Why do you think there was no general European war between 1815 and 1914?

In order to understand why there wasn’t a general European war during the time period mentioned it is necessary to look at the relationship between the major powers at the time in both a foreign and domestic context. It is also important to understand why these nations were so concerned in preventing another Napoleon from dominating the European scene once more. In 1815 the five main powers in Europe were Austria, France, Britain, Prussia and Russia. “The dominance of theses powers gave an underlying stability to international relations not found in the 18th and 20th century.”[1]

There was a common fear that one nation’s demise would bring disaster to the rest of Europe and so each power recognised that cooperation was necessary to maintain the status-quo. The dominance of the powers was formally recognised by the Quadruple alliance of 1815 (France were not included as it was a pact determined to restore peace and order to Europe in response to the Napoleonic wars). This coalition was very reluctant to disrupt the peace in Europe and would only intervene in crisis’ that broke out in small states when actual territories were at threat. The powers did not want a European war, they thought it would be long and expensive and the Eastern autocracies feared that it would lead to social breakdown. They felt that a war could not be localised and that a conflict would drag everyone in (proved wrong by 1848 revolutions and Crimean war). Also the three victor states from the Napoleonic wars had gained valuable territories and were determined to keep them.

One of the main tools used to maintain peace in Europe was the Vienna state system. This included all five main powers and centred on maintaining borders within Europe. The 2nd Paris peace conference was also used to reduce France to its 1790 borders. These were legal instruments which the nations were determined to stick to. This was especially apparent in the monarchical states where treaties were seen as binding commitments and that as a monarch it was their honour and “their duty to god to uphold them”[2]. The only exception to this was France who constantly looked for opportunities to break out from its containment. The Vienna system created a new hierarchy within Europe. However there was a conflict between Britain and Russia over who would be the dominant power in Europe. The important thing to note though was that Britain was not concerned how the peace was maintained in Europe, just so long as it was. Her interests lay in expanding her large empire and developing her world-wide commerce. Russia and the other allies on the other hand, were directly affected by any changes in the political and social structure in Europe and so there were fundamental differences in priorities which separated Britain from the rest of the powers.[3] It was therefore only a matter of time before the powers started arguing amongst each other.

Revolutionary uprisings occurred throughout Europe in the 1820’s and the question was whether to intervene, and if so how should it be done. Russia felt that the powers should intervene if a state came under threat and the Troppau Protocol of 1820 backed this up. Britain on the other hand felt that only if a nation’s borders were under threat should they intervene. Military action could not be justified, simply for wanting to save a throne. They refused to sign the protocol along with France. Constant arguments between the powers lead to the eventual collapse of the congress system. It was replaced with a system of conferences in which ambassadors would meet to discuss current issues and resolve possible conflicts. These were more successful as specific issues were discussed instead of broader foreign policy aims and wishes. Also neither Britain nor Russia tried or was able to dominate and so their relations improved. Throughout the 1820’s there were a number of crisis’ in Spain, Turkey and Italy which severely tested relations between the major powers of Europe but the underlying need to contain France and maintain the peace within Europe meant that the powers in the end resorted to diplomatic measures to resolve differences.

The next two decades saw an era