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Thucydides Trap

The idea of a “Thucydides Trap” in which a perennial world power must come into conflict with a new upcoming power is a truth that has been seen over and over again throughout history. An obvious example today would be our competition with China, but I think that our relationship with North Korea is another fine example. America is in a “Thucydides Trap” with North Korea as they become more and more antagonistic and continue to refine their nuclear program, a power that has traditionally been held only by us and a few select others.

The Spartan’s truly feared the rising military might of Athens, especially their navy(Spodeck). They worried that the Athenians could use this new found power to exert control over not only themselves but also their allies. Similarly, the United States is concerned with the growing nuclear capability of North Korea. Since the rise of Kim Jong Un after the death of his father Kim Il Sung, this small nation has expanded greatly its weapons capabilities. Should they finish this refinement, they would wield power and influence that the United States does not want to contend with, like the Spartans and Athenians before them.

The Spartans knew that eventually something must be done. They felt that they could not wait idly by as Athens grew into a world power. This eventually led to the Peloponnesian War. In the same way, how long can America wait while North Korea becomes more and more technologically sufficient at the helm of anti-American dictator Kim Jong Un? It would seem that we truly are in a “Thucydides Trap.” We cannot allow them to gain this incredible power and will continue to come into greater and greater conflict with the North Koreans till a solution is found either peacefully or otherwise.

Now the maybe more obvious “Thucydides Trap” would be our competition with China. Some would say that North Korea simply does not have enough influence for us to worry about them and therefore be engaged in a “Thucydides Trap” with them. However, I would argue that refining a nuclear weapons program to the point that warheads can be sent almost anywhere in the world including the United States coastline (North Korea) more than qualifies them as a growing power with real implications. They are beginning to possess an ability that few countries have had before to include the Soviet Union, Iran, China, and Russia. A similarity between all four aforementioned countries is that the United States either is or has been in serious conflict with each. To suggest that North Korea is not big enough or powerful enough to be engaged in a “Thucydides Trap” with the United States is in my opinion misinformed.

In conclusion, there must be some kind of resolution between the United States and North Korea. I believe they are on a collision course in the political and world amphitheater. The United States knows the extent of North Korean ability and cannot afford to let them continue to progress their nuclear program. Similar to the Spartans observing the Athenians building their military and allies, the United States will soon be pushed into a decision.


Spodek, Howard. The World’s History. Pearson, 2015.

“North Korea.” Nuclear Threat Initiative – Ten Years of Building a Safer World,

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