Thucydides Trap is a geopolitical concept popularized by the former Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Graham Allison. In summary, it is based on an Athenian historian Thucydides who wrote that “when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, alarm bells should sound, extreme danger ahead! … It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” (Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War).
In Allison’s research covering the past 500 years, he discovered that in 12 out of 16 cases in which a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power, the result was war. Now we again witness the emergence of a rising power (China) and a ruling power (US); and geopolitical analysts are speculating whether war between China and the US is inevitable following the trend in history of the past half millennium.
When the USSR collapsed in December 26, 1991, the US became the sole superpower in the world. Francis Fukuyama declared “The End of History” in his article in The National Interest, a publication launched in 1985 by Irving Kristol, the leading neoconservative figure at the time. Fukuyama declared that with the fall of the USSR, the last ideological alternative to liberalism has been eliminated; and that liberal institutions such as representative governments, free markets, and consumerist culture – the end goal of history – has been reached.
Less than two months after the fall of the Soviet Union, another famous neoconservative, US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz, came out with a Defense Planning Guidance; the gist of which is quoted below: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.” In order to implement the above policy, the US will launch a preventive attack against any country that “poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union” – such as China.
Reacting to this looming threat, Deng Xiaoping issued his now famous “24-Character Formula”: “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.“
Several times, the US tried to provoke China into war. On May 7, 1999, the US deliberately bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia killing three Chinese journalists and wounding 20 others, 5 of them seriously. On April, 2001, a US Navy spy plane flying near Hainan Island collided with a Chinese fighter plane causing the death of the Chinese pilot and forcing the US spy plane to land on an airstrip in said island. Summer Pulse 2004, the largest naval armada ever assembled involving 7 US aircraft carrier strike groups coming from 5 different theaters of operation and converging off China’s coast near Taiwan; sending a message to China that if ever China tries to take over Taiwan, it will have to face such massive military force the world had never seen before that time. The same may be said of the biennial naval exercises conducted by US and Australian navies that started in 2005 dubbed as “Talisman Saber” that rehearsed the naval blockade of the Malacca Strait where some 5 trillion dollars’ worth of traded goods (mostly belonging to China) and some 70 % of China’s oil from the Middle East and Africa pass through. Japan and New Zealand has joined said naval exercises in recent years.
China kept a low profile, observed calmly, hid its capabilities, and secured its position during these years of provocation; following Deng’s guidance. Meanwhile, China prepared its “assassin’s mace” weapons that can cope with the lone superpower in the event that it implements its Wolfowitz Doctrine or stumbles on the Thucydides Trap. Said “assassin’s mace” weapons include anti-ship ballistic missiles (i.e., DF21Ds, DF26Cs, and DF17s) that can hit moving targets at sea (such as aircraft carriers, destroyers, etc.) up to some 4,000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland. Variants of said missiles can also target US C4ISR based on satellites and other space assets; as well as fixed targets on land such as air bases harboring stealth aircraft, communications and logistics hubs. The DF17s carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads in hypersonic glide vehicles capable of maneuver – thus able to evade any known counter-measure. Included in these offensive weapons are DF41 ICBM missiles; the longest range ICBM in the world that can hit any part of the US. Each DF41 carries 10 maneuverable warheads.
On the defensive side, China’s “assassin’s mace” includes some 5,000 kilometers of strategic tunnels; augmented by extensive subway system in every major city. China’s coastal areas are fully covered by air defense systems and underwater submarine monitors to deter air and submarine attacks. Microwave weapon system, laser system, rail guns, quantum communication, AI, 5G, and use of drone swarms form part of this “assassin’s mace” that China had developed while keeping a low profile and bidding its time. China has also built seven artificial islands in the South China Sea that can prevent any planned naval blockade of the Malacca Strait in the event of a military conflict. Said islands can accommodate more defense material to neutralize any naval blockade of the Malacca Strait by the US and its allies (such as anti-ship ballistic missiles, J-20 stealth fighter bombers, air defense systems, and nuclear submarines).
By now, it is already quite late in the day for the US to launch a “preventive war” against China. China’s economy is now larger than the US in terms of purchasing power parity. Militarily, it can now hold its own against the US. What more if Russia and Iran join China’s side?
The Wolfowitz Doctrine as well as Thucydides Trap would have worked in favor of the US in the early 90s when it became the sole superpower on earth. But times have changed. China followed Mao’s advice: “Dig tunnels deep; store grains everywhere; and never seek hegemony.” Then China followed Deng: “Hide our capabilities … keep calm … and bide our time.” So now, Trump has been TRUMPED! Or is it, really!?!
Trump can still pull a trump card up his sleeve again. It is called “unrestricted warfare”. It is a concept formulated by two colonels in the PLA, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui for use by a weaker force going against a stronger force. Its main feature or first rule is: there are no rules! It is everything goes: “a poke in the eye; a kick in the groin; a stab in the back”. Although the weaker force can gain advantage with this strategy, it could also be used by the stronger side to its advantage. The US offensive in its trade and technological war with China to stop China’s rise doesn’t seem to prosper a bit; but the novel corona virus appears to have done a better job. Some analysts believe that it was “unrestricted warfare” done in reverse.
(Note: an American friend told me that it is quite easy to stop the horror “virus”. Just issue a call on all citizens (Filipino or otherwise) to maintain a pot or two of Papaya at home. Chew the leaves if one gets sick. The juice from the leaves (quite bitter) will trigger vibration and movement of the dreaded virus in the bloodstream. This, in turn, would cause the white blood cellsor leukocytes inside us to attack and destroy the virus. My friends name is Stewart Bloom. If this approach is indeed effective, we should thank Stewart for saving a good portion of humanity.I was told that this cure is also effective against Dengue and various other communicable diseases). (iamigo/sovereignph.com)