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Peace of Westphalia
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Peace of Westphalia


The Peace of Westphalia, also known as the treaties of Münster and Osnabrück, is the series of treaties that ended the Thirty Years' War and "officially" recognized the United Provinces and Swiss Confederation. The Spanish-Dutch treaty which ended the Eighty Years' War was signed on January 30, 1648. The treaty signed October 24 1648 comprehended the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand III, the other German princes, France, and Sweden.

The peace negotiations were after initial talks held in the cities of Münster and Osnabrück, an alternative favoured by Sweden (Hamburg and Cologne being the French alternatives). The two locations were needed as the Protestant and Catholic leaders refused to meet each other. The Treaty of the Pyrenees ending the war between France and Spain is also often considered part of the treaty.

The results of the treaty were wide ranging. Among other things, the Netherlands gained independence from Spain, ending the Eighty Years' War, and Sweden gained Pomerania, Wismar, Bremen and Verden. The power of the Holy Roman Emperor was broken, and the rulers of the German states were again able to determine the religion of their lands. The treaty also gave Calvinists legal recognition. Three new great Powerss arose from this peace: Sweden, the United Netherlands and France. Sweden's time as a Great Power was to be short lived, however.

The majority of the treaty can be attributed to the work of Cardinal Mazarin who was de facto leader of France at the time. France came out of the war in a far better position than any other Power and was able to dictate much of the treaty.

It is often said that the Peace of Westphalia initiated the modern fashion of diplomacy as it marked the beginning of the modern system of nation-states. Subsequent wars were not about reasons of religion, but rather focused on reasons of state. This allowed Catholic and Protestant Powers to ally, leading to a number of major realignments.

Another important result of the treaty was it laid rest to the idea of the Holy Roman Empire having secular dominion over the entire Christian world. The nation-state would be the highest level of government, subservient to no others.

However, in 1998 on a Symposium on the Political Relevance of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, then NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said that "humanity and democracy [were] two principles essentially irrelevant to the original Westphalian order" and criticized 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." [1]

In 2001, German 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." [1]

In the Aftermath of the 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks, the terrorist network al-Qaida also 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." [1] Also, it is often claimed that globalization is bringing an evolution of the international system past the sovereign Westphalian state. [1]

See also