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Krasner: Compromising Westphalia

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Krasner. 1996. Compromising Westphalia. International Security 20 (winter): 115-151.

We look back to 1648 as the origin of the modern state system. Sovereignty entails concepts of authority and territory. Sometimes, we hear laments that sovereignty is changing, or the Westphalian system is changing. This article argues that Westphalia has always been an only an ideal type. It has always been faced with exceptions and deviations. The entire "Westphalian system" has never been a fully accurate description of the post-1648 state system. Thus, it is "historically myopic" to argue that the Westphalia sovereignty system is in crisis--it has always been violated.

The key feature of the Westphalian system is that authority is based on territory, not individual identity (as in tribes, trading leagues, and, in a different way, empires). Yet there are many exceptions: the British commonwealth, Antarctica, maritime Exclusive Economic Zones, Andorra, and so on. States violate Westphalian principles because nothing can stop them from doing so.

Violations of the Westphalian model occur in four key ways: conventions, contracting, coercion, and imposition. These four modes differ "by whether the behavior of one actor depends on that of another and by whether at least one of the actors is better off and none worse off."

"In conventions, rulers enter into agreements, such as human rights accords, from which they expect some gain, but their behavior is not contingent on what others do.

"In contracting, rulers agree to violate Westphalian principles, but only if they are provided some benefit, such as a foreign loan.

"In coercion, the rulers of stronger states make weaker ones worse off by engaging in credible threats to which the target might or might not acquiesce.

"In imposition, the target is so weak that it has no option but to comply with the preferences of the stronger."

In his conclusion, Krasner gives several reasons why violations of Westphalia are not necessarily bad--and can even be good. For example: "Some of the weak are incapable of governing their own populations, and are threats to international stability as well. The populations of these states, if not their rulers, would be better off if Westphalia were compromised. Many Third World states are incapable of independently implementing reasonable economic policies. For them conditionality is a good thing, even if it is inconsistent with the Westphalian model. Given the configuration of power in the Middle East--the existence of a number of large Arab states that will always be in one way or another a potential threat to Israel--the Palestinian question cannot be resolved by the creation of a Westphalian state: the autonomy of any Palestinian state will have to be compromised in one way or another."