Document Type

Honors Project


For centuries the discourse surrounding change in the international system has revolved around Thucydides’ thesis that change and conflict are synonymous as great powers rise and fall. This argument has regularly provided a historical model for major change in the international system. It remains pertinent today as the rise of new great powers – particularly Brazil, India, and China – have fundamentally altered the balance of power in the international system. This has resulted in an international order increasingly susceptible to pressures for change across economic, political, and structural spectrums. In this study I argue that as power shifts from Europe to Asia and Latin America over the coming decades change is inevitable, but violent conflict is not. I outline how the United States can reduce the potential for conflict by responding to the changing international structure, accepting incremental change that does not go against the fundamental character of the current order while avoiding a buildup of pressure that could lead to systemic conflict. I measure how effective the American response to international change has been over the past two decades, and where appropriate suggest where the United States could modify its approach to avoid falling into the historical Thucydides’ trap.



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