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ECN 306 (2)
Tim Dunne (2)


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Arizona State University
ECN 306
Tim Dunne

Chapter 6 Liberalism Tim Dunne Introduction 102 Core ideas in liberal thinking on international relations 104 Liberalism and globalization 108 Conclusion 111 Reader’s Guide The practice of international relations has not been accommodating to liberalism. Whereas the domestic political realm in many states has witnessed an impressive degree of progress, with institutions providing for order and justice, the international realm in the era of the modern states-system has been characterized by a precarious order and the absence of justice. The in- troductory section of the chapter will address this dilemma before providing a definition of lib- eralism and its component parts. The second section con­siders the core concepts of liberalism, beginning with the visionary internationalism of the Enlightenment, through to the idealism of the inter-war period, and the institutionalism that became dominant in the second half of the twentieth century. The third and final section considers liberalism in an era of globalization: in particular, it contrasts a status quo reading of the liberal project with a radicalized version that seeks to promote and extend cosmopolitan values and institutions. Introduction Although realism is regarded as the dominant theory of international relations, liberalism has a strong claim to being the historic alternative. In the twentieth century, liberal thinking influenced policy-making elites and public opinion in a number of Western states after the First World War, an era often referred to in academic international relations as idealism. There was a brief rebirth of liberal sentiment at the end of the Second World War with the birth of the United Nations, alt- hough this inspiration of hope was soon extinguished by the return of cold war power politics. In the 1990s, liberalism appeared growing as Western state leaders proclaimed a new world order and intellectuals provided theoretical justifications for the inherent supremacy of their liberal ideas over all other competing ideologies. After 9/11, the weight has once again swung towards the realist pole as the USA and its allies have sought to consolidate their power and punish those whom they define as terrorists and the states that provide them with shelter. How do we explain the different fortunes of liberalism in the domestic and international domains? While liberal values and institutions have become deeply embedded in Europe and North America, the same values and institutions lack legitimacy worldwide. To invoke the famous phrase of Stanley Hoffmann’s, ‘international affairs have been the nemesis of Liberalism’. ‘The essence of Liberalism’, Hoffmann continues, ‘is self-restraint, moderation, compromise and peace’ whereas ‘the essence of international politics is exactly the opposite: troubled peace, at best, or the state of war’ (Hoffmann 1987: 396). This explanation comes as no surprise to realists, who argue that there can be no pro- gress, no law, and no justice, where there is no common power. Despite the weight of this realist argument, those who believe in the liberal project have not conceded defeat. Liberals argue that power politics itself is the product of ideas, and, crucially, ideas can change. Therefore, even if the world has been inhospitable to liberalism, this does not mean that it cannot be re-made in its image. While the belief in the possibility of progress is one identifier of a liberal approach to politics (Clark 1989: 49–66), there are other general propositions that define the broad tradition of liberal- ism. Perhaps the appropriate way to begin this discussion is with a four-dimensional definition (Doyle 1997: 207). First, all citizens are juridically equal and possess certain basic rights to education, access to a free press, and religious toleration. Second, the legislative assembly of the state possess- es only the authority invested in it by the people, whose basic rights it is not permitted to abuse. Third, a key dimension of the liberty of the individual is the right to own property, including produc- tive forces. Fourth, liberalism contends that the most effective system of economic exchange is one that is largely market driven and not one that is subordinate to bureaucratic regulation and control, either domestically or internationally. When these propositions are taken together, we see a stark contrast between liberal values of individualism, tolerance, freedom, and constitutionalism; and conservatism, which places a higher value on order and authority and is willing to sacrifice the liberty of the individual for the stability of the community. Although many writers have tended to view liberalism as a theory of government, what is be- coming increasingly apparent is the explicit connection between liberalism as a political and eco- nomic theory and liberalism as an international theory. Properly conceived, liberal thought on a global scale rests on the application of an analogy from the character of a political actor to its inter- national conduct. Like individuals, states have different characteristics—some are bellicose and war-prone, others are tolerant and peaceful: in short, the identity of the state determines its out- ward orientation. Liberals see a further parallel between individuals and sovereign states. Although the character of states may differ, all states are accorded certain ‘natural’ rights, such as the gener- alized right to non-intervention in their domestic affairs. On another level, the domestic analogy re- fers to the extension of ideas that originated inside liberal states to the international realm, such as the coordinating role played by institutions and the centrality of the rule of law to the idea of a just order. In a sense, the historical project of liberalism is the domestication of the international. Liberals concede that we have far to go before this goal has been reached. Historically, liberals have agreed with realists that war is a recurring feature of the anarchic system. But unlike realists, they do not identify anarchy as the cause of war. How, then, do liberals explain war? As Box 6.1 demonstrates, certain strands of liberalism see the causes of war located in imperialism, others in the failure of the balance of power, and still others in the problem of undemocratic regimes. And ought this to be remedied through collective security, commerce, or world government? While it can be productive to think about the various strands of liberal thought and their differing prescriptions (Doyle 1997: 205–300), given the limited space permitted to deal with a broad and complex tradi- tion, the emphasis below will be on the core concepts of international liberalism and the way in which these relate to the goals of order and justice on a global scale. 2 At the end of the chapter, the discussion will return to a tension that lies in the heart of the liberal theory of politics. As can be seen from a critical appraisal of the four-fold definition presented above, liberalism pulls in two directions: its commitment to freedom in the economic and social spheres leans in the direction of a minimalist role for governing institutions, while the democratic political culture required for basic freedoms to be safeguarded requires robust and interventionist institu- tions. This has variously been interpreted as a tension between different liberal goals, or more broadly as a sign of rival and incompatible conceptions of liberalism. Should a liberal polity—no matter what the size or scale—preserve the right of individuals to retain property and privilege, or should liberalism elevate equality over liberty so that resources are redistributed from the strong to the weak? When we are looking at politics on a global scale, it is clear that inequalities are far great- er while at the same time our institutional capacity to do something about them is that much less. As writers on globalization remind us, the intensification of global flows in trade, resources, and people has weakened the state’s capacity to govern. Closing this gap requires nothing short of a radical re- configuration of the relationship between territoriality and governance. Key Points • Liberalism is a theory of both government within states and good governance between states and peoples worldwide. Unlike realism, which regards the ‘international’ as an anarchic realm, liberalism seeks to project values of order, liberty, justice, and toleration into international relations. • The high-water mark of liberal thinking in international relations was reached in the inter-war period in the work of idealists, who believed that warfare was an unnecessary and outmoded way of settling disputes between states. • Domestic and international institutions are required to protect and nurture these values. • Liberals disagree on fundamental issues such as the causes of war and what kind of institutions are required to deliver liberal values in a decentralized, multicultural international system. • An important cleavage within liberalism, which has become more pronounced in our globalized world, is between those operating with a positive conception of liberalism, who advocates interventionist foreign policies and stronger international institutions, and those who incline towards a negative conception, which places a priority on toleration and non-intervention. Core ideas in liberal thinking on international relations: Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham were two of the leading liberals of the Enlightenment. Both were responding to the barbarity of international relations, or what Kant explicitly described as ‘the lawless state of barbarity ’, at a time when domestic politics was at the point of a new age of rights, citizenship, and constitutionalism. Their hatred of the lawless state of savagery led them individually to elaborate plans for ‘perpetual peace’. Although written over two centuries ago, these manifes- tos contain the seeds of core liberal ideas, in particular the belief that reason could deliver freedom and justice in international relations. For Kant the imperative to achieve perpetual peace required the transformation of individual awareness, republican constitutionalism, and a state contract be- tween states to abolish war (rather than to regulate it, as earlier international lawyers had argued). This federation can be associated to a permanent peace treaty, rather than a ‘superstate’ actor or world government. The three components of Kant’s hypothetical treaty for a permanent peace are outlined in Box 6.2. Kant’s claim that liberal states are peaceful in their international relations with other liberal states was renewed in the 1980s. In a much-cited article, Michael Doyle argued that liberal states have created a ‘separate peace’ (1986: 1151). According to Doyle, there are two elements to the Kantian legacy: limitation among liberal states and ‘international carelessness’ in relations with non-liberal states. Although the experiential evidence seems to support the democratic peace theory, it is im- portant to bear in mind the limitations of the argument. In the first example, for the theory to be convincing, believers in the theory need to provide an explanation as to why war has become un- thinkable between liberal states. Kant had argued that if the decision to use force were taken by the people, rather than by the prince, then the rate of conflicts would be extremely reduced. But logi- cally, this argument implies a lower frequency of conflicts between liberal and non-liberal states, and this has proven to be contrary to the historical evidence. An alternative explanation for the demo- cratic peace theory might be that liberal states tend to be wealthy, and therefore have less to gain (and more to lose) by engaging in conflicts than poorer authoritarian states. Perhaps the most con- vincing explanation of all is the simple fact that liberal states tend to be in relations of friendship with other liberal states. War between Canada and the USA is unthinkable, perhaps not because of their liberal democratic constitutions, but because they are friends (Wendt 1999: 298–9), with a high degree of union in economic and political matters. Indeed, war between states with contrasting po- litical and economic systems may also be unthinkable because they have a history of friendly rela- tions. An example here is Mexico and Cuba, which maintain close mutual relations despite their his- tory of opposing economic ideologies. Regardless of the scholarly search for an answer to the reasons why liberal democratic states are more peaceful, it is important to note the political consequences of this theory. In 1989 Francis Fukuyama wrote an article entitled ‘The End of History’ which celebrated the triumph of lib- eralism over all other ideologies, arguing that liberal states were more stable internally and more peaceful in their international relations (1989: 3–18). Other defenders of the democratic peace the- ory were more careful. As Doyle recognized, liberal democracies are as aggressive as any other type of state in their relations with dictatorial regimes and stateless peoples (1995b: 100). How, then, should states inside the liberal zone of peace conduct their relations with non-liberal regimes? How can the positive Kantian legacy of restraint triumph over the historical legacy of international im- prudence on the part of liberal states? These are attractive and timely questions that will be taken up in the final section of the chapter. Two centuries after Kant first called for a ‘pacific federation’, the strength of the idea that de- mocracies are more pacific continues to attract a great deal of scholarly interest. The claim has also found its way into the public discourse of Western states’ foreign policy, appearing in speeches made by US presidents as different as Ronald Reagan, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush. Less battling voices within the liberal tradition believe that a legal and institutional framework must be established that includes states with different cultures and traditions. Such a belief in the power of law to solve the problem of war was encouraged by Jeremy Bentham at the end of the eighteenth century: ‘Establish a common tribunal’ and ‘the necessity for war no longer follows from a difference of opinion’ (Luard 1992: 416). Like many liberal thinkers after him, Bentham showed that federal states such as the German Diet, the American Confederation, and the Swiss League were able to transform their identity from one based on conflicting interests to a more peaceful federa- tion. As Bentham famously argued, ‘between the interests of nations there is nowhere any real con- flict’. Cobden’s belief that free trade would create a more peaceful world order is a core idea of nine- teenth-century liberalism. Trade brings mutual gains to all the players, regardless of their size or the nature of their economies. It is perhaps not surprising that it was in Britain that this argument found its most vocal supporters. The supposed universal value of free trade brought unequal gains to the hegemonic power. There was never an admission that free trade among countries at different stages of development would lead to relations of dominance and subservience. The idea of a natural harmony of interests in international political and economic relations came under challenge in the early part of the twentieth century. The fact that Britain and Germany had highly mutually dependent economies before the Great War (1914–18) seemed to confirm the fatal mistake in the association of economic interdependence with peace. From the turn of the century, the illogicalities within European civilization, of progress and exemplarism on the one hand and the attaching of industrial power for military purposes on the other, could no longer be limited. Europe stumbled into a horrific war, killing 15 million people. The war not only brought an end to three em- pires but also was a causative factor to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The First World War shifted liberal thinking towards a recognition that peace is not a natural con- dition but is one that must be constructed. In a powerful critique of the idea that peace and prosper- ity were part of a hidden natural order, the publicist and author Leonard Woolf argued that peace and prosperity required ‘consciously planned machinery’ (Luard 1992: 465). But perhaps the most famous supporter of an international authority for the management of international relations was Woodrow Wilson. According to this US president, peace could only be secured with the creation of an international organization to regulate international anarchy. Security could not be left to secret mutual diplomatic deals and a blind faith in the balance of power. Just as peace had to be enforced in domestic society, the international area had to have a system of regulation for managing with disputes and an international force that could be mobilized if non-violent conflict resolution failed. In this sense, more than any other strand of liberalism, ­idealism rests on the domestic analogy (Suganami 1989: 94–113). In his famous ‘Fourteen Points’ speech, addressed to Congress in January 1918, Wilson argued that ‘a general association of nations must be formed’ to preserve the coming peace—the League of Nations was to be that general association. For the League to be effective, it had to have the military power to prevent aggression and, when necessary, to use a majority of power to enforce its will. This was the idea behind the collective security system that was central to the League of Nations. Collec- tive security refers to an arrangement where ‘each state in the system accepts that the security of one is the concern of all, and agrees to join in a collective response to aggression’ (Roberts and Kingsbury 1993: 30). It can be contrasted with an alliance system of security, where a number of states join together usually as a response to a specific external threat (sometimes known as collec- tive defence). In the case of the League of Nations, Article 16 of the League’s Charter noted the ob- ligation that, in the event of war, all member states must stop normal relations with the offending state, impose sanctions, and, if necessary, commit their armed forces to the disposal of the League Council should the use of force be required to restore the status quo. The League’s constitution also called for the self-determination of all nations, another founding characteristic of liberal idealist thinking on international relations. Going back to the mid-nineteenth century, self-determination movements in Greece, Hungary, and Italy received support among liber- al powers and public opinion. Yet the default support for self-determination masked a host of prac- tical and moral problems that were laid bare after Woodrow Wilson issued his proclamation. What would happen to newly created minorities who felt no allegiance to the self-determining state? Could a democratic process satisfactorily deal with questions of identity who was to decide what population was to participate in a survey? And what if a newly self-determined state rejected liberal democratic norms? The experience of the League of Nations was a disaster. While the moral rhetoric at the creation of the League was definitely idealist, in practice states remained imprisoned by self-interest. There is no better example of this than the USA’s decision not to join the institution it had created. With the Soviet Union outside the system for ideological reasons, the League of Nations quickly became a talking shop for the ‘satisfied’ powers. Hitler’s decision in March 1936 to reoccupy the Rhineland, a designated demilitarized zone according to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, effectively pulled the plug on the League’s life-support system (it had been put on the ‘critical’ list following the Man- churian crisis in 1931 and the Ethiopian crisis in 1935). According to the history of the discipline of International Relations, the collapse of the League of Nations dealt a fatal disappointment to idealism. There is no doubt that the language of liberalism after 1945 was more practical; how could anyone living in the shadow of the Holocaust be optimis- tic? Yet familiar core ideas of liberalism remained. Even in the early 1940s, there was recognition of the need to replace the League with another international institution with responsibility for interna- tional peace and security. Only this time, in the case of the United Nations there was an awareness among the ­framers of the Charter of the need for an agreement between the great powers in order for implementation action to be taken; hence the veto system (Article 27 of the UN Charter), which allowed any of the five permanent members of the Security Council the power of veto. This recon- sideration constituted an important change to the classical model of collective security (Roberts 1996: 315). With the ideological polarity of the cold war, the UN actions for collective security were ineffectual (as either of the superpowers and their allies would veto any action planned by the oth- er). It was not until the end of the cold war that a collective security system was put into operation, following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on 2 August 1990 (see Case Study). An important argument advanced by liberals in the early post-war period concerned the state’s inability to manage with modernization. David Mitrany (1943), a creator integration theorist, argued that multinational cooperation was required in order to resolve common problems. His core concept was ramification, meaning the probability that cooperation in one sector would lead governments to extend the range of collaboration across other sectors. As states become more rooted in a combina- tion process, the ‘cost’ of withdrawing from cooperative ventures increases. This argument about the positive benefits from transnational cooperation is one that informed a new generation of scholars (particularly in the USA) in the 1960s and 1970s. Their argument was not simply about the mutual gains from trade, but that other multinational actors were beginning to challenge the dominance of sovereign states. World politics, according to pluralists (as they are often referred to) was no longer an exclusive arena for states, as it had been for the first three hundred years of the Westphalian states-system. In one of the central texts of this genre, Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye (1972) argued that the centrality of other actors, such as interest groups, transnational corporations, and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), had to be taken into con- sideration. Here the principal image of international relations is one of a cobweb of various actors linked through multiple channels of interaction. Although the phenomenon of transnationalism was an important addition to the IR theorists’ vo- cabulary, it remained underdeveloped as a theoretical concept. Perhaps the most important role of pluralism was its elaboration of interdependence. Due to the expansion of capitalism and the emer- gence of a global culture, pluralists recognized a growing interconnectedness in which ‘changes in one part of the system have direct and indirect consequences for the rest of the system’ (Little 1996: 77). Absolute state autonomy, so intensely rooted in the minds of state leaders, was being limited by interdependence. Such a development brought with it enhanced potential for cooperation as well as increased levels of openness. In his 1979 work, Theory of International Politics, the neo-realist Kenneth Waltz attacked the plu- ralist argument about the decline of the state. He argued that the degree of interdependence inter- nationally was far lower than the principal parts in a national political system. Moreover, the level of economic interdependence—especially between great powers—was less than that which existed in the early part of the twentieth century. Waltz concludes: ‘if one is thinking of the international– political world, it is strange in the extreme that “interdependence” has become the word commonly used to describe it’ (1979: 144). In the course of their engagement with Waltz and other neo-realists, 4 early pluralists modified their position. Neo-liberals, as they came to be known, approved that the core assumptions of neo-realism were indeed correct: the anarchic international structure, the cen- trality of states, and a rationalist approach to social scientific enquiry. Where they differed was ap- parent mostly in the argument that anarchy does not mean that strong patterns of cooperation are impossible: the creation of international regimes matters here as they facilitate cooperation by sharing information, reinforcing mutuality, and making defection from norms easier to punish (see Ch. 17). Moreover, in what was to become the most important difference between neo-realists and neo-liberals (developed further in Ch. 7), the latter argued that actors would enter into cooperative agreements if the gains were equally shared. Neo-realists dispute this hypothesis: what matters is a question not so much of mutual gains as of relative gains: in other words, a neo-realist state has to be sure that it has more to gain than its rivals from a particular bargain or regime. There are two important arguments that set neo-liberalism apart from democratic peace liberalism and the liberal idealists of the inter-war period. First, academic enquiry should be guided by a commitment to a scientific approach to theory building. Whatever deeply held personal values scholars maintain, their task must be to observe regularities, formulate hypotheses as to why that relationship holds, and subject these to critical analysis. This separation of fact and value puts neo-liberals on the positivist side of the practical divide. Second, writers such as Keohane are critical of the inexperienced assumption of nineteenth-century liberals that trade breeds peace. A free-trade system, according to Keohane, provides motivations for cooperation but does not guar- antee it. Here he is making an important distinction between cooperation and harmony. ‘Co-operation is not automatic’, Keohane argues, ‘but requires planning and negotiation’ (1986b: 11). In the following section we see how contemporary liberal thinking maintains that the institu- tions of world politics after 1945 successfully implanted all states into a cooperative order. Key Points • Early liberal thought on international relations took the view that the natural order had been corrupted by undemocratic state leaders and outdated policies such as the balance of power. Enlightenment liberals believed that a latent multicultural morality could be achieved through the use of reason and through the creation of constitutional states. In addition, the unregulated movement of people and goods could further facilitate more peaceful international relations. • Although there are important continuities between Enlightenment liberal thought and twentieth-century ideas, such as the belief in the power of world public opinion to disciplined the interests of states, liberal idealism was more programmatic. For idealists, persuading was more important than abstract moral reasoning. • Liberal thought at the end of the twentieth century became grounded in social scientific theories of state behaviour. Cooperation among rational egoists was possible to achieve if properly coordinated by regimes and institutions. Liberalism and globalization When applying liberal ideas to international relations today, we find two bunches of responses to the problems and possibilities pretended by globalization. The firstalternativeisthatofthe liberalismof privilege(Richardson1997:18).Accordingto this perspective,theproblemsof globalizationneedto beaddressed by acombinationofstrong democratic statesinthecoreoftheinternationalsystem, robustregimes, andopenmarketsandinstitutions. Foran exampleoftheworkingoutofsuchastrategy in practice,we needto lookno furtherthanthesuccessof theliberal hegemony ofthepost-1945era.TheUSwriter,G. JohnIkenberry, isan fluentdefenderofthis liberalorder. IntheaftermathoftheSecondWorldWar, theUSAtooktheopportunity to ‘embed’cer- tainfundamentalliberalprinciplesinto theregulatory rulesandinstitutionsofinternationalsociety. Mostimportantly,andcontrary to realistthinking,theUSAchoseto leaveshort-run gains in returnfora strongsettlementthatbenefitedallstates. Accordingto Ikenberry,theUSAindicated thecooperative basisofits powerina numberofways.First,incommonwithliberal democraticprinciples,theUSAwas anexampletoothermembersofinternationalsocietyin so faras itspoliticalsystem isopenandallows differentvoicesto beheard.Foreign policy,like domestic policy,isclosely studied bythemedia,public opinion,andpoliticalcommitteesandopposition parties. Second,theUSAadvocateda global free-traderegimeconsistentwiththeideathatfreetrade bringsbenefitsto allparticipants(italso has theaddedadvantage,fromthehegemon’spointofview,of beingcheapto manage).Third,theUSA appearedto itsalliesatleast as an unwillinghegemonthatwouldnot seekto useits significant pow- er-politicaladvantage.Fourth, andmostimportantly,theUSAcreatedandparticipatedinarangeof importantinternationalinstitutionsthat controlled itsactions.TheBrettonWoodssystem ofeconomic and financialagreements and the NATOsecurity alliancearethe bestexamplesofthe highly institution- alizedcharacterofAmerican powerinthe post-1945 period. Advocatesofthisliberal hegemonicorder notewrylythatitwasso successfulthat alliesweremoreworriedabout leavingthan about domination. The post-1945 system of regulatory regimes and institutions has been successful in part due to the fact that they exist. In other words, once one set of institutional arrangements becomes em- bedded, it is very difficult for alternatives to make attacks. There are two implications that need to be teased out here. One is the narrow historical ‘window’ that exists for new institutional design; the other is the stability of existing institutions. ‘In terms of American hegemony, this means that, short of a major war or
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