Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Little Diplomatic History

In a sense, the Paris Peace Conference wrote the script for the century—or should I say, at least the century—to follow. Very few diplomatic gatherings in human history have compared to it, either the in the size of the settlement and scope of issues or in the immensity of the conflict which the gathering ostensibly existed to settle. Only a couple of comparable settlements come to mind: the Peace of Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna.

In the first, the multiple powers engaged in the Thirty Years War (along with some that weren't) held meetings, sporadic at first, that ended up with two seats of negotiation at two towns in Westphalia, Münster and Osnabrück (two because in essence, the Spaniards refused to negotiate with Protestants). The two resulting treaties go to make up the Westphalian Peace (1648), and ended not only the Thirty Years War, but a number of other conflicts, including the Dutch war of independence from the Spanish Monarchy. And the settlement of borders, river rights, and the like, lasted for well over a hundred years, even if "peace" was interrupted frequently. At least, there were few "general" wars involving all the Great Powers.

This was big.

So was that other great peace negotiation, the Congress of Vienna. This huge (and costly) meeting put a cap on the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon in 1814 and 1815. Here, the victorious Allies (Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia plus others) met to deal out punishment to the French after France had run roughshod over Europe for nearly two decades. Napoleon was banished to a Mediterranean island but escaped and returned to France for a Hundred Days during the Congress, understandably confusing the negotiations. But defeated in a "close-run" affair at Waterloo, the Corsican—doomed to a fate which was linked to islands—was exiled to island of St. Helena, a place with an excellent and healthy climate, but one which was several thousand miles from Europe. So the Congress continued and eventually ended with a coherent rebalancing of the European order. In the 1648, case, even if some states lost their local struggles, there were no clear winners and losers overall, though the Spaniards no doubt considered that their loses in the peace were grave. In 1814/15, the Congress opened with the clear dichotomy of the vanquished (France), and the victors (most of everyone else). Yet the brilliant maneuvers of the great French diplomat Talleyrand and the willingness of Louis XVI's younger brother, Louis XVIII, to exercise restraint in the remonarchization of France led France into a position of guarded equality with the victors. And like the Westphalia Peace, the Vienna Peace lasted a long time: ninety-nine years. Again, this is not to say there were no wars in Europe, but there were no "general" wars involving all the largest Powers at once.

In both the great peacemaking gatherings in the Europe of the great states—in essence modern Europe--the negotiations were genuine. Both victors and vanquished—where it even makes sense to use those terms—were truly represented in the negotiations of the gatherings and in the final settlements and the documents reflecting these settlements.
The long and short of these stories is this: these great settlements were complicated and no doubt flawed in all kinds of ways; yet they set up workable international orders. If we look at the contemporary evidence and subsequent historical analysis, we will probably agree that these settlements of the European order were durable at least in part because there was genuine negotiation. The "losing" powers played active roles in the peacemaking process. When one side made demands that were extreme, someone on the other side of the table glowered at them. Since the negotiations started with truces only, and not with some kind of disarmament, the victors were quite hesitant to restart costly and brutal wars just to gain some strip of territory.

I say all that to say this: the Paris Peace was not negotiated in this sense. As we shall see.

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Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.