A bit of history: From the Peace of Westphalia to global politics

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The territorial sovereignty principle

For nearly four hundred years, the principles of international order and relations among states were derived from the Peace of Westphalia, concluded in 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. States, each bound to a certain defined territory, were considered the sovereign keepers of authority over the respective territories in that system, as pointed out by McGrew and others. The process culminated approximately in the mid 20th century, when the system of national states dominated on the planetary scale. The system gives the state sovereignty over domestic affairs, whilst there is no sovereign in their mutual relations. International politics follow a system of treaties and conventions, which are, however, difficult to reinforce if the national states are unwilling to co-operate.

The emergence of global politics and institutions

It was already around the middle of the 20th century that a simultaneous process started which has increasingly challenged the capacity of the national states to control supranational problems by means of international politics. The need for global politics is mentioned instead, which would be the response to the numerous phenomena connected to the process of technological, information, and economic globalisation. Global politics differs from international in that forms of global governance and management appear within it that are rooted in the national state, but exist beyond it in a sense.

A relatively dense network of regional institutions (co-operating on a global basis) has emerged gradually, as well as inter-governmental organisations set up by the national states implicitly in order to work globally (United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund). Transnational relations and flows have developed virtually in every branch of human activity.

Division of power

Going back to the three principal schools of thought on the impacts of globalisation as presented by McGrew, one can say that for the internationalists, the Westphalia system remains the basic organising principle for international relations which requires no change. The national states are capable of managing any challenge of globalisation within the system.

Both the globalists and the transformationists argue that the Westphalia system is no longer sufficient to face the challenges. According to them, power is no longer primarily organised and executed on the national scale, but gains more and more in the supranational, regional and global dimensions. Consequently, governance and politics are made ever more international and global.