Peace conferences have been, and still are, a major topic of public interest in the early nineties. Endless conferences on the Near East have dominated the daily papers for years, and have now been joined by the problem of peace conferences on the former Yugoslavia.
The principal question has often been 'who won the war', followed by 'who won the peace', and 'was the vanquishing country able to consolidate its gains'. In terms of an international system, peace can be read only as stability in international relations. After a war, changes in the international system were consolidated at a peace congress whose function was to find acceptance for a new balance of power, the redefinition of influences, new frontiers, in short, new stability. The international system after the conclusion of a peace has been the test of the stability and durability of that peace.
The great powers played a dominant role in the peacemaking process as well as in the implementation of the international system that resulted from a peace congress. Without the participation of great powers, no such effects could be realised. Only the great powers have enough capacities, abilities and instruments to induce peace. Success has been limited in time; peace congresses are poor instruments when it comes to create a new, peaceful international order.
The Vienna Congress in 1815 from which the European Concert originated, has been the best example of a successful peace congress, and perhaps the only exceptional one. The missing congress after 1945 did not exclude a long, Atlantic peace.