The breakdown of the Concert of Europe
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During the post-Napoleonic Era, countries began to seek ways to maintain the balance of power among Europe. Thus, they called on cooperation and created a good start of the Concert of Europe—the collaboration of countries. However, by 1823, failure loomed and the Concert of Europe began to collapse. What were the reasons behind? Was it mainly because of the increasing difference among them over the issue of maintaining peace? To a small extent, however, this was not the main one.
To a large extent, the self-interests and jealousies between countries induced the collapse of the Concert of Europe. Different countries had various thoughts and desire for their interests. Due to the diversified notions of how to obtain their goals, disagreements and increasing difference soon arose between them and further hampered the cooperation.
Different countries had their different kind of thoughts and concern about interests. Britain wanted to preserve her maritime supremacy and trade route, as well as the balance of power. She and France hoped to stop the expansion of other powers to keep themselves as well as the whole Europe safe. Austria together with Prussia desired for international cooperation for suppressing new ideas and maintaining peace, while Russia wished to have expansion in the Balkans.
Some examples during the Concert of Europe could certainly demonstrate it. In the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, Russia proposed sending troops to help Ferdinand VII of Spain against his rebellious South American colonies in which wanted freedom. However, Britain was opposed to it unless her interests in those colonies were safeguarded beforehand. This could reveal the self-interest of Britain though during the work of maintaining peace and preventing revolutions or new ideas spread there. Such thoughts of guaranteeing self-centered ideas could then induce difference between countries and even the collapse of the Concert of Europe.
The Congress of Troppau can also be taken as an instance. There was Spanish Revolt at the time. Troppau Protocol was asked to sign there (proposed by Austria, Russia and Prussia) in which stated that intervention was necessary to stop revolutions in states for maintaining the peace in Europe. However, Britain refused to do so as she was afraid that the Spanish king might gain the independence of South American colonies with the intervention of the affair by other countries—the self-interest of preserving the trade route and maintaining the market in South America. Hence, Britain opposed the intervention mainly due to her self-concern of trading. The non-intervention principle of her could then be derived from the decision.
In the Congress of Verona, Britain asked the US President Monroe to propose the Monroe Protocol declaring the protection for South America and preventing other countries’ meddling with it. This was regarded as the self-interest considered by Britain for enhancing her trading activities. She later recognized the independence of South American republics with which could fully show her interest in the area but not solely for the maintaining of peace in Europe.
Russia also did something driven by his self-interest concern. He sent help to intervene in Greek Independence. The reason behind was that Russia wanted to extend his influence to the Balkans. Greece was the colony of Turkey and so Russia could then become stronger. Britain then cooperated with France to “help” the Greek Independence. In the above case, it truly shows that the three countries joined the intervention because of self-interests. Russia simply showed his ambition in the Balkan area. Britain and France stopped Russia from becoming too strong by interfering in the incident lest he might become a threat to their countries and even the whole Europe. Self-interests among countries began to emerge through the reactions of countries in this case.
Similarly, jealousies between countries played a great role in the reasons for the collapse of the Concert of Europe. Mutual jealousies failed to create a genuine atmosphere for cooperation. Envy could easily give rise to disagreement and difference between countries of how peace could be maintained. They would then be suspicious of others’ behaviour or decisions. The effectiveness of the Concert of Europe would be tarnished and lead to the collapse of it.
For instance, Russia was jealous of Austria for her dominance in the German Confederation while powers were envious of Britain’s thriving economic development and naval power. Hence, they banned her idea of stopping slave trade only because of the distrust and misunderstanding between them. Thus, divergence and difference in the point of views towards the issue of maintaining peace could be stirred up easily.
From the above cases, we can see that countries did not merely want to suppress the new ideas and to maintain the balance of power. The self-interest concerned by countries contributed greatly to the collapse of the Concert of Europe. They cared for their own benefits and led to dispute among themselves. However, we should not overlook the other factors that led to the breakdown of it.
To a small extent, the increasing difference among the Powers over the issue of how peace could be maintained led to the downfall of the Concert of Europe. The great variety of thoughts of countries did contribute to the collapse of Concert of Europe to a certain extent. Nonetheless, this was not that a dominating factor since it was only generated from the self-interests and jealousies among countries. Britain and France were democratic liberals while Austria, Russia and Prussia (members of the Holy Alliance) were the absolute autocracy. The former ones supported non-intervention while the latter ones were prone to support intervention to deter the spread of new ideas as well as revolutions. Different interpretations of how peace could be kept among them soon led to the collapse of the Concert of Europe.
The disappearance of common enemy—France and the withdrawal of Britain also led to the disintegration between countries. They no longer had the initiative to work together owing to the loss of initial motive and the leader of it. The internal organization also attributed to the fall of the Concert of Europe. Loose arrangement of congresses based on ad hoc basis failed to create a strong foundation for further cooperation.
All in all, the self-interests and jealousies among countries was the dominating factor inducing the breakdown of the Concert of Europe. As David Thomson said, “…an excuse for an universal meddlesome that chimed with the real interests neither of Metternich nor of Britain…” They no longer cooperated as closely as before as they tried all means to seek their maximized interests. This is the reason why increasing difference between them over the issue of how peace could be maintained was triggered.