Article in brief: The author looks into the history of Europe and its progress in maintaining a balance of power and a common goal amongst states.
In my previous article, I gave historic examples regarding the importance of setting a common goal in order to achieve a united society. The European Union recently decided to bailout Greece of its economic debt through a three year bailout program that will provide Greece with €86 billion Euros (Shuster 2015).
Why would countries that are hundreds of kilometers away pay such a large sum for a country that’s drowning in its own debt? It’s all due to a man who lived two hundred years ago in the Austrian Empire. He called for unity and was able to guide Europe towards a common goal that soon set the foundations for the most advanced international systems in history, the United Nations and the European Union. His name was Klemens Wenzel von Metternich and this is “his-story”.
Klemens Wenzel von Metternich was a politician and the Austrian Empire’s Foreign Minister in 1809. Metternich then achieved the role of Chancellor of Austria in 1821 and held it until he retired in 1848.
In the years following the French Revolution in 1802 and the Napoleonic Wars in 1814, Europe’s balance of power was disrupted and the hope for peace was frail (Schroeder 1992). The “balance of power” is an international relations term used to describe the idea that the national security of a region is enhanced when power is distributed throughout the region so that no individual state is strong enough to dominate everyone (Wikipedia n.d.). In Europe, the balance of power is one of the driving factors of regional warfare; examples of this include World War One (1914), Napoleonic Wars (1803) and the Seven Years War (1756). As an example, in the Middle East the balance of power is not a major factor of warfare, but it does play a prominent role, especially when it comes to Saudi – Iranian relations. Saudi Arabia is argued to be the political hegemon in the Middle East, and the recent trade agreement with Iran-US is seen as a threat to the hegemonic power. Unlike Europe, the Middle East has always preferred to keep a single regional power rather than the balance of powers.
Europe was able to balance its power in the 1800’s through Metternich’s leadership and diplomacy. For the first time in history Europe was able to gather five of its main powers under a single goal in a conference in Vienna in 1815 (Grabner 2015). The five regional powers were Austria, Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, and later France. In the hopes to restore the balance of power in Europe and prevent any individual nation dominating the region, the five major powers agreed to establish the Congress of Vienna as means to negotiate and seek peace in Europe. Although the main congress revolved around the five main powers, almost every European state had a delegation in Vienna and a voice in the congress. Note that unlike the Treaty of Versailles that excluded Germany in its treaty in 1918, France, which was considered the “evil state” that time due to its rapid expansion during the Napoleonic War, was still included in the Congress of Vienna. This is crucial to understand when it comes to regional cooperation and unity. States must always include the troubling powers into the negotiating table. To respect your enemy after and during a conflict is vital for sustainable peace.
The Congress of Vienna achieved various important things in Europe including the restoration and balance of power in Europe and the return of all the lands that were annexed by France and other regional players during that period. Russia regained its control of Poland, the Netherlands and Southern Netherlands (Denmark) were united as a single state, the neutrality of Switzerland was guaranteed, and slave trade was condemned. This Congress System that was chaired by Metternich was later known as The Concert of Europe (Chapman 1964).
The Concert of Europe is a regional common goal amongst European states, to establish a balance of power through a congress system in Europe. However, the Concert was completely eroded in the European revolutionary upheavals in 1848 and the years leading towards World War I.
After World War I, the League of Nations was established in 1920 as the new Concert of Europe. However due to various reasons, including the harsh treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, and the absence of the US in European affairs, the League of Nations failed to keep a Concert of Europe into place. Twenty years later, World War II broke out in Europe and Germany sought justice for its harsh treatment by the European states. By 1945, the United Nations was established as a global concert that brings all nations of the world together.
Unity is important for numerous reasons, which include peace, cooperation, diversity, and trust. Metternich was able to unite all of Europe through a political institution and a common goal. We learn from this story that unity and the balance of power is of crucial importance when it comes to regional stability. In addition, the involvement of the troubling party into the negotiation table is of vital significance. As long as there is no balance of power in the Middle East, states will continually fight each other to achieve supremacy. A form of unity is necessary in the Middle East. Unity can come in all shapes and sizes; it can be through the means of combating terrorism or a common enemy or even poverty. Unity isn’t only achieved through political means as Metternich had done, but rather can be achieved through economic, social, or even ideological means. Unity can start with as little as how you treat your neighbor or the supermarket owner or even the way you accept other opinions in your own society. In the end, society is made up of people, and you yourself are a part of society. Laws that prevent racial hatred and discrimination in society is a step towards unity.
- Chapman, Tim. The Congress of Vienna origins, processes, and results. Routledge, 1964.
- Grabner, Sabine. Europe in Vienna : the Congress of Vienna 1814/15. München: Hirmer Verlag GmbH, 2015.
- Schroeder, Paul W. “Did the Vienna Settlement Rest on a Balance of Power? .” The American Historical Review, 1992: PP. 683-706 .
- Shuster, Simon. Greeks Prepare to Fight Bailout Deal in and Outside Parliament. July 14, 2015. http://time.com/3957416/greek-bailout-parliament/ (accessed July 15, 2015).
- Waller, Bruce. Bismarck at the crossroads; the reorientation of German foreign policy after the Congress of Berlin, 1878-1880. Athlone Press, 1974.
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balance_of_power_(international_relations) (accessed July 2015).
Nasser AlFalasi was born the year the cold war ended. For those who don’t know the year the cold war ended, Nasser’s columns in SAIL is exactly for that reason. Nasser’s undergrad was in Financial Services at the Higher Colleges of Technology. He then pursued his graduate studies at NYU, NYC concentrating in global affairs with a specialization in international relations and transnational security. His major interests include history and global affairs. Most of his columns will be in regards to those topics. By the way, if you haven’t already found out the year Nasser was born, its 1991.
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