This research examines three passages from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War that illuminate political theories of war, and that may help illuminate issue fronts in connection with contemporary international politics. The research will set the historical context and demonstrate that ancient lessons have modern analogues.
The prelude to war can be discerned in the speech of the Corinthians of the debate at Sparta, which makes the point that Lacedaemonian "confidence which you feel in your constitution and social order" yields political moderation but "also the rather limited knowledge which you betray in dealing with foreign politics" (Thucydides). Athens has made a project of inserting itself into foreign affairs. Its naval mobility empowered it to extend its conquests to a variety of distant places to engage in wealth-building trade and to absorb cultural lessons from abroad--and collect tribute from places like Corinth--an ally of Sparta. Feeling the onus of having been invaded, Corinth wants Sparta to help. The Corinthians continue:
Such is Athens, your antagonist. And yet, Lacedaemonians, you still delay, and fail to see that peace stays longest with those, who are not more careful to use their power justly than to show their determination not to submit to injustice. On the contrary, your ideal of fair dealing is based on the principle that, if you do not injure others, you need not risk your own fortunes in preventing others from injuring you (Thucydides).
Going to war with Athens would be both just and honorable because it would be a humanitarian intervention. Not doing so would be abdication of responsibility. A similar line of argument was made to the West when Africans were committing genocide against each other during the 1990s. By and large the West did not respond. It did respond to similar calls for aid in Kosovo in the Balkans, though some would say belatedly.
Walzer's account of a just war includes...