International Relations and Diplomacy Content
PEACE TREATY OF WESTPHALIA
In ancient times, international relations operated very differently. The system of sovereign state that we have today has not always existed. For much of the world’s history, empires dominated relations between various actors. Between empires, there was little notion of independence and non-interference. A notable exception occurred in ancient Greece, where city‐states related to each other in much the same way that sovereign states relate to each other today. The modern state and the modern international system emerged after the Thirty Years’ War with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. With this agreement, the overarching authority of the pope was replaced by the notion of sovereign states. The notion of sovereignty arose in Europe in the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries and spread around the world through the processes of colonization and decolonization when Europeans explored and conquered much of the rest of the world. Prior to the invention of the territorial state, global politics had been dominated by a wide variety of political forms such as empires, tribes, and cities.
Thirty Years’ War in Europe
Thirty Years War is the name given to a series of bloody and devastating wars fought in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and Belgium) particularly on German lands between 1618 and 1648. Though several complex causes and motivations fueled these wars, the conflict between Protestants and Catholics over the authority of the Catholic Church and the pope was a central issue. Until 1517, Christianity was synonymous with Catholicism. Protestantism was a movement against the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants eventually tried to free themselves from the authority of the pope and Catholic rulers. The Thirty Years’ War in Europe began as a conflict between Protestants and Catholics but eventually involved political issues. The Protestant churches were destroyed by Catholic bishop. In response, in Prague in 1618, Protestants attacked the
Emperor’s palace and threw two of his ministers out of a window and forced out the Catholic King. The governments of Sweden and Denmark, while claiming to be fighting for the ideals of Protestantism, also saw the War as an opportunity to gain land. Protestant rulers within the Holy Roman Empire and beyond (France, Sweden, Denmark, England, and United Provinces) were on one side and the Holy Roman Emperor and the ruling Hapsburg family, the Catholic princes of Germany, and in the end, Spain were on the other side. In the Thirty Years’ War, two‐thirds of the total population had disappeared and five‐sixths of the villages in the empire had been destroyed.
Peace of Westphalia
The horrors of the Thirty Years’ War made it obvious that the Christian community of medieval Europe was fragile indeed and was in need of replacement. The replacement that came out of the Peace of Westphalia was the sovereign state. The European powers gathered in Westphalia (in what is today northwestern Germany) in 1648 to make peace. The term peace of Westphalia refer to the two peace treaties of Osnabruck and Munster signed on May 15 and October 24 of 1648 respectively which ended both the thirty years war in Germany and the eighty years war between Spain and the Netherlands. The treaty of the Pyrenees signed in 1659 that ended the war between France and Spain is often considered part of the overall accord. The Peace of Westphalia was comprised of separate treaties, as the Catholic and Protestant nations refused to meet with each other. The Catholic parties met in 1648 in Munster, a traditionally Catholic city, whereas the Protestants met in the Protestant city of Osnabruck. The chief participants in the negotiations were the allies of Sweden and France; their opponents, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire; and the various parts of the empire. (which had been riven by the war) together with the newly independent Netherlands. England, Poland, Muscovy, and Turkey were the only European powers that were not represented at the two
assemblies. Ultimately, 176 representatives of 196 rulers attended the peace negotiations. France wanted to destroy the emperor’s influence by strengthening the autonomy of the individual princes and by replacing the existing imperial institutions with a French‐led federation. However, these plans were unpopular with the German princes, who preferred an emperor with limited authority than the dominance of France and Sweden. Likewise, France wanted Spanish territory and also did not want to see Sweden become too powerful. After the treaty of Westphalia the Holy Roman Empire remained a loosely knit federation. The emperor had to share the power with the
princes. The United Provinces of the Netherlands (Dutch Republic) were declared independent of both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Switzerland was also acknowledged as independent of the empire. France and Sweden gained additional territory.
Significance of Peace of Westphalia
The 1648 Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. The Treaty of Westphalia embraced the notion of sovereignty and almost all small states in central Europe attained sovereignty. The German states (about 250) were recognized as sovereign. The Peace of Westphalia established the principle that all sovereign states are equal. Interference by one state in the internal affairs of another was considered as the violation of sovereignty by the Peace of Westphalia. The system of sovereign states gradually expanded to the non‐Western world when Europeans explored and conquered much of the rest of the world. After the Treaty, the leaders sought to establish their own permanent national militaries. ‘National interest’ gained superiority over religious motives in a long term. The power and authority of the Holy Roman Empire was drastically curtailed by the Peace of Westphalia and the religious authority in Europe was replaced by Secular authority. It made Roman Catholics and Protestants equal and allowed the state to establish the religion of their people. Treaty of Westphalia established a core group of states that dominated the world until the beginning of the nineteenth century: Austria, Russia, Prussia, England, France, and the United Provinces (the area now comprising the Netherlands and Belgium). Following the Peace of Westphalia, in the eighteenth century, European states operated on the balance‐of‐power principle. The principles imply that it is dangerous for all states to allow any other state to become too powerful. The Westphalian state system contributed to the evolution of diplomatic methods and the growth of international law. The peace of Westphalia resulted from the first pan‐European peace congress and it established the practice of multilateral negotiation for resolving conflicts. The Treaty of the Peace of Westphalia recognized peace as the highest goal of the community of states.
Conflicting Perspectives regarding Peace of Westphalia
It is argued that two main treaties that comprise the Peace of Westphalia, make no mention of sovereignty. Some scholars argue that the Peace of Westphalia did not intend to redefine international relations since the treaties had no other purposes than ending the war. While each German principality had its own legal system, the final Courts of Appeal applied to the whole of the Holy Roman Empire hence they were not sovereign. It is also argued that the Peace of Westphalia simply took a pre‐existing set of concepts and established them between nations. Since the three
chief participants (France, Sweden and Holy Roman Empire) were all already sovereign, there was no need to clarify this situation. In any case, the princes of Germany remained subordinate to the Holy Roman emperor as per the constitution. In addition, each treaty contained clauses that allowed Sweden and France to intervene should the Holy Roman Empire break the Peace. This directly violates the concept of individual sovereignty, as it allows external actors to interfere with state affairs. Many scholars at present believe that with the rise of globalization, nation‐states are becoming less and less Westphalian as international organizations such as the European Union, the
United Nations, and the International Criminal Court gain legal power to intervene in countries.