top of page

Pre-Westphalia and Westphalia & Post-Westphalia


Medieval Europe & Pre-Westphalian System

  • Before the origin of the modern state system in Europe, the medieval Europe was characterized as a Pre-Westphalian system.

  • In the Pre-Westphalian system, the Church was the supreme authority from which the universal laws of governance and moral framework of organizing a society was derived.

  • The medieval Europe was based on feudal mode of production.

  • Unlike Westphalian system, the medieval social order in feudal Europe was not based either on the strict separation between the domestic (internal) and international (external) sphere on the one hand and the public and the private realm on the other hand.

Holy Roman Empire in 1648

  • There was no institutional separation of politics and economics during this period.

  • In fact, the highly differentiated carriers of political power in medieval politics and geopolitics were based on the vertical relations of subordination and horizontal relations of coordination.

  • In medieval Europe no political authority-pope, emperor, kings, dukes, counts, bishops, city-lords etc enjoyed the modern state’s monopoly of means of violence guaranteeing exclusive control over a bounded territory

  • Unified and exclusive authority claimed by modern sovereign states, the political authority in medieval Europe was dispersed, fragmented and overlapping.

  • But by the end of the 16th century the authority of the Church in medieval Europe was on decline due to the Renaissance and reformation movement

  • The economic practices of the new trading and manufacturing classes on the one hand, and the power of new science and technology on the other side, also effectively undermined the authority of the Church.

  • Thus, the bloody Thirty Years’ War came to an end with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648

  • And this led to secularization of life and the acceptance of a secular state in Europe.

The Thirty Years War

  • The Thirty Years War (1618-648) was a series of wars fought in the Central Europe, mainly in the Holy Roman Empire, with armies plundering the Central European landscape, fighting battles and surviving by ravaging the Civilian population.

  • It was one of the most destructive conflicts in the European History.

  • Thirty Years’ War was initially began as a religious war between Protestant and Catholic states but later it gradually developed into a non-religious and general conflict among great powers of Europe.

  • Thirty years of war could be divided into four parts

  1. First Phase: The Bohemian Phase (1618-1625) - Defenestration of Prague.

  2. Second Phase: The Danish Phase (1625-1629) - Height of Catholic power.

  3. Third Phase: The Swedish Phase (1630-1635) - The new Protestant leader, Gustavus Adolphus became King of Sweden led army that pushed Catholic forces back to Bohemia.

  4. Fourth Phase: The French Phase (1635- 1648) - Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), the chief minister of King Louis XIII allied with protestant forces to weaken the power of the Hapsburgs and take the province of Alsace from the Holy Roman Empire.


Treaty of Westphalia & Its characteristics

  • Treaty of Westphalia aims to have ended the imposition of any supranational authority on sovereign states.

  • The Treaty of Westphalia also refers to two treaties, namely the Treaty of Munster and the Treaty of Osnabruck.

  • The treaties recognized the sovereignty of more than 300 German Princes.

  • The Treaty of Westphalia played also an important role in the establishment of secular state in Europe and thus marks an end of the supremacy of Church in the political domain.

  • The peace of Westphalia at the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 concluded a series of religious wars among the main European powers

  • It led to the strengthening of a new conception of international law based on the principles that all states have an equal right to self –determination

  • The Treaty of Westphalia dated from 1648, is the collective term for the peace treaties and it recognizes following principles as its core features :

  1. the principle of sovereignty

  2. the principle of legal equality among states,

  3. the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states

  4. reduction of the role played by religion,

  5. recognizing no superior authority over the sovereign states,

  6. fundamental right of political self-determination.

  • The principles of territorial sovereignty, independence and nationalism-in their modern sense- however, were not known to the ancient and medieval peoples.

Basic Features of Westphalian Model of State System

  1. Westphalian model of state system has introduced new system of political order which consists of sovereign states based on territorial sovereignty and absence of a role for external agents in the internal matters.

  2. Initiate the concepts of diplomacy, international law and balance of power.

  3. The states are supreme in the matters related with both their internal (domestic) and external affairs.

  4. The international law and relations among states are the result of the peace treaty of Westphalia which also founded the important norms for the international system.

  5. The aim of International law is to identify the norms and rules for peaceful coexistence.

  6. Collectively all states have a mutual concerns to minimize the constraints related with states’ freedom.

  7. Recognize the independence of each sovereign state and their right to determine and manage their political and other policy goals.

  8. The concepts of nationalism, sovereignty and power are essential conditions for state system, without which the state system cannot exist.

  9. In international system the individual great powers have much control and power in the matters of dispute settlements, law enforcement and also law-making.

  10. All states in the international system irrespective of their geographical location and position must be treated as equal.

Emergence of the emergence of the State System

  • Most scholars often dated the birth or origin of the modern state system with its territorial sovereignty first in Europe from the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648

  • And by which the European princes and monarchs recognized each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

  • Although some contended that States did indeed exist before Westphalia, and they conducted relations among themselves but that was quite different from modern state system as there had been no nation state with sovereignty.

  • The sovereign state system in Europe emerged as a response to specific historical circumstances.

  • By the 16th century, the Church in Europe was beginning to lose control over the state and societal structures since these were moving in a secular direction for a variety of reasons.

  • The Treaty of Westphalia brought an end to the thirty years war in Europe and, by virtue of this Treaty, the rulers of Europe shook themselves off from the authority of the Church and the Roman Empire.

  • Central principle of this Treaty was “the ruler of the territory would determine the religion of that territory” which had major consequences.

  • The principles of, territorial sovereignty, independence and nationalism are the main characteristic features of the modern state system

  • The basic rules and principles to shape and define the international system are also established by the Treaty of Westphalia (1648).

  • Due to the Treaty of Westphalia, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states as equal and independent members of an international system become one of the core principles in the contemporary international relations.

  • Thus, since the Westphalian revolution in international relations, the states may have lost some parts of its territory while defeating in a war but not subsumed into victorious state and allowed to continue as an independent state.

  • The Thirty Years War had resulted out of the Protestant-Catholic conflict.

  • The struggle did not establish any dominant religion, yet it ended the undisputed authority of the Catholic Church.

Post Westphalian System

  • In the Post-Westphalian system, contemporary international politics both in theory and practice, progressed or matured significantly and assumed a new dimension with the start of process of decolonization which results in the emergence of new states in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

  • With the end of Balance of Power system that had existed for three centuries, the post-Second World War international order is different; it see the emergence of two non-European nuclear (weapon) superpower, the US and USSR, instead of the earlier five to six major non-nuclear (weapon) European powers.

  • In the Post-Westphalian system, Westphalian wars are on decline and non-Westphalian war on the issues of economic and informational are on rise

  • The world became unipolar after the Cold War, with the US remaining the only superpower, the present international order has become more interdependent due to the spread of globalization, including international trade, information technology revolution, terrorism, and environmental degradation.

  • Now, since the end of Cold War International Relations (IR) as an academic discipline is also addressing the issues with more sincerity which has assumed multi-dimensional character.

  • We can say that, there has been a deterritorialization of the world.

Globalization and Challenges to State Sovereignty

  • Globalization has profound implications for decision-making in both the domestic and international contexts.

  • Because of the forces of globalisation, the structures and processes of the world state system have been facing large-scale changes.

  • Though the states, still surviving and exercise their power and authority in certain respects but the core of Westphalian model, that is, the concept of sovereignty, has been deeply undermined in a fast globalizing world.

  • Some liberal scholars argue that due to globalization state’s power is declining and the power of the markets is ascending

  • It is no secret that global social movements have also now come to undermine the sovereignty of states.

  • The state in a globalizing world has to work along with the forces which are not under its control even such as surveillance by global governance agencies, nationalism, global ecological problems, satellite communications, electronic money transfers, multinational companies, migration, information flows, technology transfers and, most importantly, nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction

  • Scholars point out that the concept of absolute sovereignty was developed under conditions of relatively low level of interdependence among states.

  • The inter-dependence of world economy and the growing importance of the supra-state global governance system have also limited the state sovereignty

  • The operation of MNCs and their interference with the domestic policies of their host countries have really undermined the sovereignty of the states.

  • No wonder, MNCs like IBM, GE, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and others have become more powerful than many sovereign states.

  • The Neo-realist scholars claim that state still continues to be a primary actor in international politics.

  • For Realist, there is no threat to the state or its authority and the state system will continue to be relevant.

  • Realist scholars claimed that states increasingly exercise sovereignty in multilateral context. They argued that globalization has enhanced the state’s ability and changed the states roles.

  • The Realist and Neo-realist scholars argued that rather than sovereignty disappearing, it is being transformed into contemporary global actors, other than nation-states.



  • Despite all these criticism, there is no doubt that states still are independent in order to decide their internal and external matters.

  • The perception that sovereignty is something given and cannot change in terms of ‘time’ and ‘space’ is undergoing transformation.

  • The notion of interdependence and divisible sovereignty are central to the understanding of the contemporary world order.

  • The process of globalization, the operation of international law, the international organizations and non-governmental organizations has distinctly impacted on the sovereignty of state and its exclusive territoriality which are consider as two distinctive features of the modern state.

  • Thus, redefine the meaning of Westphalian sovereignty.

  • Now, state sovereign power is no longer sovereign, and some of that sovereignty has been transformed to the extent that though it primarily resides in the state.

8,718 views2 comments

2 commenti

Valutazione 0 stelle su 5.
Non ci sono ancora valutazioni

Aggiungi una valutazione
29 mar
Valutazione 5 stelle su 5.

It's helpful !

Mi piace

28 set 2023
Valutazione 5 stelle su 5.


Mi piace
bottom of page