Global Studies Capstone Project: The Effect of Culture on Great Power Competition

For Jackson's Capstone Project he explored the effects and mechanisms of Thucydides Trap, a theory that predicts future great power conflicts and explains previous ones. Jackson sought to understand why some rising and hegemonic powers would not come into conflict with each other which led him to examine the role in which the cultures of the respective countries play.  

Research Paper on the Cultural Influences of Thucyides Trap Excerpts

Foreign Affairs Style Articles

A Cold Passion

The Case For Re-examining the Post-Cold War Consensus on Thucydides Trap and Great Power Conflict. 

Common consensus holds that conflict between powerful states should be avoided at all cost, especially since the advent of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Yet the principles of Thucydides’ trap make it quite clear that a rising power and established power are almost always prone to conflict and there are unfortunately many examples to back this up. 

However, it must be noted that the principles of Thucydides’ trap are predicated upon a Realist understanding of International Relations as opposed to a Liberalist or Marxist interpretation. The idea that a hegemonic power would start a conflict with a rising power is an inherently Realist concept as it shows that a state’s main goal is to preserve and expand its power. Yet to fully understand the Trap, we must work to divorce it from the concept of Realism and examine it as a compatible part of Liberalist and Marxist schools of thought. 

Take for example the Second World War, the United Kingdom, and France were the established powers of Europe with Germany serving as our rising power just as it had in 1870 and 1914. Yet it cannot be denied that the conflict was also about ideology and not limited strictly to state power. The reigning ideology of Liberalism was being challenged by the rise of Fascism, Nazism, and Bolshevism. So this conflict between Germany and the allies can be viewed not simply as realpolitik but as an act of freedom versus tyranny and tolerance versus hate. One could easily also take the Marxist point of view and suggest that the war was caused by an inherent disbalance in material conditions, which is in effect dictated by each state's respective power. At the end of the day, France and Britain maintained an extensive network of colonies giving them all the resources they could need while Germany, a country with a higher population was confined to a reduced continental territory without any colonies following the First World War. 

So the question then becomes how can this near-universal phenomenon be avoided lest the world experience another devastating war, particularly in the context of the Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran and the animosity surrounding the United States and China. 

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Thucydides Trap Great Power Simulation

Thucydides Trap states that a rising power has a tendency to come into conflict with an established hegemonic power. To test this Jackson created a simulation through which his peers could experience what it is like to be a part of a hegemonic power's leadership. This was accomplished by assigning participants roles as heads of various US Executive Departments. The group was then confronted with a variety of crises in quick concession which needed to be addressed. Depending on the actions taken by the committee the crises would evolve in various ways similar to how a choose your own adventure book has multiple pathways depending on the reader's choice.

Jackson´s theory was that despite being an active participant in only a few of the crises China would soon become the greatest focus of the group as they were a rising power.