File Name: liberalism and international relations .zip
- Introducing Liberalism in International Relations Theory
- Liberalism and International Relations Theory
- The New Liberalism
This article presents three core theoretical assumptions underlying liberal theories, elaborates the three variants of liberal theory, and draws some broader implications. Perhaps the most important advantage of liberal theory lies in its capacity to serve as the theoretical foundation for a shared multicausal model of instrumental state behaviour — thereby moving the discipline beyond paradigmatic warfare among unicausal claims.
Introducing Liberalism in International Relations Theory
Download your free copy here. However, liberalism — when discussed within the realm of IR theory — has evolved into a distinct entity of its own. Liberalism contains a variety of concepts and arguments about how institutions, behaviours and economic connections contain and mitigate the violent power of states. When compared to realism, it adds more factors into our field of view — especially a consideration of citizens and international organisations.
Most notably, liberalism has been the traditional foil of realism in IR theory as it offers a more optimistic world view, grounded in a different reading of history to that found in realist scholarship. Liberalism is based on the moral argument that ensuring the right of an individual person to life, liberty and property is the highest goal of government.
Consequently, liberals emphasise the wellbeing of the individual as the fundamental building block of a just political system. A political system characterised by unchecked power, such as a monarchy or a dictatorship, cannot protect the life and liberty of its citizens. Therefore, the main concern of liberalism is to construct institutions that protect individual freedom by limiting and checking political power.
Liberals are particularly troubled by militaristic foreign policies. The primary concern is that war requires states to build up military power. This power can be used for fighting foreign states, but it can also be used to oppress its own citizens. For this reason, political systems rooted in liberalism often limit military power by such means as ensuring civilian control over the military.
Wars of territorial expansion, or imperialism — when states seek to build empires by taking territory overseas — are especially disturbing for liberals.
Not only do expansionist wars strengthen the state at the expense of the people, these wars also require long-term commitments to the military occupation and political control of foreign territory and peoples. Occupation and control require large bureaucracies that have an interest in maintaining or expanding the occupation of foreign territory. For liberals, therefore, the core problem is how to develop a political system that can allow states to protect themselves from foreign threats without subverting the individual liberty of its citizenry.
The primary institutional check on power in liberal states is free and fair elections via which the people can remove their rulers from power, providing a fundamental check on the behaviour of the government. This allows for checks and balances in the use of power. Democratic peace theory is perhaps the strongest contribution liberalism makes to IR theory.
It asserts that democratic states are highly unlikely to go to war with one another. There is a two-part explanation for this phenomenon. First, democratic states are characterised by internal restraints on power, as described above.
Second, democracies tend to see each other as legitimate and unthreatening and therefore have a higher capacity for cooperation with each other than they do with non-democracies. Statistical analysis and historical case studies provide strong support for democratic peace theory, but several issues continue to be debated.
First, democracy is a relatively recent development in human history. This means there are few cases of democracies having the opportunity to fight one another. A third point is that while democracies are unlikely to go to war with one another, some scholarship suggests that they are likely to be aggressive toward non-democracies — such as when the United States went to war with Iraq in Despite the debate, the possibility of a democratic peace gradually replacing a world of constant war — as described by realists — is an enduring and important facet of liberalism.
We currently live in an international system structured by the liberal world order built after the Second World War — The international institutions, organisations and norms expected behaviours of this world order are built on the same foundations as domestic liberal institutions and norms; the desire to restrain the violent power of states.
Yet, power is more diluted and dispersed internationally than it is within states. For example, under international law, wars of aggression are prohibited.
There is no international police force to enforce this law, but an aggressor knows that when breaking this law it risks considerable international backlash. For example, states — either individually or as part of a collective body like the United Nations — can impose economic sanctions or intervene militarily against the offending state. Furthermore, an aggressive state also risks missing out on the benefits of peace, such as the gains from international trade, foreign aid and diplomatic recognition.
The fullest account of the liberal world order is found in the work of Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry , who describe three interlocking factors:.
First, international law and agreements are accompanied by international organisations to create an international system that goes significantly beyond one of just states.
The archetypal example of such an organisation is the United Nations, which pools resources for common goals such as ameliorating climate change , provides for near constant diplomacy between enemies and friends alike and gives all member states a voice in the international community. Second, the spread of free trade and capitalism through the efforts of powerful liberal states and international organisations like the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank creates an open, market-based, international economic system.
This situation is mutually beneficial as a high level of trade between states decreases conflict and makes war less likely, since war would disrupt or cancel the benefits profits of trade. States with extensive trade ties are therefore strongly incentivised to maintain peaceful relations. By this calculation, war is not profitable, but detrimental to the state. The third element of the liberal international order is international norms. Liberal norms favour international cooperation, human rights, democracy and rule of law.
When a state takes actions contrary to these norms, they are subject to various types of costs. However, international norms are often contested because of the wide variation in values around the globe.
Nevertheless, there are costs for violating liberal norms. The costs can be direct and immediate. For example, the European Union placed an arms sale embargo on China following its violent suppression of pro-democracy protesters in The embargo continues to this day.
The costs can also be less direct, but equally as significant. For example, favourable views of the United States decreased significantly around the world following the invasion of Iraq because the invasion was undertaken unilaterally outside established United Nations rules in a move that was widely deemed illegitimate. Most liberal scholarship today focuses on how international organisations foster cooperation by helping states overcome the incentive to escape from international agreements.
This often causes confusion as neoliberalism is also a term used outside IR theory to describe a widespread economic ideology of deregulation, privatisation, low taxes, austerity public spending cuts and free trade. The essence of neoliberalism, when applied within IR, is that states can benefit significantly from cooperation if they trust one another to live up to their agreements.
In situations where a state can gain from cheating and escape punishment, defection is likely. However, when a third party such as an impartial international organisation is able to monitor the behaviour of signatories to an agreement and provide information to both sides, the incentive to defect decreases and both sides can commit to cooperate.
In these cases, all signatories to the agreement can benefit from absolute gains. Absolute gains refer to a general increase in welfare for all parties concerned — everyone benefits to some degree, though not necessarily equally. Liberal theorists argue that states care more about absolute gains than relative gains.
Relative gains, which relate closely to realist accounts, describe a situation where a state measures its increase in welfare relative to other states and may shy away from any agreements that make a competitor stronger. By focusing on the more optimistic viewpoint of absolute gains and providing evidence of its existence via international organisations, liberals see a world where states will likely cooperate in any agreement where any increase in prosperity is probable. One of the more interesting illustrations of liberalism comes from the foreign policy of the United States during the early twentieth century.
During this period, the United States was liberal, but according to the dominant historical narrative, also imperialistic see Meiser So, there appears to be a contradiction. If we take a closer look we see that the United States was more restrained than commonly believed, particularly relative to other great powers of that era.
One simple measure is the level of colonial territory it accrued compared to other great powers. By , the United States claimed , square kilometres of colonial territory, compared to 2,, for Belgium, 2,, for Germany and 32,, for the United Kingdom Bairoch , In fact, the bulk of American colonial holdings was due to the annexation of the Philippines and Puerto Rico, which it inherited after defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War of The United States exhibited such restraint because, as suggested by liberal theory, its political structure limited expansionism.
Examining US—Mexico relations during the early twentieth century helps illustrate the causes of this American restraint.
In the spring of , the United States invaded the Mexican city of Veracruz because of a dispute over the detention of several American sailors in Mexico. The initial objectives of the American war plan were to occupy Veracruz and neighbouring Tampico and then blockade the east coast of Mexico until American honour was vindicated — or a regime change occurred in Mexico.
Wilson did not actually follow any of the advice he received. Instead, he reduced his war aims, halted his forces at Veracruz and withdrew US forces within a few months. Wilson exercised restraint because of American public opposition, his own personal values, unified Mexican hostility and the military losses incurred in the fighting. This potentially endangered foreign ownership of mines and oilfields in Mexico. Interventionists wanted to turn Mexico into an American protectorate — or at least seize the Mexican oil fields.
This coalition moved the country toward intervention while Wilson was distracted by peace negotiations in Europe and then bedridden by a stroke. The path to intervention was blocked only after Wilson recovered sufficiently to regain command of the policy agenda and sever the ties between the interventionists. Wilson had two main reasons for avoiding the more belligerent policy path.
First, he saw the Houses of Congress with the support of some members of the executive branch attempting to determine the foreign policy of the United States, which Wilson viewed as uncon- stitutional. In the American system, the president has the authority to conduct foreign policy.
His assertion of authority over foreign policy with Mexico was therefore a clear attempt to check the power of Congress in policymaking. Second, Wilson was determined to maintain a policy consistent with the norm of anti-imperialism, but also the norm of self-determination — the process by which a country determines its own statehood and chooses its own form of government.
Both of these norms remain bedrocks of liberal theory today. US relations with Mexico in this case show how institutional and normative domestic structures restrained the use of violent power.
These institutional restraints can break down if the political culture of a society does not include a strong dose of liberal norms. For example, anti-statism a belief that the power of the government should be limited and anti-imperialism a belief that conquest of foreign peoples is wrong are liberal norms.
A society infused by liberal norms has an added level of restraint above and beyond the purely institutional limitations on state power. The institutional separation of powers in the United States allowed Wilson to block the interventionist efforts of Congress and others.
The liberal norm of anti-imperialism restrained American expansion through the mechanisms of public opinion and the personal values of the president of the United States. Institutions and norms worked symbiotically. International opinion put additional pressure on American political leaders due to increasing trade opportunities with Latin American countries throughout the early s.
Precisely as liberal theory details, the absolute gains and opportunities offered by trade, together with preferences for self-determination and non-interference, acted as a restraint on US expansionism toward Mexico in this most imperial of periods in world history.
A core argument of liberalism is that concentrations of unaccountable violent power are the fundamental threat to individual liberty and must be restrained.
The primary means of restraining power are institutions and norms at both domestic and international level.
Liberalism and International Relations Theory
Download your free copy here. However, liberalism — when discussed within the realm of IR theory — has evolved into a distinct entity of its own. Liberalism contains a variety of concepts and arguments about how institutions, behaviours and economic connections contain and mitigate the violent power of states. When compared to realism, it adds more factors into our field of view — especially a consideration of citizens and international organisations. Most notably, liberalism has been the traditional foil of realism in IR theory as it offers a more optimistic world view, grounded in a different reading of history to that found in realist scholarship. Liberalism is based on the moral argument that ensuring the right of an individual person to life, liberty and property is the highest goal of government. Consequently, liberals emphasise the wellbeing of the individual as the fundamental building block of a just political system.
Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication. Anyone is allowed to use, share, copy, distribute, or display the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal. The journal allows others to copy, distribute and display only original copies of our publications. Published by the Institute of International Relations Prague. Skip to main content Skip to main navigation menu Skip to site footer. Abstract Neoliberal institutionalism, developed by Robert Keohane, and liberal theory of international relations elaborated by Andrew Moravcsik, nowadays represent two grand International Relations IR theories drawing on liberalism as one of the main theoretical approaches in this discipline. However, Keohane conceived of neoliberal institutionalism as a synthesis of realism and liberalism and Moravcsik proceeds from a specific understanding of liberalism and defines liberalism by the criteria of empirical social science.
Liberalism is a social school of thought in international relations theory that developed in the s. The political concept holds that the state is not subject to external authority of other states nor is it subject to other internal authorities such as the military. Liberalism posits that international law organizations and nongovernmental organizations are equally important factors in world politics while rejecting the realist theory that international relations are a zero-sum game. With the evolution of communication and transportation technologies during the latter decades of the 20th Century came an increased level of interdependence between sovereign states; this has only increased the importance of understanding the components of liberalism. In order for diplomats and international relations professionals to achieve professional success and be effective in their roles, they must have a keen awareness regarding the fundamentals of liberalism. Democratic peace theory argues that democracies rarely, if ever, go to war with one another. Generally speaking, democratic governments focus mostly on maintaining internal stability, ensuring that their respective populations have all of their social, political and economic needs properly satisfied.
It argues that liberal democracy leaves a coherent international legacy on foreign affairs: a separate peace. Liberal states are peaceful with each other, but they.
The New Liberalism
T he four classical liberals had a number of common ideas on the timeless issues of international relations such as war and peace, trade, international law, and the balance of power. This allows for the presentation of a synthesis in the form of a comprehensive classical liberal theory of IR, which is very different from the current accounts of liberalism in IR theory. A caveat applies, though; the preceding analysis only allows the presentation of the contours of the theory. It must be acknowledged that almost any individual element of the theory could be further elaborated, but this would require chapter-length treatments.
The U. The intelligence community faces radical restructuring; the military has made a sharp pivot to face a new enemy; and a vast new federal agency has blossomed to coordinate homeland security. But did September 11 signal a failure of theory on par with the failures of intelligence and policy?
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