Fateful Transitions: How Democracies Manage Rising Powers, From the Eve of World War I to China’s Ascendance

In This Review

Fateful Transitions: How Democracies Manage Rising Powers, from the Eve of World War I to China's Ascendance
By Daniel M. Kliman
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014
248 pp. $59.95

Power transitions—when a rising state overtakes a dominant but declining one—are dangerous moments in international relations. Ambition, fear, and risk taking tend to intensify, often leading to war. In this important study, Kliman argues that some power transitions are more dangerous than others, depending on the political character of the states involved. The most peaceful transitions, Kliman contends, have been between democracies. When faced with an ascendant autocratic state, leading democracies have tended to pursue hedging and balancing strategies, and sometimes containment—think of the United States facing growing Soviet power after World War II. When confronted by a rising fellow democracy, powerful democratic countries have tended to pursue appeasement and other more accommodating strategies—think of the British response to the rise of the United States after World War I. Kliman argues that since democracies share values and have more transparent political institutions, they find it easier to establish trust, whereas because autocratic states obscure their intentions and strive to keep out foreign influences, conflict is more likely. The book does not offer good news for the management of the U.S.-Chinese power transition, although it suggests that American relations with India and other rising non-Western democracies might fare better.

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