The treaty of Westphalia 1648 laid the foundation for the modern concept of what constitutes a state. The treaty came into being because of events in Europe. Europe was entangled in a series of religious wars of identity between Protestantism and Catholicism. These wars were consequences of the aftermath of the reformation that occurred in Europe. The famous war directly responsible for the Westphalian treaty was the Thirty Years war, which started in 1618 and ended in 1648.
We are all conversant with ‘state’ and its constituents as a political identity. However, it is worthy to note that the characteristic of a State today has its roots from religious conflicts.
Europe, as mentioned earlier, was enmeshed in a series of wars between Protestantism and Catholicism. The thirty years war was a pan European war with over more than 8 million casualties resulting from military battles, as well as famine and disease caused by the conflict. A war that started with a religious undertone evolved to assume political and economic dimensions as it dragged on.
In the year 1555, a treaty had been signed between the Protestants and Catholics to put an end to persecution and killings of one another and to allow for the peaceful coexistence of both sects within the Empire. The treaty of Augsburg of 1555, allowed the princes/leaders of states to adopt Lutheranism, Calvinism or Catholicism within their respective domains. But with the ascension of Ferdinand II as head of state of the Holy Roman Empire, he revoked the terms of a treaty that had been in existence for years forcing Catholicism on the empire. Hence, religious tension began to foment.
In retaliation of Protestants to Ferdinand’s actions, Bohemian nobility of present-day Austria and the Czech Republic rejected Ferdinand’s proclamation and showed their displeasure by throwing out his representatives out of a window at Prague castle in 1618. This singular act called the ‘Defenestration of Prague’ was the beginning of the open revolt in Bohemian states that had the backing of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. England, Spain, France, Netherland, and Portugal later joined sides in the course of the war. Alliances were formed amongst catholic states led by Ferdinand against Protestants states led by Bohemian protestant nobility. Both sides appealed to states where they could get support and as the war wore on, it shifted from being a religious need for recognition to the acquisition and seizure of territories. Leaders of the war used the opportunity to subdue the people and acquire their territories. It became a protracted war of not only religion but also political, economic and personal interests.
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With the enormous loss of lives and the fatigue from the war, a diplomatic approach was called for. The treaty was signed twice at two different places one in a Roman Catholic city and the other at a Protestant city. The treaty finally ended the thirty years war and spelled new criteria for the emergence and recognition of new states as a political entity.
The Treaty is one of the most important documents in the history of Europe with details about returning the occupied territories, information on wrong-doing events during the war, trade regulation after the war or the manner in which the armies would be disbanded and prisoners of war set free. The most important political consequence of the war and the Treaty was that France became a dominant state in continental Europe. The Treaty established, nevertheless, the legal foundations for the modern system of International Relations that is usually named as a states-system in which the only, or at least the main, political actors are the sovereign (independent) states.
These resolutions made at the treaty still holds until present times and it what is usually adopted by global and regional governing bodies like the UN, EU, AU as the basis of their membership.
Its modern-day stipulations can be interpreted as follows