Allison’s message is both encouraging and depressing. To start with the latter: the core thing to understand from history, he explained to me (and the senators), is that power shifts create problems around three “Ps”: perception, psychology and (domestic) politics.
Overreact and miscalculate
Most notably, a ruling power that starts to feel insecure about a rival tends to overreact and miscalculate.
So, too, when a rising power feels snubbed. If this is combined with febrile domestic politics, small aggravations can quickly spin out of control as, say, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 in Sarajevo, sparking World War I.
Those three “Ps” are on display right now, and insecurity, belligerence and misunderstandings keep bubbling up.
“When a rapidly rising power seriously threatens to displace an incumbent one you have a predictable dynamic,” Allison says. “If you look at China and the US as a rising and ruling power, they…