…And Why You Should Be Worried If It Is…
Central Europe lies in ruins, smoldering. Cities have been reduced to rubble. Entire urban populations have been massacred, displaced and raped; many survivors cower in hiding in forests, to avoid roving gangs of bandits. Famine and epidemics kill more of the survivors on a daily basis. Armed bands – the “armies” evaporated long ago – meander, too tired to loot and pillage, seeking to provide security in trade for food and shelter.
Thirty percent of the German population is dead. No one is sure how many others have met an untimely demise…
The preceding is not a work of post-apocalyptic fiction. And while it is history, it is neither the aftermath of either “world war”. This was the year 1645 A.D., the end of the Thirty Years War – a war that killed more people, both directly from physical attacks and from the side effects of war, than any event in Europe since the Black Death of the 14th Century. So ruinous and destructive was this war that the surviving rulers of Europe realized that something had to change.
The war had begun as just another petty squabble between even pettier aristocrats, claiming the sanctity of religion as their excuse. But those petty aristocrats had feudal overlords, and when they found themselves in far over their heads, they screamed to their somewhat exasperated overlords for help. And those overlords – who had to keep up appearances – moved to support their minions, the better to display their loyalty to their followers, and maybe grab some advantage over their churlish neighbors.
The reason they were in over their heads, was largely due to a democratization of technology: the first wisps of the Industrial Revolution had begun to waft through Europe, and allowed a resurgence of industrial-scale production of weapons and their accouterments, as well as systematized regimens of food production and storage, allowing a freedom of military action that had been rarely seen in Europe during the preceding five hundred years. This allowed small feudal aristocrats, and even many towns and cities, to equip small “pocket armies” with the latest military hardware.
All of that fed into an ever-increasing spiral of war, where most armies were more or less evenly matched, and the result of battles depended more on the character and skill of the commanders than anything else. Troops largely fought for whatever side paid them on time…and when promised cash was not forthcoming, looting, pillage, torture and murder were the order of the day.
The Thirty Years War was ended by a treaty, signed at Westphalia, in modern-day Osnabrück and Münster, in 1648. One of the key aspects of the Treaty of Westphalia, was to establish what has come to be known as the concept of “Westphalian sovereignty”, or “state sovereignty”, the principle in international law that each state has exclusive sovereignty over its declared territories, and the understanding that other states will not interfere in the internal affairs of other sovereign nations, as outlined by the Swiss jurist Emer de Vattel. It also formed the concept of ‘nation-state sovereignty‘ as being based on a defined physical territory.
While it is certainly true that nation-states since the Treaty have committed terrible crimes, it can be argued that Westphalia has tempered more war than it has encouraged.
However, as they say, “The times, they are a-changin’“…
Contingent Sovereignty rationalizes (the idea is not codified in international law) the idea that a duty exists for other states to intervene in the internal/domestic affairs of an otherwise-sovereign state, if that state is “failing”, cannot protect its citizens, and/or is actively making war on its own citizens, thus invoking the principle of a responsibility to protect that nation’s citizens by external states.
While a seemingly noble idea on its surface, the opening for abuse should be plainly apparent: Contingent Sovereignty is a concept aimed at legitimizing neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism, imposed at bayonet-point by wealthy nations on countries too weak to resist, despite the widespread availability of affordable and equalizing armaments.
What the states of the Developed World have failed to realize, is that this sword cuts both ways: as many First World countries seem to be descending into political, economic and social chaos – at least, according to the popular press – as their internal blocs seem to be deliberately devouring their own economies and societies, less economically developed countries – but, countries with a surplus of manpower and cheap weapons – stare at them, remembering that their own states were created by colonial fiat, Contingent Sovereignty gives those “lesser” states all the authority they need to move en masse against the Developed World, making invasions “all nice and legal,” as the saying goes.
And, lest anyone think that this is not a possible fate for many “First World” nations, it must be pointed out that sufficient training and equipment has been provided to many Third World nations to allow them to at least ponder the idea.
All those states need, is a unifying figurehead, in effect, a 21st Century Napoleon Bonaparte.
And, as Napoleon himself is reported to have said, “A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets.”