This letter was published in response to an article by Sir Christopher Meyer, former UK ambassador to America and John Major’s press supremo. It argues that instead of challenging Russia after its aggression in Georgia, Britain should be inspired by the Congress of Vienna and the Treaty between the victorious powers at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Sir C Meyer argued that the Congress of Vienna delivered a 19th century free of major war. Byron had a different view. He thought the Congress represented “states to be curbed and spirits to be confined.” Shelly wrote of Lord Catlereagh, the Tory Foreign Secretary, who insisted on the restoration of reactionary monarchies at the Congress, “I met murder on the way. It wore the mask of Castlereagh.’ Today we are more polite about Foreign Secretaries.
3 September 2008
Europe at War
Sir Christopher Meyer argues that the Congress of Vienna in 1815 ensured a war-free Europe in the 19th century (The Times, Opinion, Sep 2). That would have come as news to Byron who died in the Greek War of Independence shortly afterwards. It will certainly come as a surprise to the French who remember part of their territory being annexed by Germany after the invasion of 1870.
That memory, and the arrival of tanks in France in 1940, may explain why French papers have carried far fewer apologists for the Kremlin’s invasion and annexation of part of Georgia than the London press.
From Crimea to the Balkan wars, to Polish uprisings against Russian rule, it is hard to find a single decade in the 19th-century Europe free of war. Vienna in 1815 and Yalta in 1945 are symptomatic of big states thinking they can dictate to the rest of Europe.
Far from creating peace, big power bullying stores up new hates and divisions. One can only hope the Foreign Secretary is getting better historical advice than that on offer from most retired ambassadors who have opined on the present crisis.