chapter  2
26 Pages

The search for European stability, 1917–29

For much of the nineteenth century, the Concert of Europe resembled the latter form of peace. The outbreak of the First World War, however, discredited the ‘old’ diplomatic instruments for maintaining international order: military alliances, secret treaties and balance-of-power politics. Some concluded that order needed stronger international laws and a world court to enforce them, while others demanded an end to the system of international competition and sovereign states altogether. The radical solution was nothing less than a transformation of old social, economic and political structures to found a global brotherhood of working

people. Precisely because the triple deadlock on the military, diplomatic and home fronts propelled the engine of war forward, and because the Europeans could not bring the war to a decisive end, the advocates of ‘new diplomacy’ found millions of ready converts to their cause in 1917. The voices of change came from the great continental powers, the United States and Russia. After the October 1917 Revolution, Lenin, the leader of the minority revolutionary wing of the Russian Communist Party known as the Bolsheviks, became the chief proponent of the revolutionary solution to international anarchy. President Woodrow Wilson shared with Lenin the conviction that the ill effects of inter-state competition had to be alleviated. Old diplomacy had been the practice of autocrats and exclusive ruling elites who suppressed their own peoples as well as minority national groups. The American president therefore advocated a more open diplomatic system, based on the rule of law, composed of free and independent nation-states and guided by the ‘organized moral force of mankind’.