It has become fashionable to speculate about the risk of a coming war between China and America. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd, in a recent article in Foreign Policy titled Beware the Guns of August – in Asia, claims that we are confronting the prospect of not just a new Cold War, but a hot one as well with actual armed conflict between the US and China appearing possible. He warns that the presidents of China and the US both face internal political pressures that could tempt them to pull the nationalist lever, which “could all too easily torpedo the prospects of international peace and stability for the next 30 years”.
Carl Bildt, the noted European authority on international affairs and a former prime minister of Sweden, observes that as the 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo set in train events that culminated in World War I, so the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea might become a future flashpoint.
Then to top the league of pessimism, there is Graham Allison, who has become famous by asserting that, based on his analysis of historical events, China, as the rising power, will inevitably go to war with America, the declining power. The fundamental weakness with this line of reasoning is the deterrence of nuclear weapons. If any two countries in world history should have gone to war it was the former USSR and the US. But each side knew that, even under a surprise attack, it could deliver sufficient retaliatory nuclear strikes to eliminate the other side as a modern functioning society.