Apr 5, 2019 in Political

Westphalian Rules

The main idea of this paper is the consideration of the relevance of Westphalia rules of war in determining principles and reasons of contemporary war conflicts. This essay presents Schmitt’s definition of Westphalia nomos of the world and his thoughts about current crisis of the world order, which causes tension in international relations. Schmitt claims that from the second part of the twentieth century the Westphalian principles of international law are no longer suitable. Appropriate assessment of this idea will allow to identify and analyze the characteristics of contemporary wars.   

Schmitt's Views on Westphalia as a New Nomos of the Earth 

According to Schmitt, the Westphalian peace was a beginning of the development of new international law principles. Uniqueness of the Westphalian system of states consisted in the emergence of a new concept of state, which determined modern structure and status of the state in international politics. This led to the conversion of institutional and legal basis of political coexistence of states in Europe. For Schmitt, the Westphalian nomos relates directly to the development of the state as the “historical agency of detheologization and rationalization” of “public life”. Supporting his ideas, Bull defines a community of countries as “a group of states that conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another”.

In addition, this Westphalian order of the international law affected modern war principles. Schmitt considered the Westphalian global order the key institutional tool to end the war. His idea was not to abolish or banish the war from the states’ international relations, but “to prevent wars of annihilation, i.e., to the extent that war was inevitable, to bracket it”. Development of the idea of an ‘equal and just enemy’ took place during the process of modern state consolidation. Since the end of war of annihilation, the war conflict became a tool by which states acquired land ownership and the status of political relations. Along with the weakening moral authority of the European church, such war grounds as conviction, creed and religion ceased to exist. Contemporary states estimate their enemies only as economic or political competitors, which has determined their motivation during the war conflicts. A new goal of the war was to weaken enemies’ positions in the world economy and politics rather than destroy them. 

The Westphalian world order made it possible to implement an international policy of the “balance of powers”. The states started assessing the profits and losses from the war conflicts and considering the opinions of European states about the results of war. In this context, the major condition of Westphalian nomos realization was the perseverance of equal opportunities to participate in decision-making about wars among European states. The violation of principles of equality could lead to the elimination of the Westphalian system of the international law.

Schmitt’s Idea of Contemporary Crisis of Order

According to Schmitt’ views on the development of international law principles, the process of Westphalian order dissolution started in the last decades of the nineteenth century and ended in the beginning of the First World War. Schmitt highlights three main reasons of the old world order dissolution: “the dissolution of the jus publicum Europaeum into a spaceless and generic “international law” and its institutionalisation in the League of Nations system”; “the transformation of the meaning of war”; and “the new role of the United States and the emergence of the Western hemisphere as a central category of its foreign policy”. 

Schmitt considered the League of Nations the non-efficient institution of international behavior adjustment. The League of Nations could not provide spatial ordering and implement a certain mechanism to avoid a military crisis in Europe. Schmitt describes the ambition to abolish the war, a concept of international relations, as a key mistake of the League of Nations system. Introduction of discrimination and crime as the new concepts of war, which were considered a tool of war prevention by the members of League of Nations, became the main catalysts and motivators of the war conflicts in the second part of the twentieth and in the twenty-first century. Development of the concept of state as a perpetrator of peace enabled international criminals to develop a legal form of aggressive aspirations for the state, which engaged in a war conflict. As a means of struggling against the government and threatening world peace, new motivation for war helped stronger states realize their ambitions to capture new territories. In this case, the aspiration of the world society to develop the instruments of war prevention led to the emergence of new war principles justifying the most heinous crimes as a means of global security protection. The wars of the twentieth century – “wars of annihilation fought in the name of humanity, which had been, thanks to the modern means of destruction (air power), transformed into a police action against the perturbers of peace, criminals and others.” 


Such transformation of the international order, according to Schmitt, would not have been possible without an approval of new international status of the United States policy. Schmitt determines the famous Monroe doctrine of 1823 as a beginning abolition of the old world order. Formulation of new US international policy principles based on the definition of Western hemisphere as the American Großraum (greater space), identified American continent as the sphere of US special interest. Schmitt considers the political idea of American self-isolation, pronounced in the Monroe doctrine, the beginning of Westphalian order dissolution. Profound crisis of the existing world order began after the proclamation of new US international policy principles of a universalistic-humanitarian global interventionism, a new stage of expansion of the zone of US political and economic interests in the contemporary world. Today, United States consider themselves the world leading state designed to ensure world safety and implementation of the principles of international law. 

Schmitt defines the violation of the principles of parity and international balance of power as the key condition of the dissolution of Westphalian world nomos. US ambitions to maintain peace across the world using the means of war conflicts against the countries that pose a threat to the world community lead to an increased number of new wars each decade. Schmitt and his followers attribute the growing number of military conflicts throughout the globe to an increasing level of antagonism in international politics, which can be explained by the absence of regulatory mechanisms based on offsetting interest. Abolition of the international balance of power determines the absence of such mechanism for international relations adjustment. As a result, the old Westphalian world order is no longer suitable.

The Relevance of the Westphalia Rules of War to Assess Contemporary War Conflicts

To determine the relevance of Westphalian rules of war in the context of modern world and Schmitt’s judgment of the contemporary world disorder, a brief analysis of contemporary war conflicts is necessary. Unfortunately, in the modern world we have a plenty of material for such research. A number of war conflicts in the world is significant and continues to increase each year. Mass media informs us about the wars in Ukraine, Libya, Syria and other states. This essay will focus on the conflict in Syria as an example of realization of the modern war rules.

A military clash in Syria, which is defined in international society as a civil war, started in June – July 2011. The parties of the conflict are the government troops of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Syrian opposition forces. The third power of Syrian conflict is the troops of Kurdish autonomy in the north region of the country. Since 2014, militants of the "Islamic State, a terrorist organization, have taken a part in this conflict as well. The beginning of the protests called the “Arab Spring” served as the motivation to start a civil war. The population protested against non-efficient economic and political policies of Syrian government. After the massive provocations during the protests, which affected a big number of civilians, the level of aggression in a society increased. According to different versions, foreign security services participated in violent provocations. The interference of foreign states in the Syrian affairs led to further escalation of a conflict. “Erdogan made a decisive shift to support the opposition, making Turkey a crucial conduit for supplies to arm the rebels.” Other states of the Middle East took part in the conflict as well. “Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also gave their backing to the rebels, choosing different factions and rebel groups in an extension of their own rivalry.” Foreign states also participated in the war conflict by prosecuting Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons against the civil population in 2013. Evidence of the involvement of Syrian government was ambiguous, which suggested the artificiality of their interference in a conflict.

Clearly, the specifics of modern war include organization of civil wars in the regions, which are interesting for the largest states to expand. International law principles condemn the expansionist policy of states and impose certain restrictions on the activities of aggressors. However, it is impossible to limit the ambitions of strong countries to expand using the power of persuasion and legal instruments. Such policy has proved to be inefficient earlier as well as nowadays. The only effective means of war prevention was Schmitt’s principle of the balance of power that existed in the Westphalian nomos of the world. Nevertheless, the principles of war have changed and now, states use any means to circumvent the prohibitions of international organizations, like UN, to fight for profit. The absence of power balance among contemporary countries escalates international relations and leads to states’ desires to form alliances based on common political views and strategic interests. Such state of affairs, on one hand, provides power parity and increases stability in a contemporary international situation. On the other hand, it reduces the possibility of real political rapprochement among the countries in the future. In this context, Westphalian nomos of the world provided more possibilities for peaceful international cooperation based on the balance of states’ interests, power and risks of war conflict.

Another argument, which proves that Westphalian rules cannot be used to make ethical judgments about current conflicts, is Schmitt’s “discriminatory concept of war” that exists in the contemporary international policy. Ambitions of the Western hemisphere states to impose liberalism and cosmopolitanism as the basic ideologies of international law lead to the universalization of international policy, which is based on principles similar among all the countries. Every desire of sovereign states to resist the world order causes harsh response of the world leading states, who can initiate discriminatory wars. Political globalization of the modern world faces active resistance of sovereign states, which usually turns into the war conflict. Reasonable principles of international relations adjustment based on the usage of UN negotiation platform, usually force the states into unequal and unfavorable conditions of coexistence. Consequently, it causes the deterioration of international political situation and violates the principles of state sovereignty, pronounced by the Westphalian world order.

The idea of wars entails that the powerful state will never renounce a new conquest if there is no power, which can prevent it from realization of its tasks and ambitions. The idea of Westphalian international law principles, according to Schmitt, was to rationalize the desire of states to military clashes and form a new type of war conflict as “a duel, i.e., a conflict of arms between territorially distinct personae morales”. The war of annihilation should have been forgotten as a concept. As a result, modern wars are armed conflicts, which aim at subordination of entire nations to current leading states and creation of international terrorist organizations, whose brutality is comparable only to their bigotry. Thus, the concept of religious wars finds its realization in the twenty-first century – the age of prosperity and education. In this context, the humankind returns back to the Middle Age period. The most important issue of the modern world is international terrorism, which is a result of Westphalian nomos dissolution. Due to the absence of legal instruments for international relations adjustment, power becomes the only way of expressing a protest against the tyranny of a stronger aggressor. Uncontrolled expansion of the top world states leads to an increased level of instability throughout the world, which in turn causes an increase in the number of followers of radical ideas including vengeance and destruction of the Western World. 

Only the recognition of existing inequalities in the world politics can provide possibilities for the improvement of international situation and decrease a number of war conflicts. Unfortunately, even though the principles of Westphalian nomos of the world have proven to be a more efficient way of war conflicts prevention, they are not relevant in the contemporary world. Moreover, the wars of extermination and religious conflicts are still present in the modern world.

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