Taiwan, Thucydides, and U.S.-China War, nationalinterest.org

Graham T. Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The fastest track to bloody war between China and the United States runs through Taiwan. If the current crisis provoked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s untimely trip and China’s robust military response leads to a collision between Chinese and American naval vessels or aircraft, even an “accident” could provide the spark that ignites a great fire. In June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was advised not to go to Sarajevo—as Speaker Pelosi was by the Pentagon before her visit. But no one imagined that during his visit he would be assassinated, providing the spark that ignited a conflagration so devastating that historians had to create an entirely new category: World War.

Fortunately, the American and Chinese governments know that a hot war would be a disaster for both. No serious person in either government wants war. Unfortunately, history offers many examples in which rivals whose leaders did not want war nonetheless found themselves forced to make fateful choices between accepting what they judged an unacceptable loss, on the one hand, and taking a step that increased the risks of war on the other. The classic case is World War I. After a terrorist with shady ties to the government of Serbia had assassinated his successor, the Emperor of Austria-Hungary judged that he had to forcefully punish Serbia. Since Austria was its single ally, Germany felt it had no option but to give it full backing. Russia felt obliged to support its Orthodox Christian brothers in Serbia. One step led to another in a vicious cycle of actions and reactions that had all of Europe at war within five weeks. Läs artikel