...argue[s] persuasively that adjusting to this global power shift will require great skill on both sides if conflagration is to be avoided ... helpfully illustrated with maps and charts...with wide-ranging, erudite case studies that span human history ... this fine book show[s] that China intends to evict the United States from Asia in order to restore its dominance over what it considers its historic spheres of influence. Unfortunately, Washington is poorly prepared to deal with a China that strategizes in terms of the symbolic undercurrents and sensitivities illuminated so dramatically by Allison.
The book is extremely uneven, a hodgepodge of borrowed history, gee-whiz cliches about current China and, occasionally, some genuine insights. Allison has worked or consulted for the Pentagon in several administrations, and he is at his best in writing with authority about defense issues ... In the best section of the book, Allison critiques America’s strategy toward China since the end of the Cold War (he calls it 'engage but hedge') and lays out alternative strategies ... The primary defect of the book is that it is weakest in the chapters on China itself. The view of China that Allison conveys too often reflects the distant, top-down view of outside elites, in which the Chinese Communist Party is all-powerful, enjoys public support and is firmly in control of the country.
Overheated topics invariably produce ill-considered books...A glance at a few new books suggests what scholars and journalists are thinking about the prospect of an Asian conflagration; the quality of their reflections is, to say the least, variable. The worst of the bunch, Graham Allison’s Destined for War, may also be the most influential, given that its thesis rests on a catchphrase Allison has popularized, 'Thucydides’s Trap' ... Allison is so excited by China’s swift growth that his prose often sounds like a mixture of a Thomas Friedman column and a Maoist propaganda magazine like China Reconstructs ... The thesis, in those general terms, isn’t implausible. His book would be more persuasive, however, if he knew more about China. Allison’s only informants on the subject appear to be Henry Kissinger and the late Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, both of whom he regards with awe. This leads to some odd contradictions and a number of serious historical howlers.
A meditation on the perils of war and the challenging possibilities of peace between these two great powers, this book asks uncomfortable questions, provides few comforting answers, and leaves the reader uneasy with dangerous knowledge ... His historical interludes balance thoroughness with concision — sharing fresh anecdotes with the seasoned reader without overwhelming the neophyte ... The stories verge on tedious precisely because the same fears and ambitions are at play again and again. But such repetition is arguably purposeful, as Allison seeks to convey the timeless character of Thucydides’s Trap ... While Allison does not necessarily position his book as a clarion call to action, he does provide a roadmap for serious reflection on a problem of grand proportions.
...a brief but far-reaching book in which potted history is incisively deployed ... One of the many strengths of Destined for War is the restoration of the late Samuel Huntington’s 'Clash of Civilizations' theory, disparaged in the mid-1990s but subliminally gaining force by the day. Mr. Allison approvingly paraphrases Huntington’s notion that 'the Western myth of universal values' is 'not just naive but inimical to other civilizations, particularly the Confucian one with China at its center.'
While the author offers numerous examples of how a fatal confrontation could erupt between the U.S. and China (e.g., the move for independence by Taiwan), he closes with a set of calming strategies to defuse tensions. A timely, reasoned treatise by a keen observer and historian.