The Congress of Berlin- IBDP Paper 3 Sample Essays

The Congress of Berlin (1878) was the greatest achievement of European diplomacy between 1871 and 1914.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?


 The answer to this question has been subject to numerous debates, and while the Congress of Berlin of 1878 was largely considered a success by Bismark, who was the dominant personality at the congress, taking on the role of the ‘honest broker’, it is clear that there were numerous failures related to the Congress which are often overlooked. Ironically, it is Bismarck himself who unknowingly pointed out the Congress’ greatest failure, when in 1888 he stated that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans”, accurately predicting the break out of World War 1 due to tensions in the Balkans which were in great part caused by the Congress of Berlin itself. Therefore, this essay will argue that the Congress of Berlin was certainly not the ‘greatest achievement of European diplomacy between 1871 and 1914’, by looking at the increased tensions in the Balkans and the series of military alliances born as a direct result of the Congress, which were both significant contributing factors to the break out of World War 1.

At the Congress, Germany tried to portray itself as the ‘impartial arbitrator in the disputes in the Balkans’, however, this was actually only to maintain the informal alliance with Austria-Hungary and Russia, which constituted the Three Emperors League. In order to achieve this, Bismarck tried to divided the Balkans in a way which would avoid future tensions, therefore, on June 1878, the major European powers together with the Ottomans and Balkans came together, and after weeks of negotiations the main outcomes of the Congress were the recognition of Romania, Montenegro and Serbia as independent states, and to redistribute great part of the territorial gains made by Russia thanks to the Treaty of San Stefano. Although this initially eased tensions in the Balkans, it crucially failed to address the demands of Pan-Slavic nationalists, who wanted more unity between Slavic countries, and strongly opposed the ruling of the Austrian-Hungarian empire and Ottoman Empire.This left the Balkans fundamentally unstable for several decades to come and even contributed to the wars in the region in the 1990s. These tensions proved to me the catalyst for the start of World War 1, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, was assassinated in 1914 by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip, with the intention of freeing Bosnia of Austria-Hungarian rule and establishing a common South Slav state. This clearly shows how the Berlin Congress led to “some damned foolish thing in the Balkans”, ultimately marking the start of World War 1, making it hard to consider the Congress as a high point of European Diplomacy.

The other significant failure of the Congress which must be taken into account, is the isolation of Russia which came as a result of it, and the inevitable readjustments in the European alliances which came with it. After the Congress, Russia was angered by the land that was taken away from her, and ultimately dissolved her alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1878, putting an end to Bismarck’s hope of keeping the three emperors league alive. In response to this Bismarck introduced protective tariffs against Russian agriculture in 1879, and also formed a protective Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary against Russia in the same year. To further increase tensions, this Dual Alliance paved the way for a French- Russian alliance, as France was interested in providing Russia with the necessary resources to grow into a more advanced empire which could be a powerful ally. These were the basis of the World War One alliances, and were all a direct result of the Congress. The Dual Alliance was then joined by Italy in 1882, and the Triple Entente was completed in 1907 once Britain felt forced to come out of its ‘splendid isolation’ and joined Russia and France, this made the War seemingly inevitable, once again proving the Berlin Congress’ catastrophic consequences. Lastly, these new European alliances were particularly damaging to Germany, as Italy was barely committed to the alliance, and left it in 1902, and Austria-Hungary was a weak ally torn apart by internal instability. This shows how the consequences of the Congress were not only damaging to Europe as a whole, but in particular to Germany, demonstrating how Bismarck decisions at the Congress were not in any way a ‘great act of Diplomacy’ but actually put Germany in a position to lose World War 1, 30 years before it even began.

In conclusion, the Congress of Berlin of 1878 cannot be considered the greatest achievement of European diplomacy between 1871 and 1914 as it led to tensions in the Balkans and Europe, as well as putting Germany at a significant disadvantage before the start of World War One.


Example 2

 “The Congress of Berlin (1878) was the greatest achievement of European diplomacy between 1871 and 1914.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?
The Congress of Berlin is often regarded as the greatest achievement in European diplomacy in the years between the founding of Germany in 1871 and the beginning of the first world war. However an argument can be made that many of the decisions made in this conference directly led to the outbreak of war in 1914. The Congress which was held in July of 1878 was a conference to establish the distribution of territory, Mainly the Balkan peninsula after Russia had defeated the Ottoman Empire earlier that year. The goal of Bismark who led the conference was to stabilize the Balkan region and to keep Russia from dominating the Balkans entirely. He also wanted to keep Constantinople in the hands of the Ottomans as he felt that Russia would be too powerful if the imperial capital fell into their hands. The conference is seen as a success because it managed to strip the Ottomans of a lot of their territory in Europe without letting it fall into Russian hands. However while this was praised as a short term solution, overtime it increased tensions within Europe, specifically between Austria-Hungary and Russia. This essay will argue that while in the short term the conference was an unprecedented success, in the long term it set the territories in place for the outbreak of world war 1. Therefore in the long run it was a colossal failure.

On July 13 1878 the congress of Berlin was hosted by Otto von Bismarck to discuss the territorial changes within the Balkans after the Russo-Turkish war that ended earlier that year. Otto Von Bismarck's goal within the conference was to avoid Russian domination in the Balkans, and divide the territories fairly amongst the 6 powers and to establish varying levels of independence for multiple balkan countries. One of the main concerns of the conference was Ottoman capital Constantinople falling into Russian occupation. If this were to happen Russia would then have direct access to the mediterranean and could pose a threat to western Europe. The conference also aimed to prevent war in Europe and divide the Balkans up in a way that would prevent war. As the Ottoman Empire was by Bismarks accounts ‘’the sick man of europe’’ his main concern was its impending dissolution as he wanted to keep the capital out of Russia's hands. Therefore he strategically carved the territory up in a way that would give Russia a portion but give a lot of the control to Austria Hungary. Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia were all allied in the DreiKaiserbund meaning that Germany wanted to prevent conflict not only between the 2 nations but also with the rest of Europe to avoid going to war altogether. Russia was given 2 regions of modern day Romania whereas Austria Hungary was given the sandzak region and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ultimately many were quick to call the conference a success as it avoided a territorial war in Europe and accomplished its goals to prevent conflict and to keep Constantinople as part of the Ottoman Empire.

However it can be argued that this distribution of territory is ultimately what led to world war 1 and led to more tensions in the long run. After this distribution many countries were unsurprisingly unhappy with the outcome. Russia felt like they had been undercompensated since they had won the war and felt like the amount of land they acquired was not enough. As a result tensions between Russia Germany and Austria-Hungary got worse as Russia felt that Germany was more favorable towards Austria Hungary. Furthermore the Ottoman Empire was completely humiliated by the conference as it lost a great deal of land and was deemed to be ‘’the sick man of Europe’’. This treaty came at a time where the demand for Pan-Slavism in the Balkans was extremely high. The balkan states wanted to be ruled all together by one government rather than be split into territories between Austria Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. As Russia saw itself as the natural leader of the slavic countries they wanted to be the institution that governed the area. Serbia was angry that Russia had conceded and let Bosnia fall to Austria hungary. The tensions in the area continued to rise over the years leading up to the war. The decision to place Bosnia under Austrian rule and Serbia's distaste for it was a crucial moment in history that ultimately led to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand by a Bosnian Serb in Sarajevo is a clear representation of the way the Balkan states felt about the presence of the european powers in the area.

In conclusion, to judge whether this conference was a success one must ask how success is defined. At the time it was held the conference did achieve almost all of the goals it set out to achieve. It successfully divided up the area in a way that there wasn't likely to be a war over the area in the near future. However if we consider the long term consequences of the decisions made at this conference, the aim to keep peace was a colossal failure. Over the course of just three decades the decisions made at this conference involving the territory occupied by the Austria-Hungarian empire led to world war 1. Therefore although it was at first hailed as one of the greatest achievements in European diplomacy, I in fact see it as the beginning of the collapse of the alliance system and the first steps towards the outbreak of war in Europe.