Power Cycle Theory, U.S./Chinese Relations, Navy
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Long-term economic and military trends indicate that a shift in the current world order is imminent between the United States and China. The United States is accustomed to its current position as the leading naval power but this position is increasingly being threatened by emerging Chinese naval power. Despite their best efforts, the United States has not been able to ease the threat of China’s naval development. The public and many U.S. policymakers identify China as a major threat to U.S. hegemony and fear China’s growing power will ultimately make the United States weaker. In this paper, I propose that China’s naval development does not necessarily indicate a weakness in the United States; but rather it is a result of an inevitable power cycle. Power cycle theory contends that these transitions are inevitable in the international system.
In this paper, I examine the history of previous naval rivalries between Britain and the Netherlands, Germany and Britain, and the United States and Japan. After identifying the motives of the actors, the pinnacle of the rivalry and their conclusions, I find several patterns in support of power cycle theory that can be applied to the contemporary situation between China and the United States. I contend that deeper understanding of the historical trends at work will help U.S. political leaders make rational decisions about current and future naval policy.