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Peace of Westphalia in the News, 5/2022

The last entry reminded me why I stopped doing these: so little relevance to the Peace of Westphalia (mostly as the origin of nation-states, sovereignty, and/or balance of power), poor writing, mostly partisan works from nationalists. But, I will forge on, especially as there are some better things forthcoming. I also noticed that I had already done an entry for April, so I’ll jump ahead here to the beginning of May.

(Full disclosure: I know nothing about almost any of the online journals where these articles are found. Some appear to be instruments of national governments; others the journals of radical or marginalized political groups; still others, significant journals of analysis. I make no attempt to judge the character of any of the journals, only the specific articles to which I am referring.)

First we have “Westphalian Logic and Geopolitical Prudence in the Nuclear Age” by Richard Falk in “Counterpunch.” Although Westphalia appears in the title, it is referenced only briefly as the origins of sovereignty. However, I like this article because it calls attention to the weird uniformity of American opinion in the public sphere regarding the war. To be clear: the invasion of Ukraine was wrong and should be stopped. That does not mean, however, that Russia was not reacting to real political provocation, or that people who oppose aid to Ukraine don’t have legitimate concerns, such as possibly triggering nuclear war.

Next is “Ex-UN Expert: Kissinger’s Solution to Ukraine Crisis is Safer for US & EU Than Soros’ Gamble” in “Sputnik News,” a Russian government site. The article is an interview with Alfred de Zayas regarding the Davos proposals of Kissinger and George Soros regarding the Russian-Ukraine war. The article’s author begins by characterizing the views of Kissinger and Soros as follows:

According to Kissinger, Russia remains an important element in the European state system and it’s time for Ukraine to think about a diplomatic settlement of the conflict, even if that means territorial concessions. For his part, Soros echoed the Biden administration’s stance by claiming that Russia must be exhausted and defeated.

The interviewee, de Zayas, preferred Kissinger’s views, and indeed proposed that the U.N. Secretary-General should convene “a World Peace Conference that will address the root causes of the NATO-Russia conflict and establish a sustainable security architecture for the entire globe, including outer space.” He compares such a conference to the Congress of Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna.

This is interesting to me for a few reasons. One, statesmen (like people in most fields) look to past examples for solutions to current problems, and Westphalia obviously appeals to people on a number of grounds (hence its use as a model for a Middle Eastern peace). Two, it is the first reference I have seen to a global conference to solve this bilateral war. To the extent that the war’s origins lie at least partly in the proposed accession of Ukraine to NATO, this seems reasonable, even potentially necessary. Ukraine has previously offered to stay out of NATO if its security can be somehow guaranteed, and it is difficult to see how that can be achieved without involving other European countries and probably the U.S. as well. Proposals for a peace based on territorial concessions, made by outsiders such as Elon Musk, have met mostly with derision, I wonder if the U.S. could make the same suggestion and perhaps attract Russian interest. (Ukraine’s position is uncertain at this time, but I doubt they would maintain a hard line for long if military aid were threatened.) I don’t think anyone really knows at this point what Putin wants from the war (short of the impossible, the conquest of Ukraine), and I’m not at all certain that he would welcome a public U.S. proposal. But it does seem like a path worth exploring, through back channels if nothing else.

The third thing that interests me about de Zayas’s proposal is that, although he begins with the idea of addressing the conflict between NATO and Russia, he ends by saying we need a “sustainable security architecture for the entire globe, including outer space.” Although it’s hard to object to the idea of a “sustainable security architecture” in principle, the idea of bringing the whole globe — and even outer space! — into the matter would be a serious mistake. Westphalia was negotiated to end a war, and it managed to do that with some difficulty. Trying to bring in other parties with completely unrelated conflicts seems like a recipe for never-ending negotiations and generic solutions that are likely to cause more problems than they solve.

The last article for this post again involves Kissinger: “Kissinger and Ukrainian Insults” in “The Media Line.” This article returns to the issue of the vitriol Kissinger has attracted for suggesting that Ukraine needs to cede land to Russia in order to achieve peace. I’m not surprised that Ukrainians would be unhappy with such an idea, but it is odd to me that Americans would be so averse to it. The invasion was unwarranted; that is granted. But this is international diplomacy, not some domestic issue that can be solved by shaming dissenters and shutting off their platforms. Diplomacy often involves choosing among several unpleasant alternatives, and it is hard to see how peace is going to happen unless Russia gets to keep some of the land it is occupying.

The article refers to Westphalia less simplistically than most others, more as a point of history used for understanding the present than as shorthand for a principle of international law. The author paraphrases Kissinger as saying that “history to the state is like personality to man. Without history, it is difficult to deal with the complex problems of the present.” I like that image. Understanding something “historically” doesn’t mean that things have to be the same way the always were, but that we can comprehend motives and actions better if we appreciate the past that they look back to. Considering the U.S. president’s annual proposal of a budget to Congress. There is nothing in the Constitution suggesting the president should do such a thing; in fact, I’m pretty sure the founders would have been appalled if a president had tried to push Congress into adopting a budget of his creation. Nevertheless, it has long become expected in America, and imagine the uproar if a president declined to propose a budget. That is an historical understanding that is essential to American politics. That sort of understanding is all the more crucial in international relations, where actual laws and treaties are so much more limited and tenuous than they are domestically.

One last, minor criticism of this article is that it says the Peace of Westphalia “excluded Russia.” It is true that it did not include Russia, but then, Russia was not at war with any of the states negotiating in Münster and Osnabrück, so it gives a false impression that somehow the negotiations kept Russia away instead of (as actually happened) coincidentally not including it. (And, as a matter of fact, Sweden recognized Russia as one of its allies to be included, IPO, Art. XVII, §11.)

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