The Congress of Vienna and the Congress System
Jan 7, 2012
Key Words Notes
1814 – 1815 first time states In a way we are present at a unique moment in international
consciously sit down to write, history around the year 1814 - 1815 upon the European
design and develop a functioning continent. Because we are privileged witnesses at the first
balance of power. moment in recorded history when statespersons sat down to
develop a functioning international order. This was the first time
Balance of power already in human history that states consciously sat down to plan, design
existed though. However, states and develop a functioning international order.
still thrived to be the best state and However, it can be argued that there was an order that already
to have total hegemony over all of existed. That is true, but to quote Clausewitz, “that international
Europe. order, the first existing international order, the 18 century
balance of power in Europe was really a happy accident. It was
the result of the fact that militarily and institutionally states had
reached a fairly common plan to develop. War didn’t really offer
great advantage gain. Because of this happy accident, that
military stalemates underpinning the balance of power, which
warlords and statesman assumed prominent. There was for a
prolonged period no serious effort to dominate the whole order.
To substitute it with an imperial order. To create a hegemony in
the name of one state over the whole continent. It was military
stalemate. And the psychological imitations that such military
paralysis imposed upon the agenda and ambitions of rulers that
largely explain this miraculous development- the first functioning
balance of power in the world.
Yet, what the French brewed, with the revolutionary government
With the Revolutionary wars and under the Napoleonic regime, was that any one state really
and the Napoleonic regime made it mobilized its resources, got its act together militarily and
possible for any state to gain strategically-could make a serious bid for continental
continental domination. If the state domination. It had proven by coming very close to doing just that.
mobilized all of its resources it
That there was now a terrible power loose in the continent.
could gain that massive amount of The power of modern states to mobilize their resources, material
power. resources-especially humans. That ability to mobilize entire
- Napoleon had shattered the population for power made it possible realistically to reach for
condiments of the Balance of continental domination. As Von Clausewitz put it, “once barriers-
Power which in a sense consist only in man’s ignorance of what is
possible-are torn down, they are not so easily set up again”
What Napoleon had done was shatter the confines that had
bounded and limited political ambition. Now continental
domination was on the agenda. Any of the great powers that
seriously bent itself and its people to pursing such dangerous
projects for its neighbors was possible and pursuing continental
Continental domination was made possible. Scholars have compared this period, in the immediate aftermath
of Napoleonic wars with the immediate aftermath of WWII and
the birth of weapons of global mass destruction.
It was a terrible power unleashed and it was unclear if statesmen
would be able to harness that power, of limiting it, of preventing
from blowing the international order apart. That was the zero-
sum game intentional relations had become by 1814-1815 in the
aftermath of the Napoleonic revolution and warfare.
It is true that the men who gathered in Vienna in September 1814
were remarkable clear headed about what they needed to do and
how they should set about achieving it.
Castlereagh: The man who perhaps dominated the post-Napoleonic period
- British foreign secretary and perhaps was the real architect of the Vienna settlement: the
- Dominated the post British foreign secretary was Castlereagh. He articulated most
clearly the purpose of the Vienna Treaty to the peacemakers,
- Perhaps the real architect of peace settlers and other important figures in the post Napoleonic
the Vienna settlement period. He best summarized their purpose
- Said the purpose of the - He did so in an answer. The British parliament posed a critical
settlement was to establish question. One member of the Parliament had complained
provisions for general security. about one tiny aspect of the Vienna settlement. And that was
the distinction of the independence of the city-state of…?
- Castlereagh replied as followed as follows. He said the
purpose of the Vienna settlement was not to discuss moral
principals, but rather “to establish effectual provisions for the
general security” that is, to build a functioning international
Treaty of Paris order.
The best mechanism for realizing the purpose and practice of
- May 30, 1814 international security was defined in one of the secret articles
- Had a secret article, which which was attached to the Treaty of Paris 30, may 1814, in
pointed out that the whole which, it declared the whole nature of the treaty was to “establish
purpose of it was to practice a real and permanent balance of power in Europe. Again a very
conscious goal in mind. You want to establish international
- “to establish a balance of order; the best way to do that is to engineer into existence a real
power” and permanent balance of power.
Even before the member had gathered in Vienna, between
September 1814 and June 1815,there had been some important
inter alliance exchanges between and amongst the allied coalition
that defeated Napoleonic France.
Even before the Vienna congress - Most important one was between Austrian Foreign minister,
there were a series of allied Metternich and British counterpart Castlereagh.
coalitions that defeated Napoleonic - Metternich wrote one extremely important letter to
France. Castlereagh in January 1814. In this letter Metternich argued
Austria and Britain
- Metternich and Castlereagh that the primary and joint aim of Austrian and British foreign
policy should be to establish balance of power in Europe.
- Metternich argued that the Because the balance of power wasn’t just good for all, but it primary and joint aim of their would most likely secure the independence existence and
foreign policy should be that survival of particular states, and particularly suited promote
they should establish a balance the national interest of Austria and Britain. The balance of
of power. power in the making, Metternich argued, was essentially was
a. Austria: it was land locked vital to the pursuits of British and Austrian prime interests of
and in the middle of so state.
many warring states that - Interests for wanting a functioning balance of power in
naturally it became the Europe.
battlefield when two states a. Austria: In the case of Austria, he said the balance of
started fighting power was vital, but because otherwise because of
b. Britain: it wanted to secure its position, situated between east and west,
its homeland so that it geographically, Austria would become a battlefield.
could pursue commercial, Battlefield where rival armies would march and do
colonial and maritime their fighting business. It was the natural killing
interests aboard. ground for war in that area. Geographically,
- Both had viable reasons for Metternich was trying to make the point to
wanting balance of power in Castlereagh that it was in Austria’s vital interest to
Europe. have a balance of power, working to ensure peace
and therefore, Austria’s frontiers would remain fine
and not susceptible to direct invasion.
b. Britain: He also made an argument that Britain too
had an invested interest in restoring a functioning
balance of power in Europe. Britain’s interest was
precisely in a balanced Europe, which allowed it to
feel secure enough at home to pursue commercial,
maritime, and colonial interests all over the rest of
the world. Metternich was smart enough to appeal
to Britain’s vested interest in having Europe at
peace and secure therefore allowing them to go
abroad for their commercial, colonial and maritime
- Both had their own reasons for wanting an establishment of a
working balance of power. One because it was a land locked
power and the other because it was essentially a global
Other great powers in Europe However, the same could not be said about the rest of the
also had their own interests. powers. One of the dilemma facing Metternich and Castlereagh
- Russia wanted to make Poland and others who for their own self-interest were working towards
a constitutional monarchy a collective order. They had to create a post-war settlement,
under its rule. establish a foundation for the balance of power that would yet
- Prussia was willing to give it constrain different potential challenges. A vanquished France,
its portion of Poland in and other powers that had different notions of priorities and
exchange for Saxony. However, were beginning to redraw the map and establishing the basis
if Prussia gave its piece of new territorial lines, were not happy.
Poland to Russia, Austria Russia and Prussia, for example, had more outreaching agendas. would be pressured into giving Prussia were vindictive towards a defeated France, they were the
its piece as well. ones who had suffered most at hands during the French
- Saxony, who had sided with revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. They wanted to put a boot
France during the Napoleonic on France. They also, traditionally tended to take foreign policy
wars had ended up losing from Russia. So they were quite happy to go along with a project
along with France. So it’s that Czar Alexander I, the man who had personally lead the