Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 April 2011
One of the most important conclusions of this collaborative historical investigation concerns the Westphalian concept of sovereignty. Our findings confirm those of Stephen Krasner and other scholars who argue that the alleged emergence of a new concept of state sovereignty after the treaties of Westphalia (1648) has been greatly exaggerated.
Closer historical investigation of the ‘recalcitrant’ question of sovereignty has shown it to have been a very relative term indeed. In particular, Krasner shows that what most scholars – and confusingly he – call ‘Westphalian Sovereignty’, the absolute freedom from intervention by an outside power, has in fact nothing to do with the Peace of Westphalia. The arrangements made there, he points out, enshrined minority rights at the expense of central sovereignty. One way or another, sovereignty has ‘always’ been violated throughout history.
Most recent criticisms of the supposedly Westphalian paradigm have been made from the explicit disciplinary perspectives of International Relations or Political Science, or on overtly political grounds. The historical studies in this volume confirm that the concept of Westphalia as originating a system of states whose sovereignty was absolute simply is not true, and that, in consequence, the idea that the modern international system derives solely from Westphalia is, at best, highly dubious. This means that the presumption of some vocal scholars, policy practitioners and human rights activists, that humanitarian intervention is illegitimate simply because it contravenes Westphalian principles, is not so much erroneous as baseless.