Sovereign nation

Westphalian sovereignty is the concept of the sovereignty of nation-states on their territory, with no role for external agents in domestic structures.

Scholars of international relations have identified the modern, Western originated, international system of states, multinational corporations, and organizations, as having begun at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.[1] Both the basis and the conclusion of this view have been attacked by some revisionist academics and politicians, with revisionists questioning the significance of the Peace, and some commentators and politicians attacking the Westphalian system of sovereign nation-states.

Traditional view

Adherents to the concept of a Westphalian system refer to the Peace of Westphalia signed in 1648 which ended the Thirty Years' War, in which the major European countries at the time (the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, France, Sweden and the Dutch Republic) agreed to respect the principle of territorial integrity. In the Westphalian system, the national interests and goals of states (and later nation-states) were widely assumed to go beyond those of any citizen or any ruler. States became the primary institutional agents in an interstate system of relations. The Peace of Westphalia is said to have ended attempts to impose supranational authority on European states. The "Westphalian" doctrine of states as independent agents was bolstered by the rise in 19th century thought of nationalism, under which legitimate states were assumed to correspond to nations—groups of people united by language and culture.

The Westphalian system reached its peak in the late 19th century. Although practical considerations still led powerful states to seek to influence the affairs of others, forcible intervention by one country in the domestic affairs of another was less frequent between 1850 and 1900 than in most previous and subsequent periods.[2][dubious ]

The Peace of Westphalia is important in modern international relations theory, and is often defined as the beginning of the international system with which the discipline deals.[3][4][5][6]

International relations theorists have identified several key principles of the Peace of Westphalia, which explain the Peace's significance and its impact on the world today:

  1. The principle of the sovereignty of states and the fundamental right of political self determination
  2. The principle of legal equality between states
  3. The principle of non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another state

These principles are shared by the "realist" international relations paradigm today, which explains why the system of states is referred to as "The Westphalian System".

Both the idea of Westphalian sovereignty and its applicability in practice have been questioned from the mid-20th century onwards from a variety of viewpoints. Much of the debate has turned on the ideas of internationalism and globalization which, in various interpretations, appear to conflict with Westphalian sovereignty.

Modern views on the Westphalian system

The Westphalian system is used as a shorthand by academics to describe the system of states which make up the world today.[7]

In 1998, at a Symposium on the Continuing Political Relevance of the Peace of Westphalia, the then NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said that "humanity and democracy [were] two principles essentially irrelevant to the original Westphalian order" and levied a criticism that "the Westphalian system had its limits. For one, the principle of sovereignty it relied on also produced the basis for rivalry, not community of states; exclusion, not integration."[8]

In 2000, Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer referred to the Peace of Westphalia in his Humboldt Speech, which argued that the system of European politics set up by Westphalia was obsolete: "The core of the concept of Europe after 1945 was and still is a rejection of the European balance-of-power principle and the hegemonic ambitions of individual states that had emerged following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, a rejection which took the form of closer meshing of vital interests and the transfer of nation-state sovereign rights to supranational European institutions."[9]

In the aftermath of the 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks, Lewis ‘Atiyyatullah, who claims to represent the terrorist network al-Qaeda, declared that "the international system built up by the West since the Treaty of Westphalia will collapse; and a new international system will rise under the leadership of a mighty Islamic state".[10]

It has also been claimed that globalization is bringing an evolution of the international system past the sovereign Westphalian state.[11]

Benedict Anderson refers to putative “nations” as "imagined communities."

Others speak favorably of the Westphalian state, notably European nationalists and American paleoconservative Pat Buchanan.[12][13] Some such supporters of the Westphalian state oppose socialism and some forms of capitalism for undermining the nation state. A major theme of Buchanan's political career, for example, has been attacking globalization, critical theory, neoconservatism, and other philosophies he considers detrimental to today's Western nations.

Globalization and Westphalian sovereignty

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the emerging literature on globalization focused primarily on the erosion of interdependence sovereignty and Westphalian sovereignty. Much of this literature was primarily concerned to criticize realist models of international politics in which the Westphalian notion of the state as a unitary agent are taken as axiomatic (Camilleri and Falk 1992).

The European Union concept of shared sovereignty is also somewhat contrary to historical views of Westphalian sovereignty, as it provides for external agents to interfere in nations' internal affairs.

In a 2008 article Phil Williams links the rise of terrorism and other violent non-state actors (VNSAs), which pose a threat to the Westphalian sovereignty of the state, to globalization.[14]


Military intervention

Since the late 20th century, the idea of Westphalian sovereignty has been brought into further question by a range of actual and proposed military interventions in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, among others.

Humanitarian intervention

Interventions such as in Cambodia by Vietnam (the Cambodian–Vietnamese War) or in Bangladesh (then a part of Pakistan) by India (the Bangladesh Liberation War and the Pakistan-initiated Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 within it) had a questionable or weak basis in international law, but were carried out on the premise that they constituted humanitarian intervention aimed at preventing genocide, large-scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing. In the East Pakistan/ Bangladesh case, India's justification was that it acted in self defence rather than for humanitarian purposes per se, it argued that such was the scale of refugee flows from East Pakistan to India, it threatened internal stability of India, and so was justified in intervening in East Bengal to address the root cause of the threat to India.

However, there is debate about whether other recent infringements of state sovereignty, such as in Kosovo (then a part of Serbia and Montenegro) by NATO (the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia) and subsequent de facto partitioning of Kosovo out of Serbia, in Iraq by the United States and a few other allies such as the United Kingdom (the 2003 Iraq War), in Georgia by Russia (the 2008 South Ossetia war), or in Libya by NATO (the 2011 Libyan civil war), also reflected these higher principles or whether the real justification was simply the promotion of political and economic interests.

A new notion of contingent sovereignty seems to be emerging, but it has not yet reached the point of international legitimacy. Neoconservatism in particular has developed this line of thinking further, asserting that a lack of democracy may foreshadow future humanitarian crises, or that democracy itself constitutes a human right, and therefore nation states not respecting democratic principles open themselves up to just war by other countries.[15] However, proponents of this theory have been accused of being concerned about democracy, human rights and humanitarian crises, only in countries where American global dominance is challenged, such as the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, Russia, China, Belarus, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela, etc., while hypocritically ignoring the same issues in other countries friendlier to the United States, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Georgia, and Colombia.

Failed states

A further criticism of Westphalian sovereignty arises in relation to allegedly failed states, of which Afghanistan (before the 2001 US-led invasion) is often considered an example.[16] In this case, it is argued that no sovereignty exists and that international intervention is justified on humanitarian grounds and by the threats posed by failed states to neighboring countries and the world as a whole.

Some of the recent debate over Somalia is also being cast in these same terms.[16]

See also

Further reading

  • Camilleri, J. and Falk, J. (1992), The End of Sovereignty?: The Politics of a Shrinking and Fragmenting World, Edward Elgar, Aldershot.
  • Leurdijk, J. (1986), Intervention in International Politics, Eisma BV, Leeuwarden, Netherlands.
  • Phil Williams: , ISN, 2008.


ca:Sobirania nacional

es:Soberanía nacional fr:Souveraineté nationale gl:Soberanía nacional

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