Friday, January 27, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A 21st Century Congress Of Vienna Coming?

The Congress of Vienna of 1814-15 was the Western world’s
first truly cooperative assembly of nations, and for a full
century preserved the general peace of Europe and in the
European global colonies. It was the model of two later
international organizations, the League of Nations (1922-38)
and the United Nations (1945-present) both of which have been
far less successful.

The Congress was called to Vienna in response to the havoc
created by French emperor-dictator Napoleon Buonaparte in
his conquest of most of Europe (1801-14). Napoleon had
overwhelmed Italy, Spain, Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and had
invaded Russia unsuccessfully. The major powers at the
Congress of Vienna were Great Britain, Prussia, Russia and
Austro-Hungary. France was represented by the representative
of the restored Bourbon monarchy. Virtually all the states of
Europe were also in attendance, most notably Sweden, the
papal and various other Italian peninsula states, and Spain.

Although Napoleon had made a dramatic 100-day return
during the Congress, his final defeat and exile to St. Helena
occurred as the Congress was concluding.

Under the leadership of Prince Metternich of Austria-Hungary,
the Congress eventually redrew the borders of Europe with the
intention that no major power would be strong enough to
threaten successfully any other power. The resulting “chandelier
balance of power” held together for almost exactly 100 years
until it was finally shattered by the outbreak of World War I.

This carefully constructed “chandelier” balance was formulated
by the conservative leaders of the major powers, and was
unsympathetic to the revolutionary and reform movements
which had been kindled by the failed French revolution of the
1790s (and more distantly, the successful American revolution of
the 1780s). Three decades after the Congress of Vienna, in 1848,
revolutionary movements reappeared, and three decades after
that, the Franco-Prussian War took place. European borders
throughout this period were redrawn, new nations appeared,
and monarchies fell, but the overall continental peace was
preserved until the Prussian emperor (now the monarch of a
united Germany) aggressively upset the balance in the early
1900s, leading to the tragic response to the assassination of the
Austro-Hungarian heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo
in 1914.

After Napoleon’s demise, Great Britain became the world’s
superpower, and the ultimate enforcer of the treaty of the
Congress of Vienna. Over time, the hereditary enemies  of
England and France became allies, and also allied with Russia,
while at the same time, Prussia (later Germany) and
Austro-Hungary were allied, and were joined by Turkey. As
these and other smaller alliances took place, the strength of
the bonds of the Congress of Vienna began to unravel. As the
various states of the Italian peninsula became united as the
kingdom of Italy, and allied itself with England, France and
Russia, Germany, under its paranoic kaiser, felt increasingly
surrounded, and as tensions mounted in the first decade of the
20th century, the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir
in Serbia, a Russian ally, provided the excuse for war.

As I have argued, the World War begun in 1914 has not really
ended, The Treaty of Versailles in 1921 also redrew borders
in Europe and, in effect, all over the world. This contrivance,
unlike the treaty made in Vienna in 1815, led to chronic
conflicts not only in Europe, but in colonial territories in
the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America that led to
World War II and the many conflicts which exist today.

Thus, the century of international peace produced by the
Congress of Vienna was followed by a “second hundred
years war” in the following century. With conflicts and
terrorism now global, it might be time for a new and more
enduring rearrangement of world powers, especially with
the inevitable emergence of the world’s two most populous
nations, China and India, as increasingly potent economic
global players.

Whether or not a clear intention of the new American
president is to specifically rearrange the international order,
his stated and promised re-set of U.S. international
relationships, now underway, might well lead to it. It is
perhaps worth noting that Mr. Trump is talking to Henry
Kissinger, the former U.S. secretary of state who decades ago
played a key role in the U.S. overture to China. Mr. Kissinger
is a well-known admirer of the Congress of Vienna and what
it accomplished.

The time is evidently also ripe for a re-set of the impact of
the new set of world powers. These powers include the United
States, Europe/Russia, China, India, and eventually some of
the emerging nations.

It is a tantalizing possibility, and not without those who will
strongly resist it. Even those who would benefit greatly from
it, and might become eventually its strongest advocates, will
no doubt hesitate and question it.

But politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and I think it is
becoming clearer and clearer after a century of unspeakable
violence and conflict that it’s time for a new international
balance of powers that actually works.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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