At the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, this agreement gave individual princes the right to choose the official religion of their realm. As such, it was one of the first, and most important, documents to declare the idea of the sovereignty of states.

State sovereignty establishes that it is the ruler of the state that has supreme political authority. This allows them to claim supremacy within the boundaries of their realm and absolved them of the need to consult with a higher authority. Legally, the treaty entrenched the idea of the state as the sole actor with the right to the legitimate use of force. The basis of this is in the reciprocal recognition of this right by all states. Political legitimacy was beginning to be seen in secular rather than religious terms: a development along the path to liberal democracy.

Another major element of the Westphalian System is the idea of collective security. Whenever a state displayed blatant aggression towards another, all of the others were to unite in opposition to the aggressor in order to restore the status quo. This multipolar balance of power is considered to have endured until the end of WWII.

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