In this paper, I’ll argue about whereas international relations started in 1648 or they did not. My personal belief is that from a legal or formal approach, it is conceived as a starting point that later on, I’ll proceed to reason my arguments. But social interactions among states, for example regards to trade, they started way before. During decades scholars had been discussing whereas the Peace of Westphalia is the beginning of international relation or it is just an Eurocentric narrative for history and they had begun earlier. There are different approaches to this issue but all of them must be considered since they show different manners to look at the history.
Thus, it is true and important to take into consideration that having Westphalia as a starting point for international relations, is equal as narrowing the scope of research and not providing broader information, at least in my opinion. As historians and students we cannot accept only the Westphalian narrative as starting point for international system nor societies as English scholars—i.e., Hedley Bull, Martin Wight—defend in their work. We need to question history furtherer for example, made an approach to the Sumerian or even to the hunter-gathers and their interactions.[footnoteRef:1] Before arguing the different approximations of whereas international relations begun in 1648 or not, it is appropriate to think about what happened during that period of time. [1: Barry Buzan and Richard Little, ‘International Systems in World History’, In ‘Introduction’ pp. 1-13, Oxford University Press. 2000.]
The Peace of Westphalia, bought an end to the Thirty Years War and the major European leaderships sought to establish an alikeness of system and arrangement in an otherwise anarchical and disorderly world.[footnoteRef:2] Its purpose was to reduce the sovereignty of transitional forces—in that time were the empire and religion— of spiritual authority and instead compartmentalise territory and individuals into a sovereign states. In my opinion, I think that it is of great importance to emphasise that this only implied European states. That helped to construct the Westphalian narrative and helped the Western nations with the denying the ‘non-civilised’ nations because they were not part of the statehood. It is quite based on the differentiation between the Western as a exceptionalism territory and nations versus the non-Western nations lack of this exceptionalism until they enter into contact with the West, it was in some way a ‘standards’ of civilisations. But being important for a war-torn and a formality of interaction does not mean that it is the departure point of international relations. [2: Anders Henriksen, International Law, Chapter 1 in ‘foundations and structure of IL’ sub. 1.2.2. Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 2019.]
First of all, and for considering each approach, there must be an approximation to historians who argue that IR begun with the Peace of Westphalia. Some scholars, as mentioned before, the ones from English School in the 1960s firmly believe in the Eurocentrism Westphalian narrative, and in the constructivists international relations scholarships too. They apply the birth of religious tolerance and the international political structure to the European territory[footnoteRef:3]. Thus, accredited an Eurocentric account of international history and conformation, that distorts the general understanding of International Relations since it only focus on Western territory.[footnoteRef:4] Granted mention to Bull, a British Scholar, the Peace of Westphalia “marked the emergence of an international society as distinct from a mere international system, the acceptance by states of rules and institutions binding on them in their relations with one another, and of a common interest in maintaining them”[footnoteRef:5]. This school have been particularly criticised for their Eurocentrism. [3: Patterson, Thomas C. (1997) ‘Inventing Western Civilisation’, New York: Monthly Review Press] [4: Kayaoglu, Turkan (2010), ‘Westphalian Eurocentrism in International Relations Theory’. International Studies Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.193-217.] [5: Bull, Hedley. (1992). The importance of Grotius in the Study of International Relations. In Hugo Grotius and International Relations, edited by H. Bull, B. Kingsbury, and A. Roberts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 75-76.]
As I said in the first paragraph, I do partly believe in the Peace of Westphalia as the touchstone for International Relations for several reasons. Firstly, for the fact of its relationship with international law and the installation of a society of states. Thus, it is because Westphalia was looked as a written reason of international law due to the conception that it established a sort of status quo and this lead to a society feeling of commonness among them.[footnoteRef:6] Also as a source of procedure and law in the state system achieved thanks to the shared cultural framework or understanding that stars the Peace of Westphalia.[footnoteRef:7] From that period of time, law experienced a shift from the jus naturale—used during the time of the Catholic Roman Empire and the Catholic Church—and perceived to be greater than jus gentium to the later. Since the 17th century, the concept of jus gentium take a primary role in law and was from where international law as we know it today derived. In the post-1945 era, the English School in the 1960s promoted the use of the Westphalian narrative as the conception of the foundation of a European institutionalised common principles and institutions that supply a form of international society. These scholars have made a use of the Westphalian treaty to understand international relations.[footnoteRef:8] For my personal believe it is the point in history when international relations changed into a field of study and a categorisation in history with capital letters ‘International Relations’ instead of international relations. [6: Von Treitschke, Heinrich ( 1963). ‘Politics’, edited by Hans Kohn, translated by Blanche Dugdale and Torben de Bille. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.] [7: Morgenthau, Hans (1948) ‘Politics among Nations’ New York: Alfred A. Knopf.] [8: Clark Ian (2005), ‘Legitimacy in International Society’, Oxford: Oxford University Press.]
Although I think in a similar way in some aspects, it is of my personal believe also that this approach and conception of the international society is made from a biased Eurocentric point of view and as a consequence, made them ignore what was happening outside this Western society.
In the other hand, I also think that it is important to emphasise in the pre-national system and the three waves of international relations, that gave us a more broader scenario for the knowledge of the international relations and it is not that biased from the Eurocentric narrative,. Also there is a geographical expansion, that means that it is not only a study on the European territory, it is also along the time and around the globe. On the contrary of what I explained on the first argumentation, there are other professors and historians who want to make broader our sense of international systems, and they argue that international relations did not begun in 1648, that there were previous interactions among nation-states. In my personal believe, this approach it is also right but from a more social interaction point instead of the more legal point that I argued before.
If the International Relations begun in 1648 or not, will remain a topic to be the centre of discussion for many scholars. But I personally think that it does not start in that year specifically, there was previous interactions that can be also interpreted as international relations. But it is true that helps scholars to set a beginning to start their researches or to teach others, it is more likely to be a departure point instead of the truth. Also the Westphalian Peace, as I said before, it was important for the emergence and establishment of the International Law and the establishment of a field of study. Dating the start in 1648, in my opinion, is more a research tool rather than the truly start, but further studies in previous times and in places that not only contain the West must be made in order to be really international also to render the opportunity to students and other scholars to organise its knowledge.
- Bull, Hedley. (1992). The importance of Grotius in the Study of International Relations. In Hugo Grotius and International Relations, edited by H. Bull, B. Kingsbury, and A. Roberts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 75-76.
- Buzan, Barry and Little, Richard, ‘International Systems in World History’, In ‘Introduction’ pp. 1-13, Oxford University Press. 2000.
- Clark, Ian (2005), ‘Legitimacy in International Society’, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Henriksen, Anders. International Law, Chapter 1 in ‘foundations and structure of IL’ sub. 1.2.2. Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 2019.
- Kayaoglu, Turkan (2010), ‘Westphalian Eurocentrism in International Relations Theory’. International Studies Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp.193-217.
- Patterson, Thomas C. (1997) ‘Inventing Western Civilisation’, New York: Monthly Review Press.
- Schmidt, Sebastian (2011) ‘To Order the Minds of Scholars: The Discourse of the Peace of Westphalia in International Relations literature’. International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3 (September 2011), pp. 601-623.
- Von Treitschke, Heinrich ( 1963). ‘Politics’, edited by Hans Kohn, translated by Blanche Dugdale and Torben de Bille. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.
- Hershey, Amos S. (1912) ‘History of International Law Since the Peace of Westphalia’. The American Journal of International Law 6(1), pp 30-69.
- Morgenthau, Hans (1948) ‘Politics among Nations’ New York: Alfred A. Knopf.