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Thucydides Trap: Modern Relevance

The “Thucydides Trap,” in essence, is the ancient idea that when one power threatens to overtake another, war ensues. While this idea is evident in our world’s history, such as with the Athenians and the Spartans or with Germany and the United States, modern America is nearing a Thucydides Trap scenario with the Chinese and the Russians. The first and most obvious modern opponent is the Chinese, who have undergone a remarkable technological increase in recent times. Many reasons can be attributed to the growing tension between the United States and China. To begin, the development of nuclear weapons has caused significant tension between the two, as now both the United States and China have the ability to incur devastation upon each other through the use of nuclear bombs. Another significant area of tension is evident through the economic relations between the two. In recent times, President Donald Trump has made a big deal out of our trade deficit with China, as they have been taking advantage of the United States in the trading realm. China’s overall revenue and ability to produce military firepower is increasing constantly, making them a true threat to the United States. An additional area in which the Chinese have threatened the United States is in the cyber domain, as Farah Mohammed writes on this issue, “Another conflict is China’s digital policing and its use of cyber espionage, which have long concerned Western society.” The United States has experienced a significant number of Chinese cyber attacks in recent times as well, sparking tensions even more. Overall, the Chinese have emerged as a threat to the United States, which should be incredibly concerning to all Americans, particularly in light of the Thucydides Trap. Thucydides explained, regarding the tension between Athens and Sparta, that “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” The Chinese have now reached the point at which they are a threat to the United States, thus it seems as though the two powers are on a collision course. 

While Russia does not seem to be as much of a threat as the Chinese, the tensions are similar nevertheless. The Russians have nuclear capabilities that could impose mass destruction, thus there is certainly tension between them and the United States. This tension did in fact lead to a Thucydides Trap-like war in the 20th century, known as the Cold War, in which America was trying to prevent a war of mass destruction at all costs. This war was a classic example of what Thucidydes speaks of, as the Russians had begun to instill fear through their development of nuclear weaponry. However, as Americans, we should not forget the cost of this war and avoid a similar scenario.. 

Although the classic Thucydides Trap seems like an ancient tale that occurred thousands of years ago, it remains relevant throughout history, particularly with the world-dominant United States of America. Over the course of our history, several countries have risen to power and threatened the United States, often leading to war. However, China remains our most threatening adversary today with their cyber and nuclear capabilities, accompanied by economic and political tensions. As the Chinese continue to gain power, it seems almost certain that war is inevitable.

Can the U.S. and China Avoid the Thucydides Trap?

-Zack Genereaux

  • Word count: 578

One thought on “Thucydides Trap: Modern Relevance

  1. In your response to this blog, you were extremely thorough in listing the reasons of why the Russians and Chinese are nearing a Thucydides trap with the United States. The sources provided clearly indicate that you did the research necessary to relate modern times to a historical one. The length was also good and seemed long enough to hit most of the major points to establish your argument. If I have one critic, it would be to define the Thucydides trap a little more in the intro or whenever you introduce it. Also, you need to cite the primary source relating to the Thucydides trap in order for it to be completely relevant. I do not think it is good to assume that the readers know what you are talking about even if you define and explain it in your own words. Overall this is a good blog post with quality content and length regarding the subject matter, and it shows your knowledge of the class so far. Nice job.


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