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Lecture by Dr John Bew (KCL): 'Castlereagh and the Congress of Vienna - a model for our times?'

last modified Oct 22, 2015 02:18 PM

On Wednesday 21 October, Peterhouse and the Forum on Geopolitics at POLIS hosted a public lecture by former Peterhouse Fellow, Dr John Bew (KCL), exploring the diplomatic strategies and statecraft of Viscount Castlereagh, and the lessons we might apply to the challenges currently facing British foreign policy.

The much-maligned Lord Castlereagh is often presented as the paragon of 'realism' in international affairs. Henry Kissinger wrote his doctoral thesis on Castlereagh and Metternich, and their diplomacy at the time of the Congress of Vienna. Yet Castlereagh has also been seen as an alliance builder and a multi-lateralist - one of the driving forces behind the system of congress diplomacy which aimed to restore order to Europe after the tumult of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. In recent times, concerns about the maintenance of a stable world order have emerged. There have also been calls for a 'return to realpolitik' in the west.

In this talk, Dr John Bew outlined the five fundamental tenets of Castlereagh's approach to foreign policy, and offered a new interpretation of Castlereagh's understanding of power. Dr Bew made a powerful case for the pressing need for a greater sense of strategy and purpose in present-day British foreign policy thinking, and in particular, for that thinking to be infused with a more nuanced sense of history and a more sophisticated interpretation of the intersection of national interest and humanitarian values.

About Dr John Bew

Dr John Bew (matric. 2005), Is a reader in History and Foreign Policy at the War Studies Department at King's College London and Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. Dr Bew is also contributing writer at the New Statesman and a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, American Interest, National Interest, New Republic and Irish Times. From 2007-10, he was Lecturer in Modern British History, Harris Fellow and Director of Studies at Peterhouse.

About this lecture series

This lecture is one of several 'kick-off' events in support of a longer-term project to build a Centre for Geopolitics at POLIS. This Centre, the Centre of Geopolitics and Grand Strategy (CoGGS, is a proposed new interdisciplinary Centre for the study of grand strategy and statecraft at the University of Cambridge. Our vision is to bring together the brightest students and the most innovative international thinkers from academia, politics and business, to study Britain's role in Europe, and Europe's role in the world, in their broadest historical and intellectual contexts. The central discipline will be the history and politics of the state system, but we will also draw from the disciplines of geography, economics, political economy, business and risk management, divinity, sociology and law to offer a truly innovative research and teaching environment, which will also provide insights to the wider world. Please see for further information regarding our events programme and development plans.

If you are interested in the Centre, please contact Dr Maeve Ryan, Development Coordinator for CoGGS, (, or Dr Saskia Murk Jansen, Peterhouse Development Director (