A Westphalia for the Middle East? > Events > 19.02.2017, Reinventing ‘Westphalia’

Reinventing ‘Westphalia’

Historical Lessons for a Future Peace in the Middle East

Discussion on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference


On the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, and Professor Brendan Simms from the University of Cambridge met with a distinguished group of participants of the Security Conference to discuss new approaches for a possible peace settlement in the Middle East.

As a new round of peace talks for Syria was to be held in Geneva the next day, Staffan de Mistura reiterated the importance of finding a political solution, which addressed the needs of all actors involved as well as an inclusive post-war order for all ethnic and political minorities. With regard to the future of the region it was crucial to maintain existing borders and to ensure the integrity and sovereignty of all countries in the region.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit did not see the need for a new grand order for the region, he rather preferred to reestablish the principles that are often falsely associated with Westphalia: separation between state and religion, sovereignty of the modern nation state and non-interference. According to Ahmed About-Gheit, these principles were necessary to restore the balance within the states and in the region and to protect minorities. He warned that concepts such as limited sovereignty could be interpreted as postcolonial and therefore be rejected by regional actors.

Professor Brendan Simms pointed out, however, that the system of conditional sovereignty of the Emperor and the estates had been precisely the mechanism in the Peace of Westphalia which ensured the protection of religious minorities. He drew several parallels between the Thirty Years’ War and the current conflicts in the Middle East and emphasized that the Westphalian Peace had solved political and religious conflicts by setting certain norms and providing means for legal resolution.

During the debate participants expressed contrary views on the question to what extent a comprehensive solution for the region was possible, or whether several individual approaches were required. However, there was consensus that the impetus for negotiations as well as ideas for a post-war order would have to come from the regional actors, and could only be supported or complemented by external actors.

Speech by Ahmed Aboul-Gheit (PDF)

  • Brendan Simms, Staffan de Mistura, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, Nora Müller    
  • Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, Staffan de Mistura    
  • Nora Müller    
  • Lakhdar Brahimi    
  • Nora Müller, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, Staffan de Mistura, Brendan Simms    
  • David H. Petraeus, Klaus Wehmeier, Christian Wulff    
  • Christian Wulff, Thomas Paulsen    
  • Photos: Marc Darchinger

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