China’s rising status in the global economy alongside recent economic stagnation in Europe and the United States has led to considerable speculation that we are in the early stages of a transition in power relations. Commentators have tended to treat this transitional period as a novelty, but history is in fact replete with such systemic transitions—sometimes with perilous results. Can we predict the future by using the past? And, if so, what might history teach us?
With Transition Scenarios, David P. Rapkin and William R. Thompson identify some predictors for power transitions and take readers through possible scenarios for future relations between China and the United States. Each scenario is embedded within a particular theoretical framework, inviting readers to consider the assumptions underlying it. Despite recent interest in the topic, the probability and timing of a power transition—and the processes that might bring it about—remain woefully unclear. Rapkin and Thompson’s use of the theoretical tools of international relations to crucial transitions in history helps clarify the current situation and also sheds light on possible future scenarios.