Managing conflict in Europe in times of change

Timeline developed for Historiana by the Historical Content Team.

•To show how and why ideas and approaches to managing conflict in Europe have varied and changed over time. ;xNLx;;xNLx;•To show how Post-War developments towards greater stability in Europe have been different in terms of economic cooperation, political structures and pooled sovereignty.;xNLx;

Communist International

This international organisation had among its aims the abolition of nation states. International communism was to be spread by revolution. Previous Internationals had brought together communists and socialists, both individuals and organisations, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Initiatives such as International Workers' Day (1 May) and International Womens' Day (8 March) also emerged from the Internationals.

The Hague Convention

In the midst of the rapid setting up of military alliances, an alternative view of diplomacy was emerging. Developing from the idea of the Congress System, it aimed at systematising such a system and eventually putting in place a 'world government' or 'world management' which would pre-empt any threat to peace. The Hague Convention and its treaties and declarations regulated the conduct of war, by lying down a set of commonly agreed rules on warfare. Despite the developing opposing alliances, it was successful, both in its outcomes and in the participation of all the Great Powers of Europe. It was followed by another less successful convention in 1907. Most of its rules were violated by the Powers in WWI, but it did pose a powerful precedent for the League of Nations and then the UN.

Peace of Westphalia

The Peace of Westphalia treaties ended 30 years of civil war in the lands of the Holy Roman Emperor and 80 years of war between the Spanish Empire and the Dutch Republic. In 1648 the religion of the ruler was still very important. The wars had partly been about who should have power and control; Roman Catholic or Protestant Christians. To try to bring peace to the German lands, it was agreed that Protestant German rulers would be protected by Sweden (a Protestant power) and Roman Catholic German rulers would be protected by France (a Roman Catholic power). It was hoped that these guarantees of protection would prevent religious conflict between German states and the persecution of Roman Catholic people by German Protestant princes and vice versa. This then would help to keep the German lands peaceful and stable. The rulers of the many independent German lands would decide what type of Christianity there would be in their land. Westphalia marks the beginning of the view that the most powerful countries in Europe should balance power in Europe between them and avoid one country having supreme power. French power grew as a result of Westphalia, and was agreed on condition that Catholic Europe recognised the independence of the Protestant Dutch Republic.

System of Guarantees

Westphalia marks an important ideological milestone in the way the Great Powers managed Europe. They agreed to the importance of working to avoid the supremacy of one power. The Thirty Years War had made the Powers realise that such a large territory in the hands of one of the powers would have damaged the interests of the others. A 'balance' had not yet been written down. Nevertheless, the system of guarantors was in reality peace with an agreement to guard against power becoming imbalanced, because France or Sweden would intervene if any religious (or political) abuse took place against the German territories under their protection. Such an important diplomatic gathering (100+ parties were represented) fixed the norms and customs of diplomacy in Europe. The principles of sovereignty, non-interference in another country's internal affairs, and the respect of countries' established boundaries also find their legal basis in Westphalia.

Religious divisions

The breakup of the western branch of Christianity is symbolically placed in time in 1517 - the year the German monk Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. This began a century of terrible infighting between christians in Europe. For the previous two-centuries there had already been religious tension with roots in the Hussite and the Lollards movements. While rebellion to papal authority had punctuated Christianity all through its history, the 16th century's Schism (division) was only the second great one after the first Schism between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches in 1054. The reasons why Luther, and then Calvin, Zwingli and others, were able to shape Christianity deeply with their teachings were many and diverse. One reason was political division in the Holy Roman Empire, for example enabling some princes to show their power by protecting Luther. Another reason was the rise of a more educated, more aware, class of towns people who were attracted to what the Reformed Churches required and offered, for example, the necessity for the individual to read the Bible him/herself: this needed widespread literacy and accounts for the subsequent education policies in Reformed States. In turn, this was fuelled by the technological development of printing. In the German territories there was less princely control of what was printed. In summary, Christian Western Europe was suddenly stricken by fierce religious division, which combined with pre-existing political ambitions and gave way to bloody conflicts and revolts. In the 1550s attempts to end violent conflict had produced the idea of 'cuius regio, eius religio' principle: that is, each territory would follow the religion of its ruler. In the peace of Westphalia this principle was finally applied.

The War of Spanish Succession

The War of Spanish Succession was a fight about whether the next Spanish king should be a relation of the King of France or of the Holy Roman Emperor. This was an important question as both France and the Holy Roman Empire had been rivals for years. If the Spanish king was connected to the Holy Roman Emperor, then France would be encircled by enemies. If the Spanish king was connected to the French king then the Holy Roman Empire would lose power to France. The two sides, led by the rulers, fought a war to decide who should dominate Europe.

Religion as part of power politics

Religion continued to be an important part of political strategy in Europe. For example, Great Britain as a Protestant power became involved in the War of Spanish Succession in part to defend the interests of the protestants in the Low Countries.

The Treaty of Utrecht

The Treaty of Utrecht brought to an end the Spanish Wars of Succession with a compromise that prevented either France or the Holy Roman Empire becoming supreme in Europe. The idea of a balance of powers was now applied to the whole of Europe and not just the German lands. The Treaty of Utrecht is seen as a further development of the international rule of law. It is significant as it introduced a century of shifting alliances and incidental wars of succession which further altered the geopolitics of Europe. Whereas no ruler in the main powers abandoned the dream of continental supremacy, none managed to replicate Charles V's or Louis XIV's exploits.

Balance of power

The treaty of Utrecht extends the principle of the balance of power wider in Europe. The earlier Peace of Westphalia had focused on avoiding imbalance of power in Germany. Whereas Westphalia had established the use of 'guarantors', that is, foreign powers were given the authority to protect religious groups within the Holy Roman Empire, Utrecht aimed at splitting blocks of powers into smaller entities, thus making it less likely that any one could hold supremacy over the continent. The rationale of this settlement is clearly that of avoiding a bigger grouping becoming the power that could dictate European affairs. A rough balance of power was born.

The Wars of Succession

Between these years there were several more wars about the succession to various thrones in Europe, including those of Spain, the UK and Austria. The other European powers took a keen interest in these and made shifting alliances when any one power (or royal house) tried to become too powerful.

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