From the Congress of Vienna to present-day international organizations.

Author:Reinalda, Bob

When did the process of international organization start? (1) It was not in 1945 nor in 1919. Rather, it was the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) that proved to be the relevant turning point in history, when certain conditions allowed a number of European States to set in motion a series of innovations, inventions and learning processes that shaped the core of what we today refer to as international organizations (IOs).

After the French Revolution of 1789, Napoleon Bonaparte upset the balance of power in Europe with his military campaigns of conquests. Following his defeat at the battle of Paris in March 1814, however, he was forced to abdicate. (2) French territorial borders were re-established, and eight European States convened at the Congress of Vienna, held between September 1814 and June 1815, to restore the balance of power, while hoping to maintain a lasting peace. The Great Powers recognized that the existing state system was no longer adequate and that they had to seek new institutional arrangements. This article explains how present-day IOs have evolved from these arrangements.


Among the conditions that allowed for the creation of a new international order at Vienna were, according to Inis Claude: States functioning as independent political units; a substantial measure of contact between them; an awareness of the problems which arose out of their coexistence; and recognition of the need to create institutional devices and systematic methods for regulating their relations with each other. (3) John Ikenberry later added that in various respects the strongest state, called the hegemon, may use a strategy of institutional binding at junctions after major wars. Binding mechanisms include treaties and joint management responsibilities that create so-called "voice opportunities" for participating actors, and provide procedures to mitigate or resolve conflicts while simultaneously raising the costs of exit. (4) In order to achieve the desired settlement, the hegemon must be generous during negotiations and lenient with regard to less important matters, which the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the new hegemon at the time, was willing to do.

Among the innovations agreed upon in Vienna were new regulations for diplomatic relations, such as the official titles of successive classes of State representatives and the precedence of States in alphabetical order. These basic rules simplified both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, evolving into a continuing process of codification of customary diplomatic relations.

The major innovation at Vienna was the follow-up conference. This new idea resulted in the custom of participating States to convene, upon reaching an agreement, a follow-up conference to assess whether previously agreed-upon decisions and policies had been executed. Since in most cases...

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