In the Shadow of Westphalia

In the Shadow of Westphalia

The international system that we live in can be attributed to three particular events. This is a gross oversimplification to be sure, but necessary in order to understand the cornerstones we have rested international diplomacy on. The most recent one was the Cold War - the standoff between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This geopolitical situation formed in the wake of the Second World War and was fueled by mutual distrust - The US distrusting the USSR because of an unhinged Stalin at the helm and decades of dealing with socialist-sympathizing labor movements, the USSR distrusting the US because of the Western Intervention during the Russian Civil War and because it was believed the Western Allies joined the fight in Europe as late as possible to bleed the USSR dry. The Cold War is responsible for our current flash-points in Korea, Iran, the Levant, and Afghanistan, and its influence in the shaping of geopolitics cannot be overstated.

The second most recent event that happened was the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement - an economic standard for 44 nations made for a post-war world while the Second World War was still ongoing. Such foresight was deemed necessary because economic problems unaddressed after the First World War were considered instigators to the Second World War (See: Weimar Inflation). The importance of this system was that it made the American dollar the bedrock reserve currency, making it constantly relevant in global trade. The dollar is still by far the most important currency, and as American monetary policy changes its tune, so does the world.

The third is slightly more distant in the past. The Treaty of Westphalia, ratified in 1648, ended both the Eighty Year's War between the Netherlands and the Spanish and the Thirty Years War that involved everybody in Europe except the Russians and Ottomans. The causes of this war are legion and the complexity of understanding it exceeds my abilities, but the simplest way to explain it was that monarchs were trying to influence how lesser nobles and commoners could worship. The result of the Treaty of Westphalia goes far beyond ending the worst conflict seen in Europe up until that time - It enshrined the idea of national sovereignty. 

Imagine if every nation in the world was a house on a street. National sovereignty is the idea that whatever you do on your property is your own business. You cannot burst into your neighbor's house because you don't like how his kids are being raised, you cannot go onto their property to hunt, and you cannot set up a roadblock in your neighbor's driveway so they can't go shopping. You may absolutely detest your neighbor - he walks around his lawn naked at all hours of the day, he plays music you hate at extremely loud volumes, you used to own his shed but he won it in a poker game - but you keep to your own business.

You keep to your own business because the last couple of times you've confronted him, it escalated way out of control. He got his friends to come over, you got your friends to come over, and a lot of people got really badly injured. Somebody even burned down your mancave. YOUR MANCAVE! You had your high school baseball trophies there! And you can't call the police to settle your disagreements, because on this street, there is no police. Every now and then somebody may step up and try to become the sheriff of the street, but it's always been temporary as doing so happens to be quite expensive.

So you mind your own business and do your best to ignore the screams of pain emanating from your neighbor's house. Because if you don't, and you try to intervene, your neighbor has said he will burn down more than your mancave. He will burn down the entire house with your family in it. Even worse, you've seen him do so with miniature houses in his backyard. He doesn't even seem to care that the fire might spread to the entire block and consume everybody.

The soul of the Treaty of Westphalia is not humanitarian, it is a practical. It does nothing to safeguard the rights of man beyond assuring the rulers of nations that they have the right to do as they wish to their subjects. And yet it prevents war. It sacrifices the lives of the oppressed in oppressive countries, but it must be kept in mind that bombs do not discriminate on race, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Considering the sophistication of weaponry in the age we live in, the instigation of force between sovereign nations cannot be taken lightly. 

But this goes beyond bare military force. This also involves the political and economic structures of what a country determines to be proper for itself. During the Cold War, national sovereignty was enthusiastically discarded by both the USA and the USSR in interests of national security. America didn't give one damn about self-determination during Operation Ajax. Soviets laughed at territorial integrity when they invaded Afghanistan in 1979. And the support both gave to their respective sides in Korea and Vietnam went a little bit beyond cheer-leading.

We are no longer in the Cold War, but it seems that Russia is relapsing. American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and our subsequent failure to better the situation in those countries has given Russia both the opportunity and the excuse to engage in its own state building. It does so by expanding its own state at the expense of Georgia and Ukraine, by shoring up Assad's forces in the Syrian Civil war, and, according to every American intelligence agency, trying to subversively influence the American presidential election. It would be ignorant to think that America has not done the same in the past to others, and it would be naive to think we aren't clandestinely pulling strings not yet seen. But you can think of this in the frame of self-interest. You are in a sovereign state, and somebody from the outside is trying to meddle in your affairs. 

Don't let them.

The United States of America - A Love Letter -        Part One

The United States of America - A Love Letter - Part One

Driving Forces

Driving Forces