America’s Archidamian Gamble
Updated: Mar 18
Chinese Hegemony Inevitable Only If Cowardice Prevails
Much has been said and written about Thucydides’ Trap of late, ever since Graham Allison thoughtfully addressed it in his 2015 Atlantic article “Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?” and in his follow-up best-selling book in 2018 concerning that same question, Destined For War. The premise, realized by recent geo-economic facts and statistics, is that China has overtaken the United States and is in the process of edging it out, economically, politically, and militarily. There is a parallel between China and America’s dynamic now, with Pericles’ Athens and Archidamus’ Sparta in the 440s BC (where the former began to outgrow and out-power the latter), as well as with Germany outpacing England at the turn of the 20th Century, and in fourteen other major historical cases, the vast majority of which resulted in war. Whenever there has been discombobulation as a result of a rising power displacing a ruling power, fear results, and when a capable military power is fearful and unwilling to bend a knee to the new, war becomes inevitable.
Allison, who has served five Republican and Democratic administrations, quotes Napoleon for a missed warning offered in 1817: “Let China sleep; when she wakes, she will shake the world.” China is awake—wide-awake, thanks in part to benign efforts over the past century on the part of western powers keen to open up the Chinese market and democratize a backward 2nd-world power after it massacred tens of millions of its own people. Over the past nine years, while American politicians fussed over identity politics and neutered industries at home, China’s economy has doubled. Allison reveals Napoleon’s warning to be prophecy: If over the next decade or two Chinese workers become just half as productive as Americans, China’s economy will be twice the size of the US economy. If they equal American productivity, China will have an economy four times that of the US.
Allison’s analysis leaves us with staggering facts and figures: “Between 2011 and 2013, China both produced and used more cement than the US did in the entire 20th Century…” The Chinese have embarrassed the cynics claiming Rome couldn’t be built in a day by building “the square foot equivalent of today’s Rome every two weeks.” Never mind architecture or city planning; China is now the world leader in producing computers, semiconductors, communications equipment, and pharmaceuticals, on which we are now heavily reliant (recall the recent revelation that America gets 97% of its antibiotics from China). We have not only dropped the ball, but run blocks for them into our own end zone. Realizing Mao’s dictum that “power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, China also developed military solutions to all of the problems America’s forces are meant to pose such an imperialist first-world power. Of course, they had the support of useful and greedy idiots in American universities as well as corporate spies who have stolen countless IPs, designs, blueprints, and patented technologies. With the help of bad actors at home and abroad, China is overtaking the United States, and according to various indicators, has already done so.
Even when contaminates from the Chinese COVID19 virus settle and are scrubbed, and the world adjusts to the new economic paradigm whatever that may be, it is clear that China, despite also suffering economically in the short-run won’t just still have a leg up, but will be fully in the saddle. It will continue to accuse America of somehow engineering the virus—perhaps Seal Team 6 developed it in Wuhan’s own Level 4 virology lab—and dismiss or fight any future lawsuits, sanctions, or legal actions against its administration for its role in spreading misinformation about the disease and putting the world months behind in terms of mitigation efforts. The Chinese Communists are criminally dishonest and cutthroat in their dealings, meaning that while disappearing critics at home, they [will] continue to deflect blame, refusing ultimately to pay in any way shape or form for the plague that has turned the rest of the world upside down. Instead, the CPC-protected Chinese liquid-billionaire class will buy up even more properties, assets, and debt worldwide in a form of commercial and economic imperialism, while the American working class, many of whose jobs have already been exported, struggles to clear its lungs and get its bearings in a world their country’s own elite surrendered for mighty paydays. Ultimately, the Chinese Communists will continue to execute their 100-year marathon unimpeded while we endeavor to return to some semblance of normalcy, which itself has been defined by anemia and leftist-engineered cultural suicide.
The West has been humbling and hobbling itself ahead of the Chinese rise—paving the way for a communist, totalitarian, atheistic, and utilitarian hegemon (big thanks to the post-modern and neo-Marxist academies; to anti-industry activist groups; to the elements of corporate America that expedited the journey, etc.). This would-be hegemon evidences its blatant disregard for human rights and freedom daily: its placement of Chinese Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps and slave prostitution to Apple labor; its brutal persecution, torture, re-education, imprisonment, organ seizure, and harassment of underground Roman Catholics as well as the Falun Gong (and its overall heavy-handed suppression of religious freedom and expression); its ‘great firewall’ preventing citizens access to content not approved by their censorious overlords; its tight control on its people’s mobility; its growing social credit program and surveillance initiatives; its history of forced abortions (an estimated 250 million since 1979); its ongoing aggression against Tibet; its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong; and so forth.
Allison does not believe war to be inevitable even if it may be just, despite the likelihood of accidental provocation by a third party (e.g. if North Korea attacks Seoul and the United States rallies to support its ally on the peninsula, threatening Chinese territorial interests). He believes, unlike Crispin Rovere, that the nuclear dynamics between America and China deters either from taking reckless action (as was the case between America and the USSR, notwithstanding several close-calls including the Cuban Missile Crisis). Additionally, Allison believes that were our modern-day Sparta to forsake its ally equivalents to Corinth and Megara (Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet; perhaps even Japan), a peaceful bipolar armistice might be established. In fact, together with China we might be able to solidify peace by together tackling abstract threats like climate change or the like.
Even if we have a stomach only for economic war, kinetic war is still just one mistake away and as Iran, for example, knows well, economic warfare can look a lot like real war as disease and starvation spread amidst rolling power-outages and scarcity. Of course peace is preferable to new bloody, foreign entanglements or a nuclear holocaust—especially when the enemy is not the Chinese people but their totalitarian government (a point Bishop Fulton Sheen made in the 1950s concerning the importance of not confusing Russians with Soviets)—though it is worth mentioning a fact that is largely glossed over in Destined for War: Sparta ultimately defeated Athens.
If economic war is our preference, but by all metrics and indicators it is a war we will likely lose, then do we stand now as pacifists only to bow later as captives? Is capitulation the route we’ve resigned ourselves to? Are there no other radical options we have yet to fully consider? For instance: a meaningful alliance with a Christian and tsarist-democratic Russia to hem in China on its western border (e.g. bring it into the historically anti-Soviet NATO)? A revamped TPP to bring the world together and isolate the growing Chinese threat? (It will have to be another American-led initiative extra to the IMF or WTO given the UN and other globalist institutions are either impotent or have been made irrelevant by Chinese-sponsored twins such as the AIIB.) Hammer companies that offshore labor to China and amp up Trump’s America First initiative? Unite the western hemisphere in common cause against Chinese economic and military incursions and for liberty? Coalesce Canada and the United States into one to form ‘Fortress North America’, extra to NorthCom and NORAD integration (i.e. already desired by secessionists in Alberta, the world’s 3rd-largest oil reserve)? An agricultural cartel between America and Brazil as a check on the Chinese overreach?
Isolationism and appeasement may be viewed as great short-term solutions, but what will happen to our allies when we retreat? Will we answer their call tomorrow? If not, we should let them know today. We should let them know we are Chamberlains, not Churchills. We are ready to sacrifice American trade and global access along with our friends—to abandon our allies in the Pacific and to leave our networks won in patriot blood to the whim of capricious Maoists. Making a hard decision now may, to Allison’s point, spare us from having to save face later. After all, it was saving face that imperiled Pericles and Archidamus II in the Peloponnesian War. That which was out of their control were their allies, and the delicate balance between the two rivals was upset on the fringes of their care.
Even if America should have to radically reevaluate her friendships, pacts, and alliances, it must know in no uncertain terms what ultimately it is happy or willing to relinquish. What advantage? What mobility? As for liberty, whose is it willing to let see lose? As freedom is gobbled up across the globe, the hunger will eventually reach American shores. What ultimately comprise or constitute America’s defensive walls? Its borders made permeable by leftist and anti-sovereigntist lunacy? In the modern world, borders are the walls of the castle keep containing the citizens who the government is designed to protect. The outer walls—those are our allies abroad. If the walls fall, then our fellows fall on that wall, and the hunger draws ever closer the keep unabated.
If China, by OBOR, economic bullying, and military expansion, endangers our allies, what do we do? Are we to retreat now to our keep and hope the world beyond our borders satisfies Xi’s appetite? Or are we, by ways not necessarily violent, to confront the threat now and to take the Archidamian gamble? It could be as simple (in concept) an exercise as penetrating the great firewall of China and winning a decisive cultural war, but first we would have to once again be certain in ourselves and in our culture. Exporting our academics’ anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Christian rhetoric, we would give the Chinese people greater cause to expedite our doom. If we really wanted to—to one of Allison’s proposed strategies—, we could convince the Chinese to love liberty as we do or at least as we have, and might, in doing so, spare Africa, South America, and our friends in the South Pacific from serfdom. Whatever the means or method, we must decide sooner rather than later.
Allison quotes the Corinthian ambassador who chastised the Spartan leadership as new war with Athens became inescapable: “You it was who first allowed them to fortify their city…You alone wait till the power of an enemy is becoming twice its original size, instead of crushing it in its infancy.” The west was not so malicious, prescient or utilitarian to release serpents into the Chinese cradle, so now we must hope that Heracles’s unheroic alter-ego wounds himself with pride, is undone by inner turmoil, or has Olympus unilaterally turned against him. (We know for certain he won’t do a good job of the cleaning the stables…) Of course destruction and violence is not the only way forward, though war—whether it is of a cultural, economic, spiritual, or military nature—is already here. The question remains: do we fight or give up on the best civilization in human history?