The Thucydides Trap: Are America and China Destined for War? (10 Weeks)
S 2018


"It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable." Thucydides.

One view is that a perilous historical pattern exists whenever a rising power challenges one that has been dominant.  In that vein, we will analyze instances of analogous challenges in world history, most of which resulted in war between the rising and established powers e.g. Athens vs. Sparta and Germany vs. Britain. In "Destined for War" by Harvard professor and defense analyst Graham Allison, he seeks to understand the distinct characteristics of China and of the US and the flashpoints that might lead to conflict. 

A second view is that China's growth actually enhances Western commercial supremacy. By seeking to realize its dream of modernization by integrating itself into the Western economic order, China is playing by our rules, reinforcing the dominance of our companies and regulatory institutions. In ‘Playing Our Game: Why China's Rise Doesn't Threaten the West” by Edward S. Steinfeld,  the author asserts that China has in many ways handed over--outsourced--the remaking of its domestic economy and domestic institutions to foreign companies and foreign rule-making authorities and China's economic emergence is good for America.

We wise PLATO members will analyze both views, debate the pros and cons and arrive at a sound conclusion to advise our government on how to proceed in this SDG.


Weekly Topics

1.  The rise of China (GA);The quiet revolution (ES)

2.  Athens vs. Sparta; History of Thucydidean challenges (GA Chapter 2 and 3)

3.  Britain vs. Germany; (GA Chapter 4 and Appendix 1)

4.  Institutional Outsourcing; Quest for Modernity (ES Chapter 2 and 3)

5.  Capitalist Enabler (ES Chapter 4 and 5)

6.  Imagine China acted like us; What Xi’s China Wants (GA Chapter 5 and 6)

7.  High Tech; Energy (ES Chapter 6 and 7) 

7.  Clash of Civilizations; Potential for War (GA Chapters 7 and 8)

8.  Self- Obsolescing Authoritarianism (ES Chapter 8) plus articles of your choice from current news

9.  Clues for Peace. (GA Chapter 9) plus articles of your choice from current news

10.Where do we go from here? (GA Chapter 10) plus articles such as




Destined for War.  Can America and China avoid Thucydides's Trap?  Graham Allison, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt (2017)

Playing our Game: Why China’s Rise Doesn’t Threaten the West, by Edward S. Steinfield, Oxford University Press, 2010