At this stage of history’s development, a version of the Treaty of Westphalia shaped on today’s reality is needed, with international institutions capable of governing a shared order, writes Valdai Club expert Dario Velo.
Historical processes are fuelled by real phenomena that develop gradually, until they bring about changes. Often these phenomena are not perceived by most until they produce significant changes. Then, symbolic events take on importance, which increases the awareness that “something is changing”.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed one of these symbolic events, which has made many aware of a far-reaching change underway.
In the United Nations, a motion condemning Russia’s activity in Ukraine was approved by a large majority, with 140 votes, without obtaining the approval (votes against and abstentions) of 40 voters. It was not immediately understood that this minority represents over 50% of the world population and includes countries that are developing the most in the economic, military and strategic fields.
This vote testifies to the crisis in the representative nature of the UN; a new international order is emerging and this requires an adaptation of the main international organisations.
History teaches us that in the past, we have already witnessed profound changes in the international order. The Treaty of Westphalia constitutes a fundamental chapter of modern history; the logic with which it was drawn up still retains validity today and can contribute to the balanced development of a new international order. The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War, which had devastated Europe. The European statesmen identified, as a guarantee of order and security, the balance of power and the limitations to its exercise. The order sanctioned by the Treaty of Westphalia took reality as its point of reference; the application of the principles agreed upon in Westphalia should have curbed attempts to break the balance, thanks to the formation of coalitions capable of acting as a counterweight.
The fundamental ambition of the Treaty of Westphalia and its relevance can be identified in the very long-term attempt to interrupt a traditional script of history, which pits emerging countries against those in decline. The latter have always resorted to war to block the growth of emerging countries, before the balance of power tips in favour of the latter. Many commentators (the most illustrious certainly being Henry Kissinger) have interpreted the wars fought by the United States on the borders of China and Russia as an attempt to contain the affirmation of these emerging powers.
A profound difference separates the era of the Treaty of Westphalia from the current era. Then the Treaty sanctioned a European order and a world order at the same time, this stemmed from the centrality that Europe had at the time, so that the statesmen of the time assumed that the solutions valid for Europe would automatically extend to the overall international community.
This is not the case today. The problem arises of understanding what content a “new Treaty of Westphalia” valid at world level should have and what content “a new Treaty of Westphalia” should have, valid for the European continent in a broad sense, in order to contain the Russian territories in Asia.
The two new Treaties hypothesised here are distinguished more by timing than by general approach. Logically, a world treaty must precede continental treaties. From the point of view of the need to resolve the current crisis, a European treaty can precede a world treaty, anticipating its development.
In both cases, the European Union has a responsibility to play a crucial, very difficult role.
The tragedy of the two world wars, which were actually European civil wars, requires the European Union to renounce violence, as an instrument of international politics, in favour of the authority of its own initiative. Switzerland is an example of this alternative.
All the US presidents in this postwar period, with different languages but with the same spirit, claimed America an exceptional role in the world, to represent good. The American model should have been applied to the whole world as the best, not because it was supported by a hegemonic power.
The reality is more complex. History has forged different cultures, different religions, different social models.
Federalism affirms the principle of union between different people, with mutual respect.
New treaties and new international institutions are necessary to guarantee a fundamental principle: all countries must contribute to designing and governing the international system. A country that has not participated in designing an international institution cannot feel represented by it; the rules will be respected if each country contributes to their definition, with shared procedures. Western democracy is not the only valid solution, as it may not correspond to the characteristics of a civilization.
Affirming a world order supported by consensus implies that every community must be aware of its right to protect its values with constitutional instruments. At this stage of history’s development, a version of the Treaty of Westphalia shaped on today’s reality is needed, with international institutions capable of governing a shared order.