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FU-BEST 23: History of European Diplomacy

InstructorDr. Bernd Fischer
Credit Points5 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits


This course surveys the history of European diplomacy since 1814. Napoleon’s conquests created a French Empire that, at its height, stretched from Seville to Moscow. Following the defeat of Napoleon, diplomats and statesmen gathered in Vienna in 1814-15 to restore the old order. However, instead of returning to balance of power politics, they created a Concert of Europe, which was based on a set of informal norms that should henceforth govern relations between states.

The strength of this new regime was put to a test by liberal national movements that proved difficult to contain as well as various crises caused by the instability of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of a new form of European nation-states (i.e. Italy and Germany). In the end, the character of European diplomacy was profoundly altered, in particular by Bismarck’s particular brand of foreign policy and a new wave of imperialism, but also by the idea of internationalism.

In 1914, a minor crisis in Sarajevo turned into a European and, eventually, global war. In response, the statesmen taking part in the Paris Peace Conference sought to institutionalize a system of collective security. However, with the advent of new aggressive and belligerent regimes, this endeavor failed miserably. It turned out that Western democracies could not appease Hitler.

After the Second World War, Great Britain and France both lost their Empire, though each of them in their own way. At the same time, Western Europe tried to further integration on a regional level and, at first, focused on economic integration. Only later on did European states increase integration on a political and diplomatic level as well. The violent break-up of Yugoslavia with its ensuing ethnic tensions and the embarrassing display of European disunity undoubtedly hastened this process.