The Boston Globe - April 3, 2015
Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor
Since World War II,
the United States has been the most powerful state in world politics.
Many analysts view a rising China as the most likely contender to end
the American century. One recent book is even entitled "When China Rules
Most projections of Chinese power are based on the rapid growth rate
of its GDP, and China may pass the United States in total economic size
in the 2020s. But even then, it will be decades before it equals America
in per capita income (a measure of the sophistication of an economy).
China also has other significant power resources. In terms of basic
resources, its territory is equal to that of the United States and its
population is four times greater. It has the world's largest army, more
than 250 nuclear weapons, and modern capabilities in space and
cyberspace. In soft power (the ability to get what you want through
attraction rather than payment or coercion), China still lacks cultural
industries able to compete with Hollywood; its universities are not top
ranked; and it lacks the many non-governmental organizations that
generate much of America's soft or attractive power.
In the 1990s, I wrote that the rapid rise of China might cause the
type of conflict predicted by Thucydides when he attributed the
disastrous Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece to the rise in the power
of Athens and the fear it created in Sparta. Today, I think that is
unlikely, though some analysts flatly assert that China cannot rise
peacefully. Many draw analogies to World War I, when Germany had
surpassed Britain in industrial power. But we should also recall
Thucydides' other warning, that belief in the inevitability of conflict
can become one of its main causes. Each side, believing it will end up
at war with the other, makes reasonable military preparations which then
are read by the other side as confirmation of its worst fears.