Global politics today is a mess, and it can be tempting to turn to history for clues about how to clean it up, as Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan did recently in “The New Concert of Powers” (March 23). But one must be careful to learn the right lessons. Haass and Kupchan argue that the nineteenth-century Concert of Europe provides a model for managing great-power relations, avoiding major wars, and balancing an imbalanced world. These are worthy goals, but the Concert of Europe failed to achieve them—and so would any new organization inspired by it.
In 1815, Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, and the United Kingdom founded the concert to maintain their power and stabilize a continent roiled by wars and revolutionary uprisings. The concert is sometimes depicted as producing a golden age of diplomacy: a time when diplomats and statesmen fostered mutual respect, maintained a balance of power, avoided one another’s spheres of influence, and eschewed war in favor of joint sorties to the opera and late-night discussions over whiskey and cigars.