… concern that the rapid global expansion and gains in alleviation of poverty from which the Caribbean and other former European colonies benefited could be halted by a return to protectionism

There is growing concern (if not fear) that the world appears to be re-embracing the old principles that characterized the Westphalian state.

With so much resources being expended across the Caribbean for development of Special Economic Zones and growth expectations from Business Process Outsourcing, regional governments and investors may, understandably, feel somewhat uneasy about such a prospect.

The Thirty Years War in Europe (1618 – 1648) effectively changed the political map of that continent. It began as a religious struggle but ended with sweeping political changes across Europe. With the Treaty of Westphalia, Roman Catholicism as a dominant and then still rising political power met head on with rising Protestantism; Switzerland became free of Austria; the Netherlands broke ties with Spain and smaller states and principalities secured autonomy from larger countries with more powerful armies.

Westphalian state

The end of the Thirty Years War, regarded by historians as one of the most destructive conflicts in Europe’s history, is today accepted as the beginning of the international system and International Relations as a discipline. The Peace of Westphalia was negotiated at a massive conference in Germany by about 180 leaders and plenipotentiaries representing 190 large, small and very small states. Out of those negotiations, which went on for many months (December 1644 to the signing of the treaty in October 1648), came a fundamental principle of state sovereignty: in international law, each state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory.

This principle, fundamental to the establishment of the League of Nations and subsequently the United Nations, came to be widely accepted as the basis for international relationships ­ intergovernmental and otherwise. However, technological advances in all facets of human endeavour have facilitated rapid expansion and normalisation of global commerce. And development policies initially based on policies of industrialisation by invitation (and now with even more tantalising incentives added) have brought formerly impoverished populations into the fray of global production.

In this global village of accessible labour; incentives to attract investment and free trade treaties to stimulate export trade and generate employment; with both rich and poor nations enjoying the resulting expansion of global trade; the closed economic model that characterised the Westphalian state had become anachronistic.

Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry,

World Maritime University President, Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, is concerned that the period of rapid global expansion and gains in alleviation of poverty, from which the Caribbean among other former European colonies have benefited, could be halted by a return to the old models of protectionism.

In an age of globalization, the world is going back to the old principles of the Westphalian state, she said in a webinar hosted by Barbados-based maritime procurement firm Alixum International Ltd. Noting recent examples of protectionist trends in North America and Europe, the former Director of the International Labour Standards Department of the International Labour Organization (ILO) described such policy changes as “a remarkable re-emergence of the Westphalian state”.

“It reflects the principle in international law, each state has exclusive sovereignty to the detriment of the continued match of globalization processes that had been taking part over the years. In recent years we’ve become globalized. What we’ve (now) seen is a retreat from globalization back to the old Westphalian idea. “That’s a major concern!” she exclaimed.

The all-day digital symposium was entitled The Caribbean Maritime Industry at the Nexus of Climate Change & COVID-19. It provided a platform for maritime professionals across the region to discuss the challenges which the shipping industry currently faces: climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Doumbia-Henry, the keynote presenter, addressed the topic: The Other Global Crisis: Climate Change and the Maritime Sector. []

  • First published 2020, October 1