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Author Allison Recasts Thucydides Trap: Could U.S. and China Be ‘Rivalry Partners’?

July 8, 2019 (EIRNS)—In an article which appeared July 7 in the National Interest, historian Graham Allison points out that when a rising power threatens to surpass a ruling one, it does not necessarily presage extreme danger ahead. In the past 500 years, 12 of 16 Thucydidean rivalries ended in war, Allison reports. But for the past three years, he reports he has been searching for an answer to how to escape this trap, and is now exploring with both America and China what he calls an ancient Chinese concept of “rivalry partners.” Allison also cites an insightful President Kennedy came to after having defused the U.S.-Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when he called for America and the Soviet Union to co-exist in a “world safe for diversity.”

Allison reports that though many strategists believed that each nuclear state could only assure safe existence if the other were destroyed, Kennedy delivered a speech in Summer 1963 in which, “While never wavering in his conviction that the Soviet Union was evil and the U.S.-led free world good, he nonetheless concluded that an unconstrained effort to bury Soviet-led totalitarianism had become unacceptably dangerous,” writes Allison.

As an example of “rivalry partners,” Allison cites the Chanyuan Treaty of 1005 that the Song Emperor of China established with the Liao, a Manchurian kingdom on China’s northern border,an agreement to compete aggressively in some arenas and simultaneously cooperate intensely in others. The Chanyuan Treaty required the Song to pay tribute to the Liao, who agreed to invest it in economic and scientific development in Song China. Sustaining this “rivalry partnership” required dealing with recurring crises, but it worked for 120 years, and created an early form of a market, and stimulating economic groups in China, supporting the development of education and arts in what China’s historians now describe as a “golden era.” Although Allison does not say so, Chanyuan was a precursor of Treaty of Westphalia provision to “work for the good of the other.”

Can America and China do that today? Both will compete in all spheres of economic development, but both cultures understand that competition is a driver of progress, says Allison, and benefits mankind. In the military realm, the rivalry is mostly zero sum, Allison states, but because technology “is also a key driver of economic growth and total GDP, it both funds and fuels advances in military strength.”

Allison cites five areas in which both states will not simply reap mutual benefits: avoiding general warfare, specifically, nuclear war; preventing the means for mega-terrorism; containing pandemics; managing financial crises to avoid depressions; and preserving a biosphere “where citizens can breathe.” Here Allison’s proposal stalls: He discusses no great missions at the frontiers of science, such as space exploration, conquering diseases, eliminating poverty worldwide, on which the two powers could both compete and cooperate—the character of LaRouche’s SDI proposal and all of LaRouche’s proposals for peace through development.

Allison ends,

“Creating a grand strategy that combines competition and cooperation will require a leap of strategic imagination as far beyond current conventional wisdom as the Cold War strategy that emerged over the four years after Kennan’s Long Telegram was from the Washington consensus in 1946. But that awesome undertaking can be informed by reflection on Kennedy and the Song Dynasty.”

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