Why War? Is war inevitable? It appears that the answer to this question is yes. However, war is unpredictable and must be studied based on individual circumstances, actions taken, and reactions. States disagree with each other on many subjects and conflicts arise often. To answer this question, we must first examine the causes of a conflict, evaluate the outcome and determine any alternatives that may exist. Then we can analyze some alternative theoretical outcomes compared to the actual conclusions. The Peloponnesian War provides an excellent example to be evaluated.
The following gives a brief history of the war, causes of the war, and the importance of its study. In the case of the Peloponnesian War, we have two equal but different powers in control of Greece and the surrounding area. Athens and Sparta as allies gained independence from the Persians in 480 BC. Athens with a democratic rule expanded by using the surrounding waterways for trade and developing a great navy. Sparta with an oligarchic rule settled in by developing a thriving agriculture community and a land based army. Civil war occurs in Epidamnus with two sides, democratic and oligarchic.
The democrats requested assistance from Athens. If Athens chooses to get involved, she breaks the truce with Sparta. If she does not, the balance of power leans towards Sparta and her allies. Sparta already feared Athens' growing power. Therefore, Sparta needed to check Athens' control of the region. The need to keep a balance of power is the main reason of the Peloponnesian War.
Thucydides attains that Sparta's fear of Athenian rule provided an unavoidable path to war. Athens controlled about half of the city-states; dominated much of the trade; and maintained a strong navy. Sparta kept a strong army and retained equal allies but was primarily an agriculture state. Athens' ability to maneuver on the sea provided opportunities to expand her power, and this alarmed Sparta. Since Sparta is concerned by Athens' growing power, Sparta waits for a way to be able to stop the expansion. When an opportunity comes for war against Athens, Sparta is not very reluctant and could even be considered eager to enter an altercation.
Pericles leadership appeared sound but may have over reached the power of Athens. Pericles convinced the Athenians that allowing allied states to become free was a sign of weakness. In addition, he convinced them that Sparta was no match and could not win a long-term war against the great Athenian navy. He stressed the need for Athens to rely on the navy and utilize the walls around Athens while Sparta's army attacked. This method proved to be a weakness in reality.
The residents of Athens and the countryside were too numerous for safe living conditions behind the walls of Athens. Furthermore, it appears that Pericles forgot that long time enemies could enter the picture and help the Spartans as the Persians did here. In the end, Athens' aggression only leads to her defeat. The Prisoners Dilemma theory represents the situation that Athens is in very well. Knowing that maintaining peace is the best alternative makes Athens' decision even more critical. If Athens enters the conflict then so will Sparta.
If Athens remains neutral, Sparta may remain neutral as well. However, without communication this could be an inaccurate assumption. If Sparta attacks when Athens remained neutral, then Athens is on the losing end. This situation continues into battle decisions as well. The two states could cooperate if communication had been more open.
If Sparta and Athens provided better communication with one another, each ones true intention would have been known and war may have been averted. However, this was not a common practice and states tend to assume that other states desire to control the whole of the region. If they had communicated and attempted to cooperate, could they trust one another's word? Athens was aggressive especially under the guidance of Pericles, but still wanted the power to be balanced as well. This aggression led to Sparta's attack against Athens. Depending on the outcome, the balance of power in the region will shift. Sparta chooses to help because Sparta feels threatened by the power that Athens already holds and does not want Athens to be more powerful.
Athens chooses to get involved because she does not want to lose the upper hand. So could the war have been avoided? Athens proved to be aggressive and ambitious after the defeat of Persia. Whereas, Sparta appeared to be content to just live and rule itself. History indicated that Sparta could remain that way even if she gained another ally. If the leaders of Sparta investigated more thoroughly the objective of Athens' actions, they may have chosen to react differently. Athens could have chosen to ally with Sparta and share the wealth.
Sparta could have chosen to sit out if they had realized that Athens was no longer growing aggressively and had stabilized. The study of this particular war provides great insight into past and current international relations. Comparing and contrasting opinions throughout history allows leaders of today to make better decisions and work together for increased prosperity for the whole of mankind. The financial cost of international conflicts is extremely burdensome on the states at war. It is better to communicate and cooperate than to always aggressively pursue further domination. Donald Kagan disagreed with Thucydides pessimistic view of the inevitability of the Peloponnesian War.
Kagan stated that Sparta's fear of war was stronger than her fear of Athens. Perhaps if Sparta had second-guessed her decision, she would have fallen instead of conquering against Athens. Could the Peloponnesian War been avoided? I believe the war was certain. Sparta and Athens could not compromise with each other and risk being conquered by the other state. If Athens kept the truce, would Sparta have joined its allies in war anyway? I believe Sparta would have chosen to attack Athens regardless of communication. Since Sparta fears Athens power, it is doubtful that they will trust Athens to not be aggressive towards their state.
Perhaps the Peloponnesian War could have been avoided. The leaders of Sparta and Athens could have discussed the situation in Epidamnus. Together they could have provided some resolutions and an end to the civil war. Each side remained fearful of the other holding too much power. I agree with Thucydides that in the end the war was inevitable, and Athens' aggressions and greed was certain to end their reign.
Bibliography Nye, Jr. , Joseph S. Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History. 4 th ed.
New York: Longman, 2003.