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  • Thucydides on Strategy: Grand Strategies in the Peloponnesian War and Their Relevance Today
  • Paul A. Rahe
Thucydides on Strategy: Grand Strategies in the Peloponnesian War and Their Relevance Today. By Athanassios G. Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. 256 pp. $27.50 (cloth).

Athanassios G. Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos wrote this slim volume "to demonstrate the contribution of Thucydides to strategic thought" by showing "that, although material conditions may change, the logic of conflict between organised entities remains constant throughout the millennia" (p. xi). Their intended audience [End Page 155] includes but is by no means restricted to students of grand strategy, and they have constructed their book in such a fashion that it could, in fact, serve as a primer to grand strategy for the uninitiated.

In the first of its five chapters, they explain in some detail the analytical framework that they have in mind, distinguishing what they call "policy" from the grand strategy required for its implementation; indicating the fashion in which grand strategy comprehends and is supported by military, political, economic, and diplomatic strategy; and showing the manner in which operations function as the instrument for implementing military strategy while tactics serve as the instrument for executing operations. In the process, they distinguish offensive, defensive, deterrent, and what they call "compellent" strategies, and they suggest five criteria by which to judge a given strategy's likelihood of success, suggesting that strategists consider whether it fits the external environment, whether the means deployed are adequate to the ends sought, whether it involves an efficient use of the available resources, whether it is internally coherent, and whether it is durable in the sense that it can be executed without crippling costs in the face of the mistakes and mishaps apt to occur.

In the second chapter, they apply this analytical framework to Athens and Sparta prior to the Peloponnesian War (432-404 B.C.E.). First, they examine each polity's strategic environment. Second, they explore the grand strategy devised by each in the wake of the Persian Wars. Third, they outline their relations during the so-called Pentakontaetia, the half-century between those two conflicts. Finally, they consider the reasons why each of the two cities opted for war in 432.

In the third chapter, Platias and Koliopoulos attempt to come to an understanding of the strategy devised by Pericles and for a time pursued by Athens and to assess it. In the fourth chapter, they do the same for Sparta. And in the final chapter, they attempt to show that Thucydides is a strategic thinker worthy of comparison to Sun Tzu and Clausewitz. To this end, they add an appendix, listing strategic concepts—such as alliances; appeasement; arms control; balance of power; internal balancing; bipolar international system; border disputes; coercive diplomacy; defense planning; deterrence; domino theory; economics and strategy; expected utility as an incentive for war; fear and national security policy; force-to-space ratio; friction, chance, and unpredictability in war; geography; horizontal escalation; hostile feelings; hostile intentions; domestic legitimacy; international legitimacy; logistics; loss-of-strength gradient; military discipline; military initiative; military necessity; military tactics; military training; misperceptions; morale; national character; national interest; naval power; neutrality; [End Page 156] numerical superiority; overextension; power; prestige; preventive war; concentration of force; unity of command; reputation as a strategic asset; security dilemma; surprise; terrain; and unequal growth—and quoting passages in which Thucydides deploys these concepts.

If the sole aim of the authors of this volume is their stated aim, it can be regarded as an unmitigated success. That Thucydides employs all or nearly all of the concepts devised in the course of the last two centuries for the purpose of analyzing grand strategy there can be no doubt. This is made evident in chapters 2-5, and Platias and Koliopoulos drive the point home in the book's appendix. Thucydides may not employ the particular (and sometimes peculiar) jargon used by grand strategists today, but he operated on the basis of the same overall conceptual understanding. No student of contemporary grand strategy who reads their book will emerge from the experience still perplexed in this regard, and students of history who do...


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