Thirty Years War

Extreme Brutality

One of the most important characteristics of the Thirty Years War was its extreme brutality. Not only armies have been fighting each other, but also the numerous gangs of mercenaries, former soldiers, and other illegal individuals have been crowding the roads of Europe. They have been destroying European cities and towns, mainly in Germany.

But what was the biggest shock for the people was that all parties who had been fighting this war were Christians; the brutality is known in European History.

For example, the European crusaders were extremely brutal when they traveled to the Middle East during the crusades. The fight with the Ottoman Empire was very cruel. But the Thirty Years War was the first after the beginning of the Renaissance case when the Christian nations were fighting each other and destroying the population of other states almost completely.


Thus, the people of that age, like Thomas Hobbes and many others, started to think of what could be a substantial replacement for the Christian morality that dominated international politics before the Reformation in Germany and the Thirty Years War. The war was also very exhausting as European nations had been fighting for 30 years.

Henry Kissinger writes in his book, “Paradoxically that this genuine exhaustion and cynicism allow the participants of the Westphalian Congress to transform the Practical means of ending a particular war into general concepts of world order.” There is no Peace of Westphalia or Westphalian Congress as one event.

Several negotiations were conducted in two German cities, One basically populated by the Catholics and another by the Protestants. Entirely, the participants of these negotiations have mounted up in numbers up to 400, 450.

But, none of them were as important as the State leader or the King, because all of them were Lawyers and representatives of the communities. They were bureaucrats, which is particularity over the Westphalian order and Treaty of Westphalia. It is not a decision of the heads of the states. It is a decision of Lawyers.

Idea of Westphalian Peace


By this idea of Westphalian peace, the principle of sovereign equality of the states was introduced. And now, if you look to the United Nations Charter, we see that these principles exist there.

The United Nations Charter says that every nation and every state is equal and independent of each other.

Balance of Power

The second principle says that no one can be stronger than others. This principle represents one of the most important principles of European politics for several centuries, the balance of power as the key principle of international politics.

Religion as an Exclusive Affair

If we look at international relations during the centuries after the defined religion in a certain area. It was important to say that days after, Europe had fought the religious war for almost a century.

So, With the Westphalian peace or Treaty of Westphalia, the European nations concluded that their religion must be more exclusive internal affairs of each of them. The most important wars should not be fought because of religious reasons. Thus, fighting for religion and values, not interests, was forbidden by the Westphalian peace. The other principle is not less simple.

Sovereign Ruler

“Every king is the emperor in his kingdom.” All states are independent and equal to each other. Let’s look at international relations during the centuries after the treaty of westphalia was concluded in 1648. We will find that these principles were rarely damaged or abused by the European states only at times. And we can see that most of the big European wars were fought because one European country tried to become stronger than the others.

Emergence of Anarchy in International Relations

The Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and the Second World War were provoked by one nation trying to dominate the others. And let’s look at international relations after the Cold War’s end. We will find that when one nation tried to become stronger and become dominant over the others, the others resisted.

The reason for the anarchy in international relations, the reason for the decrease of the order in international relations is exactly because of the conflict around the terms of one power to become the strongest and dominant and resistance of the others.

So, by the Westphalian order, the new international order, the new international way of doing things, of organizing the relationships between the states emerges. Here, we can quote Henry Kissinger again. He writes, “The genius of the system, Westphalian system, and the reason it spread across the world, was that its provisions were procedural, not substantive.”

They lost so many human Iives; almost 1/3 of the people of Europe’s died in this religious war.

So, they were prepared for any decision just to end it. Here, we can use the quotation from the book “World Politics” by one of the most famous practitioners and intellectuals in international relations, the former American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

Suppose a state would accept these basic requirements. In that case, it could be recognized as an international citizen able to maintain its own culture, politics, religion, and internal policies, shielded by the international system from outside intervention.” I think this is a very genius observation.

So, first of all, it points out that the difference between the Westphalian system and any other international arrangement is that the Westphalian arrangement was not about the substance. It was not about which territory belonged to each state.

It was not about which sovereign was the stronger and more important than the other sovereigns. It is about the procedure. It is about how the states should treat each other. It is about the rules. It is about the order, and it is about, after all, law.

The three principles of Westphalian systems are the basic three principles of international communication between states. And Henry Kissinger else underlines that if a state would accept these basic requirements, it will be recognized as an international citizen.

The basic requirement for the state to be treated as equal and to be treated as a reliable member of the international community is to accept these basic requirements:

  • Do not intervene in the internal affairs of others.
  • Do not impose your views.
  • Do not impose your values.
  • Do not impose your culture, politics, or religion on others.
  • Not trying to become the strongest.
  • Not trying to dominate the others.
  • Not trying to limit the sovereign rights and the quality of the others.

These are requirements for one state to become a reliable part of the international community.

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