Phil Mullan will be introducing the Academy of Ideas Economy Forum

From trade war to world war?

Thursday 13 June 2019, 6.45pm-8.30pm

America’s trade war with China has continued to intensify in recent weeks. In May, following the breakdown of trade talks, President Trump announced further tariff increases on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports with potential for tariffs being extended even further. In turn, China is considering retaliatory action. But while the current focus is on trade, the problems in international relations run far deeper.

Most importantly, the post-1945 world order is breaking down, no longer able to contain the enormous changes in the world in recent decades. Some thinkers anticipate a ‘Thucydides moment’. The great ancient historian wrote that the Peloponnesian war was inevitable because of the growth of Athenian power and the fear this caused in Sparta. Today, we could be on the same path as the old and new powers clash. A rising China is fuelling anxieties in America and Europe that are suffering from relative decline.

Moreover, there are escalating tensions within the ‘old’ West, too. Since the 2008 financial crash, there have been bitter transatlantic ructions between the US and the EU. These rivalries were brought into sharper focus by the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, opening up a divide between a mercantilist and a globalist approach to world affairs. Governments in the US and Europe differ even on how to contend with an ascendant East. The EU is also divided internally, not just over migration and the fallout from the eurozone crisis, but over how to deal with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, too.

These problems are not simply down to the sabre rattling of Trump. Domestic stagnation has increased competition between the advanced industrial nations, not just for new markets but for resources and opportunities for investment.  Nor are they new – they were a serious concern for the Obama administration, too.

What can be done to stop these tensions getting out of control? Is a peaceful transition to a new international settlement possible? Are the dominant Western responses helpful or inflammatory? To what extent is protectionism a cause or a symptom of conflict? Can appeals to respecting the rules-based international order help, or is the existing international institutional setup inconsistent with a changed world?

A list of suggested background resources is being compiled on the Economy Forum event page.

There is a £5 charge, payable on the night, to cover the cost of room hire. To reserve a place, email