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Westphalia and Modern International System Essay

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Updated: Nov 11th, 2020

Contemporary Europe is a constantly growing flow of political and legal events and changes. Its history is rich in the events that were important for every country involved and one of Europe in general. One of the crucial “milestones in early modern Germany history” (Whaley, 2012, p. xxiii) and the one that influenced the international political arena was the Peace of Westphalia. It put the end of the Thirty Years War, which engaged a big part of Europe. The primary concerns of the war were political, religious, and commercial interests (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2015). The scholars believe the Peace is a link between the Middle Ages and the contemporary world (Croxton, 2013). The Westphalian Peace is considered an event that became a cornerstone of modern world order. It includes the division into states and the connected principles of international law. To some extent, the Treaty of Westphalia became a foundation for modern Europe, the greater part of which was under the influence of the Roman Empire.

The Treaty of Westphalia: Essence

The Treaty announced, “the principle of perpetual forgetting and amnesty” (Whaley, 2012, p. xxiii). Still, it united the previous experiences. The Peace of Westphalia was even compared to the charter of the United Nations in its significance (Croxton, 2013). However, it did not resolve the major constitutional problems, which included the range of rights and privileges of the Emperor and the Estates of the Reich. Respectively. The Peace suggested the balance of the two notions instead. This balance of power was in the focus of attention for almost two centuries. Besides, Westphalian Peace equalized the rights of Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists. It introduced the principle of tolerance to other religions, which resulted in the reduction of the religious influence on international relations. The Treaty imploded the authority of the Roman Empire. Since then, the hierarchic order with the Emperor as the senior monarch was ruined, and the heads of the independent states got equal rights. Consequently, the leading role in the international relations which used to belong to monarchs transferred to sovereign states (Linklater, 2013).

The relevance of the Treaty to the Modern International System

The Westphalian Peace is considered the event which gave birth to the basics of the modern global order. It divided the world into national states and favored the appearance of new principles of international law. The contemporary science suggests that the Westphalian Treaty was important for the formation of the international relations system.

The Westphalian Treaty introduced the principle of political balance. It is intended to preserve the existing political situation and the distribution of the forces. The states’ sovereignty, their equality, and the issue of non-intervention were the primary concerns of the Treaty. Although much criticized, the Westphalian model became universal and accepted. At present, its influence can be observed in various fields. Among them are the global economy, international safety, and humanitarian activity. The core idea of the Treaty is that of sovereignty. It means that every state is self-governed and provides the state’s functioning within itself. According to Westphalian Peace principles, every state has the right to establish the best conditions for the citizens. It also presupposes independent political, economic, and social development. Any other state is not allowed to seize power over other countries. It excludes the opportunity of taking advantage of the weaker countries like it was in the case of empires.

However, the absolute isolation of a state is harmful. The country needs cooperation in various fields to continue its development. It is obvious that the states cannot manage global problems like finance, security, international trade, human rights protection, or pollution by themselves. Consequently, countries tend to create unions to have support in various situations.


On the whole, the political structure of the world should not go to extremes. There are definite matters that must be managed inside the state. Here belongs to the political order, religion, etc. Still, some issues are better managed in unions. The Westphalian Peace was a great shift in the world’s political order. It introduced the concept of sovereign states and finished the epoch of empires. The ideas suggested in the fifteenth century are relevant to the present political situation. The modern states long for independence in various spheres like their territories or religions. Still, they realize the necessity of connections with the neighboring countries and value cooperation. Thus, it should be mentioned that although the concepts of the Treaty of Westphalia are still applicable in contemporary politics, they should be revised and updated considering the current situation. The connection of historical experience with modern achievements may lead the states to steady development.


Croxton, D. (2013). Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Linklater, A. (2013). The transformation of political community: Ethical foundations of the post-Westphalian era. Oxford, UK: Polity Press.

(2015). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Web.

Whaley, J. (2012). Germany and the Holy Roman Empire: Volume II: The Peace of Westphalia to the dissolution of the Reich, 1648-1806. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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