The power of peace: diplomacy between the Congress of Vienna and the Paris treaties 1919: impressive progress, structural shortcomings and a tragic failure.

Author:Vec, Milos
 
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When teaching the history of international law, I usually ask my students at the end of the course to what extent they think the nineteenth century could be considered the epoch of the Hundred Years' Peace. Not surprisingly, I receive many critical comments and substantial objections to such a notion: how could a century of imperial rivalry and repression have been a peaceful era? Weren't there numerous armed conflicts and many interventions not only in Europe, but all over the world? The twentieth century has gained an even worse reputation for unprecedented violence, both on the European continent and on a global scale, but isn't there also something we can learn about diplomacy and international law from the period between the Congress of Vienna of 1814-1815 and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919?

The notion of the nineteenth century as an epoch of a Hundred Years' Peace in Europe was formulated and promoted by several authors and intellectuals. The most prominent among them were the well-known United States diplomat Henry Kissinger and Hungarian-American economic historian Karl Polanyi. Discussing the issue in class has great educational benefits, as students ultimately question the idea of peace itself. Is "peace" simply the absence of violence between States? To what extent is peace a value in itself and must one at times forfeit something in return for peace? How far do we go in the name of peace? Can our peace mean war for others? In other words, though there are many claims for peace, it remains a contested concept.

When Europe ended the Napoleonic Wars and tried to establish a new order, some options were clearly excluded in the name of peace, as the term was understood by the Great Powers at that time. The Congress of Vienna, therefore, had some distinct ideas about the political order that the Great Powers wanted to establish. It was based upon the threat of intervention, which ensured the enforcement of the consented principles of monarchical legitimacy (not of constitutionalism) and the relative equality among the powers. Liberal and democratic publishers of that era mistrusted the concepts of diplomacy and international law, considering them as instruments of repression. Looking back to the years following the Congress of Vienna, and analysing the Final Act of the Viennese Ministerial Conferences (1820), authors of the late-nineteenth century were not inclined to praise the Congress of Vienna. Rather, only some of its achievements were valuated: interdiction of the slave trade, the principle of free navigation on international rivers, the regulation of diplomatic ranks and ceremonial, which, in many respects, remains the basis for diplomatic encounters today. Therefore, many important objectives remained omitted in Congress historiography, while a number of the provisions, such as those that would have seemed marginal...

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