How does the primacy of Great Britain in Ikenberry’s argument hold up when looking at other factors during the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna?


Full text


How does the primacy of Great Britain in Ikenberry’s argument hold up

when looking at other factors during the events surrounding the

Congress of Vienna?

Patrick Schuurs


Thesis 10: ‘The world we live in’

Dr. Claire Vergerio

Leiden University

Wordcount: 8012


Thesis Patrick Schuurs, s1425064


The congress of Vienna was held at the end of the Napoleonic wars in order to restore

peace to Europe. This was no small task as the Napoleonic wars had raged for almost 20 years and had destroyed or altered a number of very important institutions that had existed previously.

The end of the Holy Roman Empire meant that there was now a gap in institutions in the German

states which had to be resolved (Steiger, 2004, p. 60-61). Besides the influence on the shape of state borders the French revolution and the wars that followed had brought with them a number

of new ideas that spread across the continent and threatened the old monarchies and aristocratic

order. After so much bloodshed and change it seemed like a daunting task to restore peace to Europe. The situation after the fall of Napoleon certainly came close to the brink of war on a

number of occasions. Yet in the end the major powers did manage to come to some form of compromise and created a treaty that not only resulted in peace between the great powers in the

short term, but also kept them at peace for a number of decades to come. Many other treaties in

history have not been able to ensure a stable peace on this level (Schroeder, 2003, p. 577). As it was a pivotal time in European history many authors have looked at what happened in the events

surrounding the Congress of Vienna. Ikenberry has written an analysis of the peace treaty that

gives a great insight into the impact of the Congress of Vienna on the changes in how major powers engaged in maintaining the international order (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 80-116). His analysis

places its emphasis on the role that Great Britain played in the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna. In particular he claims that Great Britain was the leading state and thus most

important when looking at the outcome of the Congress of Vienna.This emphasis might be too

narrow as it gives primacy to Great Britain while the other major powers potentially played a large role in the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna. This thesis will focus on Ikenberry’s

arguments to establish if he might not need reassessment due to him neglecting to take the role of

the other major powers, particularly Russia, into serious consideration. As he has also written on other peace treaty it is valuable to see if his approach of focusing on a single power can hold up


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both made and kept, a better understanding of the Congress of Vienna that started the modern congress diplomacy is highly valuable.

Research Question

How does the primacy of Great Britain in Ikenberry’s argument hold up when looking at other

factors during the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna?


The Congress of Vienna and the treaty that followed was an outlier in peace treaties both before and after. It is an outlier because possibly no other congress after such a great war was

able to resolve so many problems while looking at the interests of both the victorious and

defeated states. As there were no wars between great powers until the Crimean War in 1853 and no general European war all the way until 1914 the Congress of Vienna can be seen as a lesson

on how a successful peace process works (Chapman, 1998, p. 1-2; Ikenberry, 2001, p. 80;

Steiger, 2004, p. 61-62). As a lot has already been said and written about the Congress of Vienna it is surprising that the role that certain factors played, both in getting the congress to take place

and bringing it to a successful conclusion are not entirely understood. Looking at specific

arguments on why Ikenberry would argue that Great Britain might have played a larger role than

others might help in understanding the role of a single state in the peace process. This might

bring understanding to the ability of a potentially hegemonic state to influence world affairs in its own interests, specifically if they can single handedly achieve their goals. This research is

significant because misunderstanding can be dangerous, Langhorne notes that before the Treaty

of Versailles the British used a study by Charles Webster that argued that including France in the Congress of Vienna was a mistake (Langhorne, 1986, p. 313). This fateful misunderstanding was

a reason for excluding Germany and the resulting harsh Treaty of Versailles that was inflicted on it. In order to prevent such misunderstandings on the role that any (semi-)hegemonic state can

play in maintaining the international order, it is important to look at Ikenberry’s arguments for


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the most important state during those negotiations just as he claims Great Britain is the most important for the Congress of Vienna (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 117-128). Starting with research on

the Congress of Vienna might show that further research might be needed to better understand

the Treaty of Versailles as well.

Literature review

The Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna are impactful events in European history. Owing to this importance a lot has been writing about the Congress and the events

surrounding it. Paul Schroeder’s book The transformation of European politics 1763-1848 has an excellent and in depth description of the events that took place surrounding the Congress of

Vienna. (Schroeder, 2003, p. 477-636). Schroeder argues that the congress was a moderate

success, he even states that no other peace treaty got it right;

​ Only the Vienna settlement got

things right; Only it genuinely established peace

​ (Schroeder, 2003, p. 577). Schroeder also

shows the large role that states other than Great Britain played, in particular Russia ended the

Napoleonic wars in a remarkably strong position. This strength came from a number of factors, the first being that it had troops stationed in Poland which, gave Alexander 200,000 men to back

up his claims in Poland (Schroeder, 2003, p. 524). The second factor was that it not only had an army in Poland, its army was very strong overall compared to the rest of the coalition, with as

much as 800,000 men under arms with the second largest army belonging to Great Britain with

225,000 men under arms (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 87). The large army combined with geographical isolation at the Eastern edge or Europe made Russia a state which had a strong bargaining

position with little to fear from the rest of the major powers. Chapman’s work on the Congress of

Vienna adds to the literature by being very approachable. It clearly states the goals that the major powers had before the Congress and the results that they attained during the Congress (Chapman,

1998, p.1-62).

Ikenberry has done extensive research on peace treaties and has studied the Congress of


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leaves much on the table about what role the other powers played. It is true that Great Britain was in a very strong position after the war, but so was Russia a fact seemingly glossed over by

Ikenberry. Ikenberry writes that Great Britain became the preeminent global power and Russia

‘only’ the dominant power in Eastern Europe (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 81). This ignores the fact that Russia was extending its influence far broader than Eastern Europe and into the Ottoman

Empire, Persia and Central Asia. In this sense Ikenberry looks only at what was important for

Great Britain during the Congress of Vienna, which was only the European theater. In the conclusion of his book he does claim that Russia was a great power but says that because the

government of Tzar Alexander was not predictable and could not be expected to keep to agreements it makes they played a lesser role in the maintenance of the international

system(Ikenberry, 2001, p. 261). Russia is seen as a state that uses power politics to attempt to

influence other states. This can be seen in the debate over the division of Poland, during which Alexander supports his offer by saying he had 200,000 men stationed in Poland to back his claim

(Schroeder, 2003, p. 524). This shows one of the differences between Russia and Great Britain.

As Russia is not afraid to argue based on its army not on what would be best for long term European peace. Russian power often returns as a factor in the events surrounding the Congress

of Vienna. In light of this Russian power the primacy of Great Britain as Ikenberry argues should be looked at to see if Great Britain was truly able to have such a large impact on its own account.

Conceptual Framework

This thesis will look at how different states influence the international order. In this case

the focus will be on how (semi-)hegemonic states are able to influence other states into getting a

peace deal that would greatly benefit them and allows them to maintain a preferable international system. The goal of the maintenance of the international system seems to have shifted

throughout time from a focus on the balance of power, in which no one state has an upper hand using coalitions and alliances to contain any potential hegemon. To a system of a managed order

in which the states would work together to maintain this balance in a congress system


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dynastic crisis could disturb the balance bring all of Europe to war would be changed into a system in which the major powers engaged in consistent diplomacy and regular congresses

(Holsti, 1991, p. 114-116). Thinking in terms of balance of power still seems to be the prefered

way of looking at the international system at this time. This is due to the fact that many interpret the negotiations about borders and lands as a balance of power system (Schroeder, 1992, p.

683-684). The idea put forth by Schroeder that this should instead be viewed as a hegemonic

system, in which Great Britain and Russia are the hegemonic states that through restraint and compromise enable a peaceful international order fits with the arguments by Ikenberry. This is

due to Ikenberry’s claim that Great Britain is the most important state when looking at the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna fits within the hegemonic approach even if not directly

calling Great Britain a hegemonic state (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 80-82). As his claim of British

primacy would not point to a balance of power within Europe but a European system in which Great Britain would, at least attempt to, be the hegemon. The question that then emerges is

whether Great Britain is the sole hegemonic state in Europe or whether or not other factors

played a role.

To look at whether or not Great Britain is a hegemonic state, as can be read from Ikenberry’s argument, there are three aspects I want to look at as I believe they hold the key to

understanding of whether or not Great Britain was the main arbiter or the Congress of Vienna.

The first aspect is the role of the enemy that the Allies were facing, Napoleon. Napoleon was the character that this entire war revolved around and I will argue that Ikenberry does not look

closely at what the role of Napoleon’s actions both in the field and during diplomatic interactions

had on the Congress of Vienna. The second factor that Ikenberry glosses over is the role of Russia. As I have shown before Ikenberry does show that Russia was a powerful state at this

time but he does not see Russia as being on the same level of Great Britain. Meanwhile a number of authors do see Russia as being a hegemon of its own right not only in Eastern Europe but also

in the Middle East and Central Asia (Schroeder, 1992, p. 686-687; Philips, 1914, p. 88-90). The


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factor that remains is the role of Great Britain itself. After having looked at the other two factors we need to show what Great Britain did in order to make the Congress of Vienna a reality and

see if they were the state that was at the helm or not and see how the three factors interact in the

outcome of the Congress. These three factors will be analysed at three moments, in the period before the Congress of Vienna, during the congress, and after the congress. At the end we will be

able to see if Ikenberry’s approach should have been more broad or that he was correct in his use

of Great Britain as the hegemonic state.

Research Design

The goal of this thesis is to reassess Ikenberry’s argument on the primacy of Great Britain

in the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna. The major states that played a significant part

in this period were, Great Britain, Russia, Austria, France, and Prussia. With Great Britain and Russia being the (semi-)hegemonic states and getting the most attention as they had the greatest

potential capacity to influence other states. There were also a great number of minor powers in

Europe that did play some role before and during the Congress of Vienna (Kissinger, 1956, p. 268). Their role will sometimes be mentioned but as the final treaty was the work of the great

powers the minor powers will not play a large part in this thesis either.

The Congress of Vienna itself happened around the years 1814-1815 but it ended the

Napoleonic Wars which had been going on since 1803, and the Congress started the Concert of Europe. This thesis will try to see what the role of major states was in getting a congress to take

place as this was no guarantee. As early as 1812 or in a unique case even 1805 the major states

started to think and negotiate about what would happen after the war, this time before the Congress of Vienna will therefore be important to investigate thoroughly as some of the results

from the Congress were decided in the years leading up to it. The period after the Congress is also important as there was no guarantee that the things agreed to at the congress would actually

be adhered to. So the first years after the Congress will show how states acted in keeping to the


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There is a lot of source material on the Congress of Vienna a couple of sources stand out

for being extremely thorough. The book The Transformation of European Politics by Paul

Schroeder is an excellent work on the period and goes in great depth in explaining the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna. Ikenberry’s book After Victory has a chapter on the

Congress of Vienna that will be at the center of this thesis. As this is the chapter in which he

analyses the Congress of Vienna which is what I want to look further into. Tim Chapman has a very approachable book on the Congress of Vienna that gives a clear overview of the results of

the Congress of Vienna.

Thesis Outline

In the starting part of the thesis I have shown what question I will try to answer and why it is important. In order to answer it I will start by looking that period before the Congress of

Vienna and taking a closer look at the role of Napoleon. Then I will look at the role of Russia

and end my analysis of the period before the Congress of Vienna by assessing how Great Britain dealt with the two factors of Napoleon and Russia. The next part will be an in depth look at what

took place during the Congress of Vienna, with Napoleon and Russia playing a big part. Again concluding with a look at how Great Britain acted in order to see if it was the most important

state. The last part will be a short look at the years after the Congress to see how Russia and

Great Britain shared the responsibility for the international system. The conclusion will answer the question of whether Great Britain was the most important state and if Ikenberry should have

been more broad in his approach to the Congress of Vienna.

Getting the Congress to take place

To begin the exploration of whether Great Britain was the main player in the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna we should start by looking at the actions of Napoleon

Bonaparte. Napoleon was a master of the battlefield but as I would like to show his actions on


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what would happen next. There were a number of options that emerged based on the preferences of certain states. One of the options was a ceasefire with France in which Napoleon would stay in

power. This was an option that primarily Austria was pursuing. The main war goal that Austria

seemed to follow was survival and a swift end to the war. Preferably with good conditions but peace for itself was the priority (Schroeder, 2003, p.460). There are even arguments that Austria

and its main diplomat in this period Metternich were not opposed to Napoleon at all up to the

point of Napoleon’s defeat in Russia (Schroeder, 2003, p. 496). Napoleon prevented this outcome by not allowing Austria to go for a diplomatic solution mainly by maintaining the

French claim on Italy. For Austria it was important to regain its influence in Italy so Napoleon’s uncompromising diplomacy forced Austria into war with him. The attempts of getting peace by

way of a ceasefire with Napoleon did not result in any meaningful gains for Austria during the

war. Napoleon and his style of diplomacy prevented peace while he was still on the throne by imposing impossible demands and his unwillingness to compromise. A peace congress was even

held at Prague in 1813 which had a small but real chance at ending the war between Napoleon

and a coalition of Prussia, Austria and Russia. Such a peace would have left Napoleon on the throne and the French empire in a very strong position (Schroeder, 2003, p. 466-474). This idea

of a ceasefire or separate peace between Austria and France remained as a factor that Great Britain had to be wary of in its attempt to get a general peace agreement that would bring

stability to Europe. Castlereagh was shaken by the fact that his plan for a European wide peace

treaty almost fell through at Prague in 1813. It was mainly thanks to Napoleon’s inability to engage in serious diplomacy that saved Great Britain from having to oppose Napoleon alone.

The threat of parts of the coalition signing a separate peace with Napoleon led to the increase of British subsidies to all the Allied states, not only the great powers but also smaller

powers like Sweden and Spain (Ikenberry, 2001, p.94). By doing so Great Britain hoped to ensure their continued role in the war and diminishing the chance that they would seek separate

peace treaties with France. I would argue that Great Britain’s subsidies were important in


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made not only the leaders but especially the populations of the warring states weary to keep fighting. Lowering the financial burden made it easier for the Allied states to stay in the war.

Though the subsidies were important they were not a guarantee that any individual state,

especially Austria, would not agree to a separate peace. For this the role of Napoleon’s

diplomatic actions must not be forgotten. Napoleon would consistently make peace impossible

by demanding too much and never being willing to negotiate or compromise. This made

Napoleon a poor partner in any diplomatic deal as there was no certainty of his intentions or continued cooperation (Schroeder, 2003, p 466-467). Ikenberry’s argument that Great Britain

was the reason the coalition remained together is certainly true but he forgets the role that Napoleon played by his refusal to offer reasonable terms leaving the states interested in a

ceasefire with no option but to keep fighting. Napoleon unknowingly helped Great Britain with

establishing the Congress system by his military victories as well. In early 1814 the coalition was on the offensive and gaining confidence of their victory (Schroeder, 2003, p. 495). This was

accompanied by another attempt at diplomacy that could have seen an end to the war with

Napoleon still on the throne. By the spring of 1814 Napoleon had won some great victories and had stabilized his position, even causing fear of renewed French conquest. It was through these

French victories, that also caused Napoleon to cancel his attempts of diplomacy, that started or strengthened the feeling that peace was only possible when Napoleon was removed from the

French throne. This is all to show that Napoleon was unable to negotiate a peace with the state

most susceptible to an offer of early peace, Austria. On top of that his negotiations with other states were often difficult as he would change his offer based on the day by day events on the

battlefield. And as his victories late in the war made him cancel earlier attempts at diplomacy

and strengthened the resolve of the individual members of the coalition to stay in the war. This shows that Napoleon played a large role in the prevention of an early peace and thus allowed for

a general European peace. British subsidies and military involvement might have been instrumental to keep the coalition fighting it could never have prevented a state to attempt to


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While Napoleon might have inadvertently helped Great Britain through his inability to engage in fruitful diplomacy there was another factor that could make a general European peace

congress unlikely. This factor was Tzar Alexander of Russia. Russia had played a large role in

the downfall of Napoleon. Ever since Napoleon’s Grande Armee invaded and subsequently was defeated in Russia the Russian army became highly involved in the war, chasing Napoleon all

the way back to Paris (Chapman, 1998, p. 9). The Russian state at this time had a number of

advantages over its neighbors, Austria and Prussia. The first advantage was that it was simply larger, boasting a larger population and economy. The second advantage was that its position

was much more secure, being at the edge of Europe and not surrounded by potential adversaries as was the case for Austria and Prussia. These factors made Russia a contender for being viewed

as having hegemony over Eastern Europe (Schroeder, 2003, p. 525). Ikenberry calls Great

Britain the leading global power (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 85). However it is unclear why that would be the case, as Russia has the largest territory, population and standing army with Great Britain

ruling the waves and having the strongest financial position they both dominate different parts of

the world (Schroeder, 1992, p. 687).

As the war comes to a close it was not at all certain that Tzar Alexander would be playing along with Castlereagh’s attempt of restoring the Bourbon dynasty to the throne and getting a

general European peace congress together (Ikenberry 2001, p. 95; Schroeder, 2003, p. 552-553).

The Russian army could have marched on France and captured Paris, leaving Alexander free to take Poland while the other states would fight over the fate of France. This plan of marching on

Paris was made difficult by the fact that, while Russia fielded the largest army, it could not

defeat Napoleon on its own. For that it needed two things: British subsidies and Allied military support. Austria in particular used the threat of withdrawing its armies from the Allied war effort

to get Alexander to agree to reinstating the Bourbon dynasty. On top of the threat of Austria withdrawing from the war there was also the risk of Great Britain revoking its subsidies to

Russia (Schroeder, 2003, p. 500-501). Russia showed that it was in the position to cause other


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side of the coalition to achieve its goal of annexing Poland which shows that after 20 years of war not a single state was in a position to dominate the others a sign that this period was not

totally lacking in the older balance of power idea as these events seem to show. Russia was also

made more unpredictable because of its form of government, with Tzar Alexander as its absolute ruler. Alexander seemed to be quick to change his mind and this could make long term

diplomatic deals difficult as there was no guarantee that Alexander would not make up his mind

and change his priorities. It went so far that Gentz an Austrian adviser has said of the Tzar that “what he dreams of at night he can carry out in the morning” (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 111).

Great Britain was in favor of a general European peace congress that would settle,

hopefully, a great number of the problems that emerged during and after the Napoleonic wars.

As we know the Congress of Vienna was exactly such a congress, and while it sometimes seems like this was the most natural result of the war due to it being the eventual outcome that is not the

case. A lot of work and perhaps even chance had to go into making the Congress of Vienna a

reality. Great Britain was the biggest proponent of a general European peace congress as it would give the largest chance that there would be stability in continental Europe which would benefit

the British economic and financial position (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 85-86). Castlereagh knew that there was no way that Great Britain could force the Allies to fight solely for British aims. If their

capacity to keep fighting would be depleted or their interests met they might seek a continental

peace that could keep Napoleon in power and exclude Great Britain. Because of this risk Great Britain not only extended loans and subsidies bu also wanted to convince the continental Allies

that a general peace would be in their interest too. In essence Castlereagh tried to convince the

Allies that a British defeat would not be in their interest either (Schroeder, 2003, p. 475). Great Britain did not try to claim any territory in mainland Europe which made maneuvering through

all the competing claims easier as they had no demands conflicting with other states(Chapman, 1998, p. 15). Not claiming any territory did fit within British interests as they did not look to

expand their territory as much as they wanted to create a stable European system that would


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peace treaty easier to accept (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 96-97; Nicolson, 1946, p. 68-70). All of its efforts were helped by the fact that Great Britain was a parliamentary democracy which was,

while slow, reliable and trustworthy. As opposed to the other major powers all of which were

ruled by monarchs that could sometimes single handedly change their minds on diplomatic agreements making those deals less valuable as deals with or guarantees from Great Britain.

Russia in particular was very susceptible to the whims of Tzar Alexander which hampered its

long term diplomatic capabilities.

In the end the subsidies, diplomatic deals and flexibility in goals of Great Britain meant that I agree with Ikenberry that the Congress of Vienna would have looked very different without

Castlereagh working tirelessly in the background to keep the coalition together and keep Russia

in check. What I do not agree with however is that Great Britain did this on its own. As we have seen the fact that Napoleon could not agree to any serious diplomatic deal that could have ended

the war early or driven the coalition apart played a huge role. From what Austria has shown in

the years 1812 to 1815 it would not have surprised me that they would have taken a ceasefire with Napoleon if halfway decent terms would have been offered. The Russian army was

dependent on both the military support as the subsidies that Great Britain provided. Great Britain was able to keep not only its own army in the field but also financially support the allied war

effort which does point to it being more powerful than the other major states. Great Britain can

thus be seen as the hegemon of the naval and colonial sphere but not of the European continent, due to Russia still having a significantly larger landmass and population than Great Britain. The

two world powers could cooperate as their interests did not immediately overlap which meant

that Great Britain was free to act in the Western sphere and Russia could act without British interference in the Middle East and Persia (Schroeder, 2003, p. 515-516). Ikenberry should have


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The Congress of Vienna

The Napoleonic wars ended with the Peace of Paris on may 30th 1814 which already

included much of what was agreed on in numerous deals and agreements over the last years of

the war. The Major powers would then hammer out the details at the Congress of Vienna. At the Congress of Vienna the three main players can again be seen, with Napoleon, Russia and Great

Britain playing a key role. When starting with the role of Napoleon it seemed at first as though

he had played his part and would no longer be a major influence if he safely stays on Elba. Yet the fact that he returned and launched his Hundred Day Campaign had a major impact on the

Congress of Vienna. At the first Peace of Paris the allies were relatively lenient on France. The Allied powers had shown that the war was never fought against France or the French people but

against Napoleon (Philips, 1914, p. 33). The Bourbon dynasty was restored and France regained

control over most of the colonies that Great Britain had taken during the war as well as an increase in territory at the French border. This leniency had served the goal of returning a

situation to Europe in which France would be content with its status and would hopefully not see

a benefit in launching a new war (Schroeder, 2003, p.508-509). Napoleon returning placed a huge strain on all the members of the coalition as they had to restart their war efforts and it was

not clear at that time that it would be a short campaign. From the perspective of the leaders of the time there was no certainty that this war would not take months or even years. All the major

powers did resume their war with Napoleon making it unlikely that his reign would be very long

(Schroeder, 2003, p550-553). All the hard work and diplomatic deals during the Congress of Vienna had to be quickly resolved when Napoleon returned. Because there was no certainty that

any state would be in as strong of poor of a position after the renewed conflict it seemed easier to

actually settle specific questions (Schroeder, 2003, p. 550). The sudden ability to settle a lot of these issues is not even mentioned by Ikenberry while I would argue that it is key to the

understanding of the Congress. It shows that no state can force the slow diplomatic process and it was not Great Britain nor Russia that ensured this result in the end. Napoleon’s defeat at

Waterloo meant that the Allied army did not need to fight a long war in France itself which


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while the coalition armies would have to remain in occupation. This possible outcome of history was averted by Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

Alexander already called for France to be able to choose its own ruler while being under ‘protection’ from the coalition armies (Schroeder, 2003, p. 553). This was but one of the many

ways in which Alexander tried to show Russian power and secure influence over Europe. Earlier

in the Congress a bit conflict emerged over the fate of both Poland and Saxony. Russia and Prussia had earlier in 1813 agreed to split them between themselves with Prussia gaining Saxony

and Russia gaining most of Poland except for some territory that would give Prussia an over land route between East Prussia and Brandenburg (Schroeder, 2003, p. 524). This deal did not suit

Austria and Metternich started acting against Prussia in order to prevent Saxony from falling into

Prussian hands. Great Britain and Austria were also fearful of Russia dominating Poland and gaining territory in the heart of Europe. This conflict almost led to war as Great Britain, France

and Austria created a defensive alliance against Russia and Prussia. Russia withdrew its support

from Prussia leaving it alone and forced to compromise on Saxony. Great Britain helped making the new deal acceptable for Prussia, allowing them to gain part of Saxony and prevented them

from losing face. Meanwhile Russia had compromised on Poland by not only giving Prussia a part but also giving a part of Poland to Austria. Ultimately Alexander had achieved his goals in

Poland (Chapman, 1998, p. 33). These events all go so show that Russia was key in large part of

the Congress, with Prusia being dependent on it and Austria fearing Russia as much as it does France. Alexander’s character was crucial in all Russian actions as he had absolute control over

Russian diplomacy. This proved to play a large role as Alexander was more liberal than his

policies at home would give any reason to believe. Ikenberry claims that it was Great Britain that used strategic restraint and order building strategies but Alexander, while inconsistent, also

showed great restraint (Ikenberry, 2001, p. 115). Alexander could have chosen not to become a part of the Congress System and it could have used its power to push its interests harder at a

number of points during the Congress. The fact that after the return of Napoleon and his Hundred


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were a big part of the Congress System and the Holy Alliance showed that Alexander had his own view on the building of international institutions and did commit to them.

All of Napoleon’s effort and Russian influence did not mean that Great Britain was not important during the Congress of Vienna. We have already seen that Great Britain played an

instrumental role in getting the Congress to take place which means that it was in their interest to

get a good result that would ensure peace in Europe with as little maintenance as possible. Great Britain had few direct demands on the continent with only the independence of what is now the

Netherlands and Belgium from the other major powers being its main objective. This objective was never under discussion as it had made its subsidies during the war dependant on whether a

state would accept certain conditions most importantly on the question of the Low Countries

(Ikenberry, 2001, p. 93-94; 97). Because of these conditions and earlier negotiations Great Britain started the Congress of Vienna having already achieved its primary objectives. Returning

colonies to France and Holland might sound very generous but Great Britain kept plenty of the

most strategic locations strengthening its advantages on the seas (Chapman, 1998, p. 39-40). Besides its own strategic goals the main objective was to create a stable European peace that

would allow Great Britain to grow its economy with as little conflict as possible. To do this Castlereagh tried to step in and create a balance of power system that could keep Russia in check

while not giving any other state too much as to upset the balance. In the end Russia showed its

hegemonic role in forcing Prussia to accept only half of Saxony while Russia still gained most of Poland. This case shows that Great Britain might have immense power on the seas it could not

act without Russian acceptance in Eastern Europe. Russia was vital in keeping the peace and as

we have seen Alexander played this role just as Great Britain did. It could be argued that Russia was more after prestige and respect than a true institutional international system but that did not

stop them from playing their part in the success of the Congress of Vienna. Ikenberry claims that the system of government of the different states also played a role, and with Great Britain being

the only parliamentary democracy it had an advantage over that other autocratic states


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them to have to compromise or change their tone on any major issue allowing them, as Ikenberry says to be more reliable. The other major powers were not so lucky with Russia, Austria and

Prussia being forced to change their tone in order to achieve their own goals without risking

conflict with the other powers. This can be seen in the conflict of Poland and Saxony for which Russia and Prussia had already decided to divide those territories between the two of them. At

the end of the war there was expected backlash from Austria that would be severely threatened

by both a Russian acquisition of Poland and a Prussian acquisition of Saxony. It is thus not surprising that Russia did not keep itself to the deal with Prussia in 1813 but made a compromise

that saw Austria also gain a part of Poland and Prussia acquire only about half of Saxony. This compromise shows their flexibility and capability to work with the others states in order to get a

successful and stable treaty as much as Great Britain. There is no denying that Alexander could

change his mind on a day by day basis but when looking at the success of the Congress of

Vienna this did not seem to harm it. Contrary to that it might even have helped it for if Alexander

had been more consistent and thus ‘reliable’ he might have kept to his original idea of the French

people being allowed to choose their own government. Ikenberry’s view that Great Britain thus had a preferable position due to its democratic principles is, in my opinion, ignoring the different

circumstance that Great Britain found itself in.

After the Congress

If the states that had come together for the Congress of Vienna had left Vienna and never thought of it again the treaty would not have been special. What changed history at Vienna was

that the different states agreed to come together regularly in congresses that would be able to

discuss the problems of the moment. This was meant to prevent issues from remaining until they were so great they could cause a war, and instead to try to resolve them diplomatically. This is

truly the most important factor of the Congress of Vienna as this Congress System or ‘The Concert of Europe’ as it is regularly called was able to prevent war between the major states for

many decades. During this period there was no lack of crises that had to be resolved so it is


Thesis Patrick Schuurs, s1425064

Vienna. These states were Russia, which established the Holy Alliance, and Great Britain, which looked for a more hands off approach in order to prevent expensive foreign policy from being a

burden on an already strained state budget (Schroeder, 2003, p. 586-588). After 20 years of war

all the states in Europe found themselves in hard times financially and politically, the Russians were no exception. I would argue that it this war exhaustion also played a role in the way that the

major powers did not go to war for so long as they had to recover from the war and often also

had to integrate new peoples and territories. In terms of their military both Russia and Great Britain decreased their military expenditure after the Napoleonic Wars. For Great Britain this

meant that it again had only a small army and would not be ready to fight any major wars, even their navy had to be cut back in size to deal with the financial strain. For Russia it meant that due

to its large front with Prussia, Austria, the Ottomans and Persia, plus its domestic security needs

with the newly acquired regions of Poland and Bessarabia that it could not cut the size of its military as dramatically as Great Britain could. It did try a number of reforms to prevent the

military budget from crippling state finances, the most famous are his settler colonies that would

have groups of soldiers settle the underpopulated parts of Russia and help with economic growth in peace time and be ready to be called up when war started (Schroeder, 2003, p. 586-589). The

two states in this period generally tried to avoid provoking the other too much, and they both had a huge influence on European foreign policy at this time. A clear show of the role both states

played was in the Neapolition revolution that saw Austria having to restore order in Naples

(Albrecht-Carrié, 1968, p 54-55). This opportunity was used by France and Russia to restore French influence in Italy. When Great Britain strongly tried to prevent French interference the

French did back down in order to prevent falling foul of Britain. Austria on the other hand

cooperated with Russia and agreed to a conference to discuss the matter. The result from this conference was the establishment that there was a right to restore sovereign governments when

they were threatened by revolution, a very important development as it allowed the Holy

Alliance led by Russia to interfere in the affairs in other states. While Great Britain was strongly

opposed to this new development (Schroeder, 2003, p. 608-612). Ikenberry does not give the


Thesis Patrick Schuurs, s1425064


I started out by looking at the role of different states in the events surrounding the

Congress of Vienna because I felt this was misunderstood by Ikenberry in his analysis of the

peace process. In the run up to the Congress I feel it is clear that Great Britain did play a huge role in keeping the coalition together through subsidies and diplomatic actions. Ikenberry was

correct in claiming that Great Britain was the state that was most important for this. Yet I hope to

have shown that Great Britain did not work in a vacuum where its actions were the only thing keeping the coalition together. Napoleon has played an important role in his own demise, first

through his invasion of Russia and later through his unwillingness to engage in serious diplomacy. Had Napoleon been more willing to engage in meaningful diplomacy there would

have been little that Great Britain could have done to keep Austria and at some points in the war

even Russia inside the coalition. Napoleon’s return from Elba also brought the entire Congress of Vienna in jeopardy as it increased demands on France for more concessions and even the

removal of the Bourbon dynasty from the French throne. The reason that the Bourbons were

restored after the Hundred Days Campaign was due to Russia. Russia played a huge role in all the events surrounding the Congress of Vienna such as with Tzar Alexander asking Talleyrand

what would be best for France and then following that advice shows that at some times it was Russia who was at the helm of the entire international system. Russia gets more mention than

Napoleon from Ikenberry yet while he consistently mentions Russia as being the strong Eastern

power he never argues in favor of the Russian importance.

In the end I agree with Ikenberry that Great Britain was the most important state in

making the Congress of Vienna a success yet it was not the only factor. I feel there should be more care taken in choosing the important factors that resulted in a treaty outcome. As Ikenberry

has taken the same approach and has chosen the United States as the leading state in the events surrounding the Treaty of Versailles there should be care taken to avoid easy answers. The idea

that a single state is the most important and can influence such large negotiations on its own is


Thesis Patrick Schuurs, s1425064

Hopefully this thesis has added to the understanding of how states maintain the

international system and has shown that even (semi-)hegemonic states cannot act alone. In order

to add more understanding to how other factors than the hegemonic state influence events it

would be valuable to research the specific interactions between a hegemonic state and other smaller states in maintaining the international system. The idea of an American led system could

be better understood if we give more attention to the work that smaller states and other factors

play. There are also parts that can be improved in this thesis, specifically the role of Russia can use more in depth analysis in the effect it had on the other states. Unfortunately this was beyond

the scope of my research yet it would be valuable to establish whether Russian power was as extensive as I conclude it to be when keeping their limited resources in mind. Another thing that

I noticed was that a lot of the authors are positive about the Congress of Vienna but often claim

that the Concert of Europe ended in 1823 with the Greek Crisis. I think that the Congress of Vienna might have started a new doctrine that enabled states to engage in regular congresses to

resolve issues. Further studies on this change in diplomatic doctrine instead of just the physical


Thesis Patrick Schuurs, s1425064


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​ Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Langhorne, R. (1986). Reflections on the significance of the Congress of Vienna

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​ (02), 264-280.


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​ London: Faber


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​ S.l.: Forgotten books.

Schroeder, P. W. (2003). The transformation of European politics, 1763-1848.

​ Oxford:


Thesis Patrick Schuurs, s1425064

Schroeder, P. W. (1992). Did the Vienna settlement rest on a balance of power?

​ The American

historical review. P. 683-706.

Steiger, H. (2004). Peace treaties from Paris to Versailles. In Peace Treaties and International Law in European History

​ (pp. 59-100). Cambridge university press.

Vick, B. E. (2014). The Congress of Vienna: Power and politics after Napoleon

​ . Cambridge,





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