerto Rico
became part of the US– and Guam– that’s how Guam– to sponsor and support
a coup in Colombia to create a whole new country. Panama, which the
next day gave us our contract for a canal
so Teddy’s ships could move between the
Atlantic and Pacific. Threatened war first
with Germany, then with Britain, unless
they butted out of a territorial
dispute in Venezuela. And then actually
stole the largest part of the fat tail of Alaska, the
strip of land that cuts off Canada from the sea for
about 600 miles running from Alaska down to Juneau. And then announced the
Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe
Doctrine, which said, if any country behaves
in ways we don’t like, we send the Marines and
change the government. And every year that followed
for the next decade, we sent the Marines somewhere
and change the government. So Xi is kind of mild as
compared to that so far. So a rising power
looks out and says, it’s strange you guys are there. In fact, in the
book, as you know, Evan, I say what a Chinese
PLA Navy guy told me. He said, you know,
China sees China seas. He says, what’s the name of this
body of water next to us here? It’s called South China Sea. This other one– what’s
that called on your own map? It’s called East China Sea. So why the US Navy is the
arbiter of events in the South China Sea tells who
could build an island or who owns an island? Why should you have
an opinion about this? And it’s very reminiscent
of Teddy Roosevelt. It’s like, what the hell are
the Spanish doing in Cuba? EVAN FEIGENBAUM: Of
course, the Filipinos call it the West Philippines. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: There
are a few other people that have a different name. But on our official US
Navy map, [INAUDIBLE] map, it says South China
Sea, East China Sea. And the Chinese think
that may be their sea. So I think that’s
an area inevitably in which you’re going
to see people bumping up against each other. And the other, as I say,
these third-party actions like North Korea, where I was
in Beijing about seven weeks ago because the people in
China are extremely interested in the
Thucydidean trap issue. And talking to somebody
about it, I said, look, my theory is that if we just
had adults to sit down and talk privately, we could
find a way to deal with the North Korean problem. And so I said, for example– EVAN FEIGENBAUM: The US
and China, not the US and North Korea. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON:
US and China. I said, so let’s just say,
if we were talking completely privately– this is a person
who talks to Xi sometimes. He said, OK, well, I’ll
tell you the truth. There’d be no problem
on the Korean peninsula if you weren’t there. And I said, well, OK. I’d ask you how can
we solve this problem, but I hadn’t thought about that. How do you make that? He says, if you were here,
there would be a unified Korea. It would be a
tributary of China. We would never allow it to
have nuclear weapons no more than we would let Vietnam have
nuclear weapons or Myanmar. I mean, you know, we just
tell them, forget about it. So I said, well, let me
tell you my narrative. We didn’t volunteer
to be in Korea. We came there to
rescue South Korea after North Korea, your
ally, attacked them. And then we beat them
back up the peninsula. Maybe we overdid it by
getting close to your border. You came in the door. We ended with an armistice. But since that
armistice 60 years ago, South Korea is one of the
most successful countries in the world. It’s a democracy, a vibrant
country, 13th largest economy. So we’re proud of South Korea
as kind of almost a poster child of the Asian order
that the Americans created. And we’re not going anywhere. And he said, well,
there’s the problem. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: So I’ve heard
that Chinese narrative too. So here’s what’s missing
from that Chinese narrative among other things. Koreans, right, which
gets at another aspect of this issue of constraint. When I look at
China’s neighborhood, you know, you’ve got India
on one border, which is also a large continental
size country that’s going to be a top
five global economy sometime in the
next 15, 20 years with its own nuclear
weapons, moving toward the next generation
nuclear deterrent and the delivery systems
associated with that. You’ve got Japan, a
latent nuclear power, the world’s third largest
economy, big industrial power, high-tech power. You’ve got South
Korea, and you’ve got North Korea,
both of which share a commitment to 500 years
of Korean nationalism each in their way. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON:
In their own way. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: In their own
way, and the North Koreans, in fact, manipulate
Korean nationalism and their narrative of fighting
Japan for their own ends. You’ve got Vietnam. You have this network of middle
powers, latent great powers, in Japan’s case an actual
economic great power and a latent military
great power, latent nuclear capabilities. So quite apart from
the US-China story, you have this Asian
drama that includes all of these other players. Why is that not a constraint
on China’s aspirations in the first instance
but on US-China competition in a second? DR. GRAHAM ALLISON:
Well, it’s fantastic. And so I would just say yes. All those are additional
structural realities for China. I think that, for a while– I mean, you and I can remember
conversations with Chinese 20 years ago in which
they would say, never do we have any aspirations
to do anything other than just become a
little less poor. We’re just a developing country
minding our own business. Hide and bide became a
kind of umbrella for this. Then they said, well,
how about peaceful rise? So all we’re doing is
just trying to become a little more wealthy. And in those
conversations, people would often say,
because we would say, you should be appreciative. I’ve given this speech before. I have to smile now that I
think about it [INAUDIBLE].. But you should be
appreciative of what we are doing for you, China,
because otherwise, South Korea would probably have
nuclear weapons. I mean, they were trying to get
nuclear weapons at one stage. And the US said choose
between having nuclear weapons and having American troops. And if South Korea became
a nuclear weapon state, Japan would become
nuclear weapon state. And so now you’ve
got China and India, and South Korea and Japan. You’re going to have a
nuclear contest in the region. And that could become
very unstable for you. So we’re doing you
a favor for that. I would say for a while some
Chinese strategist said, yeah, yeah, yeah. I think now they say no, no, no. That was then. Now is now. We can cope with
this problem now. We understand that
we’re not going to be like you in your
hemisphere where you didn’t have any competitors. So we do have a serious
competitor in Japan. There’s no love lost there. We know that we’ve always
had a lot of problems with South Korea
and with Vietnam especially and with Korea,
all of Korea [INAUDIBLE].. I think India– they continue
to believe will not really make it– it will always be the
land of the future. So I think, for us– when my colleague
Ash Carter, who I’ve recruited to be my
successor at the Belfer Center now– so Ash likes to
say, the Asians love us. When we go to Asia,
they all say, oh, we’re so happy to see you. We need you to be here. And I said, Ash, why not? They think were defending them. Why shouldn’t they be happy
to have somebody defend them against somebody who’s
big and dangerous? The question is–
ties of alliance run in both directions,
and actually how Sparta and Athens
got dragged into war is their ally dragged them in. World War I is allies
dragging people along. So I think this may actually
be more dangerous for us as we try to figure
out how to fashion an environment for China. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: Let’s
get you guys involved. I want to take a bunch
from students first. And to give you a lot
of different ideas to play with, let’s
take three at once. So we have three
students out there? OK, one in back, one
here, and then one here. So let’s– go ahead. AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you so much for
being here, both of you, for the wonderful talks. I’m a student the Harris
Public Policy School. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: Great. AUDIENCE: My question is about– I noticed there’s a
new company called Jigsaw, which is actually
underneath the Google umbrella. And the CEO and founder of it
came from the state department. And what it does is it
tracks cyber attacks from other countries
around the world. It combats oppression of
freedom of speech and so forth. So the way I see it, it’s
sort of opening the door to privatization of
US policy planning in terms of global geopolitics. So do you think that
that will expand? And if so, how
might that play out? Mainly, do you think
that looks bad? EVAN FEIGENBAUM: OK,
before you answer, let’s get two more on the table. There was one back here. Yeah, please. AUDIENCE: So the conversation
of the possible confrontation of China and the
United States seems to be framed in hard
material terms– economic, military,
possible confrontation– but I’d like to
get your thoughts on the role of soft power
and culture and ideas and popular culture
in this conversation. There was an article in foreign
policy earlier this year called, Why is China So Uncool? And it gets to the effect that,
as China is trying to seemingly manufacture its soft
power capabilities abroad, and there are still all those
deep-seeded contradictions that you mentioned earlier– like the Confucius
Institute’s cover seems to be that they
have very effective and in the recent
Cambridge University press controversy that
kind of speaks to the deep-seeded contradictions. So I’d like to get
your thought on that. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: OK,
and one more here. AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I’m also a first-year student at
Harris School of Public Policy. My question– so we
were talking about joint-shared vital interest
that China and the US have. I’m just wondering,
how [? big ?] the economic
interdependence is going to make the war more
costly for both countries. Also, because there is this
term that I’ve heard recently. It’s called hot economics
and cold politics. I’m just wondering how
true this statement is. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON:
Say it again. AUDIENCE: It’s hot
economics and cold politics. Thank you. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: All right. Great questions. I will do justice
to the questions, but I will try to at
least respond briefly. First, on the private sector
of Google Jigsaw at all, as well as in the
Chinese case, let’s take [INAUDIBLE] or Alibaba
and the governments. The relationships
between those are thicker than you would understand
from reading in the newspapers and inevitably so. And there will be
many companies that are trying to track cyber
attacks because cyber attacks have big impact on companies. And the government is not able
to defend them successfully. And so, if you’re any
one of the companies that have been hacked lately
or anyone like them, you’re interested in all the
protection that you can get. So I would say this whole
space is moving rapidly. I think, in particular,
in the Chinese case, the entities that are involved
in both offensive and defensive cyber activity have always
lived in a big gray zone. But there’s actually
a little more gray in the American picture
than usually meets the eye. On the soft power
and ideas, which may relate to the hard economic
sense of power, I think, as one of my Chinese
friends says, I would be happy to have a
contest between hard power and soft power any day. So tell me how your
soft power prevented Russia taking over Ukraine
or achieved your objectives in Syria. So another version of this would
say, look, if we can be feared and then if we can be respected,
we don’t have to be loved. So the current version of this– Eric Lee, I think, is one
of the interesting people to read on the subject. He basically says,
if we show that we’re competent to perform,
so we can fix a bridge, and you spend however
long fixing a bridge, and we can show we can grow an
economy a lot faster than you can. And we have a government that’s
not all the time tangled up the way your government is. I mean, we don’t have Donald
Trump as the head of China. We don’t have a government
or a Congress or Parliament that can’t pass laws and
don’t even have a budget. He said, people
will look and say, if they’ve got a
system for driving the bus, that looks like a
pretty good system for me, or good enough. So if we’re going to run
into people doing emulation– Now I don’t agree with this. I’m an old-fashioned,
small-L, Western liberal, but that’s a set of
beliefs I’ve got with it. But I think the
evidence, at this stage, would be at least an argument. And that’s the same thing on
the hard economics, soft power. If you look at the game
over the last 20 years in the South China Sea
and ASEAN and you ask– I have a little
bit of description of this in the end
of the first chapter from a Rip Van Winkle moment
that a great American diplomat who’s a friend of both Evan’s
and mine, who’s now deceased, Steve Bosworth. So 20 years ago, there would
be no question, whatever, if anything happened in
the region of first capital folks in Indonesia or Malaysia
or the Philippines or Vietnam or even Singapore
would against the US, Washington– first
place they would call. He said, when he arrived in
Asia after about an eight-year hiatus– he’s of Asian hand– in 2009, when he became
Obama’s special emissary for North Korea, he went
and visited all the regions. And he came back,
and he said he had been shocked that now the
first place they look every day is in Beijing. The first question they
ask is for Beijing. So they may not love China,
but if it’s its number one market, their number one
importer, their number one investor, and they’ve
shown and demonstrated willingness to squeeze people
when they behave in ways they don’t like, they
can get their way– maybe grudgingly,
but get their way. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: All right. Let’s take a couple more. AUDIENCE: Hi. I’m a first-year in the
college, and I kind of just want to ask– you talked earlier about complex
interdependence theory, what was proposed by Joseph Nye. Do you think that that
will come into play China reaches an extent where
its economic and perhaps military capacity
meets that of the US, will it try to challenge the
smaller kind of focal points in which a war could
begin, like the fact that the US holds a lot of
the choke points for trade into China and smaller
areas where people might not think a war would begin
but where aggression can start and be ignited? AUDIENCE: I’m from
Harris’s Public Policy. And my question about
Thucydides’s trap is– I’m from the higher
education policy background. So it’s new to me. But I’m very curious. So from my understanding, the
prerequisite for this trap to stand is, number one, all the
nations, it is natural for them to survive and to expand. Number two, they’re competing
for the same types of resources to achieve this goal. Number three, these
resources are not reproducible or renewable. And number four, the
internal conflict will not impede or
constrain or deter the expansion of this country. So based on these four– I don’t know if they’re
right because I’m fairly new to this area. But my question is,
so when you review these four assumptions
for this trap to stand, so is China the country of the
expansive nature and capacity? Number two, what are the
resources that China and the US are competing for
when they grow? Number three, are
these resources really not reproducible
or renewable? The fourth one you
already touched upon is– how big will be a constraint
that the internal conflicts that these two countries have
on their expansion capacities? It’s a very long question. [INAUDIBLE] It’s
just my curiosity. Thank you. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: Let
me do the two quickly. I’ll start with the
second one and go back. So it’s a very good question. In the book, I look at
16 cases, not including Thucydides’s case– so 16
cases in the last 500 years. It turns out there’s no silver
bullet or single variable. Your attempt to try to have
four items are worth doing, and you could run those
across all 16 cases and see whether,
in some instances, there’s more of this. There’s more of that. Every case has its own nuances. Every case is different,
but in every instance, I think you’ll find the
case in which you’ll get a check by all those
boxes, and you get to war. And you also get a check
by all those boxes, and you don’t get to war. So it was more
complicated than that. And I think, in particular,
while it’s worth starting with the
structural realities that the US simply in its
own narrow, selfish, vital, national interest requires
not having a war with China. And China, in its own
national, selfish interest, has not having a war with us. So this would be a
catastrophic outcome for both. So [INAUDIBLE] would say,
well, then war can’t happen. And that would only be because
you hadn’t looked at history. So in the case of
World War I, what happened to the
aspirations of every one of the principal actors? So the Austro-Hungarian
emperor was trying to hold together his empire. It was dissolved,
and he was gone. Russian czar was trying
to support the Serbs. He’d been overthrown
his whole regime by the Bolsheviks
and [INAUDIBLE].. The Kaiser in Germany is
backing his buddy in Vienna. He’s gone, out. French, our military
allied with Russia– they are bled of their youth
for a whole generation. Society never recovers. And Britain, which has been
a creditor for 100 years, is turned into a debtor. And it’s on a slow
slide to decline. So at the end of the war,
if you’d given people a chance for a do-over,
no one of the leaders would have chosen what he did. But they did, and this happened. So I would say
it’s worth looking at the areas for the reasons
why this would be crazy. It’s worth reminding ourselves
that this would be crazy. I mean, the purpose of this
book is not about fatalism, and it’s not about pessimism. I would say it’s not to predict
the future but to prevent it. So this is a book
about how to prevent falling into Thucydides’s trap. But I think Xi Jinping’s
line about the challenge is only how to escape
Thucydides’s trap. And I think that requires
thinking about the danger and then thinking about
ways in which countries like North Korea could
drag us somewhere where we don’t want to go. On the first question, complex
interdependence– that’s a complicated question
and a good question. So complex interdependence
is an important idea. But there’s a temptation
to think of interdependence as if it was symmetrical. And Joe often portrays
it as symmetrical. I’m very much more interested
in asymmetrical interdependence. So if I think about
the interdependence between the drug dealer
and the addict, I mean, if I don’t have an addict,
I don’t have anybody to sell my drugs to. But if you don’t buy your
drugs, you have a bigger problem than that. So if I watch– the theory of the case
has been for some time, and I think it’s
still not settled, but I would say it’s
pretty close to settled– that as China became
more entangled in the international system, the
rule-based international system that the US had built, it
would become more like us and would then become a
more responsible stakeholder as our colleague
Bob Zoellick put it. Well, that’s one possibility,
but the other possibility is that I become more
entangled in your system. I demand more say and sway
about my influence in the system relative to yours. And a very good case to
study in this instance is concessional loans
to developing countries and the World Bank. So when the World Bank,
which was created by the US after World War II and which has
played a very important role, it was for a long time
the principal source of loans for
developing countries. China wanted a bigger
say in the World Bank. USS resisted China
having a bigger say. China created most recently
this Asian infrastructure development bank. Today Chinese concessional
loans to developing countries is four times larger– just Chinese loans–
then the World Bank. And if you look at
the IMF, this is another amazing and
interesting story, which still hasn’t
been told, but where, as the US attempts to
continue to hold our position, which we wrote into
the circumstances when we created the
IMF, is basically having a unilateral veto. China is finding
that uncomfortable and is moving to see what other
arrangements are possible. So I would say that complex
interdependence can either be that as I become
more interdependent I become more “responsible.”
as you would think of it. Or alternatively, I
have more leverage. EVAN FEIGENBAUM: Well,
on that cheery note, what is a famous line from– [INAUDIBLE] had that line
about, after World War I, they said what were
the causes of war? DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: He
said a famous line, which I use several times in the book. So this is the end of World
War I. This crazy thing has happened in Europe,
which has been the center piece of civilization for 1,000
years, has come crashing down. So they asked one of
the principal leaders. It would have been the prime
minister in effect in Germany. How did this happen? And he says, “If we only knew.” EVAN FEIGENBAUM:
So there you go. Well, we’re so delighted
you came to Chicago. There are a lot more
questions, so if you have a couple of
minutes, maybe you can stick around and talk
to a couple of people. DR. GRAHAM ALLISON: And I
think they have some books outside if you’re interested. If you read the book and you
like it or don’t like it– both, I think– I’m interested in
reactions to it. So I would say send
me an email, and I will be interested to see. EVAN FEIGENBAUM:
All right, great. Well, please join me
in thanking Graham. [APPLAUSE]

  1. Does the Chinese canon of writing have an equivalent historian to Thucydides? Does this would-be equivalent author make a similar point about rising vs incumbent powers? I think Herodotus would be a little peeved to hear the assertion that Thucydides was the first historian…

  2. Don't believe him and fall into trap,what he presents this youtube and other, some of most facts lie and really untrue. Also distort the actual facts, just propaganda and talk to much. He -Graham Allison is good to pretend and distort the facts of Lee Kuan Yew story. Absolutely do not believes Thucydides’s Trap term that is related to initial to war. This is only just confused, pretend not to be blamed who keen to ignited the war between two or more countries. Survey look at the past, long plan, design, strategies etc history behaviour activities happened from time to time organize military drills prepare cause war. As the US in the past had done so many-100 wars, are consider confirmed not related to this term Thucydides’s Trap between other countries. Cos” the US had conducted, occurred attack, invading as they like without UN approval. It's to divert people opinion to be true to fall influence to Thucydides’s Trap. Is rubbish.This publish is to proclaimed and accuses the term means to avoid to be a fault and blame themselves. Absolutely, he promotes US war rather than Peace with other contender countries.

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