THE CONGRESS OF VIENNA: AN ATTEMPT FOR THE BALANCE OF POWER OR COMPOSITION OF A NEW HEGEMONY?

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THE CONGRESS OF VIENNA: AN ATTEMPT FOR THE BALANCE OF POWER OR COMPOSITION OF A NEW HEGEMONY?

“In the intercourse between nations we are apt to rely too much on the instrumental part… men are not tied together by paper and seals” – Edmund Burke

The Congress of Vienna holds one of the most important negotiation processes of the modern era. It is considered as a milestone of modern diplomacy, not only maintains peace but also shapes power status of modern Europe. This article aims to analyze negotiations under the Congress, while giving historical background. Is it considered as a balance of power or constitution of a new hegemony? How about diplomats and soldiers? How can power shift or what the winning countries aim?

According to Chapman, in order to understand the conditions that lead to the Congress of Vienna we have to take a look at the French Revolution (Chapman, p. 1). France was boiling in 18th century and the middle class was far being satisfied about its state in the Empire. Along with devoted revolutionaries, middle class bourgeoisie and lower-class were actors of the revolution, while middle class left as the most advantageous from it. After the revolution, France became a republic and new ideologies emerged; Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Those ideologies were new and they altered not only France, but also shape the whole Europe while becoming tools under French expansionism.

French Revolution eventually caused a tyrant, Napoleon 1st, who assumed power in 1804. He was both visionary and adventurous and very much enthusiastic about expanding territories of France, as well as the new ideologies. Napoleon first consolidated his power in France and then attacked respectively to Austria, Prussia and Russia. He defeated Austria in 1805 at Austerlitz, Prussia in 1806 at Jena and Russia in 1807 at Friedland. After three victories France had still need to eliminate Great Britain in order to achieve the target of being the sole power in Europe. Eventually, French Army turned its appetite to Spanish Peninsula as well. Nevertheless, in 1812 Napoleon decided to attack to Russia once again, this was the beginning of an end. This time Russian Army retreated to hinterland of Russia and did not give Napoleon a pitched battle, which he was in favor of. Napoleon chased after the Russian Army to Moscow, but after a while, he was forced to return due to hard winter conditions and weakening of its logistics. Alexander 1st, the Russian Tsar, was chasing Napoleon’s Army during the retreat and beyond the Russian frontier Prussians and Austrians joined to Russian Army.  Britain was also attacking France from the southern façade. Napoleon lost nine tenth of his soldiers during the retreat and this adventurous invasion attempt caused his end. Eventually, Castlereagh, British Foreign Minister, put together all four countries and formed an alliance. The Fourth Coalition was established in 1813 in order to push back Napoleon in French territories. Defeat of the France was mainly pioneered by Britain and Russia. However Russia held the major responsibility for French retreat from Russia and Europe. Thanks to Russia’s aim during the Napoleonic Wars, Austria and Prussia could retrieve their lands. Russia’s aim was not to invade Europe but liberate her from the French occupation. Great Britain had spent enormous money to the war, especially in Spain and Portugal, and in the end she attempted to get reparation money from France.

At 19th century, land was nearly everything. It was proportional with economy, work force and military power. Hence, winner states were looking forward to gain some extra lands while it was quite impossible when we consider the balance of power in Europe.

Britain was the first state who came up with the idea of “Balance of Power” in order to form a stable and peaceful Europe. Castlereagh’s intention was also parallel to this end and he took some precautions. For example, Great Britain annexed Ireland just after the Napoleon’s defeat with the cover of her safety from an attack from the mainland Europe, especially from France. Actually time justified her move, Napoleon had escaped from Elba, the island he was prisoned, during the peace talks and the Quadruple Alliance had had to defeat him once again at Waterloo in 1815. Just for a brief three months Napoleon once again assumed the power and France fought with the Quadruple Alliance. Britain’s lean for balance was actually in order to protect of her hegemony throughout Europe. A free Spain and Portugal following to Wellington’s peninsular campaign and a strong Central Europe due to a possibility of French or Russian invasion overlapped with British interests (Chapman, p. 17). In this end, Britain recommended Austria to invade Italy and Prussia to annex German states.

Metternich, Austrian PM and her representative in Congress of Vienna also wanted a balance in Europe and a strong Central Europe due to Austria’s geographic stance and vulnerability to a potential Russian invasion. At that point, Metternich and Castlereagh were standing at the same point about the future of Europe only Castlereagh seemed to be more flexible than Metternich to Prussia’s claim of Germany.

Prussia was being confident while looking for gaining some extra lands and her needs and interests stood together with and in some sense relied on Russia. Russia had a huge territorial army while Prussia was ready to bring life to the old alliance; Russia was not an enemy once again. Prussia’s claim on Saxony and Russia’s claim on Poland was not acceptable to Great Britain and Austria-Hungarian Empire, due to the fact that an annexation of Poland by Russian Empire would bring an end to European balance. Russia was also interested in acquiring ports in Black Sea and to impose her influence in the Balkans. Balkan campaign of Russia collided with Austria’s interest by the fact that Balkans being a backyard for Austria-Hungarian Empire. Acquiring ports in Black Sea could also pose some threats to British colonies in Asia and Africa. It had seemed that Russian’s need to negotiate her claims with Britain and Austria whereas Alexander 1st was not a big fan of diplomacy and not willing to talk about concerns of Austria and France. Russia held six hundred military units at the time and Alexander 1st was not seeing any need to negotiate. Besides, Russia defeated France almost by herself and rescued Europe from a Napoleonic invasion, which made Russian’s hand very strong.

France, as a beaten actor, entered to negotiations with the diplomatic maneuver of Talleyrand, who was the representative of France in the Congress of Vienna. He was also in favor of balance in Europe whereas he was also aware of the strength of France. France had the largest population and the largest army in other words any harsh conditions for peace could hurt the balance all together and could cause confrontation of two major armies. In order to avoid another total war, Talleyrand was also aware of France had had to act moderate and in a goodwill.

Treaty of Kalisch was the first treaty after the war and signed between Prussia, Russia and France in 1813. Because of the concerns of Austria, Britain and their war threats; Russian’s had to give away her rights to annex Poland and to govern the Black Sea coasts and the alliance between Russia and Prussia ceased to an end. With the treaty, Prussia would have got Saxony and German states. Treaty of Kalisch was kind of a triggering treaty which would lead to others. Treaty of Reichenbach was signed by Austria, Russia and Prussia on 27 June of 1813. According to the treaty Austria had joined to the war against France and the Poland’s fate would be in the hands of the three signatory states. On September 1813, Treaty of Teplitz was signed and three powers had agreed that Poland’s fate could be decided “amicably” and their borders would stay as it was in 1805. On November 9th of 1813, Frankfurt Proposal had come up with an idea that France’s east frontier should be marked by River Rhine. Between January 18th and 22nd Basel Conference was made, in which Castlereagh and Metternich had agreed on “balance of power”. Between January 24th and 28th 1814, Langress Conference had assembled, in which it was agreed that the colonies were to be off discussion and France had had to leave the colonies which she had gained during the Napoleonic Wars. On March 19th Treaty of Chaumont was signed by Russia, Prussia and Britain. According to treaty, signatory states had agreed on keeping the alliance against France for twenty years. They had also agreed on Germany to become a confederation, Switzerland to be independent, Italy to be composed by separate states, Spain to be free and would be ruled by a Bourbon king, Holland to be enlarged and would be ruled by Prince of Orange. Through the Treaty of Chaumont, balance of power started to take a shape, Tsar’s insist on Poland was delayed until the Congress of Vienna, the Quadruple Alliance was to be formed. Nevertheless, with those treaties only small disagreements to be solved, there were still concerns about how to form a secure Europe, in the end this was all states fighting for.

We can see the territorial settlements in three agreements which were signed between 1814 and 1815. First one was the Treaty of Paris 1st, signed on May 30th of 1814, and aimed Napoleon’s withdrawal from the French throne. The second agreement was three months long the Final Act of Congress of Vienna, signed on June 1815, had contained lot of postwar settlement and uneasy negotiations. Last one is the Treaty of Paris 2nd, which was signed due to the war Napoleon made after he had escaped from Elba, assumed power and had defeated in Waterloo.

During the Congress of Vienna we see two different alliances. First one was the Holy Alliance, led by Tsar, which had intended to form a Christian alliance. Tsar was in favor of a peaceful Europe that devoted to Christian values. While Austrians and Prussians were ready to commit themselves to the Holy Alliance, Great Britain and Vatican were not comfortable with the idea. Holy See was against to the alliance because it would be led by Orthodox Russia. On the other hand Great Britain was also staying opposite to the alliance due to her strong suspicious about Russia. British did not want Russians to become powerful than it was, they could barely balance Russia’s aims in Europe, and Castlereagh was thinking that more powerful Russia would be catastrophic for British national interest. In the end the Holy alliance had doomed to fail. As a matter of fact no other countries than Russia was really devoted to the idea. Even Metternich had seen the Holy Alliance as “loud sounding nothing” (Chapman, 61). After the failure of the Holy Alliance, Quadruple Alliance talks had started. The Alliance would only cover winner states and no other would be permitted to join. The Quadruple Alliance had also failed because every country had had their own interests and there were not any sign to demise their sovereignty in order to achieve peace. They were even not very enthusiastic about attending to conferences, four years between 1818 and 1822 no conference were made. States of the Quadruple Alliance were only keeping contact through their ambassadors and diplomats in charge. Eventually those had cause to the failure of the Quadruple Alliance.

In the end, Congress of Vienna failed yet Europe had enjoyed a peaceful era during the talks between 1813 and 1830. Reason for the failure can be considered as the appearance of the Eastern Question, Germany’s unification, unification of Italy and the Spanish rebellion.

Concept of balance was the most important term in order to understand and explain the 19th century Europe. All dominant states were benefitting from this system of balance and they were forcing each other to limit their appetites in order to keep the balance. Hence, big territorial expansions could drastically end the peace.

Schroeder, author of the article “Did Vienna Settlement Rest on a Balance of Power?”, has a differing point in order to define Congress of Vienna whether it was a balance of power attempt or not (Schroeder, p. 684). According to Schroeder, the pursuit of hegemony between Russian Empire and Great Britain haunted most of the Congress of Vienna. Neither of them had trusted each other and in a sense they were like fencing players who are always “En Garde”. At that point Schroeder is critical about the term “balance of power” used by Chapman. The only target for the powerful states was to implement their hegemony rather than to form a balance. Maybe in a sense they were forming a balance but mostly to protect their hegemonic aims and interests. Schroeder is explaining competition for hegemony between Britain and Russia by stating that Great Britain’s influence were being acceptable by the continental Europe, especially by Prussia and Austria whereas some secret coalition talks and agreement were also made. Britain, as an occidental power, her route to colonies was in danger by a powerful Russia and had formed a coalition of Fourth while also stepping in to secret agreements in order to reduce the envisaged Russian threat.

The Fourth Coalition had decided to make French to pay reparations. According to White, author of “Making the French pay: The cost and consequences of the Napoleonic reparations”, repair money was crucial to have a Europe which is in balance and those reparations should also be very useful at construction of an earlier peace. France had paid huge reparation but in return she gained her honor and credibility back. Her incentive to pay the reparations was able to make the French once again one of the dominant actors in European politics. Thanks to genius diplomacy of Talleyrand, France had negotiated wisely. Again the equilibrium in Europe was related to war reparations after all France was composing an important piece in balance, without France in the picture a real balance of power could not be achieved.

French reparation payment was interesting in a way of its funding. French first had tried to pay from their budget but as soon as they understood it won’t be quite possible they took loans from victor states. The loans were covered with tax increase and exports. Compare to hitherto major world wars, French reparation payments were the by far most successful one, although French had to pay reparation twice; once after the first defeat of Napoleon and the second after Waterloo.

Sofer, author of “Guardians of the Practitioners’ virtue: Diplomats at the Warrior’s Den”, thinks that there is a misleading idea going on about diplomats. He claims that diplomats were known as timid civil servants who were irresponsive to crucial things. Sofer gives specific examples about clash of diplomats and soldiers. He cites that the confrontation between Metternich and Castlereagh is one side, Napoleon in the other side (Sofer, 1). Napoleon might be conquered whole Europe but France could hold on that expanded territories for a short time. And then Prussia’s alliance with Russia during the treaty of Kalisch had revealed Prussia’s hunger for lands. According to Chapman, Prussia’s aggressiveness was caused by the fact that Frederick William 3rd and his advisor Hardenberg were surrounded by number of generals.

As Sofer claims there are two different understanding in peace and international issues. Diplomats are to act more prudent than soldiers and also can be flexible according to the condition. For example soldiers think as Hobbesians, while believing in world is an arena of conflict and in order stay safe one has to possess huge lands and military power. Naturally at that time land was the key to military and economic power as it was stated before. Soldiers are Hobessians because they have to decide in a stressed environment, in frontier, while diplomats tend to be more relaxed while taking decisions.

Although, international relations between 1815 and 1830 showed that the congress system failed it is obvious that the Congress of Vienna process have an important role in European history. Modern states were enforced and great powers of the 1815-1830 had played crucial part in it. Otherwise, system’s failure had led to two camped world which caused the First World War. It is also true that a more conservative Europe was to be composed after the Napoleonic Wars, the Holly Alliance was formed for a short time in an attempt to bring back Christian mysticism and France were back to be ruled by the Bourbon Dynasty for a short time.

During the world history we see few terms of balance of power. Maybe the most astonishing one is the time between 1815 and 1830. Power shifts, alliance shifts had turned nearly all coalitions ambiguous and instable. Different hegemons and their altering interests make quite amusing to read or write about this era. Various points of view by diplomats, statesmen and soldiers enhance the dynamism of the negotiations.

Congress of Vienna is important for us to understand today’s world order as well. France has got motives that are very much bigger than her capacity and she always wants to stand out from European states. Her relation today with EU countries is all about constitution of larger zone of influence as well as her talks with Russia to balance Germany and Britain. Great Britain was and is always being distant to Europe while using it for its territorial and economic survival. Russia is waiting to be seen as a European state, whereas constantly pushed away in order to become a more radical actor. Germany is also being an important actor for the European peace, when she tends to be aggressive a war is breaking out eventually.

Finally, Congress of Vienna can be seen both a hopeless attend for peace and also constitution of new hegemony through Europe. Powerful states of that era were both inclined to gain power and also were trying to limit their appetite because of a possibility for a destructive war. The war they were waiting broke out in 1915, till then they were successfully avoided it. There are lot to learn from the post-Napoleonic wars and Congress of Vienna and also leaders can get help in order to understand today’s politics.

Basri Alp AKINCI

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Chapman, Tim. The Congress of Vienna. London: Routledge, 1998.
  • Dupont, Christophe. “History and Coalitions: The Vienna Congress (1814-1815)”. International Negotiation, 8 (2003): 169-78.
  • Midlarsky, Manus I. “Equilibria in the Nineteenth-Century Balance-of-Power System”. American Journal of Political Science, 25 (1981): 270-95.
  • Nicholson, Harold. The Congress of Vienna- A Study in Allied Unity: 1812-1822. London: HBJ Book, 1946.
  • Schroeder, Paul W. “Did the Vienna Settlement Rest on a Balance of Power?”. American Historical Review, Vol. 97, No: 3, 1992, 683-706.
  • Sofer, Sasson. “Guardians of the Practitioners’ Virtue: Diplomats at the Warriors’ Den”. Diplomacy and Statecraft, 16 (2005): 1-12.
  • White, Eugene N. “Making the French pay: The cost and consequences of the Napoleonic reparations”. European Review of Economic History, 5 (2001): 337-65.

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