Question Stephenie Politics & International Relations

The Westphalia Treaty

What was the significance of the Westphalia treaty and what were the basic features of the European states system between 1648 and 1814?

Did you know that we write custom assignments? We have experts in each specific subject area with vast experience. Get a complete answer and find out more about our writing services.

Answer Expert #25907

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which brought to an end the Thirty Years War is widely viewed as the birth of the modern international state system (Hobden and Jones, 2001, p216). Crucially, the treaties signed at Westphalia enshrined the principle of state sovereignty, which remains the building block of international relations to this day. Whilst the Thirty Years war had been fuelled by competing, overlapping claims to religious and political authority, Westphalia heralded the birth of a system of independent, equal sovereign states which recognised no higher authority, and whose rulers had the right to non-interference within their territory (Kegley, 2007, p56).

The central characteristics of the European state system which developed post-1648 were:-

• Member states whose independence and juridical equality was enshrined in international law. • Every member state was legitimate in the eyes of the other states. • Relations between states were increasingly managed by a professional diplomatic corp and conducted through multilateral diplomatic communication. • Christianity remained the religion of European society, but the Church had lost its claims to overarching political authority. • A balance of power system was conceived to prevent any one state pursuing hegemonic status (Jackson, 2001, p44).

Towards the end of the 18th century, Napoleon's bid for continental hegemony presented a major challenge to the European state system and its balance of power, but upon Napoleon's defeat in 1815 the victors reaffirmed their commitment to the balance of power diplomacy with the signing of the Treaty of Vienna (Stern, 2005, p21).


Hobden, S. and Jones, R.W (2001), 'Marxist theories of International Relations', in Baylis, J. and Smith, S. (2001) The Globalisation of World Politics. Oxford: OUP.

Jackson, R.H. (2001) 'The evolution of international society', in Baylis, J. and Smith, S. (2001) The Globalisation of World Politics. Oxford: OUP.

Kegley Jr, C.W. (2007) World Politics. London: Thomson.

Stern, G (2005) Introduction to International Relations. London: University of London Press.