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The Improbable War China, the United States and the Logic of Great Power Conflict

Christopher Coker

978 18 490 4878 1
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Publication date:
15 September 2017

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New and updated paperback edition now available.

This book explains why conflict between the US and China cannot be ruled out. In 1914 war between the Great Powers was considered unlikely, yet it happened, and the lessons we draw from its outbreak are usually mistaken. Among these errors is the tendency to over-estimate human rationality.

All major conflicts of the past 300 years have been about the norms and rules of the international system. In Xi Xinping’s China and Donald Trump’s US we find two powers whose values differ markedly, with China bidding to challenge the current order. The ‘Thucydidean Trap’ — when a conservative status quo power confronts a rising new one — may also play its part in precipitating hostilities. To avoid stumbling into an avoidable war both Beijing and Washington need a coherent strategy, which neither of them has.

The next global conflict may be played out in the new spheres of cyberspace and outer space, but like all previous wars it will have devastating consequences. Such a war between the United States and China looks less ‘improbable’ with every passing year.


Christopher Coker is Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics. He is author of, among others, Warrior Geeks: How 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Fight and Think About War, and Rebooting Clausewitz: ‘On War’ in the Twenty-First Century.



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