ISSN 2330-717X

The Thucydides’ Trap: The American World Order And The Rise Of A Rival – OpEd


The post-World War II and Cold War order began with the consolidation of the liberal ideology of Western internationalism based on the fundamental principles of the rule of law, the market economy, human rights, peace, and mutual trade as a way to avoid a return to bloody wars. But over the last two decades, this order has finally undergone various transformations by the same founders of the liberal ideology of internationalism through the brutal and endless wars in East and West Asia. In the light of the western coalition wars led by the United States in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now in Ukraine, one can no longer see any order with peacekeeping or human rights aspirations.


In this American-led order, the world witnessed the emergence of concepts such as armed humanitarian intervention and the violation of the sovereignty of countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria under the pretext of preemptive defense or state-nation-building. The result of the occupation of these countries has been nothing but the stabilization of chaos and brutal killing.

The labels that the United States and its allies use for China and Russia are the exceptions to the liberal international order that is completely normal and accepted by the US.  This order has not been international and liberal and has rather paved the way for endless wars in oil-rich countries or economic aggression and sanctions against rising countries such as China, India, and Russia. Of course, these attacks are aimed at ensuring the survival of this declining American world order by creating economic and security disturbances for New Delhi, Beijing, and Moscow.

In the Ukraine crisis, the United States is again dividing the countries of the world into friends and opponents and together with its European allies is pushing other countries to either join them in protecting the existence of liberal internationalism, or they will be the target of the most severe economic-political sanctions. In general, the West has set the stage in a way that we will soon be the witness of the confrontation of the declining American order with Russia and China as the main rivals of the changing world order.

In fact, contrary to Western claims, the Kant peace that is based on the cooperation between nations has given way to the neoconservative-Bush-Trump ideology. It no longer matters who rules the White House, as the structural ideology in the United States has transcended any individual or branch of government and has turned into the United States and the Western bloc’s actual foreign policy. Since the Bush administration, countries are either friends or enemies. 

This situation bears a striking resemblance to Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War. He saw the war between Sparta and Athens as inevitable because Sparta feared the emerging power of Athens. Scholars like Mearsheimer have also discussed this war and voiced their concerns over the United States being caught in Thucydides’ trap in the international order. This means that the conflict between the United States and China is ultimately inevitable. The United States and its allies are desperately worried about China’s emerging power, or the rise of the East Asian Dragon, as experts constantly warn that the West is at war with China, and it will likely turn into a real war.


But fueling the fear of war with China is just empty propaganda. The United States does not have the power and will to start a war, especially if things are not predictable. The case of Ukraine shows the inability of the United States in confronting a global military power directly. But Beijing is well aware that China’s economy and wealth are part of the West’s assets and any measure taken to harm China will backfire on them.

No matter how and where they are embroiled in crisis, Washington and Europe view Russia as a military threat and China as an economic and high-tech threat. Therefore, to begin with, the Western bloc seeks to open up and widen a chasm between Beijing and Moscow in their strategic cooperation. Then, it intends to make the guaranteed economic capacities of Asia and Oceania insecure for China, hoping to create a barrier to China’s economic development and push Beijing to spend part of its development budget on military affairs or tensions with other countries. Whatever the outcome of the Ukraine crisis, the Western bloc is attempting to depict China as the biggest threat to the West and the whole world. 

Undoubtedly, China is no longer an emerging power for the American post-Cold War order but is now a serious competitor to the West. China now has the national power and technology to create an economic and even military bloc along with its partners against liberal internationalism.  While the United States and most of its European allies are in massive debts even more than their national wealth, China with the largest global reserves and high-tech is projected to overtake the United States by 2030 and become the largest economy in human history.

It appears that there is no need to review the world order any more as it is being replaced and rewritten from scratch. China has successfully adapted its strategic goals to the world’s structural changes in international policy. During the Coronavirus crisis, Beijing also showed the world that it can maintain its global trading power and protect the lives of its people simultaneously.  

Of course, Beijing does not seek to form a new order and has achieved its desired development and progress in the current order, but the Western bloc fears that China is the only country that can replace the transformed American international order without political and security ambition and aggression.  

In fact, the US aggression against China through Ukraine and Russia is more to curb China’s economic development and set a red line for the fate of the collapsing world order. Thus, victory in the Ukraine crisis is a key factor in maintaining the existing order or ultimately preventing the collapse of NATO and the transatlantic order.

Washington’s Southeast Asian allies, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea are concerned that a shift in global order will embolden China to reclaim its nineteenth- and early twentieth-century homeland. They fear that Beijing might try to regain its historic sovereignty over Taiwan and then go for Hong Kong and the South China Sea to establish a new order in the Indo-Pacific region. 

In any case, Ukraine and Taiwan are now the centers of geopolitical issues and the conflicts will surely continue until one of the new global blocs overpowers the other. Whether the world will once again trust the United States after Trump and Biden’s scandalous decisions like the withdrawal from Afghanistan, or it will lean toward China, will soon be unveiled in the foreseeable future. 

Greg Pence

Greg Pence is an international studies graduate of University of San Francisco.

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