The Peloponnesian War was the result of tensions between the Greek powers of Sparta and Athens.
Following the end of the Persian War, where Greeks fought side by side, the Athenians formed the Delian League. This league was a military alliance that eventually devolved/evolved to an Athenian Empire.
Sparta had their own league as well, and this league would meet up and vote on matters of foreign affairs. When Thasos, a member of the Delian League, attempted to secede from the League, Athens crushed them and Sparta opted not to intervene.
One of the factors that sparked the war was when Corinthia’s colony, Corcyra, attempted to gain independence. Something of importance to know is that Sparta and Corinthia were allies. Sparta was known for having the strongest army and a weak navy. Athens of course had the strongest navy, followed by Corinthia and Corcyra. Combined Corcyra and Corinthia’s navy could easily crush Athens.
As tensions rose over the secession of Corcyra, a meeting was held between Corcyra and Corinthia, arbitrated by Athens. The Corcyrians have been isolationists, and took no formal side in the Cold War between Sparta and Athens and had no prior treaty to appeal too. Instead they appealed to realism. They argued that if Corinthia annexed then again and took their navy that Athens would be rivaled by them and that it is in Athens interest to protect Corcyra. This was a compelling argument, and it would take a stronger argument from the Corinthians to sway Athens.
The Corinthians were not so strong. They argued that Corcyra had no prior treaties with Athens whereas Athens and Corinthia had a truce of sorts and that Corinthia will respect this truce even if they absorbed Corcyra’s navy.
Athens, rightfully so, did not believe this and came to Corcyra’s aid and eventually Corinthia called upon Sparta’s league to wage war against Athens. The war was indecisive, fighting was seasonal for economic reasons but eventually Athens over extended itself. It attempted to invade Sicily while a ceasefire was active between them and the Spartans. They failed in a colossal way and Sparta declared war once more on Athens. Athens this time would lose, it would suffer a plague back home and its economic and military capabilities simply could not keep up with Sparta. So the war ended.
Why does this matter anymore?
Well because history matters so we can learn to act better in the future.
Following the war, Sparta became the sole power of the Greek world.
It was often said during the times of the Cold War that the West was this romantic Athenian mirror while the Soviets were the barbaric Spartans. Is this true? After all one could argue the Warsaw Pact was more like the Athenian Empire than NATO was.
Sparta failed to aid any rebelling state within the Delian League similar to how NATO failed twice to aid Warsaw Pact countries in their time of rebellion.
The Peloponnesian War went cold after the first stages and when the peace treaty was signed the Athenians assumed they could leave their Greek holdings poorly defended by virtue of a peace recorded on paper.
When Athens showed weakness, it was then that Sparta exploited the military weakness and economic weakness (brought on by the plague).
When it became apparent that the Warsaw Pact was crumbling, NATO gave assurances not to expand to the former WP countries. The Russians foolishly believed this and are just now paying for it as they have been pushed back to borders eerily similar to the Tsardom of Russia.
After the Peloponnesian War, Sparta was the uncontested power of Greece and what did they do with it? Nothing! After the Cold War, the USA became the uncontested power of the world and what have we done with it? Next to nothing.
After the Cold War, the USA became the uncontested power of the world and what have we done with it? Next to nothing. America hasn’t ‘won’ since the end of the Cold War. Yugoslavia was a mess and still is one. Kosovo is an anarchist state logistically. We are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. North Korea still exists, China is expanding their influence to the Americans and Africa.
It seems to me, that we are more like Sparta than Athens. We have ignored realist philosophy’s greatest points and abided by its worst.
This international system has worked for no one just as it did not work for the Greeks. A unipolar system makes the world power lazy and clumsy.
N⚙️ ~ @charlemagnes_corner