Concluded in October 1648 among the European powers of the day except England, Poland, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Peace of Westphalia is considered to be the foundation stone of the modern nation-states system. It not only brought to an end two wars namely the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Dutch and the Thirty Yeas’ War raging in the German states but also laid down the cardinal principles of international relations.
In a series of meetings several decisions relating to territorial readjustments and related issues were taken. Some of the most important of these are as follows;
- Territorial Readjustments: Under the terms of the peace settlement, a number of countries received territories or were confirmed in their sovereignty over territories. The territorial clauses all favoured Sweden, France, and their allies.
- Territorial Sovereignty: The Peace of Westphalia recognized the full territorial sovereignty of the member states of the empire. They were empowered to contract treaties with one another and with foreign powers,
- Universal Amnesty: Apart from territorial changes, a universal and unconditional amnesty to all those who had been deprived of their possessions was declared, and it was decreed that all secular (not under the Pope) lands should be restored to those who had held them in 1618.
- Ecclesiastical Settlement: Even more important than the territorial redistribution was the ecclesiastical settlement securing toleration for the three great religious communities of the empire- Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist. Within these limits the member states of the empire were bound to allow at least private worship, liberty and the right of emigration to all religious minorities and dissidents within their domains.
- Reformation/Counter-Reformation Stopped: The year 1624 was declared the “standard year” according to which territories should be deemed to be in Roman Catholic or Protestant possession. By the important provision that a prince should forfeit his lands if he changed his religion, an obstacle was placed in the way of a further spread of both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.
- Ending Holy Empire: The Holy Roman emperor and the Diet were left with a mere shadow of their former power. Not only was the central authority of the Holy Roman Empire replaced almost entirely by the sovereignty of about 300 princes, but the power of the empire was materially weakened in other ways. It lost about 40,000 square miles (100,000 square km) of territory and obtained a frontier against France that was incapable of defence
- German Sovereignty: The Treaty was recognized as a fundamental law of the German constitution and declared that all protests or vetoes of the Peace of Westphalia by whomsoever pronounced should be null and void. It dealt a blow at the intervention of the Holy Roman Emperor in German affairs, making the princes of the empire absolute sovereigns in their own dominions. This ended the century-long struggle between the monarchical tendencies of the Holy Roman Emperors and the Federalist aspirations of the empire’s German princes.
- Franco/Swedish Supremacy: Sweden and France as guarantors of the peace acquired the right of interference in the affairs of the empire, and Sweden also gained a voice in its councils (as a member of the Diet). For many years Germany thus became the principal theatre of European diplomacy and war, and the natural development of German national unity was delayed.
Impact on International Relations
Because of the above decisions ,the Peace of Westphalia accomplished seven things in one go which shaped the future course of international relations for times to come
- Creation of the Modern Nation-state System: Peace of Westphalia created the modern nation-state system in Europe and the colonial powers introduced it all over the world. The nation-state got identified with its four essential elements: Territorial integrity, Sovereignty, Nationalism and Equality.
- Territorial integrity conceptualized the nation-state as a geographical entity whereby protection of the people living within its boundaries became its chief responsibility.
- Sovereignty, internal and external, came to be regarded as the hall mark of the nation-state. Internally, the state had the right to order the behaviour of all its citizens and externally, sovereignty implied the right of the state to choose any element to protect its national interest.
- Thirdly, the rise of nation-state was accompanied by the rise of nationalism which advocate identification of the individual with the state in return for obedience to its laws.
- Finally, international law recognized all states as equal sovereign entities with an equal legal status and rights. The nation-states with all these four characteristics came to be key actors in international relations.
Despite all the criticisms about its Western origins, the concept of state and nation, has taken firm roots in most parts of the world – not without conflicts and bloodshed. Similarly, it has withstood the challenges posed by the greater regionalisation and even by the rapidly globalising world. Not only the nation-state as an identity of its own still survives but will also stay with us for the foreseeable future
- Universal Standards of Statecraft: Peace of Westphalia not only created the institution of the nation-state but also stipulated the basic rules of the statecraft namely rule of law, respect for human rights, and democratic governance. These are now universal standards acknowledged in most of the constitutions – the fact that they may be misapplied in practice or under threat in many countries does not change the fact that they remain valid and relevant standards.
- Secularisation of Statecraft: It separated state from the religion in statecraft and made religion the private affair of the people. Secularism is now the cornerstone of modern statecraft
- Global Dispute Resolution Mechanism: It laid the foundation for the resolving the global disputes through a structured multilateral collaboration. Although it failed to avert the two world wars, yet it became a model for the formation of League of Nations and later for the United Nations Organisation.
- Global European Imperialism: Although Europe had already started its imperialistic advances towards Asia, this treaty gave it a boost. Stoppage of internecine long warfare brought peace in Continental Europe which resulted in rapid increase in population growth. Europe now needed overseas colonies to feed them, satisfy their needs for goods and services and to accelerate its industrial growth.
- Rise of anti-Imperialist Movements: On the one hand nationalism produced several conflicts and on the other hand it led to the birth of strong movements among dependent people to gain independence from imperialism and colonialism. In Asia and Africa people began strongly opposing imperialism and colonialism for securing sovereign statehood. They were strongly motivated by the desire to establish their own sovereign nation-states.