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Back To Westphalia!

The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia established the principle that nation states could run their internal affairs as they pleased – it was no longer acceptable for Catholic states to invade Protestant states because they didn’t like their religion (or vice versa). Westphalianism proved a vital organizing principle for the next 300 years, allowing significant periods of peace to appear between all the wars – and thus mankind’s greatest boon, the Industrial Revolution to become established. We now appear to be abandoning that principle – and the economic and political implications of doing so are dire. The Westphalia principle always had a few holes around the edges. Colonialism resulted in frequent invasions of previously independent states, some of which were justified to change unacceptable domestic practices, whether fiscal (Egypt in 1882) economic (the Transvaal in 1899) or humanitarian (Spanish-American War, 1898). There were however few if any invasions of “rich” countries caused by their domestic policies and beliefs, although conquerors such as Napoleon used any unpalatable domestic policies of their victims as a further excuse for aggression if it suited them. After the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, intervention that contravened Westphalian principles was deemed unacceptable even in countries that would previously have been considered ripe for colonial rule. The Anglo-French attack on Egypt in 1956 established this rule, being brought to a rapid halt by the United Nations resolutions and by threats against sterling. The Soviet Union violated Westphalian principles by its invasions of Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Afghanistan (1979) but the first two of those exceptions were already considered part of the Soviet bloc while Afghanistan, because of its backwardness, was something of a special case. Similarly the United States in its invasions of the Dominican Republic (1965) and Panama (1989) was protecting the Western Hemisphere against Communism and the Panama Canal respectively – the domestic policies of the two countries were largely an excuse. Notably, the United States never invaded Cuba, even though the country was only 90 miles from Florida and its domestic policies were about as unacceptable as it’s possible to get. Since the 1989-91 breakup of the Soviet bloc, Westphalian principles have begun to lose their force. The 1991 Gulf War was scrupulous, some would say over-scrupulous, in observing them – the Allies attacked Saddam Hussein to remove him from Kuwait, but failed even in the flush of victory to remove him from office, though by the practices of previous wars they would have been justified in doing so. In 1992, the U.S. invaded Somalia for humanitarian reasons – and was forced to leave in humiliating failure. In 1994, it invaded Haiti for humanitarian reasons – and installed a tyrant Jean-Betrand Aristide worse than any who had gone before in even Haiti’s unhappy history. Again in 1995 the United States intervened ineffectively in Bosnia, where Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, once allowed to arm the Croatian forces, had already done most of the hard work. Following that invasion, the U.S. imposed a peace, the Dayton Accords, which has kept the peace but through incompetent meddling by global aid agencies has prevented Bosnia from establishing a viable economy. In 1999 the United States again intervened in Yugoslavia for humanitarian reasons, creating a new country, Kosovo, that appears to be becoming an Islamic terrorist state in the heart of Europe. In spite of George W. Bush’s call during the 2000 campaign for a “modest” foreign policy, the violations of Westphalian principles have continued. The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was not one of them; the United States had suffered deadly attack by terrorists sheltered by the ruling Taliban government of Afghanistan (though the continued U.S. military presence once a new government had been established is less justifiable). The 2003 invasion of Iraq was a much more doubtful case; if considered as a very belated completion of the Gulf War, or if the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had been found, it would have been justified under Westphalian principles. In the event, the justification became the removal of Saddam Hussein, which had no such Westphalian foundation. Finally, we have the attack on Libya, which is as anti-Westphalian as was the 2008 Russian assault on Georgia. In Georgia, the Russians took advantage of a rebellion against an internationally recognized government. In Libya, the invading forces have done the same, the difference being that there is more of an international consensus about the unpleasantness of Col. Gaddafi than there was about the benign, reforming and democratically elected Saakashvili government of Georgia. The change in the world’s practices is indicated in the fact that there was a much better case for Libyan intervention in 1969, when the brutal Gaddafi overturned by force the benign and pro-Western King Idris, yet no such intervention took place or was even seriously proposed. The assault on Westphalian principles has not however been confined to the military sphere. Supranational courts such as the European Court of Justice and the International Court of Justice demand the right to interfere into even the minutiae of domestic arrangements in those countries foolish enough to submit to their jurisdiction. Since these courts are entirely free from any kind of democratic control, the result is that the values of the international salariat prevail over the wishes of the peoples concerned, without any hope of redress. As the Gaddafi case has shown, such courts have an additional disadvantage – it has become impossible to ease dictators into retirement, because of this risk to them that, as happened to Slobodan Milosevic, they spend the rest of their days rotting in The Hague. Economically, the International Monetary Fund promotes its own brand of anti-Westphalianism and damages the credit rating of the countries it “helps” by demanding rights of first repayment. The classic case of IMF damage is Argentina, forced into “neo-liberal” policies in the low-commodity-price 1990s which forced down living standards and ran up international debt, while lacking domestic support. Argentine economic populists have since felt themselves vindicated by a successful return to autarky and debt default in the high-commodity-price period after 2003. Ukraine, where the IMF held back credits to the struggling pro-Western government of Julia Tymoshenko and has since granted a $15.6 billion facility to the pro-Russian thugocracy of her successor, is another case in point. A further erosion of Westphalianism has come with the increasingly intrusive “anti-terror” bureaucracy in the financial sector, and the excuse it has given meddling governments to investigate offshore bank accounts. As any Brit knows who was reasonably wealthy (somewhat wealthier than the Hutchinson family) during the 1940-79 period of exorbitant taxes, high inflation and exchange controls, a numbered and untraceable Swiss bank account is a key civil liberty to protect one’s family against loathsome expropriation. That civil liberty is no longer available, it appears, and one now needs to be in the billionaire politician-buying class to protect one’s family wealth. As alarming is the attempt by France and Germany to bully Ireland out of its low corporate tax rate, on the grounds of “unfair tax competition.” Tax competition between states, both within and between national jurisdictions, is one of the few mechanisms we have to prevent governments from absorbing every penny we earn. Anything that diminishes it is accordingly a major step further on the road to serfdom. Ireland’s fate in this matter, I read in the Financial Times, is likely to be dictated by the rise of the populist Euroskeptic True Finn party, which may prevent the Finnish government from agreeing to the stitch-up. It is abundantly clear that as lovers of economic liberty, we are all True Finns now! Economically, the decline of Westphalianism greatly raises the risks of one or other catastrophes within the global economy, and of its overall decline. Rogue states, no longer secure against invasion even if no threat to their neighbors, will take care to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, thus raising the cost to the West of the inevitable international confrontations. In economic policy, the strong will increasingly attempt to prevent “unfair” competition from the weak, either in favorable tariff rates, in low corporate or individual income taxes, or through providing an especially receptive and secure home for savings. The ultimate goal of the anti-Westphalians is of course a world government, dominated by unaccountable supranational bureaucrats even if it includes some electoral fig leaf (which will be entirely unrepresentative, because the global population of 7 billion is far too great to be adequately represented by 1,000 or so delegates, the maximum that can usefully participate in a world Congress). Unlike the various alarums and excursions in the Middle East, that fate genuinely is worth fighting against militarily – but one must wonder whether the free peoples of the world’s sovereign states will wake up to the danger before it is too late. The Treaty of Westphalia was the most critical event in the emergence of our modern civilization. By allowing states to develop freely with less danger of invasion from a stronger, ideologically hostile neighbor, it produced the intellectual flowering of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, followed by the economic flowering of the Commercial and Industrial Revolutions. By allowing Westphalian principles to decay, we risk reversing the immense advances in human happiness that those developments brought.


One Response

  1. Thanks for keeping up all with the great reporting and thoughts and TRUTH.

    Not ALL of us have been indoctrinated and this information WILL get out.

    Cynthia Lauren
    South Australia

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