The cause of the Peloponnesian War came from Sparta defending itself and its allies against the growing threat of Athenian violence and expansion, creating the modern term “Thucydides Trap.” Named after the Athenian historian and general, this word describes this relationship where an established nation feels threatened by a growing nation, and hereby, come into conflict with that nation. America has enjoyed unchallenged power since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, in contemporary society, the United State mirrors the Spartans in that against a growing Chinese threat, it appears as though both countries may be a part of a modern day “Thucydides Trap.” America is fearful of the growing influence China is having around the world, which could potentially lead the two countries towards the same result the Spartans had with the Athenians: war.
The Spartans went to war with the Athenians because their violent expansion was uprooting the lives of the Spartans and their allies. One of the most heinous examples of Athenian ruthlessness, which prompted Spartan military action, can be seen through Thucydides’ description of the Athenians ordering the people of Melos to surrender to the Delian League, saying, “Our opinion of the gods and our knowledge of men lead us to conclude that it is a general and necessary law of nature to rule whatever one can” (V:105, p404). Athens then proceeded to kill the men and enslave the women and children from Melos, which showcases their complete disregard for a nation’s culture and government. Their lack of mercy ultimately pushed Sparta into war over protecting the world from a growing nation’s gluttony for power.
China uses aggression much like Athens to expand their territories, and the country is ignoring the international community’s attempt to get China to follow maritime international laws. The foreign country claims the islands they created in the South China Sea gives them the rights to the surrounding waters and territories, yet this has not been recognized by the international community, who collectively continue to navigate and ship trade through such islands. Chinese aggression, however, continues to impede on these international norms, with the latest actions being continued missile tests on those islands and the Chinese Navy coming dangerously close to American warships. In that regard, China is emulating the Athenians by not standing by the status quo of international waters, causing tensions to rise between America and China.
Apart from war, another reason for the escalating fear of China’s power lies in the uncertainty of what would happen to governments across the world if China became the leading global hegemony. Their government does not share the same ideology as America. The communist party is fundamentally different by theoretically placing most of the control with the government as opposed to giving the people the power. If China became the dominate player in global affairs, they would inevitably extend their sphere of influence and force other countries to dramatically shift their way of life. Their force is already being practiced in the South China Sea, where smaller countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are protesting against the Chinese navy’s presence. Ultimately, America may emulate the Spartan warrior mentality and step in physically in order to protect the independence of other countries.
Much like how Athenian’s disregard for the Spartans and their allies built up tension and led to war between the two states, the same pattern appears to be happening between China and the United States, which is global uncertainty and provocations for conflict. China remains adamant concerning its expansion of territory at the cost of putting their standing with foreign countries in jeopardy. However, unlike Sparta and Athens, China and America recognize the importance on a global scale for their mutual cooperation and hold meetings to discuss solutions. If a modern day Peloponnesian War is to be avoided, China and America need to negotiate a peaceful settlement that protects the livelihood of the international community.
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