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FU-BEST 23: History of European Diplomacy

InstructorDr. Bernd Fischer
Credit Points6 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits


This course surveys the history of German diplomacy in the context of Europeandiplomacy from the late 1700s until today and its relationship with U.S. diplomacy and theinfluence of other players on the world scene. Thus the course offers a comparativeperspective on the developments in the countries involved.

The American Independence had just happened in1783, the French Revolution was aboutto happen in 1789. Soon thereafter Napoleon’s conquests created a French Empire that,at its height in 1813, stretched from Seville to Moscow. Following the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, diplomats and statesmen created the newstructure of Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1815). This structure was called the Concert of Europe, and was based on a set of informal norms that should henceforthgovern relations between states.

The strength of this new regime was put to a test by liberal national movements thatproved difficult to contain as well as various crises caused by the instability of the OttomanEmpire and the creation of a new form of European nation-states (i.e. Italy in 1866 and Germany in 1871). Europe at that time took a close look at the American Civil War (1861-65). The character of European diplomacy was profoundly altered, especially by Bismarck’s particular brand of foreign policy from 1871 to1890 and a new wave of imperialism, but also by the idea of internationalism.

In 1914, a minor crisis in Sarajevo turned into the First World War, which in 1917 alsoinvolved the United States. In response, the statesmen taking part in the Paris Peace Conferences in 1919 sought to institutionalize a system of collective security (without U.S.participation). However, with the advent of new aggressive and belligerent regimes in Italy,Japan, and Germany, this endeavor failed. Western democracies could not appeaseHitler.

After the Second World War (1939-45), with the United States taking part from 1941 onward, Germany became a divided nation. West Germany was occupied until 1955.Great Britain and France both lost their Empires in the 1960s. From 1951 onward, WesternEurope tried to pursue integration on a regional level which, at first, focused on economicintegration. Only in 1992 did European states intensify integration on a political and diplomatic level as well. The violent break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991 with its ensuing ethnictensions and the embarrassing display of European disunity hastened this process.

Tensions between the Soviet Union and its allies focused mainly on Europe. It led to theviolent uprising in Hungary in 1956, the creation of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968. The pursuit of Ostpolitik, mainly instituted by the West German Government from 1972 onward, the so-called Helsinki Process of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), starting in 1975, andespecially the subsequent slowly developing economic and moral collapse of the Sovietsystem eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and GermanUnification on 3 October 1990, the creation of democratically elected regimes in Centraland Eastern Europe, and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The accelerated integration of the European Union (EU), especially the creation of theEuro in 1999, expansion of EU membership to the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe from 2004 onward, the military conflict in the Ukraine and the annexationof the Crimea by Russia in 2014 have combined to set the stage for diplomacy in Europein 2018 and the years to come.

The course will show that it is essential to focus on the past as a basis for understandingthe present and making guesses about the future. Current issues of diplomacy in Europe and their potential impact on the future, also in light of the events of the past, will be discussed in the context of press surveys (student presentations) at the beginning of eachsession. The instructor and students will jointly identify, based on the topics of eachsession and the reading assignments for each session, possible relevant points for todayand the short- as well as long-term future.