In his recent study of U.S.-China relations, Harvard professor Graham Allison provocatively asks whether the two superpowers of the 21st century are destined for war. After studying similar situations over the past 2,500 years -- when a rising power challenges an existing power -- the answer is that, more often than not, war is likely. The U.S. and China certainly have a basket of troublesome issues over which they disagree -- trade imbalances, collisions in cyberspace, Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, North Korea and uneasy Sino-Japanese relations.
The good news is that in this turbulent period, the international system has more effective tools to deal with conflict between states than ever before. Communications are instantaneous, there are international organizations and forums in which problems can be aired, economies are highly intertwined, and there is a plethora of mechanisms (academic conferences, business engagements, social networks) for informal dialog. But the possibility of a military confrontation between a rising China -- more nationalistic and muscular under President Xi Jinping -- and the U.S., led by an unpredictable and inexperienced president, cannot be ignored.