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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchThe Ibn Khaldûn Trap and Great Power Competition with China

The Ibn Khaldûn Trap and Great Power Competition with China

Author: Carla Norrlöf 

Affiliation: University of Toronto, Canada

Organization/Publisher: The Washington Quarterly

Date/Place: March 23, 2021 / Washington DC, USA

Type of Literature: Academic paper

Number of Pages: 23


Keywords: China, US, Great Power Politics, Security, Wars, Hegemony




Drawing from Thucydides Trap, that great-power wars are “most likely to occur when a rising challenger is about to surpass a declining hegemonic power”, the author likens it to the rise of China—with its military, manufacturing, commercial and corporate power—as a multidimensional, structural challenge to US military and economic dominance. However, the author argues that philosopher and historian Ibn Khaldun’s emphasis on tribalism presents “a more powerful metaphor for US-China great power rivalry.” “Ibn Khaldun’s theory of the rise and fall of socially cohesive tribes points to dangers in America’s social divisions and the instability created when competing with other great powers,” the author notes. It also reflects on kinship ties in the American society which “often take the form of political identity.” The author argues that political identities need not be rooted in racial identities as party polarization in the US is “just as strong as polarization based on race and that cross-party discrimination is greater than race-based discrimination.” On US’ foreign policy, the author says there had been “remarkable agreement” on key foreign policy issues between the Republicans and the Democrats. However, domestically, former President Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 elections “was the triumph of nationalism over liberalism” and claims the role of the US in international liberal order was “overturned” with Trump’s win. The author argues that nationalism is likewise at the core of President Xi Jinping’s policies in the rise of China. The author links Trump’s rise to two central features of Ibn Khaldun’s theory about dynastic decline: social glue and deference. “Framing foreign looking people as enemies holds US policy hostage to zero-sum logic,” she notes, expecting President Biden’s administration to surpass this logic. The author is awed by Biden’s ethnic diversity in key cabinet positions, terming it “performative [which] sends a strong signal about the value the administration attaches to diversity.”


By: Riyaz ul Khaliq, CIGA Non-Resident Research Associate



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