WEDNESDAY, JULY 11, 2012: Liberalism
“the optimistic foil to Realism”
Liberal scholars are very diverse with explanations and angles, but they all are
preoccupied with cooperation and peace.
Liberals see cooperation is possible, and the primary problem to be resolved is
the issue of cheating or the potential of cheating (a much more manageable
issue that realism’s power/security issue).
Assumptions of Liberalism:
o They look at not just the structure of the international system, but the
“processes.” They don’t believe that the structure predetermines how
the world will work, so the units do matter.
o They feel anarchy is not so dangerous (realism says it is inherently
dangerous and a permissive condition for war)- states can interact among
themselves to shape how things work. They care about bargaining over
trade deals, arms control, and territorial boundaries. It is all about
uncertainty and cheating in the bargaining process, not survival. They do
agree anarchy exists, but the only real problem for anarchy is this
difficulty in cooperation among states. They don’t see anarchy as
o They believe states can have different interests (contrary to realism’s
billiard ball theory). Some states are concerned about security; others
are more concerned with acquiring economic wealth, etc. In essence,
liberals say what states are most interested in is welfare, not necessarily
security. They believe states are concerned with absolute gains, not
relative gains. They have a problem with how realists assume interests of
states. The assumptions about states interests should come from their
domestic politics, which shapes state preferences. (For realists, domestic
politics do not matter).
o Other actors apart from states actually matter. They don’t contest that
states are important, but they argue they are not the only important
actors. MNCs, IOs, etc. are important, because international
organizations and institutions shape state preferences and behaviour.
Cooperation and cheating: All deals carry a risk of being cheated, but what is at
stake is not always survival. Given anarchy and certainty, there is always the
issue of states backing out of agreements. The consequences of getting cheated
for realists are drastic because their survival is at stake—this is why realists
always talk about relative gains.
Game theory illustrate how states can cooperate: game theory is a way of
modeling decision making based on options, actor preferences, and how they
will interact with each other.
Game 1: Prisoner’s Dilemma
o Prisoners dilemma preferences: 1. You defect, partner cooperates (0 years)
2. Both cooperate (2 years)
3. Both defect (3 years each)
4. Partner defects, you cooperate (6 years)
o DC > CC > DD > CD
o The prisoner's dilemma suggests there is a tendency to engage in
conflict, even when it may be better to cooperate. Unintentionally,
given your circumstances, you both end up cheating on each other.
Rationally, both sides are going to defect. Even rational behaviour
can lead to sub optimal outcomes.
o Threats backfire, and will lead to mistrust and a security dilemma
o In a realist world, the costs of being cheated are too high (survival is
at stake), so they focus on relative gains.
o How to get out of Prisoner’s dilemma (optimistic/liberal view):
Anarchy’s effects can be mitigated. You can make cooperation more
likely by changing the degree to which each outcome is better than
the one before it—manipulate the gap in values. You can do this by
increasing the value of mutual cooperation, decreasing the cost of the
sucker’s payoff, decrease the gains and raise the costs of cheating or
exploitation, or by decreasing the gain and increasing the costs of
mutual defection. Jervis argues this can happen due to what he
terms the “offense-defense balance,” the realist way of how anarchy
can be mitigated. If defense becomes dominant, the sucker’s payoff
value decreases and cooperation becomes easier. The caveat of this
is that every state has to know the distinction between offense and
defense, and they need to know that defense is dominant over
offense. Liberals believe that we don’t need to rely on just geography
or technology to mitigate anarchy, and it can be done primarily
through international institutions. Liberals believe that over time, it
leads to states trusting each other, making cooperation all the more
o Realists say games like this are one-shot only- and playing multiple
rounds of a game like this changes the calculation for both players.
Liberals say it is unrealistic to assume states deal with each other only
once, and they deal with each other’s multiple times. This matters
because players begin to care more about their reputation when they
need to play multiple rounds.
o The “shadow of the future” encourages trust and cooperation in the
first round—the degree to which we care about the future influences
how we act today. Long-term gains of cooperation are greater than
the advantage you would gain from deferring in one round, and
liberals argue that actors understand this.
o The relevance of reciprocity (assuming ther