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Peace of Westphalia in the news, 10/22

Continuing our tradition of catching up with Westphalia in the news at least 9 months in arrears, we now bring you some mentions from October of last year. The first is an article in Euractiv called “How to End a War.” It briefly mentions the Peace of Westphalia as one of the most important treaties to end a war. However, wars do not need to end with treaties, it notes. The Korean War ended with an armistice without a general agreement on peace terms, while the recent U.S. involvement in Afghanistan ended with an abrupt withdrawal and no agreement to speek of. The Russia-Ukraine war could conceivably end the same way. I doubt this will happen: the two sides are engaged along a massive front line where there are too many opportunities for hostilities to continue locally. Besides, both sides are too committed to their war aims at this point (in particular, for Ukraine, reconquest of occupied territory) for them to just sit around and do nothing. However, it is valuable to point out that wars do not have to end with treaties.

On a completely different note, the foreign ministers of the G7 nations met in Münster in early November to discuss to problem of the Russia-Ukraine war (German Foreign Office). Why Münster? German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock explained in an interview:

The Peace of Westphalia is a cradle of modern international law; it is where fundamental concepts such as the equality and sovereignty of states were negotiated for the very first time in a large peace agreement. We must preserve this heritage. That is why, in these difficult times, I very consciously chose this symbolic location for our meeting.

The meeting sparked controversy because the German foreign ministry removed a crucifix from the hall prior to the meeting (The Tablet). Baerbock claimed that she didn’t know about the removal until shortly before it happened. It’s especially odd because the only G7 member that doesn’t have a Christian heritage is Japan, and I’ve never heard Japan complain about Christian symbols. (The above image showing the peace hall with the crucifix is from Wikipedia, and presumably from before the meeting. It isn’t clear if they returned the crucifix after the meeting.)

On a somewhat lighter note, a law professor provides a look at some catchy Latin phrases, most of which he dislikes, in a Counterpunch article. I have to admit I disagree with most of what he writes in this piece. For instance, he finds fault with the phrase “Fiat justitia, et pereat mundus” — “Let justice be done, though the world perish.” I have a soft spot for this phrase because it is similar to one I learned from a Peanuts cartoon (“Let justice be done, though the heavens fall”). The author provides the interesting bit that this phrase was actually the slogan of Emperor Ferdinand I, great-grandfather of Emperor Ferdinand III who reigned at the time of the Peace of Westphalia (although he pretty clearly was not the originator of it).

The author gets carried away arguing about who gets to define justice and argues that we shouldn’t let the world perish over an abstract concept of justice. He seems to miss the point that the statement doesn’t argue for a particular version of justice, only for “justice.” Why would he assume that the “justice” in question is one that he won’t agree with, rather than being some perversion of justice?

The author is not completely out of place, because it is true that some people would cleave to their own view of justice even at the expense of worldly disaster. This has some relevance to the Peace of Westphalia, because there were thinkers who argued that it was better to uphold the law even if it meant the collapse of the state — in other words, not to compromise with Protestants. This is the sort of position that works much better if one is not actually a leader who is responsible for people’s well-being. No ruler would accept the collapse of his realm to adhere to an abstract point. They pushed it pretty far sometimes, but they always stopped short of collapse, which is what made the Peace of Westphalia possible. Today, we hope that no madman gets control of a nuclear arsenal with a willingness to enforce his version of justice even if it means total annihilation.

The author mentions that Protestants and Catholics during the Thirty Years’ War both thought they were right, so “8 million human beings died for nothing.” One might have hoped for an earlier solution, but I don’t think they died for nothing. He concludes by agreeing that the best motto is from the opening of the Peace of Westphalia: “pax optima rerum” — peace is the best of things.

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