Magazine article The Spectator

Only God Is for Us All

Magazine article The Spectator

Only God Is for Us All

Article excerpt

In 1815, after Napoleon's defeat, Britain joined with Austria, Russia and Prussia in the Quadruple Alliance. The idea was for periodic consultations intended to preserve peace in Europe. It was thus comparable to post-Cold War Nato. The resemblance does not end there. For the Quadruple Alliance also underwent `mission-creep'.

Originally its purpose was to preserve the frontiers drawn up at the Congress of Vienna, which it was feared could soon be challenged by the embittered ex-enemy: France. Gradually it became clear that France, like today's Russia, was too exhausted to present any threat to other great powers. But Austria's Metternich began to worry instead about the supposed menace to `civilised values' posed by liberalism and revolutionary nationalism within various small states. The Russian tsar and the Prussian king shared his concern. Hence their `Three Northern Courts' agreed in principle to intervene militarily in affected states to restore the status quo; a forerunner of the Brezhnev Doctrine.

But Britain was out of sympathy with this approach. Successive foreign secretaries, Castlereagh and Canning, saw themselves as the disciples of the Younger Pitt, who had taken pride in having declared war on Revolutionary France in 1793, not because of the French orgy of class cleansing, but because they attempted forcibly to export their revolution beyond their frontiers.

Matters came to a head in the early 1820s with revolutions in various parts of Europe, notably Naples and Spain. Fearing isolation and wanting to maintain the alliance as a collective security organisation against traditional aggression across frontiers, British ministers reluctantly acquiesced in the steps the other great powers wished to take to shore up the old order. But, mindful of the dangerous precedents that would be created, they avoided endorsing the rationale for intervention in internal affairs that Metternich elaborated. In the case of Spain, Britain simply declared herself neutral. Castlereagh rather disingenuously accepted an Austrian invasion of Naples on the grounds that chaos there would otherwise spread to other Italian states with ultimate consequences for Austria's legitimate security interests.

This somewhat unheroic British approach was soon vindicated. The `Three Northern Courts', or `Holy Allies', lost their enthusiasm for collective meddling in the affairs of small states when a Greek separatist revolt against the Ottoman Turks gathered momentum. Metternich, with dogged consistency, favoured the cause of Constantinople; but the new Russian tsar, Nicholas I, would not support Islam against Orthodox Christians - confirmation of the belief of today's American philosopher of international relations, Samuel Huntington, that `civilisational' identities tend to win in the end. …

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