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Comparing Two Peace Treaties Westphalia and ViennaBook Report

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Diagnoses, Prescriptions, And New Institutions

Often, "peace becomes the father of war," simply a stage in a greater cycle of war and peace (Holsti, 1991, p. 24). A comparison of two peace agreements staged several centuries apart highlights Holsti's argument that international relations are cyclical in nature. Circumstances, values, and norms do change, but ultimately the elements of peacemaking provide the seeds for future war. The congress at Vienna, which was contemporaneous with the Treaties of Paris, did set the stage for a more modern version of peacemaking in Europe. Like its predecessor the Peace of Westphalia, the congress at Vienna recognized the principle of nationhood as being the most important political structure in the modern era. Especially after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the nation-state reigned far more supreme than the older established orders including those established by the Church. However, by the end of the 19th century, the congress of Vienna had proven to be short-lived. Both the congress of Vienna and its predecessor the Westphalia peace are exemplars of an old world order that valued territorial expansion as a hallmark of national sovereignty, and valued a balance of power based more on elitism and symbolism than on tangible measures like economic output or military might.

Whereas the Peace of Westphalia represented the demise of a world order governed by centralized powers residing in religious authorities, the congress of Vienna had fully recognized the emergence of secular power structures in an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment society. The goals and designs of the leading statesmen at both Westphalia and at Vienna shared in common goals like redistributing power from religious institutions to political ones -- whether those political institutions be characterized by monarchies, constitutional monarchies, or republics. The Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War, which was international in scope but which generally entailed a Catholic vs. Protestant balance of powers. The concept of power "balance" became salient in the 17th century, as it became clear that the downfall of religious institutions left a vacuum that needed to be filled elsewhere in political structure. Sovereign nation states presumed to be the next repository of political, economic, and social power in Europe following the treaties of Westphalia, which involved not only the Holy Roman Emperor but also the monarchs of major European powers including Spain, France, and Sweden.

Although religious leaders were not involved directly in the congress of Vienna, its leading statesmen and participants were as elite as they were at Westphalia. The French Revolution and its principles had not yet seeped into the public consciousness of Europe yet. Rather, Tallyrand, Castlereagh, and Metternich, the Austrian ruler, represented the new world order. At the juncture of 1815, following decades of war and instability in France and also throughout Europe due to Napoleon's imperialist bent, the goal of peacemaking was to create a "pan-European security system," (Holsti, 1991, p. 132). A similar need for peace and national security, as well as national sovereignty, prevailed at Westphalia. However, the details of Vienna were much different. At Vienna, Tallyrand, Castlereagh, and Metternich focused mainly on territorial redistribution and a delineation of "the limits of tolerable international behavior," (Holsti, 1991, p. 132). Westphalia failed to offer specific boundaries regarding the rules of international conduct: what sovereign nations could and could not do "without the explicit or tacit consent of the other great powers," (Holsti, 1991, p. 131). Prior to Westphalia, distribution of power had been bi-polar between Protestant strongholds like the Dutch Republic and Catholic realms like Spain and France. Subsequently, the distribution of power was more multi-polar but disjointed, based on the arbitrary nature of landmasses as opposed to more meaningful systems of valuation. Valuation would only become part of international peacemaking equations after Marxism took root in European intellectual thought, and the importance of economic power became more obvious.

Winners and Losers

Both the treaties of Westphalia and Vienna had some clear winners and losers, with elite powers obviously gaining much from power brokering than the populations dwelling in the territories in question. The real winner at Vienna was the rise of the modern nation-state, much more so than it was after Westphalia. Westphalia signaled not necessarily the crumbling of old dynastic powers, but more so, Church-driven authority. There was no sense that a European community or "Concert of Europe" would be beneficial yet, as it would become after the Napoleonic wars. Later, after the treaty of Utrecht, "the problem of hegemony" did become one that was discussed by world leaders but immediately after Westphalia, hegemony was not necessarily considered something that threatened balance of power in Europe (Holsti, 1991, p. 114).

Vienna, in fact, signaled the rebuilding of the same types of power structures from the rubble of Westphalia. The same systems and structures remained in place, even though the lines on the map had changed. Even if nationalism was becoming important in the 17th century, the particular brand of nationalism that reigned in the 19th century was different and more secular in nature and increasingly driven by economic expediency. The economic winners were those powers that had managed to separate their colonial territorial acquisitions from their interactions with European neighbors. Yet both Westphalia and Vienna brought to light the lack of genuine populist revolutionary spirit that could have become ingrained after the French Revolution, but which failed. The congress of Vienna ended up being more "mechanical" than forward-thinking, because the "opinions of the populations concerned" did not matter (Holsti, 1991, p. 115). Just as it had been for centuries, diplomats simply "drew lines on maps" to manufacture a balance of power (Holsti, 1991, p. 115). Even with Enlightenment philosophy and its attendant optimism and secularism, it was hard to see how power could ever be stripped from elites and distributed to the people. There was, however, the emergence of a faith in an international system leading to the creation of a European "family" (Holsti, 1991, p. 114) or the "Concert of Europe" (Holsti, 1991, p. 129).

Westphalia resulted in a much weaker Holy Roman Empire and a much stronger Habsburg and Prussian power base. Power shifted from Western to Central Europe in some ways, highlighting the problems that would emerge several centuries later and even after the congress of Vienna. The congress of Vienna also had some clear winners and losers. As Holsti (1991) points out, the small German states lost their political power as larger, hegemonic states like the Habsburgs became endowed with legitimacy. The Balkan and Aegean states were almost deliberately, and certainly unfortunately, omitted from discussion at all at Vienna as well as Westphalia. Britain was neither winner nor loser in either era, as it distanced itself increasingly from continental quibbling. The powers that had become global in stature due to colonial expansion, including Spain, France, Portugal, and Britain, contended with a whole other set of variables. Russia, too, had been given almost free license to pursue territorial expansion and it did -- sowing the seeds for future war too. By the middle of the 19th century, Russia had expanded its territories considerably and continually, encroaching on Finland and Poland and even setting its eyes on Balkan and other regions abutting the Ottoman Empire.

Longevity/Viability

Westphalia failed primarily by ignoring some of the key issues plaguing Europe at the time. In particular, Westphalia narrow-mindedly rejected constructing a mutually beneficial peace with the Ottoman Empire. "Ottoman Turkey was a critical player in the European games of power politics but was not yet accepted as a member of the club," (Holsti, 1991, p. 45). Religion, once again, became an outmoded point of interest for the power brokers. Westphalia failed to recognize the ways Russian and Ottoman interests clashed in key regions. Eastern clashes would become some of the most serious and peace-threatening issues over the next several centuries and remain so in the 21st century. As Holsti (1991) states, Westphalia "did little to reduce the incidence of war," and the same would be said after Vienna (p. 46). New alliances were formed, but the persistency of war remained.

Of the two conferences and peacetime negotiations, the congress of Vienna proved to be somewhat more enduring and viable, even if it was not long lasting. The congress of Vienna represented the triumph of Enlightenment values over the religious worldview that had previously prevailed. Leaders were not necessarily smarter, more fair, or more just. The leaders at neither Westphalia nor at the congress of Vienna favored a temporary stability that favored an elite, albeit large, segment of Europe. Both failed to become long-term peacemaking solutions because leaders failed to recognize the complexities of an ever-changing social and political landscape. Neither conference was built on theoretical or philosophical underpinnings containing broad principles; both were too particular and narrowly focused on the interests of hegemonic powers. Especially given the issues posed by colonialism, imperialism, and the burgeoning post-colonial era, Westphalia and Vienna can be considered equally as successful in creating temporary peace in Europe, and equally as unsuccessful in providing… [END OF PREVIEW]

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