It has been said that the Athenians created an empire beeansernthe’ dared not destroy a confedcrahon. This is givingrnthem too mncli credit; Faiipires arc not created b default,rnagainst the wishes of allegedly reluctant hegemonists. In orderrnto keep her budding empire together, Athens started meddlingrnin her clients’ internal affairs and ordering their lives in thernname of “spreading democracv.” She aided and abetted tiiernsup|)ression of their local aristocrahe structures and hailed herselfrnas the leader of a union of “democrahc” states. Athens’ selfappointedrnrole signaled the birth of a vision of internahonal affairsrnthat has created endless problems for its victims andrnproponents e’er since.rnDespite die self-serving dietorie of the Athenians, to manyrnCreeks —including Sparta, her allies, and the aristocratsrnexiled from cities allied with Athens—Athens was a “t)Tant cit)'”rnand an “enslaver of Greek liberties.” Pericles sought to justif)-rnAthenian imperialism by claiming that it brought “freedom”rnfrom fear and want to tire Greek world. “We did not gain thisrnempire b’ force,” he asserted. “Our allies came to us of theirrnown accord and begged us to lead them.” That may have beenrntrue, up to a point; but having been led, they were no longerrnfree to drank their leaders and continue on their way.rnT’hucdides ondines how Athens embarked on her imperialrnexperiment almost w ithout pause or deliberation. As leader ofrnthe league, she fully controlled it. The Athenian citizens alonernselected its treasurers. In 454 B.C., the Atiienians moved dierntreasur of the league to tiicir ciK’ and started collecting onernsixteenth of the allies’ tribute to Atiiena Polias, patron of .Athensrnand now patron of the league. This money paid for the templesrnon the Acropolis, supported the Athenian fleet, provided workrnfor the citizens of .Athens, and fortified a reserve fund.rnBv 450 B.C., the Delian League had essentially become anrnorganization of Athenian colonies whose center and treasuryrnwere now in Athens. Many of the allied leaders went along withrnthis arrangement because thev preferred political stability andrncommercial predietabilit)’ to independence, while others nornlonger felt accountable to tiieir own people. (Think of Canada’srnJean Chretien, or Britain’s Tony Blair.)rnThe league’s aeti ities soon expanded into “anti-terrorist” operations:rnScyros, Garvstus, and Naxos — Greek pirate nests —rnwere turned into Atiienian settlements. An “out-of-area” operationrninto the non-Greek eastern Mediterranean followed.rnWhile the Athenian task force to Egypt in 459 B.C. was a majorrndisaster, others were successfid and lucrative.rn/After 460 B.C., the Adienians gave up the pretense of consensualrnleadership and initiated hostilities witii Sparta’s allies—andrnsoon \ ith Sparta itself The fighting from 459 until 445 is sometimesrncalled the First Peloponnesian War, but it was a mere .skirmishrncompared to the war initiated in 451 B.C. At that time, thernAthenians became die sovereign power of much of Hellas, realizingrnfor themselves the dream of the king of Persia.rnThose proud men who had only recently won over the Spartansrnb- assuring them that nothing could enslave the Hellenesrnwere now trying to jrrstify their attihide by “three of die strongestrnnioties: fear, honor and interest.” “It has alwas been the lawrnthat die weaker should be subject to the stronger,” tlie’ said.rnTheir arrogance is re’ealcd by Thueydides:rnI Wjc know that men, bv a natural law, always rule whererntlie’ are stronger. We did not make that law nor were wernthe first to act on it; we found it existing, and it v’ill existrnforever, after we are gone; and we know that you and anyonernelse as strong as we are would do as we do.rnUnder Pericles’ inept successors, Athenian imperialismrnshowed its ugly face. In 416 B.C., the Athenians assaulted Melos,rna neutral Aegean island that had been reluctant to join thern.Athenian empire. Thev ordered the death of all Melian men ofrnmilitary age and the enslaenient of their women. The followingrnyear, the Athenians launched dieir fiital expedition againstrnSyracuse (the major Greek .state in Sicily), hoping to add Sicih’rnto their empire and thus become powerful enough “to rule thernwhole of die Greek world.” But the Syraeusans, supported byrnSparta, routed h’o Adienian fleets and a large army. I he warrndragged on until 404 B.C., when Adieus capitulated after its lastrnfleet was destroyed —b’ a Spartan fleet built with Persian nione.rnThe once great city-state was stripped of its empire.rnThueydides recognized that war is part of the human condition.rnHuman nature, which he depicts as grasping and insatiable,rnis reflected in international affairs. Moralit} is not arnguide: Even an outraged sense of justice generates strife and injustice.rnFurthermore, if the urge for domination is irresistible —rnas die Athenians claimed —it is value-neutral, rather than “unjirst.”rnTherefore, equal respect for ec|ual power, “just” or not, isrnthe prescription for stability and peace. It can be aehieedrndirough a balance of power.rnEuropeans imderstood this well, at least in the three centuriesrnbetween the Peace of Westphalia and World War I.rnAmerica’s present overseas interlocutors have been forced to relearnrnthe lesson: The logic of Madeleine Albright’s “indispen.sablernnation” leaves them no choice. The message of Thueydidesrnis that states threatened by an American “impcrium”rnshould take on a balancing role to discourage or contain the expandingrnpower of the United States.rn’Pile European Union, Russia, and China are beginning tornmiderstand this. .”As cruel as it may seem, a timely check fromrndie outside may be tiie best we can hope for America; an imbalancernneglected for too long can onK be resolved through therndisaster of war. ‘Phucydides sees such restraint on expansion asrndie only viable route to peace. T’liose who have the pov’er tornblock expansionism but fail to do so, he beliexed, are the truerncidprits. Thucvdidean prudence, if properly applied, can prolongrnperiods of peace and shorten periods of war.rnThe entire history of Athens, E.dniund Burke maintained,rnwas that of “Rashness, FolK, Ingratitude, Injustice, Tumult, Violence,rnand T’ranny, and indeed of ever)’ Species of Wickednessrnthat can well be imagined.” Concerning the DelianrnLeague in particular, he argued that the Athenians “began torntvrannize over tiieir Ec|uals . . . Widi their Prudence thev renouncedrnall Appearance of Justice.” Under Pericles, whomrnBarthelemy described (in die I8th century) as “the most dangerousrnof those leaders who paid court to the multitude,” diernAthenians “had the insolence to avow that the only law of nationsrnthey were acquainted with was force.”rnThere was far more to Athens than rashness and folly, as thernremains of Attic drama and the ruins of the public buildingsrnbuilt by Pericles and die Athenians during the heyday of diernempire attest. The legacy of our latter-day global hegemonistsrnis limited to Blair’s Millennium Dome, the bomb craters in thernBalkans, and the library of books that liae been published to exoneraterna criminal president who is as similar to Pericles asrnMadeleine Albright is to Athena.rncrnFEBRUARY 2001/1 7rnrnrn