The Thucydides Trap: China and the US

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The Thucydides Trap: China and the US

RT posted an article about China wanting to control space, and looking for the capability of knocking out US military satellites… interestingly enough, on my instagram page, I posted stories regarding China and the US and the Thucydides trap and how space weapons is what China will develop next.

First of all, I highly recommend reading these two books:

Peter Navarro’s Crouching Tiger


Graham Allison’s Destined for War

Both are extremely great pieces of literature for this time we are living in and heading towards.

First of all, to quickly summarize the Thucydides trap, it occurs when an established power/hegemon feels threatened by a rising power/hegemon.

Thucydides commented on the Peloponnesian war which saw Sparta and Athens go to war.

The most famous line, and what summarizes this trap nicely is “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable”

Mr. Allison in his book, provides a nice list of Thucydides traps, and around 70% of the time, did they lead to war. The most recent, being the US and the USSR did not, so this gives us encouragement that war can be avoided. I should point out that the US and USSR had a direct line from Washington to Moscow 24/7 so they could chat right away…currently Washington and Beijing do not have this hotline but of course can be done through back channels.

I am not going to speak about whether I think war is inevitable or not. I truly hope both sides can come with a way to avoid this. But I must say that both sides, the US and China, have hawks, who are pushing for action.

On the US side, the Americans know in perhaps 2 years, the Chinese will be equal in military strength. On the Chinese side, one of Xi Jinping’s four goals for China is to have a strong military in which China cannot be threatened by the West as China has  been in previous centuries. 

Another one of his goals is to bring back Chinese land, especially Taiwan…recently he made a speech regarding this. This is also where likely we will see a test of America’s resolve in confronting China.

In the past, President Bill Clinton sent in an aircraft carrier group to Taiwan when China threatened the island nation.

Firstly, let us talk about the South China Sea. 

The Chinese do have an island chain defense strategy. It is to protect her shipping lanes. Especially of the Malacca strait. China needs ships in and out constantly to keep her economy running. The way the Chinese are preparing for a potential American intrusion of their shipping lanes, is by the belt and road initiative, sometimes dubbed the new silk road.

The Chinese pretty much have the first chain set and protected with their anti-carrier missiles.

This is what I want to talk about.

So first of all, we need to realize that a war between these two nations would not be about occupation, but more about putting a nation back a few years, and taking out her offensive capabilities pre-emptively. 

The Americans have B-52’s on Guam and other bases in the Pacific that are essentially sitting ducks if the Chinese decide to strike first. 

The Americans rely on their aircraft carrier groups. The air and sea approach is the current American strategy to subdue China. More on that soon.

The Americans spend about 8 billion dollars each on their aircraft carriers. Chinese anti-carries missiles cost about 100 million or less. 

Without delving into the economics about China countering an indebted American government to spend more on their military, the Chinese will find cost effective ways to take out American threats. 

Remember it is not about occupation. 

American strategists have spoken about how their pre-emptive strike would require a combination of air and sea operations. 

Essentially, American reconnaissance knows where these anti-carrier positions are. They will be taken out swiftly first, which would then allow American aircraft carriers to encroach in Chinese waters and continue a land and naval assault.

Just a quick side note into cyber warfare. Many nations do not really know the extent of each others cyber arsenal, but IF warfare does occur, we will see a cyber attack.

Nuclear missiles have the unfortunate effect of when you use them, your enemy can fire their nuclear missiles back. This is why now missiles are loaded into submarines or land platforms which are constantly moving. So the enemy cannot target these platforms on the first strike since they may not be able to locate them under the ice caps or in forests etc.

Cyber warfare is a use it or lose it type of weapon. If you take out an enemies power grid, it is very likely they will not be able to respond. Again, we do not rally know the cyber arsenals possessed by these nations, and if they do have second strike (uhm hack?) capabilities. 

There is also the threat of another nation, say Russia, being able to initiate a cyber attack on the Americans but making it look like it was coming from Beijing…which would add more fire to the two nation’s and the hawks pushing for action in their respective governments.

Back to traditional warfare. America’s real power is in her military satellites which allows America to strike targets with pinpoint accuracy. In fact all of America’s military weapons and arsenals essentially rely on these satellites. We saw this used in devastating style with America’s “shock and awe” campaigns in the Middle East where Iraqi soldiers did not stand a chance.

Currently, the Russians have the ability to knock these satellites down if they want too…but the Russians are really not emerging as a threatening hegemon in terms of economics as the Chinese.

I think the Russians have played the chessboard really well for themselves and have guaranteed they come out on top in many possible situations but that is for another post.

Remember the part about China finding cost effective ways to counter the Americans?

Well this is where the story on China and space comes in. The moon story I believe was for Helium-3, not necessarily military.

But I believe the Chinese are developing a missile, capable of taking down these American military space satellites. This is a cause for concern for the Americans, and adds more cause for the hawks in Washington to demand action quickly before China gets this capability.

This is also why President Trump announced a space force. It is essentially to protect these vital satellites from Chinese attacks.

Once these satellites are taken down, the American military is essentially blind. This is key for the Chinese. 

Knowing this, the Thucydides trap becomes a bit grim between China and America.

We know the Americans have a debt problem, in fact the Chinese do as well. But the Chinese have essentially forced the Americans to spend much more in protecting her military hegemon…when people are struggling and require more government assistance. If the US Dollar keeps getting stronger, and interest rates keep rising, the Americans will have an issue.

Once again, the Chinese find a cost effective way.

The economic warfare does tie in with actual combat. Right now we are in a trade/economic war with China, and the next stage is a shooting war if not power bows down at this stage.

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Vishal Toora

Vishal Toora

Vishal is an avid market analyst, geopolitical junky and wealth management strategist. As the founder of UnchartedFX, Vishal has over 7 years of live market experience with real money accounts. Originally an archaeologist by career, Vishal decided to pursue trading full-time in 2014 because of the freedom and financial stability awarded from the worlds financial markets successfully.

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