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Peacekeeping, Past and Present

Between 1815 and 1914, the Concert of Europe served as a crucial peacekeeping mechanism, enabling the continent to avoid a major war. Drawing the right lessons from its successes and eventual failure can help us strive to recreate the conditions that led to an imperfect but durable peace.

LONDON – The world was a relatively peaceful place during the nineteenth century. Aside from the American Civil War and China’s Taiping Rebellion, there were few prolonged conflicts anywhere between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914. This raises a fundamental question: How did Europe largely avoid major wars for 100 years amid what Hedley Bull called “international anarchy”?

The prevailing view is that the Concert of Europe, established in 1815, played a key role in preserving the peace. Although frequently perceived as a mechanism for maintaining the continent’s balance of power, the Concert actually served a normative purpose: preventing war between countries with shared interests and values.

Essentially, the five major European powers – Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, and Russia – agreed not to alter their borders without mutual consent. The establishment of spheres of influence, serving as physical buffers between these great powers, was integral to their geopolitical calculations.