The Concert of Europe – Did It Ensure Peace?
The "Concert of Europe," established by Prince Metternich of Austria, included Great Britain, Prussia, Russia and later France.
Each of these Great Powers acted together so that no single Power could come to dominate Europe.
By the time Napoleon had been exiled to St. Helena in 1815, Europe had been at war almost perpetually since 1792.
Napoleon’s conquests had spread the doctrines of liberalism and nationalism through most of Europe, leading to the overthrow of several monarchies.
The victors of the Napoleonic Wars wanted to restore Europe to the status quo that existed before 1789, reversing the liberal and nationalistic doctrines spread by Napoleon’s armies.
For a time, the Concert of Europe achieved some success. In Spain (1820) and in Italy (1822), it crushed rebellions that were intent on establishing constitutional government. Both of these events enhanced the Concert’s prestige, as it demonstrated its capacity to enforce the territorial settlements of the Congress of Vienna.
However, in the longer term, the Concert of Europe’s early successes faded as the unified coalition against Napoleon was replaced by increasing political and economic discord within the group. When revolutions broke out in South America during the 1820s, Great Britain refused to support action against the Spanish colonies. She was afraid that, if the rebellions were ended by force, it would lose profitable trading opportunities with Spain.
In the end this division became moot as the United States issued the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. The Doctrine permitted European Powers to keep their existing colonies in the New World. However, it clearly stated that the establishment of new colonies or military intervention in the Americas would be seen as acts of aggression, which would be met by US intervention.
More significantly, diverging national interests led to a series of conflicts between the members of the Concert. Britain went to war with Russia (1853-1856), Prussia went to war against Austria (1866) and Prussia defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).
Despite these failures, the Concert of Europe (also known as the Congress System) did achieve some later successes. Through the Congress of Berlin (1878), the Concert of Europe completed the reorganization of the various Balkan states. Romania, Serbia and Montenegro all gained full independence while Austria-Hungary gained control over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On the surface, the Congress of Berlin appeared to stabilize Europe. However, Austria’s control over Bosnia and Herzegovina provoked tension with Russian nationalists who saw both countries as lying within Russia’s sphere of influence. Because Germany was now so closely aligned with Austrian interests in the Balkans, it also became the object of intense animosity from Russian nationalists and supporters of Pan Slavism.
In the end, the Concert of Europe failed to ensure long term peace. In the several years preceding World War I, it effectively ceased to function, replaced by a series of competing alliances. These opposing alliances contributed significantly to the onset of World War I.