The Forum on Geopolitics was pleased to celebrate the launch of Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East by Forum Affiliates Dr. Patrick Milton, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Forum Director Prof. Brendan Simms.
COGGS’ “A Westphalia for the Middle East?” research strand has celebrated the publication of a new book based on the first phase of the project with Hurst Publishers, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East. COGGS held events at Westminster and Peterhouse with the authors, Dr. Patrick Milton, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Prof. Brendan Simms, together with panelists, including Dr. Samir Al Taqi of the Orient Research Center, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, Ms. Elisabeth von Hammerstein of the Körber Foundation, Mr. Ralf Beste of the German Foreign Office, and Dr. Ayse Zarakol of the Department of Politics and International Studies. COGGS is grateful for all who participated and celebrated with us.
The Westphalia for the Middle East project asks the central question: what lessons can be learned from the way the Thirty Years War was ended in central Europe— in order to promote peace in the Middle East now? Our newest book, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East, published by Hurst explores these questions and guides readers through moments in the foundation of the Peace of Westphalia that may be instructive for addressing some of the globe’s most intractable contemporary conflicts.
Of course the world was a rather different place 400 years ago. But the book argues that the analytical justification of using a peace settlement from early modern Europe, as a source of inspiration for a new peace settlement in the Middle East now – is the remarkable set of parallels between the two contexts.
The analogy between the two scenarios consists of two main groups of similarities: structural parallels, and the role of religion.
The book argues that in light of these parallels it makes sense to look at how the Thirty Years War was ended in the 1640s in order to draw lessons for the Middle East.
Importantly, these lessons are intended to serve as a series of inspirations for a possible new peace settlement in the Middle East; not by imposing an external Eurocentric model— but rather by trying to encourage a settlement reached by local actors themselves with the help of a set of mechanisms and techniques that proved effective in the historical experience.
There are two main types of lessons: firstly and most importantly, diplomatic techniques and peace-making mechanisms. Secondly, the treaty content itself.
With regard to diplomatic techniques, the core lesson is the value of an all-inclusive multilateral congress: the Thirty Years war (just as the wars in the Middle East now) had been so multifaceted, and the various lines of conflict so interwoven – that the component conflicts of the wider crisis could not be solved piecemeal. Instead what was needed was an all-inclusive congress which tried to settle all interrelated sets of conflict at the same time.
Precisely because the component conflicts were so interlocked, earlier attempts to solve individual parts of them (such as a settlement only for the civil war within Germany, or only for the Catholic powers) were bound to fail. A settlement in one area would inevitably be destabilised by continuing tension or conflict in a neighbouring one. The war had already become irreversibly internationalised and all major combatants and other states involved would need to be drawn into a negotiated harmonisation of their respective interests. In the end the universal congress at Westphalia failed to achieve the universal peace for which it had been convened because one of the numerous sets of conflicts – that between France and Spain – continued for another 10 years. But the settlement was successful in ending the main conflict, and in uncoupling the central European theatre from the ongoing war in the West, while also shielding the Empire from being sucked back into that war.
Another crucial technique which enabled the congress to reach a successful settlement was the innovative instrument of the mutual guarantee: each contracting party would mutually and reciprocally guarantee every aspect of the settlement – even those that did not affect them individually. During our workshops most participants agreed that this mechanism could usefully be transferred to the Middle Eastern context.
The guarantee creates a collective security system for the region in question whereby it is remodelled as a neutralised security zone and taken out of ongoing great-power conflict in other parts of the world. The guarantee was helpful in addressing each party’s fears of being attacked again post-war and thereby helped the treaty endure.
The Westphalia for the Middle East Seminar at Westminster with Dr. Samir al Taqi, Ms. Elizabeth von Hammerstein, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, Dr. Michael Axworthy, and Dr. Patrick Milton
Other lessons that we highlight in the book include the recognition that one could start negotiating despite the absence of a ceasefire (although a truce would be desirable), and despite a state of exhaustion not necessarily having been reached by all parties.
Also: the absence of trust need not prevent negotiations from getting started—the peace process itself has to generate trust, not the other way round. Another lesson is that each negotiating party should set out its core security interests as transparently as possible, so that there can then be a more effective process of harmonising these interests – and crucially there should be a focus on power-political interests as opposed to such intractable things as settling questions of theological truth.
In addition to these peace-making mechanisms, the treaty content itself can also be instructive, though the differences of time and space mean one must proceed with caution. But the improved power-sharing arrangements that Westphalia brought to the Empire – particularly among the three main religious groups – helped to prevent another religious war breaking out, and we believe that these can also supply some lessons for similar arrangements in Middle Eastern states.
More generally, we believe the idea which derives from Westphalia, that an overall, grand-bargain style settlement for the whole Middle East should not only regulate relations between states, but also within the states that have been racked by war and instability, provides salutary lessons.