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Thucydides Trap


In the realm of International Relations, the concept of the “Thucydides Trap” has garnered significant attention, particularly in understanding power shifts and the dynamics of conflict between rising and established powers. Coined by Harvard professor Graham Allison, this concept draws its roots from Thucydides’ historical account of the Peloponnesian War, highlighting the inherent tensions that arise when a rising power challenges the existing hegemon. This article delves into the Thucydides Trap, its implications for contemporary international politics, and its relevance in shaping strategic thinking.

Understanding the Thucydides Trap

Thucydides, the ancient Greek historian, chronicled the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. He famously observed, “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” This fundamental idea forms the basis of the Thucydides Trap – the notion that when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, the result often leads to conflict. Graham Allison expanded upon this concept, examining historical cases where such power transitions resulted in war, such as the rise of Germany challenging Britain before World War I.

Implications for Contemporary International Relations

In the modern context, the Thucydides Trap provides a lens through which to analyze the dynamics between established powers like the United States and rising powers like China. The rapid economic growth and military expansion of China have led to concerns among policymakers about its potential challenge to the existing global order dominated by the US. This power transition has manifested in various geopolitical tensions, from trade disputes to military posturing in the South China Sea.

Relevance in Shaping Strategic Thinking

Understanding the Thucydides Trap is crucial for policymakers and strategists in navigating the complexities of international politics. By recognizing the risks associated with power transitions, states can adopt more prudent and cooperative strategies to mitigate conflict. Diplomatic engagement, dialogue, and multilateral institutions play essential roles in managing these power shifts peacefully. Moreover, acknowledging the potential for conflict can incentivize states to pursue mutually beneficial agreements and establish mechanisms for conflict resolution.


The Thucydides Trap serves as a cautionary tale in the study of International Relations, reminding us of the perils inherent in power transitions between states. While history may not repeat itself exactly, the underlying dynamics highlighted by Thucydides remain relevant in understanding contemporary geopolitical challenges. By heeding these lessons, policymakers can strive to navigate power shifts with wisdom and foresight, ultimately working towards a more stable and peaceful international order.


Allison, G. T. (2017). Destined for war: Can America and China escape Thucydides’s trap? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Thucydides, & Warner, R. (1972). The Peloponnesian War. Penguin Books.

Walt, S. M. (2018). The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.