The Peace of Westphalia and the New World Order

by Darrell Castle

Peace of Westphalia We hear the term “New World Order” all the time. We are afraid of that term.  But if there is a New World Order, then what of the Old World Order, the political order which has existed for hundreds of years? If we are suspicious of, and resistant to the New World Order, what order are we trying to conserve?

To find out the history and character of the Old World Order, we need to travel back in time to the 17th Century to the time of the Thirty Years War. The Thirty Years War was fought in Europe from 1618 to 1648. It began when the Austrian-Hapsburg Empire tried to impose Roman Catholicism on their Protestant subjects in Bohemia.

It grew into a religious war of Protestant against Catholic, the Holy Roman Empire against France, the German princes and Princelings against the emperor and against each other, the nation of France against the Habsburgs of Spain.  At one point Swedes, Danes, Poles, Russians, and the Dutch all got into the act.  Until World War I, it was the bloodiest and costliest war in European history.

The Thirty Years War was fought largely on German soil, reducing the country to desolation and total ruin as swarms of unpaid hired mercenaries ravaged the land.  Rape, pillage, and famine spread across the countryside.  For thirty years, army after army marched through plundering every town, village, and farm they encountered.  There were reported incidences of cannibalism due to mass starvation. There was no order, no borders, no protection, no concept of “just tend to your own affairs” for the nations and people who sent armies into this conflict.

Out of this chaos came order, and a system of order that has held for centuries, with a few exceptions.  The rulers of the warring governments, and certainly the people of Europe, finally grew sick of the horror and demanded that it be ended. More than 179 diplomats representing 194 separate bodies or states, gathered in Westphalia to discuss peace. Thousands of bureaucrats and support staff were also there.  The papal nuncio, Fabio Chigi, who would later become Pope Alexander the VII, and the Venetian ambassador, Alvise Contarini, presided at the conference.  The system of world order which resulted is known as the Peace of Westphalia, or the Treaty of Westphalia.

The first six months of the conference were spent arguing over protocol – who would sit where, who would come into a room first, and who would cool his heels in the outer rooms.  Remember, there was no internet then.  Communication was primitive.  Postal communication often took weeks.  So the talks dragged on and on.   In the meantime, people continued to die of starvation and violence.

The diplomats finally decided to make protocol part of the larger agreement.  They agreed that all parties from the largest to the smallest would be treated as equals, and devised a way for all participates to enter the session at the same time.  Seating positions would rotate so no one would be perceived as having greater prominence than anyone else.

Under the provisions of the treaty, the Swiss gained their independence from Austria, the Netherlands gained its independence from Spain, and the German principalities became independent.  The dream of a Roman Catholic re-conquest of Europe was gone forever.  Protestantism was in the world to stay.

The main points of agreement brought order and stability to the world.  The states agreed to the following:

  • Each state could keep its own religion without outside interference.
  • The internal affairs of each nation-state was to be left to it alone.
  • The nation-state was to be the highest form of government and these nation-states would not be governed by clerics or religious leaders.
  • Each nation agreed to only attack other nations if it was immediately and strategically threatened. They would no longer attack each other just because one nation did not like what the other was doing. No pre-emptive attacks, only immediate threats.

This system of order, also known as the Westphalian System of World Order, has anchored the global political system for 350 years. There have been many violations, of course, violations which have led to war, but in general, and after the wars were over, the nations returned to the Westphalian system.

That is until now.  The Westphalian Order no longer holds in the Middle East where Islam holds power, especially in Iran which is called the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The Islamic State is technically not even a nation-state, but it acts as if it is.  It claims to rule by Islamic law over every Muslim on earth.  The absence of Westphalian order in this part of the world has brought chaos and violence in its place.

Another place where the Westphalian Order has broken down is in what many describe as “American Exceptionalism”.  Those who adhere to this view take the position that America is exceptional and is therefore obligated to serve as enforcer, or policeman, so whatever system of order it deems right, and whatever system of values it deems to be correct, can be imposed on the world by diplomacy, or by force if necessary.  But, in this point of view, America is exceptional, and is therefore not limited by the same order and values of the Westphalian order.  It becomes its own order, Pax Americana.  This view is bound to antagonize and provoke, just as a police officer who uses his badge as a license to violate the law antagonizes and provokes.

The Peace of Westphalia was not just one system of order among many, it was the most morally and intellectually appealing of all systems – a system where the parties agreed they would not seek to impose their religious principles upon others.  Nation-states became the highest form of government, and they would no longer interfere in the internal affairs of other states. It was a way of incorporating multiple societies, religions and states into a search for a more peaceful and orderly world.

Today, the search for a new system of order has lead us instead to a world of disorder.  We speak of international law and the international community while our interdependent world is threatened with chaos and disorder.  Our solution is to attempt the construction of a new world order, but an order without the old religious values which balanced the old world order.

In many ways America has rejected the order of Westphalia in an effort to achieve global dominance. The doctrine of American Exceptionalism allows America to philosophically reject the order of Westphalia, the principles of the Magna Carta, and religious values at the same time.  Once these are rejected all you have left is brute force.

Take the Middle East as an example.  Religion reigns supreme and obviously seeks to impose itself on its neighbors and ultimately seeks global dominance. The various sects of Islam war against each other, their neighbors, and the world.  Since World War I, this chaotic system has been controlled by the formation of artificial nation-states controlled by selected strongmen or dictators, if you prefer.

There are only about four actual nations in the Middle East — Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Israel — which can trace their existence back thousands of years, with brief absences here and there.  They seem to be emerging now as competitors for regional dominance.  The lack of respect for the internal affairs or religions of their neighbors leaves the region in a constant struggle for dominance among each nation and many warring subgroups, much like the situation in Europe in 1618.

Today’s Europe sees nation-states trying to become absorbed into regional governments, which leads to constant problems.  The region is under constant economic stress because of extreme debt conditions in weaker economies, which find it impossible to run national economies based on nothing but social welfare and tourism.  Immigration from the failed European states and from the Middle East, immigrants trying to escape from war and poverty, causes continued friction with the clash of Islamic religious fervor and the agnostic secular west.

Instead of looking at the problems from a Westphalian perspective, the various regions try to solve their economic chaos through various regional entanglements and free trade agreements.  The search for cheap labor to replace the more expensive home workers adds to the dissolution of borders and a breakdown of traditional societies.

These regional entities — whether the European Union, the Middle East, the TransPacific region, or the North American Union — are not nation states, though sometimes they try to pretend they are.  They usually try to resolve the frictions caused by loss of borders, unrestricted immigration, displaced workers, etc., by adopting a multicultural, “all cultures are equal and interchangeable” philosophy.  Eventually, in this new world utopian vision, all people will be one race, one religion, one gender, and one sexual orientation.  Kind of a hodgepodge, polyglot soup made from the world’s ingredients. Many people have tasted this new soup and they don’t like it.  They want their own religion, their own families, their own jobs and their own countries.

Never fear though, the people at the top of this have the answer. Each region can be governed by a regional player such as Iran, Russia, Germany or China.  The rulers will say to them, “We can control it all from Washington. You can be in the game, but you can’t be king, only we can be king.  If you don’t accept the vassal’s role, we will starve you out with sanctions and lack of credit.  We will totally dominate everything because we control the world’s money.  You are nothing but starving beggars without us and we have unlimited funds. If you behave, we’ll give you some of it.”

America has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.  Welcome to the New World Order, though there is not much order out there yet.  The only solution for peace and stability is a return to the principles and Order of Westphalia.

Darrell Castle is the creator and voice of The Castle Report podcast, served as the 2008 Vice-presidential nominee, and has spent many years in leadership positions in both his state party and the national executive committee. Article originally published here.