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It’s a Trap

The Peloponnesian War was inevitable. With Athens rising in power, Sparta became more and more fearful that conflict would soon follow. First, the Athenian Naval power made the Spartans nervous. Athenians also feared naval vulnerability because they relied on their naval forces for protection as well as trade. With both sides being fearful of one another, the only thing that one could do is to expand upon its forces. Eventually, Sparta and Athens came to conflict after a minor episode between Thebes (Spartan ally) and Plataea (Athenian ally). The idea that two established powers will result in a conflict is known as the “Thucydides Trap”. While the “Thucydides Trap” existed in the 5th century BC, it also remains in existence today. With the United States being the leading world power, other countries have dedicated time and resources to develop more complex weapons in order to challenge the United States. One could argue that the “Thucydides Trap” exists today between the United States and Iran due to Iran’s testing of new missiles and its rising tensions with the U.S. 

The conflict between two powers can also be seen in the Melian Dialogue when the Melians ask, “But how could it be as much to our advantage to serve, as it is yours to rule?” (Thucydides). The Athenians responded, “Because if you obey, you will save yourselves from a very cruel fate; and we will reap a profit from you if we don’t destroy you” (Thucydides). From the exchange between the Melians and Athenians, it is clear that the Athenians are the more dominant power since they are threatening the Melians. Just as the Athenains threatened Sparta by expanding their Empire and building a stronger naval force, the Athenians verbally threatened the Melians. 

Not only does the conflict of two powers exist in Ancient Greece, but it also appears in today’s world. In an Independent world news report, Henry Austin reports on Iran’s new missile test and analyzes the rising tension between Iran and the United States. After testing a new missile, Major General Hossein Salami stated that “Our country [Iran] is always the arena for testing a variety of defence and strategic systems and these are non-stop movements towards the growth of our deterrent power” (Austin). Major General also commented on the test describing it as one of the successful days for the country of Iran (Austin). Salami uses the words “towards the growth of our deterrent power” which means Iran is trying to reach the same military capabilities as the United States. The testing of the new missile occurs during a time of increased tension. The United States holds Iran responsible for attacks on oil tankers in the region off of Iran. Not only has Iran attacked oil tankers but they have also seized several tankers. Following the failed 2015 nuclear deal, both Iran and the United States have issued threats to each other. In addition to attacks and seizure of oil tankers, Iran also “shot down a US military surveillance drone in the Gulf” (Austin). In response to rising tensions, President Trump tweeted, “Iran can never have nuclear weapons” (Austin). It is clear that Iran’s missile tests along with the rising tensions between Iran and the U.S. will most likely result in a conflict. The U.S. is falling into the same trap as the Athenians. 

Not only does “Thucydides Trap” exist in Ancient Greece, but it also has modern day implications. Due to the development of advanced missiles, there has been an increased number of conflicts between Iran and the U.S. Since Iran is rising in power, just as Athens once did, the United States may face an inevitable conflict. The U.S. can not idly stand by while Iran tests more missiles and wreaks havoc on oil tankers. If the U.S. does not intervene, it will lose its power in that region of the world. Similarly, if Sparta sat by while Athens continued to expand its Empire, Sparta would have eventually fallen victim to Athenian rule. If the United States wants to hold onto its power, conflict must occur in order to halt the rising power of Iran. 

— Adam Davis

Word count: 695

“Thucydides on the Plague, Funeral Oration, and Melian Dialogue”

One thought on “It’s a Trap

  1. While thinking of similar relationships America has with other counties that reflect a similar “Thucydides Trap” like Athens and Sparta, I did not think to pair Iran with America. From a military stand point, it is rather interesting to see how Iran shapes up against America. Their fighting style goes against the Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflicts, which they signed. While the terrorist groups as separate from the state, America has begun to label state groups like the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. Since we are currently fighting the war on terror, understanding our enemies and their use of missiles and unethical fighting strategies has been difficult work – making them a worthy opponent to America in that regard. However, from other factors like economy, Iran does not compare to America in the way that two super powers like Sparta and Athens compared to each other. Iran heavily relies on oil for government revenue and price controls from the government are inhibiting the government to run as a free market, which is also inhibiting the economy. Ultimately, they pose as less of threat than other economic powerhouses like China and Russia, who have the ability to fund a massive military and preform damaging economic sanctions against America.


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