How can a lasting peace in the Middle East be secured? Under the auspices of Brendan Simms, Patrick Milton, Thomas Peak, and the late Michael Axworthy, the Westphalia for the Middle East (WME) programme has examined what lessons the historical Peace of Westphalia may offer for the establishment of a durable peace. Signed in Osnabrück and Westphalia (in contemporary Germany) in 1648, these two peace treaties, which are commonly referred to as the Peace of Westphalia, ended the Thirty Years War: a devastating conflict which killed around a quarter of central Europeans. Similar to the Thirty Years War, present-day conflicts in the Middle East are characterized by overlapping struggles and confrontations, both within and between states. Both have been marked by sectarian violence and intervention by outside countries, and both the Thirty Years War and the present Middle Eastern conflicts have been hugely costly in human life.

A number of leading foreign policy practitioners have recognised these parallels, including Henry Kissinger, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kofi Annan, Angela Merkel, and Richard Haass. While peace in the Middle East cannot be imposed by external powers, since it must come from the region itself, the mechanisms and techniques that proved effective in Westphalia can, however, provide inspiration for how this might be done in practice.

To this end, numerous workshops, conferences and panel discussions were held between 2016 and 2022, which brought together leading experts on the Middle East and on early modern European history, as well as policy practitioners, journalists and other commentators, in order to investigate the parallels between the two contexts and to derive lessons for peace-making in today’s Middle East. Several of the most important of these workshops were conducted in partnership with the Berlin-based Körber Foundation. Key principles which worked in Westphalia include the innovation of an all-inclusive peace congress including state and non-state actors, development of creative power sharing arrangements based on compromise, establishment of new legal mechanisms for dispute resolution, and construction of an inclusive security architecture committed to and guaranteed by all signatories.

The fruits of these research efforts are two key works that address the parallels between Westphalia and the Middle East. The first of these is Towards Westphalia for the Middle East (Hurst Publishers, 2018), co-authored by Patrick Milton, Brendan Simms, and the late Michael Axworthy. The book has been published in Persian as of 2021. The second publication, authored by Thomas Peak, is Westphalia from Below: Humanitarian intervention and the myth of 1648 (Hurst and Company, London, 2021). This new history of the lead-up to 1648 exposes the myth of absolute sovereignity supposedly enshrined at the Peace of Westphalia, showing that humanitarian intervention is fully compatible with true Westphalian sovereinity.  Other publications include the following articles:

Foreign Affairs – A Westphalian Peace for the Middle East

Foreign Affairs – The Myth of Westphalia

New Statesman – Ending the New Thirty Years War

Foreign Policy – Meet the Middle East’s Peace of Westphalia Re-enactors