Dr. Henry Kissinger on Thucydides’s Trap

Since the Thucydides’s Trap has recently gained much attention due to the writings of Prof. Graham Allison (well-known among students of International Relations), but also because the concept and its application to China-US relations (or the G2) has been criticized so harshly by Prof. Arthur Waldron, I wanted to link to this conversation between Allison and his former teacher Dr. Henry Kissinger from a while ago:

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It is helpful to be familiar with his book On China to recall how closely Kissinger was engaged with the Chinese government’s leadership at the time. Not surprisingly, his biographer Dr. Niall Ferguson still referred to him in this video as “the most important living Westerner” (“Niall Ferguson…”) in the eyes of many Chinese. Interestingly, Kissinger mentions the Crowe Memorandum (Kissinger 519) towards the end of his book which outlines the early 20th-century, Anglo-German parallel to the original Thucydides’s Trap. There is also the foreshadowing of Japan’s rise and eventual Sino-Japanese competition in the 1874 writings of Li Hongzhang (Ibid. 80). Responding to Allison, Kissinger goes as far as saying that China and the United States can be viewed as “almost destined for conflict” (“Henry Kissinger…”) and that they have much difficulty maintaining a productive dialogue at this point in history. Even the perception of reality between Beijing and Washington differs (Ibid.), a point reminiscent of Prof. Qin Yaqing’s comparison of Chinese and Western worldviews. You will not find a critical dissection of Thucydides’s Trap in the video and Kissinger keeps coming back to hoping for what he, already in his book, has termed “co-evolution” (Kissinger 526).

I will leave you to watch the video and judge by yourself; I would be happy to read your comments regarding how meaningful it is to bring Thucydides into the 21st century and whether you know of other interesting China-related documents comparable in predictive value to the Crowe Memorandum.


“Henry Kissinger and Graham Allison on the U.S., China, and the Thucydides’s Trap.” YouTube, uploaded by Belfer Center, (August 2017), www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKI6M2UiCGk.

Kissinger, Henry. On China. New York: Penguin, 2011.

“Niall Ferguson: Henry Kissinger Reappraised, with Andrew Roberts.” YouTube, uploaded by iqsquared, (December 2015), www.youtube.com/watch?v=023984m86.

Waldron, Arthur. “There Is No Thucydides Trap.” supchina.com (June 2017), https://supchina.com/2017/06/12/no-thucydides-trap/.

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