After the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Powers of Europe became increasingly wary of
revolutionary rhetoric. The defeat of Napoleon brought new opportunities for the Great Powers to negotiate a restoration to the old European system of influence, a system that depended on a delicate balance between major and minor powers. Representatives of Austria, Prussia, Russia, Great Britain and France met together at the Congress of Vienna to discuss the logistics of this new system. Russia, as a member of the Holy Alliance, became the key to maintaining the balance of power obtained under the Congress of Vienna and suppressing revolutionary uprisings in Europe (Wikipedia). The Holy Alliance was a treaty created by Tsar Alexander as a reflection of Europe’s desire to return to more conservative politics. Russia expected free reign to address its issues with the Ottoman Empire in exchange for its provision of manpower to maintain balance and its role in suppressing the uprisings of 1848 and 1849 (Wikipedia). Other powers had similar concerns about maintaining their own interests. Napoleon III seized absolute control of France in 1851 and wanted to legitimize his rule using another war. Both Russia and France seized the opportunity to aid Turkey with suppressing repeated encroachments on the Ottoman Empire (Arnold, 6). Austria and Prussia attempted to avoid hostilities all together. Russia wanted to assert its rights to protecting the interests of the Orthodox Christian subjects under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Both France and Russia wished to protect its interests in the Holy Places of Palestine, while Britain was against Russian influence in the region. The main cause of the Crimean War was the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the desire of Russia, France, and Britain to safeguard their interests in the Mediterranean (Arnold, 6). This was the result of expansion. By assertion, conquest, and the protection of perceived interest, conflict seemed to be inevitable.
In 1833, Russia and the Ottoman Empire signed a treaty, in which Turkey to give Russian ships exclusive access to the Dardanelles. When the European powers found out about the clause in 1841, Britain worked to close the Dardanelles to all European
Powers. Each of the European powers showed their readiness to intervene in
Turkey to maintain its interests, and each of the powers were showed their distrust towards the other nations (Arnold, 7). Also, during the 1840s, Egypt became an
independent state under the influence of France. Egypt’s new statehood placed Turkey
sandwiched between two ambitious powers vying for influence in the region. Nicholas I, the tsar of Russia, knew in advance the impending dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and was determined to expand Russian influence at its expense (Arnold, 7). Nicholas I originally hoped for an agreement with the British over the supervision of the Ottoman Empire after its fall. He also assumed that the rest of Europe would support a British-Russian agreement (Arnold, 7). However, both France and Britain had already given their support to the Sultan. Napoleon III became the new emperor of France in the 1850s. As a new emperor, Napoleon III was looking for a way to consolidate and legitimize his power. He believed that the best way to do this was to ally himself with Britain against Russian ambitions. Even before Napoleon III became emperor he came into conflict with the tsar when he supported the interests of the Latin Christians rather than the Greek Orthodox Christians in Palestine, which created a conflict between the two state’s interests in the Holy Places. Nicholas was determined to “establish decisive Russian ascendency over Turkey.” (Arnold, 8) As a result of this tension, Great Britain and France declared war on Russia in March 1854.
The allied landing in Crimea took place in 1854 (Troubetzkoy, 32). Between the war’s start and the war’s end over half of a million people died. These soldiers died from disease, and bullets, in the hospitals, fields, and homes. The war was not confined to a localized area in the Black sea. It was fought in Romania, Bulgaria, and in Asiatic Turkey (Troubetzkoy, 33). As the struggle progressed one major power broke its neutrality in place for the allies against Russia (Troubetzkoy, 34). Russia began to lose its status as a mighty power. This was perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of the war. It had lost its fearful might in European affairs (Troubetzkoy, 42). Russia had lost the glory it had obtained when it overthrew Napoleon. After defeat, Russia realized that it could not
compete with the rest of Europe due to its lack of the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. The war isolated Russia, showing its technological weaknesses in infrastructure and corruption within the government.
The Treaty of Paris
Britain, France, Russia, and Paris signed the Treaty of Paris in March 1856, ending the Crimean War. Piedmont-Sardina who had recently achieved objective recognition, also
signed the treaty. These powers surrendered all of their rights it had intervene in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire. The territory around the Black Sea became a neutral zone, which proved to be a huge setback for the Russian Empire. The Treaty forced to relinquish Orthodox Christian claims of influence over Romanian principalities. The underlying theme throughout this conflict was the assertion of influence and power over
potentially new territory. Each major European Power, including the Russian Empire wanted to assert legitimacy on a global scale. The Crimean War was a release of the underlying tension of distrust between Russia, France, Great Britain, and Turkey. It could also be seen as a precursor to the deeper themes of conflict into the 20th century. These powers continued to grow in influence and expansion, and it would only be a matter of time before tension erupts into war again.
Guy Arnold, Historical Dictionary of the Crimean War (London: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 2002)
Alexis Troubetzkoy, The Crimean War: The Causes and Consequences of a Medieval Conflict Fought in a Modern Age (New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2006.)
Wikipedia, Treaty of Paris. Accessed March 2, 2012.
Wikipedia, The Crimean War. Accessed March 2, 2012.