This year marks the bicentennial anniversary of the Congress of Vienna. From September of 1814 to June of 1815, over 200 representatives met in the Austrian capital to rebuild the foundations of European diplomacy, which lay in shambles after over twenty years of war. It was the great powers, the “Pentarchy” of Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, and Russia, who dictated the territorial and political agreements that formed the core of a European grand settlement. And more importantly, at Vienna these powers laid the groundwork for what Mark Jarrett calls “an audacious experiment in international cooperation” (205): a congress system, in which powers would engage in “habitual confidential and free intercourse between the Ministers of the Great Powers as a body” in hope that “many pretensions might be modified, asperities removed, and causes of irritation anticipated and met” (205).
My old tennis partner, Ernie May, liked to say that political scientists had a habit of making historians feel like waiters at a feast – providing the eternal backdrop for theorists’ experiments. I certainly knew how he felt. I had seen this many, many times. But I certainly don’t have that feeling with the article under consideration, “Confronting Soviet Power: U. S. Policy during the Early Cold War,” by Paul C. Avey, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Notre Dame. In this impeccable piece of scholarship, Avey successfully bridges history and political science, arguing that U.S. policy during the early Cold War years was principally directed toward challenging Soviet state power, moving beyond broad concerns to block Soviet expansion in Eurasia and to restore a balance of power in Europe and Asia (152). At the same time, he does not suggest that ideology – read ideational explanations – does not matter. What he does argue is that “ideology did not dictate confrontation with the Soviet Union or decisively shape the origins of U.S. policy” (188).