The Delian League was an alliance of Greek city-states formed in 478 BC in order to confront and defeat the Persian Empire. Persia had conquered Asian Minor, including the Greek city-states, which were collectively known as Ionia. The Greeks had defeated the Persians at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea in the early 5th century BC, but the threat of Persia remained a concern and the fate of the Ionians was a primary concern of Athens, which saw itself as the defenders of the Ionian Greeks.
As is often the case, the Delian League lost its purpose after the Persian threat had been addressed, but the league never went away. Instead, it quickly turned into the Athenian Empire, as Athens came to dominate the member states. First the Athenians took control of the navy. Member states either supplied ships or money, but the navy was completely controlled by Athens. This made the member states entirely dependent on Athens for defense against Persians, pirates and other Greek city-states.
Then the Athenians took control of the money supply. Initially, a treasury was established on the sacred island of Delos in the Cyclades, hence the name of the alliance. Every member state was assessed an amount they had to contribute annually to the common treasury. The treasury was moved to Athens and each member state was required to pay tribute, based on an assessment set by Athens. For all practical purposes, the league was now an empire ruled by Athens.
This bit of ancient Greek history is useful to keep in mind when looking at what is happening in the West. The EU is the new Delian League, with Brussels playing the role of Athens. The European Union is an economic empire, so controlling the military is not important, especially since Europe is entirely dependent upon the United States for its defense. Any attempt by one state to use force against another would bring in the United States. That and Brussels does not control any military assets.
Instead, the European elite uses money to control the empire. Former Belgian prime minister and current leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, Guy Verhofstadt, said as much in a recent interview. In the view of European elites, the member states of Europe must abandon all of their sovereignty and become members of a European empire. Just as the member states of the Delian League would exist, but as subjects to Athens, the nations of Europe will be subjects of Brussels.
There are three problems with this analogy, as well as the motivating philosophy behind the concept. One is the Europeans have no military to speak of, at least not one that Brussels could use to project power. The Italians have a respectable military and the French still have some useful military units, but Brussels has nothing. It is one thing to crater the Greek economy, as Brussels did when SYRIZA tried to revolt. It is another to pull down her walls and take hostages as Athens did to Naxos in 476 BC.
Another problem, perhaps the biggest problem, with this analogy is the Delian League had a clear idea of the enemy. First they had the Persian Empire against whom they were defending the Greeks. That gave the League a clear purpose. Then in the war with Sparta, Athens was defending Greek democracy against tyranny. The current European elite is anti-democratic and it is unwilling to defend Europe against the Persia of this age, which is peripatetic Arabs and Africans.
The final problem with the analogy is the fact that Europe remains a province of the American Empire, which is the continuation of the British Empire. The Anglosphere continues to control the world, militarily, economically and culturally. That last bit is probably the most important regarding Europe. Walk through a shopping district in Europe and it reeks of American ghetto culture. The news in Europe is more about America than Europe. Brussels is playing at empire, but remains a vassal.
In that regard, this reality may explain why the American foreign policy elite is silent on Trump’s support for Brexit. His idea for a free trade and travel zone for the Five Eyes nations would solve a problem for dealing with Europe. If Brussels wants to have access to the vast trove of signal intelligence held by the Anglosphere, they have to play ball with the Anglosphere. This would allow the United State to reduce its footprint in Europe, thus lowering the cost of controlling the Europeans.
Putting that aside, the utility of this analogy is that even with control of the military and the money supply, the Athenians were never able to make their empire work. Even controlling some of Greece put them at odds with Sparta. The Peloponnesian War ended with the defeat of Athens at Battle of Aegospotami, but the cost of maintaining their empire was bleeding them dry. Most historians think the strategy of Pericles would have bankrupted the Athenians in a year or two, even if they won at Aegospotami.
That seems to be what is happening with the European Union. The revolt of the Greeks when SYRIZA came to power was a glimpse of what was coming. Now it is the Italians that are challenging the economic rule of Brussels. The cost of putting down that revolt will be orders of magnitude higher than suppressing the Greeks. The eventual withdraw of Britain will undermine much of the legitimacy and authority of Brussels, as Britain is unlikely to perish without protection from Brussels.
Then there are the populist movements that keep boiling up in every EU country, even core countries like Germany and France. As we see in the United States, the ruling class is petrified of these movements. They are willing to go to great lengths to suppress them, but the cost is becoming increasingly high. More important, suppression efforts seem to be converting more people to populism and nationalism. At some point in the near future, Brussels will be faced with its Aegospotami.
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