Today it is 200 years since the Congress of Vienna were completed, the diplomatic mobilization that was to establish a new international order. The idea of collective security, would in time lead to organizations League of Nations and the UN.
When Richard the Lion Heart’s brother , the unpopular King John “without land”, the nobles and priests were forced to sign a document about power sharing in a meadow by the River Thames June 15, 1215, no one expected that this was the beginning of a process towards the modern rule of law and human rights. But when Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo June 18, 1815, and the vast diplomatic conference in Vienna at the same time completed its work, knew the people of Europe that a new era dawned.
The Congress of Vienna had been ongoing since last fall. It had accumulated 216 delegates from 62 states, principalities and free cities, but it was dominated by four major powers – Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia. After a while was even allowed France to be in the picture and its interests to be taken by the super diplomat Talleyrand. The Final Act was completed in Vienna already one week before the Napoleonic finally defeated and the last signatures flowed into the day after Waterloo.
19 June 1815 was point for the Congress on which a participants said it danced but not moved forward. Now, balls, concerts, dinners, the courses and the excursions across and the various agreements finally been negotiated. Documents of Vienna was supposed to characterize the post-war Europe and usher in a new era of peace and great political equilibrium. A new international order would be launched.
“The princely legitimacy” had been established as an overarching principle that would displace the French revolution subversive ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. The existing royal houses would be protected. An interventionist power politics would stop the national and liberal freedom of movement. Congress of Vienna was a victory for the reaction – at least in the short term.
The Congress has also made history with several positive signs. It became a starting point of a great power cooperation, it called European concert; it became a platform for peace endeavor, the balance of power and diplomacy. At the negotiating tables in the Hofburg had also agreed on the free boat services on several of Europe’s rivers, whether diplomats rank and function, as well as the neutrality role for certain territories, which led to the recognition of Swiss neutrality.
Henry Kissinger, who is impressed by the Congressional balance policies, writes in her thesis “A world restored” (1954) that the new intergovernmental arrangements gave Europe a period of sobriety and Charter, a period “which gave people the opportunity to realize their wishes without any major wars or continuous revolution “. He will return in his book “Diplomacy” (1994) to this theme and writes that Europe would achieve its longest period of peace ever: no war between the great powers until after 40 years (Crimean War) and no general war until after a further 60 years (World War I). However, this is something of a whitewash from Kissinger’s side.
The rest of the 1800s has several petty warfare, armed rebellion movements and even greater conflicts. Already in 1821 Austria intervened militarily in Naples and Piedmont and helps the reactionary monarchs to suppress liberal rebellions movements. 1823 France intervened in Spain for the same reason and the reinstitution of the deposed monarch who takes a bloody revenge on their liberal enemies. Meanwhile, the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman empire begun and Russia intervenes with the Greeks in 1828. The following year, recognizes the great powers Greece as a sovereign state. Here played the concert a positive role in support of an emerging principle of peoples’ self-determination.
Similarly, supports the great powers of Belgium’s liberation from the Netherlands, but the Dutch are trying to militarily subjugate the Belgian uprising movement and the first after nine years they give up . In 1839, there is a great power agreement on the neutrality of Belgium, the agreement before the First World War by the German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg would be brushed aside as “a scrap of paper.”
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Castlereagh had since Vienna advocated a principle of Common Security through diplomacy and London reacted to 1823 sharply against the other major powers interventionism. The British would pull back to an attitude of “spendid isolation”, but a decade later they have during the Foreign Minister, Lord Palmerston assumed the political leader’s jersey in the European concert. London is a center for multilateral conflict resolution. This was the case during the Greek War of Independence and it was greatly during the armed conflict of 1848-52 between Denmark and Prussia of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein.
The rest of the 1800s will not much more peaceful. European concert shatter. During the Crimean War 1853-56 protect the three Western allies Turkey against the expansionist Russia. The war becomes widespread, it is the Balkans, the Black Sea, the Crimea and the Baltic Sea. 1859 breaks France and Austria together in a war that in its extension leading to the unification of Italy. Denmark is 1864 in a continuation of war for Schleswig-Holstein and forced to disclose the duchies. Then follow the Prussian-Austrian war in 1866, the Franco-German war of 1870-71, and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.
The legacy of the Congress of Vienna was under these conditions constant diplomatic conferences that tried to achieve political balance and common security. Treaty of Paris in 1856, after the Crimean War, was a success, as well as the Congress of Berlin in 1878, after the Russo-Turkish War in the Balkans. Bismarck’s peace against France in 1871, however, was a diktat (man extorted Alsace-Lorraine), and the seeds were sown for future uncertainty.
Many people in Europe experienced yet the period 1815 to 1914 as ” the long peace “. There was a feeling of security in cooperation with the naivety and stupidity behind the catastrophe 1914. In Hjalmar Söderberg’s play “Ödestimman” exclaims an officer in a central European country: “Peace is worn out. We have outgrown it, it stifles us. “
After the First World War created the first international organization for common security, the League of Nations (NF). It was a further development of conference diplomacy, a natural step to take in the situation. The practice followed in the wake of the Congress of Vienna was institutionalized now through the advent of a permanent forum for international cooperation. After the League’s collapse and the end of the war it became clear that a new attempt of collective security has to be done, the UN Charter is signed in San Francisco in 1945.
In this way there a trend line between the Congress of Vienna and the UN Headquarters in New York. Even in a quite different area worked diplomatic 1815 watershed future. There was a reaction against Napoleon’s armies practice of cultural spoils of war in other countries. The contemporary international law did not prohibit this, but the delegates in Vienna laid the foundations for a new legal opinion. Napoleon had carried away sculptures Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoön and His Sons from the Vatican in Rome, the four bronze horses of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, as well as four horses group from the Arc de Triomphe on Brandenburget Gate in Berlin. These and other art objects stolen then appeared in a large triumphal through Paris. The French revolutionaries saw themselves as ancient Rome’s heir, and the takeover of the heritage would be manifested by European art would be collected and presented in Paris. The Louvre was opened as a museum a few years earlier and renamed the Musée Napoléon. Napoleon’s plan – later copied by Adolf Hitler – was that Europe’s power center would showcase the best of European art.
During the Congress of Vienna wrote Lord Castlereagh a letter to Austria, Russia and Prussia delegates, in which he argued that the seizure Art conflicted with the modern laws of war. Napoleon’s requisitions, however, had received a certain legitimacy through forced peace agreement. This legitimacy was challenged now, but Congress did not adopt any document that stated a new legal opinion. But when the Allied troops marched into Paris July 8, 1815 demanded art treasures returned and Prussian soldiers took whatever they came across. They faced tough opposition from the population. In France there was generally the view that the cultural treasures were legitimate conquests which they had reason to be proud of.
Despite the spontaneous opposition in the streets could be a substantial return of cultural objects come to position. Bronze horses from Venice were taken down by Austrian and English engineers from a triumphal arch at the Tuileries in October 1815. Austrian soldiers kept watch over the population. When the bronze horses returning to St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice two months later celebrated this with a public ceremony and the big party.
A ban on cultural spoils of war were part of the so called Brussels Declaration 1874, but this never came to take force as a legally binding document. First on the peace conference in The Hague in 1899 formalized the cultural protection of war that has applied ever since. But it was at the Congress of Vienna that the new conception of law emerged.
Ove Bring is Professor Emeritus of International Law. He is up to date with the book “Parthenonsyndromet – the struggle for cultural treasures”.