The Dialogue Today

Thucydides’s Melian Dialogue is one of the most prominent historical recordings of a pre-war negotiation. While it has been more than two millennia since the exchange was supposed to have taken place, the ideals of honor, interest and fear in the negotiation seem to have stood the test of time. One of the most politically volatile regions in the world, Ukraine, is a great portrayal of this fact.  

Dante lists pride as the most serious of his Seven Deadly Sins and looking at Eurasia today maybe the guy had a point. The reason most of all of this complicated bizarre confusion started was because of the image that both of these nation’s needed to keep; for their citizens and for the world. When the Melians asked why they can’t be allies with both sides the Athenians responded by saying “your friendship will be an argument to our subjects of our weakness.” Meanwhile in his article, Daniel Wagner of the Huffington Post and many similar theorists argue that Putin must maintain his influence on Ukraine because his citizen’s have a strong historical tie to the nation from the pre-Stalin days. The EU for the Russians is the same as the Lacedaemonians for the Athenians: possibilities of intrusion for insecure politicians. And that reasoning is why a large part of the Crimean Crisis started in the first place. The Ukrainians were about to enter into trade negotiations that may have had a chance to let them join the EU (too big of a chance for Putin’s liking anyway). So as they say history has a way of repeating itself. The one difference being that the Athenians actually had the guts to tell everyone that they were scared while most nations today don’t.

Sitting miles away I can try to imagine what is happening there and pretend to care but many Ukrainians can’t go to sleep at night thinking about the fact that tomorrow their nation may be run over; fear is imminent. The first thing Melians said when the Athenians entered the room is that in their opinion this negotiation is pointless. Why? Because even in that era militaries had scouts and they could clearly see the army that the Athenians were amassing towards their borders. Today as we saw before the aggressors have gotten more creative.

CNN reported recently that the Russians were sending an “aid convoy” of 227 vehicles to Ukraine. That is on top of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers they have massed on the Ukrainian border. To put a cherry on top of this humanitarian cake the Russians called it a Red Cross operation! As the Melians the Ukrainians called foul: “We call this a direct invasion for the first time under cynical cover of the Red Cross,” said Valentyn Nalyvaychenko the head of the state security service.

And last but definitely not the least comes interest. As cynical as the world is, there still has to be some method behind everyone’s madness. For Athens, Melos is of geographic importance. As you can see on the map, Melos was an island right
between Athens and its enemies towards the South and the East. Holding it was important to Athens’ progress in the Peloponnesian War. For Russia Ukraine plays a similar role. It almost acts like a buffer between Russia and various NATO / EU nations directly towards the west. But the most important reason Russia wants Ukraine is Sevastopol. Most of the waters around Russia freeze for most of the year (if you think Ann Arbor is cold try Moscow). The Black Sea as shown on the map offers Russia its only warm water port; if Russia were ever to fight a war anywhere between October and March its Navy must use Sevastopol to get places.

With all these similarities in place it would be woeful of me to overlook some of the differences that are present. The biggest reason for Ukraine’s independence right now is the counterbalance that the United States and its western allies have on Russia. This is something that the Melians really lacked, giving them a perhaps more lopsided bargain in the issue and changing the degrees of especially fear that are present. However for the most part, the central ideals are still present throughout this years.

Had Thucydides looked into the future he would have laughed and said “so many years later its the same thing all over again.” This Eurasian is just one example. If you look at the various conflicts that are taking place and have taken place in the world in the past century, most of them have a pre-war negotiation and most of them follow a same trend. For me it was really cool to see something that I thought was ancient when I read it still holds true today.

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One thought on “The Dialogue Today

  1. Hi Abhi,
    Wonderful analysis! I really enjoyed your comparison between the tension of Athenians and Melians and that of Russians and Ukrainians. You did a great job identifying characteristics in Thucydides’ pre-war negotiation and sophisticatedly relate this to the current event, which is similar to the idea of our first essay prompt.
    It’s great that you showed both similarities and differences in the past work and the current event, and I found many opinions of yours very inspiring. I would like to strongly second you on the amazement of how history repeats itself and how humanity and politics basically stay the same after thousands of years. Despite the fact that some of the elements must have changed, such as nations no longer publicly claim their fear as you suggested, and we need to analyze every event independently, nations are still in the game of honor, interest, and fear.
    Lastly, I want to add something not directly related to your post, but is my thoughts on this Russia-Ukraine conflict. I do think that many people in the U.S., including the mainstream media, tend to have a “thing” with Russia that could lead us focus on one side of this negotiation/potential war. Although it seems like Russia is the one who is not on the side of justice now, Ukraine has to take responsibility for the chaos it started by joining NATO against its strongest and closest ally’s will. After all, it takes two to make a quarrel.

    -Niaoniao

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