Napoleon--the greatest player of the balance of power

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s): 62
  • Published: April 12, 2007
Read full document
Text Preview
The balance of power is one of the most eternal themes of European diplomacy. Since 1648 to 1814, from the thirty years war to the decline of Napoleon, the main European powers were always trying to benefit themselves by playing the game of the balance of power. A great number of brilliant brains struggled to win, but only a few of them succeeded. Among these winners, Napoleon Bonaparte is remarkable. Not only because he was the one who broke the balance of power in Europe, he began to influence the balance of power since his early times, and expanded the balance of power system later by helping the US. In this paper, the term “balance of power” and Napoleon’s early victories will be explained first; then specifically, his relation with his major rival Britain will be discussed; finally, the importance of the participation of the United States will be evaluated in the third part.

The concept of the balance of power is ancient. It is originated from the need of peace and security of different states. In his book The Balance of Power: the System of International Relations, 1648-1815, Evan Luard states that “a true balance of power policy occurs only when a state allies itself with the weaker of two possible partners, because it recognizes that the other may finally prove the greater menace”. That means, to build up a balance of power system, the two or more rivals have to be equal in strength. The rule of balance of power is obeyed when weaker powers ally to fight against a stronger one, or two combinations of stronger and weaker powers confront each other. When one side is too strong to balance the other side, the balance of power is destroyed.

Why did the other powers in Europe form a coalition against France in 1793? The reason originated from the French Revolution. Before the revolution, among the five major powers in Europe (Britain, France, Austria, Prussia and Russia), there remained a roughly equality. The revolution caused a change of ideology in France, which suggested that citizens should have the same rights as monarchs. This is called a “political development” by Luard, but it frightened the monarchs all over Europe, since the stream of fighting for freedom might be spread out of France. Then the first coalition was formed, and the balance of power shifted at this moment. Despite the disunity of the coalition, its strength was still much stronger than French power. Without Napoleon, the French First Republic might be destroyed by the coalition, and become under control of monarchs again. Then the balance of power would resume its old track. However, this did not happen, largely because of Napoleon.

During 1793 to 1797, before his reign of France, as a young commander, Napoleon played an incredibly important role in the defeat of the first anti-French coalition. As T. M, Hunter points out, under the great background of the French Revolution, Napoleon was “in the right place to demonstrate his good judgment, tactical skill and loyalty to the government”. He gained both military and diplomatic victories. For example, when extending French power over those “natural frontiers” of France (Atlantic, Rhine, Alps and Mediterranean), Napoleon faced combined forces of Austrian and Piedmontese, which is much stronger than his force in both number and other aspects. Napoleon has only 37600 soldiers while his enemy has 56000, plus the low morale and poor equipment of the French army. However, Napoleon is astute enough to discover and use the defects of the Austro-Piedmonstese alliance, and finally gained the territory. France was in a very dangerous situation during that period: she suffered from both external invasion and internal resistance from the monarchs. On the other hand, the first coalition contained three major powers in Europe (Britain, Austria and Prussia). Apparently France was far less advantaged than the coalition. Surprisingly, France not only defended herself successfully, but even went beyond her...
tracking img