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Why Congress of Vienna Was Important for Great Power Diplomacy? Essay


Introduction

Dupont notes that the period before 1814 was characterized by social unrest and revolutions all over Europe1. Harold indicates that most of the conflicts between the powers were maintained without war after the establishment of the Congress of Vienna2. According to Dupont, the Great Powers attempted to form alliances in the pursuit of supremacy in Europe3. An example is Italy that was under the rule of Prime Minister Camillo di Cavour at the time and formed an alliance with France and Britain. This alliance was targeted at diminishing the power of Russia during the Crimean War. As a result of the merger, Italy was able to get military and diplomatic assistance from France and Britain.

The newly found power enabled Italy to defeat Austria in 1859. Bridge and Bullen note that Otto Von Bismarck from Prussia was able to defeat France after forming an alliance with Germany4. These are just some of the examples indicating the level of disorder and lack of diplomacy that characterized Europe in the 1800s. However, Moul argues that the Great Powers managed to have stable state systems despite the challenging environments created by nationalism, radicalism, and social revolutions5. In reference to Curtis, this balance can be attributed to the establishment of the Congress of Vienna between 1814 and 18156.

The main objective behind its creation was the promotion of diplomacy in Europe and the prevention of future revolutions7. The Congress of Vienna was formed after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte because the leaders wanted to establish long-lasting solutions to peace and stability in Europe. The aim of the current research is to assess the importance of the Congress of Vienna in promoting Great Power diplomacy. Specifically, the essay analyzes some of the events that took place from 1814 to 1914.

Establishment of the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815)

In reference to Curtis8, it is important to assess the structures of the European states and the Great Powers systems before 1814 in an effort to understand the reasons behind the establishment of the Congress of Vienna. The political structures of the European countries consisted of various types of successional leadership. While some countries had bureaucratic rulers, others had aristocrats who ruled the people for decades. Dupont9 It also notes that the Great Powers were characterized by different political systems. Some of the nations had liberal constitutional empires, while others were conservatives. Despite these differences, the powers shared similar cultural, religious, and social features. During the 1700s, Europe was characterized by ever-shifting wars that led to the formation of the Great Powers10.

In an analysis of the Great Powers, Dupont acknowledges that Great Britain was an expanding empire whose main objective was economic development, while Russia was a rising political and military power in the region11. Additionally, France wanted to dominate the cultural and military systems in the region, Prussia was a military hub and had technologically advanced weapons, and Austria had an ancient culture that spread throughout the European region12.

The Congress of Vienna took place between November 1814 and June 1815, and it involved a series of meetings between the Great Power leaders13. The Congress was originally planned to last for five weeks but went on for about eight months. According to Schroeder14, the fall of the Napoleon Empire was one of the major reasons behind the convention. Dupont notes that the end of the Napoleon Empire presented an unparalleled era that ensured the establishment of social and political balance across Europe15.

After the collapse of the Napoleon Empire, there were no major conflicts that occurred in Europe until 1914. Curtis16 This indicates that the role of the Congress of Vienna was the restoration of the 18th-century diplomacy across the region. According to Dunning17, there were three major principles that were developed during the Congress of Vienna. The first principle was legitimacy, which stated that only the regal states in the region were allowed to be sovereign. Second, the countries destroyed under the Napoleon Empire had to be compensated. France was forced to give up all the states conquered during Napoleon’s command. Third, the Great Powers were required to form alliances in an effort to prevent the re-occurrence of Napoleon-like regimes in the future. The ‘Holy Alliance’ was finally formed in the period between 1815 and 1818. The first alliance was formed between Prussia, Russia, and Austria, while the second coalition was formed between Britain and France. However, Dupont18 Note that these alliances did not prevent the occurrence of conflicts in the future.

Mark indicates that Klemens Von Metternich, a minister from Austria, played one of the most significant roles in the convention19. He was previously against the French Revolution and accused Napoleon of experimenting with democracy. Metternich also indicated that the stability of laws should never be taken for granted or changed. Mark20 also states that Metternich had three reasons for attending the Congress of Vienna. First, he sought to prevent the existence of Napoleon-like rulers in the future. Second, he argued that restoring the balance of power would promote peace and prevent conflicts between nations. Lastly, he wanted to restore Europe’s imperial structure back to what it was before the French Revolution. Bridge and Bullen note that France was the main topic of discussion during the meeting, and the Congress had to take various steps to strengthen some of the weak countries in a bid to avoid their conquest in the future21.

Kissinger notes that the Dutch and the Austrian Netherlands formed the Kingdom of Netherlands through an alliance22. Additionally, the German Confederation was formed through an alliance of 39 states. Lastly, there was an alliance between Sardinia and Genoa. Curtis argues that the congress did not intend to leave France powerless, as it would have prevented in the future23. In this view, Congress ruled for France to be part of the Great Power. However, France was not allowed to conquer other states.

The application of all the aforementioned measures resulted in the immediate triumph of the Congress of Vienna. Dupont24 Acknowledges that all the countries were finally able to control their political issues, and the measures ensured that none of the powers were angry. Although the Congress of Vienna was unable to prevent the occurrence of the First and Second World Wars, it was the most successful convention in regard to restoring the balance of power in Europe25.

The majority of the critical decisions in the Congress were made by Prussia, Russia, Great Britain, and Austria, which were considered the major powers. In reference to Schroeder, these powers also agreed that France and Spain would not take part in major decisions26. Bridge and Bullen note that the majority of the decisions made by the Congress of Vienna had been determined during previous agreements that followed the 1700’s revolutions27. However, Congress was faced with the problem of determining the fate of Prussia and Austria. King Napoleon had previously merged the two territories to create the Grand Dutch of Warsaw. Additionally, he had left Austria and Prussia under the rule of the King of Saxony. According to Dupont, Metternich expressed his regret in committing Austria to Saxony through the Treaty of Teplitz28. Despite such challenges, the Congress of Vienna played a significant role in restoring the balance of power in Europe. The following years would truly determine the legitimacy of the convention.

Importance of the Congress of Vienna in Great Power diplomacy (1814-1914)

Bridge and Bullen note that the balance of power agreed upon by the Congress of Vienna played a significant role in promoting diplomacy in Europe in the following century29. The Congress of Vienna promoted diplomacy in Europe first, and then spread it to the rest of the world. Curtis30 indicates that such balance of power was Eurocentric and the Congress was regarded as the greatest idea that the world had ever seen for centuries. It was important for other nations in America and the Latin America to devise such a convention in a bid to restore order and prevent future revolutions and external attacks. Curtis argues that the balance of power in Europe was ‘Great-Power-centric’ after the creation of the Congress of Vienna31.

This means that the fate of the weaker powers was determined by the decisions made by the stronger Powers. Moreover, the weaker powers were required to play a supporting role in the move to uphold the balance of power. According to Mark, the Congress of Vienna ensured that the Great Powers were responsible for the conduct of the weaker nations and promoted their peace and stability32. This implied that the Great Powers had an important role in intervening in case of crisis involving the smaller powers. Dupont notes that the convention agreed on the creation of professional diplomats whose roles involved the promotion of the professional uniqueness of Europe despite the different political structures in the countries33.

The main aim of these diplomats was the preservation of peace in the region. According to the Congress of Vienna, diplomatic negotiation had to be unceasing and confidential, and hence promoting peace.

Mark notes that the period between 1815 and 1848 was very challenging to Great Britain34. After establishing successful wartime diplomatic governance, the country attempted the creation of ambitious peacetime alliance diplomacy. This author acknowledges that Britain wanted to create a structure of integrated security based on regal legitimacy. Moreover, the country wanted to take part in the international congresses in a bid to maintain the balance of power in a diplomatic manner. During this era, Lord Castlereagh was the foreign secretary of Great Britain. The post-war treaties and the coalitions inspired his efforts to take after Napoleon.

According to Dupont35 such collective security measures established after the Congress of Vienna were not long lived. However, the notion of a less institutionalized but operational ‘Concert of Europe’ with individual countries acting as international directorates was able to promote peace in the following years. Dupont also indicates that the system permitted minor adjustments to the existing order for more than 40 years36.

In addition, the ‘Concert of Europe’ was able to guide Europe in its pursuit for peace and stability in the next century. Specifically, the Concert was able to promote the continent’s efforts to remain united and maintain the alliance of the Great powers. As a result, these powers were able to defend their regal legitimacy against the threats posed by various non-state players. Notably, the Congress of Vienna also played a significant role in dealing with the revolutions in Belgium, France and Poland in 1830 and assisted in the restoration of peace.

In the period between October and December 1814, the Congress of Vienna spearheaded negotiations to deal with the issue of Poland and Saxony. In reference to Mark, the negotiations resulted in a stalemate despite the involvement of all the Great Powers and professional diplomats37. This resulted in conflicts among the members and almost led to the termination of the Congress. After the negotiations, more conflicts between Austria, France, and Britain arose. Additionally, the relations between Prussia and Russia were affected. As a result, the Great Powers held secret negotiations to end the impasses. These negotiations resulted in the formation of the secret treaty in 1815. According to Dupont, the treaty led to the development of opposing alliances among the big “Five”38.

Although this happened during its early days, it is an indication of the role that the Congress of Vienna played in preventing an armed confrontation between the Great Powers. In reference to Mark, another significant development that occurred during the Vienna convention was the creation of the Final Act39. This was a general agreement that supported the formation of the Peace Treaty. All the members except Spain signed it. The role of the Peace Treaty was to eliminate the possibility of any new common danger after Napoleon. Mark40 also indicates that the Congress of Vienna established the Conference System, which ensured that the members of the alliance met regularly to discuss any issues relating to peace and stability. Schroeder reports that the Conference System ensured that conflicts were resolved early enough before they got out of hand41.

However, such meetings were complicated by the presence of the ‘Holy Alliance’ and opposing interests among some of the members of the Great Power. Mark acknowledges that these incompatibilities affected the success of the Congress of Vienna and the Conference System had to be abolished in the 1820’s42.

Rao indicates that the European democracy continued to reign between 1871 and 191443. The balance of power concentrated on the peaceful competitions between the Great Powers. There were also contests over the management of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and most of the Great Powers displayed their interests in expanding their colonies to Asia and Africa. During this period, Bismarck had gathered the Great Powers in Berlin in 1878 to discuss the war between Russia and Turkey that took place between 1877 and 1878. The meeting prevented further spread of the Russo-Turkish War. Rao acknowledges that the principles and regulations highlighted by the Congress of Vienna played an important role in stopping this war44. Moreover, Bismarck greatly promoted the diplomatic resolutions of the Congress. Another example was in 1885, when he assembled the Great Powers in an effort to settle disputes that had arisen due to the divide of the African colonies. Zamoyski acknowledges the fact that the Congress of Vienna’s resolutions played an important part in the promotion of diplomacy in matters regarding the military, nationalism, and economic expansion45.

Prior to the Congress, the military structures of the Great Powers were complex elements of the national powers. After the Congress of Vienna, these structures were incorporated into the diplomatic order. Moreover, individual states began to support the notion of cultural diplomacy, which further promoted peace and stability throughout Europe. Rao46 notes that diplomacy continued to be a critical element in the balance of power throughout the 1800’s. The Congress of Vienna promoted the creation of an arc of buffer states in Eastern France, which were involved in the promotion of peace and taming of France. The Kingdom of the United Netherlands and the extension of Prussia to Rhineland constituted the buffer states. Furthermore, France was given Savoy and Nice territories and this ensured that it was unable to conquer the countries in the northeast and southeast.

The capability of the Congress to shut off France promoted peace and absence of war between 1815 and 1914. Zamoyski explains that the focus on shutting off France was because it was very strong between 1795 and 1814 and it was responsible for most of the conquests and wars that took place in Europe before the Congress of Vienna47. The Congress promoted the belief that the powers were equally strong and the presence of war would limit the balance of power in the region and prevent diplomacy.

Zamoyski indicates that the rise of other Great Powers after 1814 prevented the concentration of power in France48. Russia grew to become a military power in the east, while Prussia and Austria dominated the west. Therefore, the balance of power was ensured throughout Europe. Mark commends the presence of the Congress system brought about by the formation of the Quadruple alliance49. This system strengthened the resolutions of the Congress of Vienna since it was formed to ensure that conflicts were resolved as soon as they arose. In the period between 1818 and 1822, the Great Powers were able to hold four meetings that avoided the occurrence of conflicts caused by France.

At the end of these meetings, the members of the Quadruple alliance resolved to incorporate France into the coalition. This improved the relation between France and the weaker powers and it was no longer a threat to stability in the region. In this regard, Zamoyski outlines two major factors that enhanced the promotion of peace and diplomacy throughout Europe; Vienna Settlement and the Congress system50.

Undoubtedly, the resolutions of the Congress of Vienna to encircle France with buffer states led to the promotion of Great Power diplomacy. Moreover, the incorporation of France into the alliance stopped its plans to revenge against the Great Powers. In summary, Mark reports that the Congress of Vienna not only prevented future aggression but also provided solutions that ensured that peace and order were sustained in the region for the next century51.

Brian argues against the notion of the presence of balance of power in Europe52. The author notes that there was actually a power imbalance after the Congress of Vienna. In his analysis, he notes that the so-called balance of power constituted five states; two at the borders and three were centralized. The author argues that Russia had more intrinsic resources compared to all the other Great powers, while Britain was a super power with regard to its financial and economic capacity53.

In this view, there was no balance of power, and Europe failed to recognize that some powers were actually greater than others. At the same time, France, Austria, and Prussia were weaker and only enjoyed the notion of power based on their geography. Britain and Russia were so powerful and invincible that an alliance between the weaker powers could not defeat any of them. Thus, the structural system was just imbalanced in relation to the military and economic capacities of the different alliances.

However, Schroeder54 argues that the presence of Russia and Britain as Great Powers promoted security, peace, and stability in Europe. Moreover, the peace experienced during the era after the Congress of Vienna was incomparable to the experiences during Napoleon’s reign, an indication that the Congress actually promoted diplomacy. Kissinger also notes that the geographical location of Britain and Russia inhibited their abilities to curb any conflicts that arose in other parts of Europe55. An example is the planned attack of Italy by France between 1830 and 1832. During the possible attack, Britain was not available, while Italy was in doubt regarding the genuineness of help from Russia. Despite these arguments, the Congress of Vienna promoted the ability of the Great powers to manage their diplomatic relations with no major conflicts reported until 1914. Mark notes that the Great Powers were unable to come to a reasonable conclusion in 1914, and this marked the beginning of the First World War56. Furthermore, the First World War was the end of the Great Power system and the establishment of the global state systems across Europe.

Conclusion

Curtis notes that the establishment of the Congress of Vienna brought about peace and stability in Europe57. During the Napoleon era, France’s military capabilities enabled the conquest of weaker states in the region. Moreover, there were constant conflicts involving France and other Great Powers in Europe. ˇSedivy58 reports that the main reason behind the Congress of Vienna was to bring to an end the Napoleon reign and protect Europe against future revolutions. The congress of Vienna was formed following the defeat of Napoleon as Great Power leaders saw an opportunity to promote the much-needed peace in the region. The Napoleon regime had elicited social and political disorder across Europe. During the initial days, the Congress experienced challenges in the negotiations between Poland and Saxony. However, a peace deal was formed later after successive meetings. Mark notes that the creation of the Congress of Vienna enabled the Great Powers to solve crises in an amicable manner with the help of the professional diplomats59.

However, Brian indicates that Europe was characterized by power imbalance as Russia and Britain were financially and military stronger than the other powers60. This author seems to disapprove the success of the Congress of Vienna in promoting diplomacy and balance of power. In conclusion, the peace and stability experienced after the Congress of Vienna is incomparable to the situation during the Napoleon era. Although there are arguments stating that the power was actually imbalanced, the Congress promoted peace and diplomatic ties between these powers. The occurrence of conflicts was resolved early enough preventing any major wars between 1814 and 1914.

Bibliography

Brian , Vick. The Congress of Vienna: Power and politics after Napoleon. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Bridge, F R, and Roger Bullen. The Great Powers and the European States System 1814–1914. New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2005.

Curtis, Nathan D. Castlereagh at the Congress of Vienna: Maintaining the peace, political realism, and the encirclement of France. Ann Arbor, Michigan: ProQuest LLC, 2014.

Dunning, William A. “Theories of Constitutional Government after the Congress of Vienna.” Political Science Quarterly 34, no. 1 (1919): 1-32.

Dupont, Christophe. “History and Coalitions: The Vienna Congress.” International Negotiation 8, no. 5 (2003): 169–178.

Harold, Nicolson. The Congress of Vienna: A study in allied unity 1812-1822. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1946.

Kissinger, Henry A. “The Congress of Vienna: A reappraisal.” World Politics 8, no. 2 (1956): 264-280.

Mark, Jarrett. The Congress of Vienna and its legacy; War and Great Power diplomacy after Napoleon. London: I.B Tauris, 2013.

Moul, William B. “Balances of power and European Great Power War, 1815-1839: A suggestion and some evidence.” Canadian Journal of Politics 18, no. 3 (1985): 481-528.

Rao, B V. History of modern Europe: A.D. 1789-2002. Elgin: New Dawn Press, 2006.

Schroeder, Paul W. “Did the Vienna settlement rest on a balance of power?” The American Historical Review 97, no. 3 (1992): 683-706.

ˇSedivy, Miroslav. Metternich, the Great Powers, and the Eastern question. Pilsen: University of West Bohemia, 2013.

Zamoyski, Adam. Rites of peace, the fall of Napoleon, and the Congress of Vienna. London: Harper Perennial, 2007.

Footnotes

  1. Dupont, Christophe. “History and Coalitions: The Vienna Congress.” International Negotiation 8, no. 5 (2003): 169–178.
  2. Harold, Nicolson. The Congress of Vienna: A study in allied unity 1812-1822. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1946), 64.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Bridge, F R, and Roger Bullen. The Great Powers and the European States System 1814–1914. (New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2005), 36.
  5. Moul, William B. “Balances of power and European Great Power War, 1815-1839: A suggestion and some evidence.” Canadian Journal of Politics 18, no. 3 (1985): 481-528.
  6. Curtis, Nathan D. Castlereagh at the Congress of Vienna: Maintaining the peace, political realism, and the encirclement of France. (Ann Arbor, Michigan: ProQuest LLC, 2014), 18-30.
  7. ˇSedivy, Miroslav. Metternich, the Great Powers, and the Eastern question. (Pilsen: University of West Bohemia, 2013), 11-25.
  8. Ibid., 6.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid., 6.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., 6.
  13. Kissinger, Henry A. “The Congress of Vienna: A reappraisal.” World Politics 8, no. 2 (1956): 264-280.
  14. Schroeder, Paul W. “Did the Vienna settlement rest on a balance of power?” The American Historical Review 97, no. 3 (1992): 683-706.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid., 6.
  17. Dunning, William A. “Theories of constitutional government after the Congress of Vienna.” Political Science Quarterly 34, no. 1 (1919): 1-32.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Mark, Jarrett. The Congress of Vienna and its legacy; War and Great Power Diplomacy after Napoleon. (London: I.B Tauris, 2013), 34-47.
  20. Ibid., 19.
  21. Ibid., 4.
  22. Ibid., 13.
  23. Ibid., 6.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid., 13.
  26. Ibid., 14.
  27. Ibid., 4.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid., 4.
  30. Ibid., 6.
  31. Ibid., 6.
  32. Ibid., 19.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid., 19.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid., 19.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Ibid., 19.
  40. Ibid., 19.
  41. Ibid., 14.
  42. Ibid., 19.
  43. Rao, B V. History of modern Europe: A.D. 1789-2002. (Elgin: New Dawn Press, 2006), 45-52.
  44. Ibid., 43.
  45. Zamoyski, Adam. Rites of peace, the fall of Napoleon, and the Congress of Vienna. (London: Harper Perennial, 2007), 1-11.
  46. Ibid., 43.
  47. Ibid., 45.
  48. Ibid., 45.
  49. Ibid., 19.
  50. Ibid., 45.
  51. Ibid., 19.
  52. Brian , Vick. The Congress of Vienna: Power and politics after Napoleon. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2014), 15-24.
  53. Ibid., 52.
  54. Ibid., 14
  55. Ibid., 13.
  56. Ibid., 19.
  57. Ibid., 6.
  58. Ibid., 7.
  59. Ibid., 19.
  60. Ibid., 52.
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IvyPanda. (2020, June 21). Why Congress of Vienna Was Important for Great Power Diplomacy? Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/why-congress-of-vienna-was-important-for-great-power-diplomacy/

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"Why Congress of Vienna Was Important for Great Power Diplomacy?" IvyPanda, 21 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/why-congress-of-vienna-was-important-for-great-power-diplomacy/.

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IvyPanda. "Why Congress of Vienna Was Important for Great Power Diplomacy?" June 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/why-congress-of-vienna-was-important-for-great-power-diplomacy/.

References

IvyPanda. 2020. "Why Congress of Vienna Was Important for Great Power Diplomacy?" June 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/why-congress-of-vienna-was-important-for-great-power-diplomacy/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Why Congress of Vienna Was Important for Great Power Diplomacy'. 21 June.

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