Will China’s Rise Lead to War?

Why Realism Does Not Mean Pessimism

By Charles Glaser


Realist international relations theorists usually would predict that the basic pressures of the international system will force the United States and China into conflict. But properly understood, realism offers grounds for optimism in this case, so long as Washington can avoid exaggerating the risks posed by China’s growing power.

CHARLES GLASER is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. This essay draws on his recent book Rational Theory of International Politics.


The rise of China will likely be the most important international relations story of the twenty-first century, but it remains unclear whether that story will have a happy ending. Will China’s ascent increase the probability of great-power war? Will an era of U.S.-Chinese tension be as dangerous as the Cold War? Will it be even worse, because China, unlike the Soviet Union, will prove a serious economic competitor as well as a geopolitical one?

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