Diplomatic History

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Diplomatic History- Why was there no major conflict in Europe between the defeat of Napoleon and the Crimean War?


Diplomatic history in Europe during the periods of the late eighteenth century and all through the nineteenth century underwent massive changes and can be best described as tumultuous. Historians traditionally split this era into smaller portions, as each of these portions have had a distinct impact on the diplomacy in Europe at the time (Barzun, 2016; Zeiler, 2009; Fry & Willaims, 2004). The portions are the French revolution (1789-1815) including the Napoleonic wars, the era of reform and adjustment which lasted for around three decades (1815-1848), followed by the Crimean war of 1853-1856 (Barzun, 2016). While the French revolution sent waves across Europe that brought about much reform, the military dominance of Napoleon Bonaparte (and the subsequent Napoleonic wars) was a cause of great unrest (Slantchev, 2005; Schneid, 2011). However, this led to the formation of the European nation allies through the establishment of the Vienna settlement (also known as the congress of Vienna) in 1815 that was brought forth to establish peace and balance the power of a divided Europe at the time (Detrick Campbell, 2015; McAllister et al., 2015). While the peace was sustained for a brief period of time (hereinto referred to the Concert of Europe), the Crimean war soon ensued that brought about another massive change in the diplomacy of Europe in the nineteenth century (Lambert, 2011 ; Buzan & Lawson, 2012). In view of the same, this essay addresses “why was there no major conflict in Europe between the defeat of Napoleon and the Crimean war?” which will be put forth by examining the personalities, forces, events and theories that occurred before and after this period of relative peace. Further the Concert of Europe itself will be scrutinised by way of the congress of Vienna that brought about this particular change.

Events that occurred before and until Napoleon’s defeat (Napoleonic wars)

This era was specifically marked with the beginning of the French revolution. The French revolution in conjunction with the Napoleonic wars formed a period of continuity of twenty five years between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The French revolution consisted of two wars, namely, the first coalition (1792-1797) and the war of the second coalition (1798-1803). The events that led up to the Great French revolution can be aptly described as the two undercurrents. The first concerns the political aspects such as the present organisation of the states and the second was due to the vast economic unrest faced by the middle classes and the peasants who brought about such a revolution (Schneid, 2011).

The French revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars was a rather lengthy duel between Great Britain and France. The period was marred reforms related all industries of the time. The most notable however, the concept of equality which was introduced and also legal reforms which reduced the protection of the aristocracy which was very prevalent in those ages. While it can be said that the French revolution had widespread positive economic impacts, the progress of this was rather slow (O’Rourke, 2005; Acemoglu et al., 2010). Notable personalities in this time include Mirabeau, who advocated the British style of governance for France with Marat (1742-1793) in strong opposition. Robespierre was a fierce radical against the British and the oligarchies and Carnot (1753-1893) who initiated militarism in France (Acemoglu et al., 2010). The rise of Napoleon post the revolution saw a continuation of the coalition warfare, which was however deemed ineffective with his empire dubbed as “imperium sine fine” , an empire with no end, as his rule did not draw from strong political strategies. In view of this, the Napoleonic wars had severe negative impacts on France as well as the whole of Europe. It succeeded in tipping the power balance of the top nations that further fuelled instability. However, with Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the Concert of Europe was born. This was to restore the power balance and ensure stability among the nations (Schneid, 2011; Acemoglu et al., 2010).

It can hence been ascertained from the above that while the French revolution reverberates to the present day, the Napoleonic wars and regimes led to mass confusion and France losing many of her former allies. The implication here is the lack of strong political ideologies and also the fact that Napoleon’s regimes worked to keep the nations’ apart thereby disrupting the stability.

The Crimean War

Delving into the background of the Crimean war, it lasted from 1853-1856 and was fought between Russian and the ancient Ottoman Turk Empire. During this time, the once powerful Ottoman Empire was in a state of decline as the present Sultan was no longer able to hold the vast empire together which spread to Asia on one side and Africa on the other. The main concern among the nations here was that the disintegration of the empire would have serious repercussions to the power balance in Europe. Russia however seized this opportunity and attempted to enforce a regime based on Greek orthodox principles with the expectant support of Britain, France, Austria, and Prussia. However, none of the countries preferred that Russia take over and therefore Britain sided with the Turks. At this very time, France saw an opportunity for better the diplomacy and hence allied with Britain in the fight of the Turks against Russia (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016; Barzun, 2016; Lambert, 2011).

The main implications of this war and the period are that while the Turkish Empire was upheld by Britain, France and its allies (called the Holy alliance), several discrepancies in the political system came to fore (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016). For instance, Britain’s weak army and its negligence were widely exposed. While Austria remained neutral throughout, it was in fact the main sufferer of the war. Once the war ended, Austria lost a longstanding friendship with Russia and also revealed it incapacity to control its own extent. Further the political stance here is that Russia was dismissed from its role as protector and Austria was not a part of the national allies formed thereafter. It is imperative to mention here, that a Paris treaty was signed at the end of the Crimean war that was a truce held by the allies to uphold the stability of Europe, although this was later seen to be short lived (Lambert, 2011).

Concert of Europe and the Vienna settlement

The Congress of Vienna was a congregation of the superpowers of Europe that led to the Vienna settlement. It can be stated that such a settlement was nothing short of ground breaking in political diplomacy and international relations. This settlement was a much needed change from the war ravaged Europe. Before the Vienna congress, diplomacy took place when one ruler sent an ambassador to another rule and vice versa, which provided for a large scope for varying alliances. This in turn led to countries fighting war on multiple fronts and in some cases also right after signing a peace treaty (Congress of Vienna, 2015). In this regard the Vienna congress enabled for all the ambassadors to convene at a single location along with the presence of external members such as the members of the press (Carr, 2001; Morgenthau, 1967; Wight, 1977; Hoffman, 1987). During this Congress the “Pentarchy” was formed which included Austria, France, Britain, Prussia and Russia, who were the main members involved in the reconstruction of the fallen political diplomacy. The Vienna settlement hence formed the base for both territorial and political settlements (Carr, 2001; Morgenthau, 1967; Wight, 1977; Hoffman, 1987).

It can therefore be compared here that while the eighteenth century mainly witnessed conflicts of the territory that was deemed the primary cause of war, the first half of the nineteenth century territorial clashes were not the main cause of friction or war. While the character of the territories remained unchanged the sudden change in behaviour has been quite startling. But this again can be attributed to interaction amongst one another which was very strategic indeed (Slantchev, 2005). A historian Mark Jarrett remarks that the Vienna congress was an experiment that was valiant in nature for establishing cooperation internationally, furthermore that this system will enable free interaction between the ministers of various states so that the pretensions, acrimony and friction were both foretold and tackled (Carr, 2001; Morgenthau, 1967; Wight, 1977; Hoffman, 1987).

Several historians such as Paul Schroeder, Webster and Kraehe that have explored the Concert of Europe and the Vienna Congress in the context of international relations and its implications for this century. Another historian Jarrett too explored the Congress of Vienna along the same lines with the inclusion of the theory of regimes. Other historians such as Mitzen and Ikenberry incorporate their theoretical frameworks within the early nineteenth century diplomatic history based on the Vienna settlement (Carr, 2001; Morgenthau, 1967; Wight, 1977; Hoffman, 1987).

The timeframe within which this Concert of Europe exists has been either been hailed as a global reform or has been castigated as an anti-liberal reign. In view of this there are many arguments that have been made as to how the congress of Vienna contributed to the lack of conflict between the periods of Napoleon’s defeat and the Crimean war. These arguments pertain to several factors such as the power balance, fear of revolution, conscious management, assimilation and legitimacy (McAllister et al., 2015). Even though several scholars have debated the reason for the prevailing peace, they have all agreed on the fact power balance has been the main retentive factor in the lack of conflict (Schroeder, 1992).

Noted historian Schroeder here is of the view that the power balance that emerged from the Vienna settlement was more than obvious. He, along with many historians state that the power balances was achieved balancing the power of France by equalising with the combined power of the allies. This in turn reduced the opportunity for France to create friction. Further to this the Vienna settlement also prevented future aggression from France. While Schroeder observes that this constitutes to the so called balanced power, he refutes that the power balance was not balanced at all, but was rather hegemonic. He is further of the view that hegemony achieved through the so called assumed power balance led to the period of no conflict in the early nineteenth century (Schroeder, 1992).

In conclusion, it can be said that while power balance contributed to the peace period in the nineteenth century, the actual ingenuity of the Congress of Vienna has been missed all along. While most historians have concentrated on how the power balance was achieved they have missed the important factor as to the screen behind which hegemony lay. Hegemony here needs to be explored further for the sake of International governance, with special attention to leadership and its importance. But even so, the Vienna settlement was employed as a base to form other important treaties such as the establishment of the United Nations, which goes further to state that the settlement was very revolutionary that has successfully changed the face of global governance and has also been the main cause for the lack of conflict between the periods of Napoleon’s defeat and the Crimean war.


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