A Westphalia for the Middle East?

A ‘Westphalia’ for the Middle East?

The Westphalia for the Middle East project is a joint initiative of the Forum on Geopolitics of the University of Cambridge and the Körber Foundation to open new, creative approaches for resolving conflict in the Middle East by looking at solutions that worked in the Peace of Westphalia.


The civil war in Syria has raged for more than five years with devastating consequences. All previous attempts to solve the conflict peacefully and stabilize the region have failed. On the contrary: faced with proxy wars between competing regional powers, escalating sectarian tensions and collapsing state structures, no solution seems to be in sight.

The project “A ‘Westphalia’ for the Middle East?” gathers experts on Early Modern German history, politicians and senior administration members from the Middle East, Europe, and the US to discuss new ideas and develop creative approaches to conflict-resolution in the region. What can we learn from the historical experience of the Thirty Years War? What key elements and instruments could be relevant for the solutions of today’s conflicts? What could a regional peace settlement look like?

By thinking beyond the own discipline and challenging previous assumptions, the aim of the project is to develop new and creative ideas for foreign poli

Information on our activities and publications relating to the Middle East can be found on our website “New Quality of Disorder in the Middle East”.



Results 2017

Reinventing ‘Westphalia’. Historical Lessons for a Future Peace in the Middle East” bundles the results of the discussions which took place between decision-makers and experts from politics and science last year in Amman, Riyadh, Tehran, Berlin and Munich.

Photo: Marc Darchinger

Guaranteeing the Peace?

The second workshop of the project »A ‘Westphalia’ for the Middle East?« was held in Berlin and focused on the role of international guarantors of a possible peace settlement in the Middle East.


Reinventing ‘Westphalia’

At the Munich Security Conference Staffan de Mistura, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit and Professor Brendan Simms discussed the idea of “A ‘Westphalia’ for the Middle East?” with participants of the conference.


Elements of a Regional Peace Settlement for the Middle East

The first workshop took place from 22 to 23 January 2017 in Amman, Jordan, and focused on the role of regional actors in a possible peace settlement.


163rd Bergedorf Round Table

The 163rd Bergedorf Round Table, which was held in Berlin from 11 to 12 October 2016, constituted the opening event of the project. Former Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier gave the keynote speech.

Related Readings

Video: “Geschichte zum Mitnehmen. Der große Krieg - der große Frieden” (ARD-alpha, November 2018) (in German)

“Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East” by Patrick Milton, Michael Axworthy and Brendan Simms with a preface by Nora Müller and Elisabeth von Hammerstein (October 2018)

“Meet the Middle East’s Peace of Westphalia Re-enactors” by Borzou Daragahi (Foreign Policy, August 2018)

“Westphalia in Syria” by Andreas Kluth (Handelsblatt, August 2018)

“Ein Westfälischer Frieden für den Nahen Osten?” by Elisabeth von Hammerstein (Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, Juli 2018) (in German)

“Von Münster nach Damaskus” by Elisabeth von Hammerstein and Patrick Milton (IP, January 2018) (In German)

“Frieden schaffen ohne Waffen” by Anke-Sophie Meyer (Die Welt, January 2018) (In German)

“Der Dreißigjährige Krieg und seine Lehren. Historisches Vorbild für den Nahost-Konflikt?” by Ingeborg Breuer and Barbara Weber (Deutschlandfunk, December 2017) (In German)

“Ein Westfälischer Friede für Nahost” by Brendan Simms and Michael Axworthy (Die Zeit, Mai 2017) (In German)

“The Westphalian Model To Resolve Conflicts In The Middle East” by Raghida Dergham (Huffington Post, May 2017)

“Religiöse Emotionen kontrollieren: Der Westfälische Frieden zeigt, wie Sicherheit trotz fehlendem Vertrauen möglich ist” by Rainer Hermann (FAZ, November 2016, PDF-Download) (In German)

“A Westphalian Peace for the Middle East - Why an Old Framework Could Work” – Michael Axworthy and Patrick Milton in Foreign Affairs (October 2016) (Login required)

Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier to the opening of the 51st Biennial Meeting of German Historians (September 2016)

The Peace of Westphalia as a model for reflection on the Middle East. Talk by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Osnabrück Peace Forum (July 2016)


Voices on ‘A Westphalian Peace for the Middle East’

“The Thirty Years War provided a crucial lesson: a proxy war needs a proxy peace. Just as external powers upheld the Westphalian Peace after 1648, any sustainable peace agreement in Syria will depend on the willingness and ability of both Syrians and external actors to serve as guarantors for stability.”
Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Syria, United Nations

“The Peace of Westphalia is not a blueprint for peace in the Middle East. But if we look at it closely enough, we will see that it does offer us a number of instruments, methods and ideas. It is up to us to identify these, to extract them, refine them and make use of them in our diplomacy today.”
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Foreign Minister
(12.07.2016 at the Osnabrück Peace Forum)

“The Westphalian framework is about the idea that a regional order can be forged by its parties through negotiations that tackle the security dilemmas and meet their national and religious aspirations.”
Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, Secretary General of the Arab League

“The Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648, has provided enduring lessons for similar endeavors ever since. In view of that, it is great to see the Körber Foundation revisit that endeavor for insights that might help guide development of creative approaches to resolving the conflicts in Syria and the greater Middle East.”
General David H. Petraeus, fmr. Director, Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America

“Searching for peace in the Middle East is a noble cause. Studying historical peace-finding experiences, such as the experience of the Peace of Westphalia, is intellectually and politically stimulating. However, one of the problems facing our situation today is the lack of strategic vision for all players on the Middle East stage. Every player seeks either to defend his achievements, such as Iran and Russia, or seeks to regain what he has lost or abandoned for one reason or another, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. How to convince them to bargain or negotiate on what will be less than what they aspire to is a very difficult task. The social, economic, political and religious factors that made parties to the Westphalia conference concede to each other are absent from today’s Middle East. The absence of a dominant visionary player to lead is a major obstacle to bring parties to grand peace in the region.”
Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Chairman, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, Riyadh

“In a most dramatic fashion, history is compelling us to bear witness once more to the agonizing process of a region falling apart and reassembling its constituent pieces. The contagious tragedy unfolding in the Middle East today bears a number of parallels to the problems which haunted Central Europe in the early 17th century. Once more, a diverse mix of cultures find themselves grappling with socioeconomic retardation, weak cohesion, savage totalitarian regimes, widespread elite failure, fanatic ideologies, deadly vicious circles perpetuated by warlords as well as the greedy intrusion and hostile alliances of external powers. Amid this crisis, the spirit of ‘Westphalia’ is, in fact, a precious well of visions and experiences in terms of conflict resolution, the use of diplomatic tools, and the balancing of great-power interests. However, the question remains, whether we are ready yet to embrace its lessons?”
Samir Altaqi, Director General, Orient Research Centre, Dubai

“In order to resolve regional conflicts such as the one between the GCC states and Iran the different parties can look at Europe for examples on how to resolve historic rivalries and how peace agreements such as the Peace of Westphalia were concluded.”
Hossein Mousavian, Research Scholar, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

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