Design a site like this with
Get started

A Modern Day Thucydides Trap

America is in the position of the most dominant power in the world and will be for the foreseeable future. In its time, Sparta was in the same position as America in that it had the strongest army in Greece. Thucydides thought whenever an up and coming great power rose, it would inevitably come into conflict with another of the great powers. As Sparta challenged Athens when it rose, America does the same with countries that are becoming great powers today. 

China is the next biggest superpower compared to the United States. However, for the time being, the only foreseeable conflict between the United States and China is the “trade war” led by President Trump. Concerning Thucydides’ point of view, the current day Athens is Iran. Iran has been growing in power for many years. Although Iran is not quite at the economic and military level as China, it has been growing fast.

Iran’s nuclear program is a hot topic for American politicians. The United States’ government has been afraid that other countries will develop nuclear weapons. In 2015 the United States made a deal with Iran to stop them from researching and developing nuclear technology. This situation is similar to the ancient Greeks in that Iran is like Athens and growing in power, in this case nuclear power. Sparta was fearful that the Athenians would grow too strong and threaten them even if they were not directly threatening the Spartans during the rise to power. America is fearful in the same way in that nuclear weapons are a great equalizer in modern warfare and would allow Iran to stand up against the United States. As Thucydides said, “This invasion was the longest they ever made in Attica- almost forty days- and they wasted all of the land.” (Thucydides on the Plague c. Military Operations of 430 pg51). Just as Sparta wanted to destroy Athens power by razing the city-state, America wants to dismantle the Iranian source of power, their rising nuclear program. 

Iran’s influence is another reason America is concerned with the country. Just as Athens used its growing power in the form of fleets of triremes to impose its will on the cities in the Aegean Sea, Iran uses its power to influence the Middle East. Iran is one of the biggest local powers in the Middle East and uses its resources to influence the region in the form of sponsoring terrorism. The United States sees Iran flexing its muscles and is afraid that if it does not intervene while Iran is still small it will eventually be able to expand. If Iran grows out of the middle east and becomes a major world power, the United States could have a problem on its hands.

While China may be the next biggest competitor to the United States in today’s age, it is not probable to cut ties with the biggest trading partner. The United States relies on China and thrives when they trade with us, so it would not make sense to hinder them. Iran, on the other hand, has fairly little impact on the United States economy, so they can be pressured more aggressively. 

-Seth Hanson


One thought on “A Modern Day Thucydides Trap

  1. This essay was great, I loved how it discussed the Thucydides trap with respect to nuclear power. I however believe that this can be applied to other traps with cyber, nuclear capabilities, and economic and political tensions. I also wish your thesis was more clearly stated. There are tensions with us and Iran, and China. But we also have tensions with Russia, and North Korea. I would have liked to hear about other powers that have tensions with us and also see more specifics such as operations in the South China Sea that could lead to war with China. Great job!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: