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Consisting of two bilateral treaties signed in , the Peace of Westphalia was agreed upon in order to bring an end to the carnage of the Thirty Years War. This essay will analyse the basis of this myth by highlighting the numerous discrepancies between the terms agreed to at Westphalia and the core tenets that constitute the Westphalian model.

This essay will then proceed to highlight why the Westphalian myth emerged and how it has been perpetuated so effectively. In fact, when the French delegation did suggest insertion into the treaties of a reference to sovereignty, the offer was immediately declined Stirk, Hence, the political entities within the Holy Roman Empire were not sovereign states in the modern sense, lacking the autonomy that characterizes Westphalian sovereignty.

Hierarchy, not Westphalian sovereign equality, was the dominant motif in the international system during the seventeenth century Stirk, Such examples clearly reflect the hierarchical nature of seventeenth century international society, with the hierarchy of empire persisting until , importantly undermining any impression of emerging Westphalian state-sovereignty as a result of the Peace of Westphalia.

Osiander , Croxton , and Stirk also dispute the standard assertion that the Peace of Westphalia first granted state sovereignty through the right of states to form alliances with foreign actors. The treaties that constituted the Peace of Westphalia merely recognized a practice which had already been underway for almost half a century Beaulac, Article 5. Another key restriction on sovereignty imposed by the Peace of Westphalia concerns the continuing importance of the Emperor where the right of making alliances is concerned:.

The individual states shall have the eternal and free right to make alliances among themselves or with foreigners…yet only…where they preserve in all ways the oath by which all are bound to the emperor and empire Article 8. Misinterpretation of the treaties certainly has a part to play, but according to Osiander , the Westphalian myth emerged and has been perpetuated principally because it allowed for a convenient and simplistic account of how the system of European states emerged.

Significantly, this neglects the fact that the emergence of sovereign states within Europe was gradual and did not result spontaneously from any revolutionary breakthrough resulting from the Peace of Westphalia. Beaulac argues:. This is a necessity given the processes of globalization and growing interdependence which continue to challenge established concepts of Westphalian sovereignty.

If anything, the Peace of Westphalia included provisions that restricted the sovereignty of the states of Europe, particularly regarding freedom or religion and the right to form alliances with foreign actors. The Westphalian myth which links the emergence of the Westphalian model to the Peace of Westphalia is based largely on the nineteenth and twentieth century fixation on the concept of state sovereignty Osiander, , as well as misinterpretation of the technical detail of the treaties of the Peace of Westphalia.

It is also of vital importance to note that the mythical linkage between the Peace of Westphalia and the emergence of a system of sovereign states is not only historically incorrect, but also a hindrance to a more imaginative and accurate understanding of political structures within international relations, that often deviate from the Westphalian model, both in the seventeenth century and to this day.

Beaulac, S. Brown, C. Croxton, D. Evans, G. Gross, L. Helfferich, T. Krasner, S. Morgenthau, H. Osiander, A. Spruyt, H. Stirk, P. Before you download your free e-book, please consider donating to support open access publishing.

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Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth

Recommend to Your Librarian. In the Preface to volume 1 of The Consolidated Treaty Series , Clive Parry explained that his collection purported to make the historical treaties antedating the League of Nations Treaty Series available to the modern reader. By this, the date ad quem , , of his work was made self-explanatory. To Parry, as to many of his predecessors, was the natural point of departure for modern treaties. The underlying claim is that the treaties inaugurated or even created a new international order based on the sovereign state. It is held that the treaties which put an end to the Thirty Years War — terminated the last great religious war in Europe and sounded the death knell for the universal authority of the pope and the emperor. Thus the princes and republics of Europe achieved their full sovereignty and a new international political and legal order which was premised on the principles of state sovereignty and religious neutrality emerged see, e.


The non-Westphalian Peace

Westphalian sovereignty , or state sovereignty , is a principle in international law that each state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory. The principle underlies the modern international system of sovereign states and is enshrined in the United Nations Charter , which states that "nothing should authorise intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. The principle of non-interference was further developed in the 18th century. The Westphalian system reached its peak in the 19th and 20th centuries, but it has faced recent challenges from advocates of humanitarian intervention.

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