Peacemaking Research Paper

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Based on the historical record, it is possible to identify a model of peacemaking in the modern era. At the core, peacemaking seeks to ensure equilibrium—no single state should dominate all of its neighbors, and the existence of a dominating nation or group can be balanced by a coalition of states. Peacemaking assures the predominance of the most powerful states while allowing weaker powers to influence international relations.

Theoretically, the French philosopher and political scientist Raymond Aron defines peace as the suspension of violence or rivalry between two political units (1966). This process by which two warring powers come to terms and stop fighting can be either imposed by the defeat of one adversary’s military forces or, in the case of military stalemate, negotiation aimed at stopping the fighting. Peacemaking is thus the political process by which states shift from the state of armed conflict to the state of peace, theretofore confirming the political, geographic, economic, or social changes imposed by the war.

Related to the birth of the modern international system, peacemaking is associated with the basic principles structuring international relations: sovereignty of the state; the formally recognized equality of the international actors; codification and recognition of international law; and the regulating influence of the balance of power mechanism.

As John J. Mersheimer explains, since states “live in a fundamentally competitive world where they view each other as real, or at least potential, enemies, and they therefore look to gain power at each other’s expense” and, moreover, “have powerful incentives to take advantage of other states,” peacemaking seeks to limit the risk of a new conflict (2003, 52–53).

The Westphalian System

In the seventeenth century, the emergence of the modern state and the rule of law in Europe set the conditions for peacemaking. International relations in the feudal period were based on a vertical power relationship between the European monarchies, the Holy Roman Empire, and the papacy. In such a context, the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy, being the universal representatives of Christianity, could meddle in the internal affairs of European dynasties.

The peace of Westphalia transformed diplomacy by changing the international power relationship to a horizontal one. Based on the four basic principles defining modern international relationships, the Westphalian system introduced the principle of the sovereignty of the state as the basis of interstate relations. More importantly, the two peace treaties that were signed in Munster and Osnabruck in 1648, putting an end to the Thirty Years’ War, introduced the concept of national interest as a motivating factor that defined the conditions of peacemaking and resulted in an international system based on a European balance of power. As Henry Kissinger (1957) has shown, European diplomacy was secularized by the replacement of religious motivation with the interests of the state in the conduct of affairs of state. The peace of Westphalia was based on the introduction of a peacemaking process that preserved the political equilibrium that had arisen from the war that preceded it. In the particular case of the Thirty Years’ War, the peacemaking process organized by the king of France, the queen of Sweden, and the Holy German Empire, by its division of the German states, ensured French predominance in continental Europe for the next two hundred years. Furthermore, it showed the way to other peace settlements that ended the numerous European wars waged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Congress of Vienna

The French Revolution and the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) posed a major challenge to the basis of balanced peacemaking. The shift of the political system toward the nation-state system and the introduction of mass armies transformed the basis of peacemaking. By marching on Europe, the Napoleonic armies seemed like an irresistible force challenging the structures of the ancient regime. The conquest of Europe by French armies risked making France the dominating power, putting Britain in league with Austria, and leaving Prussia and Russia to defeat Bonaparte.

The resulting peacemaking agreement was similar to the established diplomatic tradition of the Westphalian system. The Vienna settlement established Austria, Britain, and Russia as the dominant European powers. When the victorious states met in Vienna in September 1814, the fundamental change behind the peacemaking process was the will of Austria, Britain, and Russia to keep France from regaining its capacity to transform the European balance of power. Napoleon’s “hundred days”—when he returned from captivity on the isle of Elba in 1814 and led his troops to a final stand at Waterloo— confirmed the need for a diplomatic system capable of ensuring the continuation of the new balance of power.

Given that the aim of the major powers’ representatives (Czar Alexander I of Russia, Klemens von Metternich, foreign minister of Austria, and Robert Stewart Castlereagh, Britain’s foreign minister) was to restore the ancien regime and limit the impact of the French Revolution on Europe’s political system and social values, they understood the need to build a diplomatic system capable of keeping at bay the impact of the Revolution.

With its fundamentally reactionary stance toward the Revolution, the Congress of Vienna, under the leadership of Metternich, adopted a pragmatic approach to the peacemaking process. France was included in the negotiations, the French monarchy was restored but contained by a written constitution, and to limit the risk of antagonizing the French population, the country was allowed to keep its 1789 borders. As a way of controlling France, which had come out of the Congress of Vienna still a major world power, Alexander I, Holy Roman emperor Francis II, and Frederick William IV of Prussia devised the Holy Alliance. Aimed at ensuring the European status quo, it was shunned by Britain, which considered it too intrusive and conservative. Its first article read as follows:

In conformity with the words of the Holy Scripture which ordain that all men should regard themselves as brothers the three contracting monarchs will live united by the bonds of an indissoluble fraternity, and considering themselves as compatriots will in all cases lend one another assistance, aid and help; regarding themselves in relation to their subjects and armies as fathers of families, they will direct them in the same spirit of fraternity by which they are animated in order to protect religion, peace and justice. (Simpson and Jones 2000, 94)

The main achievement of the Vienna system was to introduce a framework for the collaboration of the victorious powers to ensure the preservation of the European status quo. The result was the congress system, by which Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, and Russia met to respond to and consult with each other on various international crises that threatened the balance of power created in Vienna. Although conservative by nature, the Vienna peace settlement and the congress system that it instituted led to a century of peace that lasted until World War I.

The Treaty of Versailles

World War I drastically changed the European balance of power. The waging of total war led to a peacemaking process that basically excluded the defeated nations from the resulting balance of power to prevent them from seeking to redefine it anew.

The human cost of the war was on such a scale that two new elements were introduced into the peacemaking process that took place at the Palace of Versailles in 1919: war guilt and the establishment of a collective forum aimed at keeping war at bay. Through its infamous Article 231, the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919, held Germany solely responsible for the war. Excluded from the peace negotiations, Germany was required to pay financial reparations, disarm, and limit the size of its standing army and navy, and it was banned from building a new air force.

Under the influence of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), the victorious powers accepted the establishment of an international organization designed to ensure by diplomacy and collective security the political status quo resulting from the Versailles settlement. With the aim of legalizing diplomacy by replacing armed conflict with negotiation, the treaty created the League of Nations, an international forum and ancestor to the United Nations. Acting as an international forum aimed at achieving a general disarmament process, it failed under the pressure of the Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, both seeking to change the balance of power resulting from the war.

Without any authority other than the moral value of its covenant, the league epitomized the failure of the peacemaking process that took place in 1919. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the numerous revolutionary movements in central Europe seemed to pose a real threat in 1919, and the peacemakers had to act with speed to stabilize international relations. But as the historian Jack C. Roth explains, “the defeat of Germany concealed the fact that in 1919 her potential for European domination was possibly greater than it had been in 1914. The war, in fact, ended in such a way as to break up the very coalition needed to keep Germany in check” (1968, 92).

The peacemaking process at Versailles was inspired by a collective will to “legalize” international relations, and the absence of any coercive mechanism meant that the whole system rested on the goodwill of its adherents. Incapable of stopping Japan’s invasion of China in 1931, Germany’s rearmament, or Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, the League demonstrated the weakness of the collective diplomacy introduced at Versailles and the difficulty of achieving a stable peacemaking process without the use of coercion.

From World War II to the Cold War

The alliance between Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union defeated Germany in 1945. Following a second German bid for power in Europe, the victors decided to build a suitable peacemaking process aimed at ensuring the European status quo. The end of World War II marks a significant shift in international politics. It marks the end of European domination and the emergence of an international system based on the existence of two superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union.

In Yalta and Potsdam, Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and the United States tried to build a suitable peacemaking process aimed at resolving, once and for all, the German problem. If the United States and the Soviet Union hoped in 1945 to perpetuate their wartime collaboration, their ideological divide soon shattered any hopes of collaboration, and once more the international status quo rested on equilibrium between dominant powers, namely the Soviet Union and the United States. In fact, the incompletion of the peacemaking process meant that the world would live under the threat of war for the next fifty years.

The existence of nuclear weapons changed the stakes of international relations. Before the explosion of the atom bomb, war was considered a regulating mechanism reflecting shifts in the international balance of power. With the risk of destroying humanity, the focus shifted from warfare to peacemaking.

Understanding Peacemaking

Based on the historical record, it is possible to identify a model of peacemaking. At the heart of the process, peacemaking seeks to ensure equilibrium so that no single state can dominate all of its neighbors. The existence of a dominating nation or group can be balanced by a coalition of states. Peacemaking assures the predominance of the most powerful states while allowing weaker powers to influence international relations. As long as the interests of the states remain within the boundaries defined by the peacemaking process, the shift to war can be withstood.


  1. Aron, R. (1966). Peace and war: A theory of international relations. New York: Praeger.
  2. Kissinger, H. (1957). A world restored: Castlereagh, Metternich and the restoration of peace 1812–1922. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  3. Kissinger, H. (1994). Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  4. Mersheimer, J. J. (2003). The tragedy of great power politics. New York: Norton.
  5. Roth, J. C. (1968). World War I: A turning point in modern history. New York: Knopf.
  6. Simpson, W., & Jones, M. (2000). Europe, 1783–1914. London: Routledge.

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