The Thucydides Trap: Stumbling blindly into nuclear war on a rapidly warming Earth

Andrew Glikson, Canberra and District Quakers


On a rapidly warming planet engulfed by bush fires, collapsing glaciers, floods and rising oceans, the last thing needed is the growing threat of a nuclear war between superpowers possessing fatal nuclear arsenals capable of poisoning the atmosphere, the water and billions of living organisms. The current impasse between two superpowers, the US vs Russia + China, threatening to grow into a nuclear war, endangers the future of civilization and much of nature. The situation echoes the Peloponnesian wars between Athens and Sparta for control of the Aegean world, witnessed by Thucydides, the Greek general and historian. Throughout history when a great power was threatened by the rise of another, with few exceptions the stronger adversary would try to arrest the growth of the new one, a strategy labelled “Thucydides Trap”. As Thucydides, wrote: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta which made war inevitable.”

But In the nuclear age such confrontation amounts to a global suicide, as stated by Albert Einstein. “The splitting of the atom has changed everything, bar man’s way of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophes

An analogous situation has emerged in the wake of World War II when the superpowers, the US vs Russia + China, are trapped on a collision course on the rapidly warming Earth. To date the mutual nuclear threat of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) has prevented a direct war between the superpowers, while proxy wars abound. But memories are short and ”the first casualty of a war is the truth”. Double standards prevail. The more aggressive a force, the more it asserts it is acting in “self-defence”.


               The Peloponnesian wars

Yuliy Khariton, Soviet nuclear physicist.

A generation has passed since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs and, as the collective memory of their horrendous consequences is fading, a global suicide machine of some 13,000 atomic and hydrogen missiles has emerged. The young and the middle aged may perceive a nuclear holocaust as a surreal nightmare, overlooking the gruesome evidence all around including the testing grounds of New Mexico, the Marshall Islands, Novaya Zemlya (Figure 3), Kazakhstan, Moruroa Atoll, Nevada, Gobi Desert, the Nullarbor and elsewhere. 


Planetary consciousness is rare. Media cover-up blinds too many to this hair trigger in the background of the rapidly accelerating global warming. As observed by Noam Chomsky (1998): “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”  And while the atmosphere is progressively poisoned by carbon and by radioactive isotopes, sport circuses abound, fluorescent screens are replete with expressions of inhumanity. Orwellian “alternative facts” and double standards prevail.

It appears that inherent in civilization, throughout history and more recently, is the phenomenon of war, large bloodsheds performed under a range of false slogans. Now that the powers that be have constructed a fleet of some 13,000 nuclear missiles, a myriad species, including Homo “sapiens”, are placed on a hair trigger Damocles sword. consistent with Fermi’s Paradox. According to Fermi’s Paradox, the failure to date to achieve radio communication between Earth and extra-terrestrial civilisations can be attributed to their inevitable short-term self-destruction due to uncontrolled dispersion of toxic substances, contamination of air, water and land, and construction of deadly weapons. On Earth this includes saturation of the atmosphere by greenhouse gases and production of nuclear weapons.

Where does responsibility lie, for losing the sense of reverence which stone-age humans possessed toward nature and its wonderful creatures, for allowing ourselves to join a rat race where everyone can be a millionaire, for electing the mouthpieces of criminals, snake oil merchants and turncoats to control our lives.

The only hope is in a reawakening of human consciousness, as the school children under the leadership of Greta Thunberg have done.


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