This is my essay for the John Quincy Adam’s Society. Here is the opening:
The world has changed. Following two interminable wars in the Middle East and Central Asia as well as a devastating financial crisis, the United States no longer enjoys the same degree of power and authority it once wielded. America’s image has been further tarnished by the vulgarity and venality of the man currently occupying the Oval Office, Donald Trump. By contrast, China’s golden age appears to lie in the imminent future. This suggests that there will soon be a moment when China surpasses the United States to become the world’s preeminent power. Troublingly, several prominent theories of international relations predict that this power transition will lead to war. From A.F.K. Organski to Robert Gilpin to Dale Copeland, there are manifold thinkers who have linked international power shifts to conflict. Indeed, recent work by Graham Allison explicitly examines past power transitions to derive predictions and lessons for the U.S.-China relationship, concluding that conflict may be difficult to avoid. These predictions are, fortunately, excessively pessimistic. While it is impossible to completely dismiss the potential for war to erupt between the United States and China, it seems far more likely that competition will remain below this portentous threshold.
I also note that:
But while a limited regional conflict between the U.S. and China is certainly more likely than a war over global hegemony, it also is far from inevitable. Neither the U.S. nor China has an incentive to deliberately provoke a conflict, as this would devastate the economies of both countries given their high level of economic interdependence. While provocations and limited skirmishes may certainly occur – dangerous aircraft intercepts or the ramming of warships, for example – there is no reason to believe these would escalate. The Cold War is instructive here, as “despite explicit mutual, strategic, and existential antagonism between the U.S. and U.S.S.R, none of the hundreds of maritime incidents that occurred over the four decades of the Cold War escalated into anything beyond a short diplomatic crisis.” Past events, such as the accidental U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and 2001 EP-3 incident are also heartening, as they suggest that Chinese leadership strategically manipulates nationalist fervor for their own ends.
Do read the whole thing over at the JQAS website.