Uitgenodigd worden om voor een tweede keer te spreken voor TEIMUN betekent voor mij dat het de eerste keer is bevallen. Dit jaar was mijn onderwerp ‘the peace of Westphalia 1648′ in het Historical Crisis Council. Volgens menigeen iets om de tanden eens lekker in te zetten. Enig inlezen was inderdaad nodig, want om dit onderwerp te kiezen is er meer nodig dan te weten dat het einde van de Tachtig jarige oorlog er onderdeel van was.The organisation asked me to speak about the Peace of Westphalia. And I thought… wow. I’m not a historian and my history lessons at school are far behind me. At first I didn’t see a connection with my personal background, nor my service in the military. So I started reading about the subject. Perhaps there was a reason to ask me. I only had to figure out which one. Was there a link? And was it possible for me to give you all ‘food for thought’…
The peace of Westphalia was in fact a number of peace treaties, signed between may and oktober 1648. These treaties ended the Thirty years’ war in the Holy Roman Empire and the Eighty years’ war between Spain and the Dutch Republic. It confirmed the independence of the Republic, nowadays the Netherlands – which is nice, of course. But that’s not the reason why we are here today. Also the decline of power of the Holy Roman Emperor, the drawing of new borders through Europe are interesting. But not for here, today…
The peace of Westphalia didn’t end all conflicts. For example, France and Spain stayed at war ‘till 1659. There were so many parties involved that there were 109 delegations to negotiate for peace. They represented the European powers.
No, the most interesting part of the Peace of Westphalia: for the first time, the treaties are the result of diplomatic negotiations. ‘Till so far, war was the way to solve problems between countries. When it was clear who won and who’d lost, then diplomats spoke about terms. The peace of Westphalia established the precedent of peaces realised by diplomatic channels at the negotiation table. So not áfter the fighting but during the war.
I know that I’m racing though a development that took decades. I apologize for taking the shortcuts. But ‘Westphalia’ ment the growth of a new system of political order. The peace of Westphalia gave birth to the idea that each nation state has sovereignty over it’s territory and domestic affairs. That places the state above a ruler or it’s citizens. And: at a certain point above religion, because it made religion subordinate to politics.
Important, because a state becomes an entity. External powers had no right to interfere – no matter how large or mighty that power might be. So, each country is equal in international law.
The basis of the Westphalian system is still intact. All over the world conflicts preferrably ends with negotiations and therefore sooner than a military victory. We still support the idea of souvereign states and that it’s not allowed to interfere by other nations in internal affairs. Certainly not by the use of military force. Even so called ‘failed states’ are souvereign and are it’s borders respected.
Though, it’s clear that the so called Westphalian system has its limitations. First: The nation state gave people feelings of nationalism – which can be a risk when it becomes extreme.
For example: supporting the national football team with singing the national anthem and waving the flag is allright offcourse. But when we look to former Yougoslavia which disintegrated because nationalist politicians played with the nationalistic and ethnical feelings of their people, it can result in horrible tragedies. Mobilize and unite the masses by using nationalism is a proven strategy. The Bosnian civil war in the early 90s was the outcome of radical nationalism.
Second: Interference from other countries is still possible. Often not which huge armies but more subtle. Sometimes governments ask for help, sometimes they have to be ‘convinced’ to accept intervenience or help. In former Yougoslavia the UN intervened in 1992 with UNPROFOR. The goals of this mission was to prevend further escalation of the war and to create conditions for peacetalks. UNPROFOR ended in 1995 when Croatia refused to extend the UN-mandate for UNPROFOR.
And third: Countries could become rivals and souvereignty means ‘borders’. That affects globalisation and the idea of the nation-state conflicts with supranational thinking like the European Union. The EU and UN are two different kinds of supranational organisations.
Where do we stand
The Westphalian system brought us the souvereign nation-state, a higher level of diplomacy, diplomatic negotiations to end conflicts, a certain seperation between religion and state, the rise of nationalism.
The system made it more difficult – not to say illegal – to interfere in domestic affairs. Though it happens countless of times: just to give a few more recent examples. Ethiopia invaded Somalia some years ago, Vietnam did the same thing earlier in the seventies in Cambodia with the Khmer. The US in Vietnam and the Sovjet Union in Afghanistan.
Even more when we look to organisations like NATO: Afghanistan, Serbia during the nineties for example. Or less visible interventions: Foreign warriors payed or equipped by foreign powers.
And – as I mentioned before – the United Nations, the supranational institute. Sure, the UN is an instrument of international politics and controlled by the security counsel. But it’s resolutions made it possible to interfere legally. For example: Rwanda, former Yougoslavia. I mean; I drove a truck with food, clothes and sometimes refugees. The fractions accepted our presence mostly – but not all asked for it.
I come to a conclusion. Then it’s your turn. You can say that ‘Westphalia’ is a model. A workable western system with weaknesses. The Peace of Westphalia brought us a new order. We still use this order of diplomacy, nation state, souvereignty. It worked with it’s limitations for almost 400 years. But will it survive the challenges of the 21 century?
– Then the first question is: what is it’s future? Will it survive globalisation? And how?
– Second thought: How does the European Union handle the boatmigrants from Libya. Will the EU ignore the territorial waters or even set foot on Lybian ground? And is that preferable, keeping the system in mind. Or is it better to negotiate treaties with countries to keep migrants in their own country?
– And finally: The Westphalian System is seen as a system of the western civilisation. Will it survive possible other views on society and worldorder?
Like Islam – which does not know seperation between religion and state?
Or Chinese – with their powerplay politics like in the Chinese sea?