The Westphalian order, based on the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity has been increasingly challenged after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The acceptance of preventive warfare after the terrorist attacks against the world's sole superpower eroded the Westphalian principles that dominated international relations for over three and a half centuries. In the light of current developments a return to a Hobbessian world where life is "nasty, brutal and short" seems inevitable.
The erosion of the Westphalian principles, illustrated by American military actions with unmanned aerial vehicles against targets operating within sovereign countries - be they on the failed states index or not - is not an entirely new phenomenon. One only has to think about the many both overt and covert American military interventions in foreign countries' domestic affairs throughout the twentieth century to illustrate that the Westphalian principles are only adhered to if it serves the stronger country's national interests.
Established after the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended a violent era of religious conflicts, the Westphalian order has provided states with the principal rules of conduct for interstate relations ever since. After the Iron Curtain was lifted at the end of the Cold War, the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity were challenged by violent civil wars and ethnic conflicts that characterized the immediate post-Cold War world. In the face of gross human rights violations, mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, the international community realized that it had the ‘responsibility to protect' and defend both potential victims and peoples who had fallen victim to these horrendous crimes. In certain cases, the international community had not only the right but also the responsibility to intervene for humanitarian reasons, by military means if necessary.
Furthermore, the rise of non-state actors has increased pressure upon the state-based order of Westphalia. Global business enterprises, international terrorist networks and transnational criminal organizations have been increasingly able to gain leverage within the domain that has traditionally been dominated by authorities of the state. The emergence of private security firms that are employed in various conflict-torn regions across the globe is only one example of this development.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States, the Bush Administration advanced a National Security Strategy that advocated preventive military intervention to eliminate a postulated threat of a terrorist attack, thereby eroding the Westphalian principles even further. Although various political leaders publicly rejected preventive military action as a justified response to prevent an assumed terrorist plot from materializing, the concept of prevention was embraced by many of them in private. This development will have serious repercussions for the international security environment.
Within the context of a changing international order that is characterized by the emergence of rising powers and a return to the alleged "tragedy of great power politics," the erosion of the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity through the emergence of preventive military action as an accepted reaction to postulated security threats will make the international system increasingly prone to violent conflicts and less secure. This development will anticipate a return to a Hobbessian order where the strong do as they will and the weak do what they must.
Djörn Eversteijn holds a BA in European Studies and is currently a research trainee at the University of Amsterdam.
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