International relations (IR) scholars have long been fascinated by the politics of the European Concert of Great Powers—the diplomatic institution said to have provided relative peace, calm, and stability across Europe in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Interest in the Concert is boosted by arguments that the institutional and normative framework of the post-1815 European international order can serve as a useful template for managing great power relations in the increasingly multipolar and multicultural world of the 21st century. From this perspective, the ability of statesmen such as Metternich and Castlereagh to keep the European peace for almost 4 decades and provide pragmatic solutions to the most vexing international problems of revolution, dynastic rivalry, and national competition is meant to inspire contemporary world leaders to provide security and accommodation in the context of declining American hegemony and rising powers. The persistent centrality of the European Concert as a distinct subject area in IR scholarship raises a number of important questions: What exactly was the Concert and how long did it last? How did the Concert as an institution of great power management change over time? How do different theoretical approaches explain the ability of the Concert to structure interstate dynamics in meaningful ways? Most importantly, is it analytically feasible and normatively desirable to use the 19th century European Concert system as a blueprint for reorganizing international relations today? These questions identify key debates across the existing literature and demonstrate the conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and political diversity of the field. They also reveal that the formation of a disciplinary consensus on the Concert remains an elusive goal. As a result, scholars should remain attuned to ongoing historiographical developments and critically reflect on their own theoretical and political priors regarding the history and future of concert diplomacy.
International Relations and the 19th Century Concert System
International Order in Theory and Practice
Kyle M. Lascurettes and Michael Poznansky
International relations scholars of all stripes have long been interested in the idea of “international order.” At the most general level, international order entails some level of regularity, predictability, and stability in the ways that actors interact with one another. At a level of higher specificity, however, international orders can vary along a number of dimensions (or fault lines). This includes whether order is thin or thick, premised on position or principles, regional or global in scope, and issue specific or multi-issue in nature. When it comes to how orders emerge, the majority of existing explanations can be categorized according to two criteria and corresponding set of questions. First, are orders produced by a single actor or a select subset of actors that are privileged and powerful, or are they created by many actors that are roughly equal and undifferentiated in capabilities and status? Second, do orders come about from the purposive behavior of particular actors, or are they the aggregated result of many behaviors and interactions that produce an outcome that no single actor anticipated? The resulting typology yields four ideal types of order explanations: hegemonic (order is intentional, and power is concentrated), centralized (order is spontaneous, but power is concentrated), negotiated (order is intentional, but power is dispersed), and decentralized (order is spontaneous, and power is dispersed). Finally, it is useful to think about the process by which order can transform or break down as a phenomenon that is at least sometimes distinct from how orders emerge in the first place. The main criterion in this respect is the rapidity with which orders transform or break down. More specifically, they can change or fall apart quickly through revolutionary processes or more gradually through evolutionary ones.
Great Power Leadership
Wesley B. O'Dell
The notion that Great Powers fulfill a leadership role in international politics is old, influential, and contested. As the actors in the international system with the greatest capacity for taking action, Great Powers are assumed to think both further ahead and in broader, more systemic terms than other states; they then use their preeminent positions to organize others to promote public goods, reaping benefits along the way thanks to their direction of events. At the core of this understanding is the assumption that Great Power actions are, or ought to be, inspired by something more than simple self-interest and the pursuit of short-term gains. As an organic creation of international practice, Great Power leadership was traditionally the domain of historians and international legists; early students of the topic utilized inductive reasoning to derive general precepts of Great Power sociology from the landmark settlements of the 18th and 19th centuries. The framing of Great Powers as a leadership caste originated in the struggle against Louis XIV, was given tentative institutional form through settlements such as the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), and deepened considerably in both institutionalization and sophistication in the 19th century Concert of Europe. The return of France to full Great Power status, the Congress (1878) and Conference (1884) of Berlin, and the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901) all demonstrated the willingness and ability of the Powers to cooperate in the management of international change. In the early 20th century, the leadership of the Great Powers was both challenged as an unjust agent of catastrophe as well as increasingly formalized through recognition in new international institutions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Theorists of international relations began to formulate theories based on Great Power management at the time of the discipline’s beginnings in the early 20th century. Realists and liberals frequently utilize Great Power concepts to explain processes of equilibrium, hegemonic competition, and institution building, while approaches influenced by constructivism focus on the role of ideas, statuses, and roles in the formulation of Great Power identities and policies. The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a 21st-century manifestation of the application of Great Power leadership to international problems; though hailed by some as the future of Great Power management, it provokes controversy among both theorists and practitioners. Similarly, extensive scholarly attention has been devoted to the management and accommodation of “rising powers.” These are states that appear likely to obtain the status of Great Power, and there is extensive debate over their orientation toward and potential management of international order. Finally, the position of Russia and China within this literature has provoked deep reflection on the nature of Great Power, the responsibilities of rising and established powers, and the place of Great Power management amidst the globalized challenges of the 21st century.