Congress of Vienna 2015 /n Briefing Notes In Search of Principles for a Stable World Order

Two hundred years ago European leaders met in Vienna to reestablish order on a continent devastated by decades of warfare. The conservative order reestablished by agreement in 1815—which valued stability above all else—prevented another major European war for a hundred years. However much the decisions taken by those statesmen have been criticized in the intervening years, what is remarkable is the determination of those who gathered in Vienna to establish workable rules and principles that would guarantee a long-lasting peace.

The Congress of Vienna 2015 is being convened to engage experienced and informed individuals from around the world in a discussion of three major challenges to peace and stability in our day: noncooperation among the major powers, forced migration, and economic inequality. Our aim is to encourage fresh thinking regarding the principles and rules governing the conduct of the major powers in order to develop durable solutions to the problems we face in a time of significant demographic, economic, and geopolitical change.

The Congress agenda is focused on dialogue and cooperation among the major powers in part to set a more manageable scope for this discussion. This is accorded priority because an absence of conflict among the major powers is an essential precondition for achieving world order. What each major power does has a significant impact. What they do collectively has a dominant influence. Further, these larger, more powerful, and globally engaged states can potentially bring their weight to bear to minimize regional and local conflict, particularly by acting in concert. The Congress is composed of participants from around the globe to ensure that, in our interdependent world, the perspectives and potential roles of all regions and states are considered; mid-sized and smaller states may have a meaningful impact on the course of events, even more so by acting collaboratively. Such states inherently lack the power to ignore international principles and rules, which inclines them to be willing to enter into dialogue in search of accommodation. And together they have a global reach.

It is our hope that this forum will help us understand our differences, focus on what unites us, and prove to be a precursor, in the words of Henry Kissinger, of “an effective mechanism for the major powers to consult and possibly cooperate on the most consequential issues.” The Congress of Vienna brought decision-makers together for an extended period of dialogue and personal interaction. Can a modern day counterpart be found to permit genuine—and politically safe—exploratory dialogue?