November 20, 2004

Pre v Post Westphalianism

In writing my previous post on how the Cold War had limits while the current struggle is one of recklessly breaking through all limits, I came face to face with the reality that there are two alternative visions of the end of westphalianism and the difference between the two explains a great deal of the intramural diplomatic turmoil in the West.

The US (and the UK, whose Tony Blair specifically talked about it) is looking at a post-westphalian world order, a new dispensation which will fill in the infrequent case when a movement like the Islamists entirely disregards westphalian norms of sovereignty. This post-westphalian order is not a negation of it but a further evolution of the idea, limiting sovereignty in certain circumstances.

The continental european panic over the whole idea of tinkering with westphalianism is, I think, more rational than the Bush administration seems to be giving credit to "old europe". I believe that, at heart, what they are worried is that we will get rid of westphalianism to find ourselves back in a pre-westphalian state with brutal atrocities occurring everywhere as factional mixing is much more extensive than in the days of the Thirty Years War.

Both sides are somewhat constrained. The political elite of "old europe" doesn't want to admit its bad opinion of its own populations so they can't really openly talk about the fear of reverting to savage warfare. And President Bush seems quite constrained as well as something as grandiose as a clearly enunciated post-westphalian strategy would lead the US to be on the bad end of a world coalition to stop it.

Yet we must talk. We must sort out a common strategy to deal with the islamists who see the problems in both sides and are skillfully exploiting our dual weaknesses. The only question is how to start the conversation.

Posted by TMLutas at November 20, 2004 01:55 PM