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Liberal international relations theory


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Title: Liberal international relations theory

Liberal international relations theory
  • Paul Bacon
  • SILS, Waseda University

Liberalism 1
  • The liberal tradition in IR is closely connected
    with the emergence of the modern liberal state.
  • The liberal intellectual revolution placed great
    importance on human reason and rationality.
  • The process of modernization generated by the
    scientific revolution led to improved
    technologies, and more efficient ways to produce
    goods and master nature.

Liberalism 2
  • Liberals have a positive view of human nature.
  • Liberals believe in the power of human reason,
    and believe that rational principles can be
    applied to international relations.
  • Of course, people are self-interested and
    competitive up to a point. But they also share
    many interests in common, and cooperative social
    action is therefore possible.
  • This is true both domestically and
    internationally. Conflict and war are not
    inevitable human reason can triumph over human
    fear and the lust for power.

Liberalism 3
  • Modernization increases the need for cooperation.
  • In the long run, cooperation based on mutual
    interests will prevail.
  • Belief in progress is also a core value for
  • But how much progress? Robert Keohane is a
    cautious liberal optimist.
  • Fukuyama believes that we have reached the end
    of history, as we will see later in this course.
  • Progress means progress for individuals, or for
    groups of individuals.
  • According to John Locke, states exist to protect
    the rights of their citizens, and to allow them
    to live their lives and pursue happiness without
    interference by other people.

Liberalism 4
  • For realists, the state is a concentration of
  • For liberals the state is a constitutional
    organization, where power is separated.
  • The state establishes the rule of law and
    enforces it. It respects the rights of citizens
    to life, liberty and property.
  • Bentham believed that such constitutional liberal
    states would respect and tolerate each other.
    This is because it is in the rational interests
    of constitutional states to obey international
  • The German philosopher Immanuel Kant supported
    this view. He argued that constitutional states
    which respected and tolerated each other would
    eventually establish perpetual peace in their
    international relations.

Four strands of liberal thought
  • Jackson and Sorensen, and several other writers
    identify four different strands of liberal
    theory. These are
  • 1. Sociological liberalism
  • 2. Interdependence liberalism
  • 3. Institutional liberalism
  • 4. Republican liberalism

Sociological liberalism 1
  • Realism was the dominant theory of international
    relations for much of the twentieth century.
  • After WWII and during the Cold War, the military
    competition between the two superpowers was at
    the center of attention.
  • Realists, as we have seen, focus on the relations
    between sovereign states.
  • Sociological liberals believe that this approach
    is too narrow and one sided. They believe that
    international relations is not only about
    state-state relations.

Sociological liberalism 2
  • Sociological liberalism addresses an old idea in
    liberal thought.
  • This is the belief that people are usually more
    cooperative and peace-loving than governments,
    and that there should be more contact between
    peoples from different societies.
  • Transnational relations can often therefore be
    just as important as state-state relations.
  • Transnational relations involve relations between
    individuals, groups and organizations from
    different countries.
  • There are many different types of transnational
    actors and transnational relations.

Definitions of transnational relations
  • Rosenau defines transnationalism as
  • the processes whereby international relations
    conducted by governments have been supplemented
    by relations among private individuals, groups
    and societies that can and do have consequences
    for the course of events.
  • Relations across state boundaries that take
    place between two or more actors, at least one of
    which is not a government actor.

Security Community 1
  • Karl Deutsch was an influential sociological
    liberal during the 1950s.
  • He developed the idea of a security community.
  • He argued that in a security community, a group
    of people have become integrated, which means
    that a sense of community has developed.
  • In such communities, conflicts can be resolved
    without fear of violence.

Security Community 2
  • For Deutsch, extensive transnational ties, lead
    to peaceful relations, which create the
    conditions for a security community.
  • Deutsch argued that a security community had been
    created in the North Atlantic area by the western
  • It is because of Deutschs work that it became
    common to suggest that European countries would
    never fight each other again.
  • Discussion point do US/Japan relations count as
    a security community?

Security Community 3
  • Deutsch argued that security communities are
    established as the result of a number of
    different factors
  • 1. Increased social communication
  • 2. Greater mobility of people from countries
    within the security community
  • 3. Stronger economic ties
  • 4. Greater range of mutual human transactions
  • (A realist would also suggest that a shared
    common threat is important)

Cobwebs and billiard balls 1
  • The realist model argues that states are like
    billiard balls.
  • This means that they are independent,
    self-contained units.
  • This phrase was suggested by Arnold Wolfers, who
    was a prominent realist during the 1950s.
  • John Burton, however, argued that transnational
    relations between people from different countries
    create new forms of society.
  • These exist alongside or in competition with the
    system of states.
  • He claimed that all nation-states contain
    individuals and groups which share contacts and
    interests with external groups, such as religious
    groups, business groups, labor groups, etc.

Cobwebs and billiard balls 2
  • Burton argued that we should map actual patterns
    of communication and transaction between people,
    groups and organizations around the world.
  • This way, we would get a much more accurate
    account of what is happening in the world,
    because we would be mapping actual human
  • Burton famously argued that if we do this, then
    we would end up with a cobweb of dense
    transnational interactions.
  • We do not get the simple billiard ball model that
    realism wants us to see. (This can be seen in the
    diagram on page 110 of Jackson and Sorensen).

Identity and membership 1
  • Realism suggests that we always prioritize our
    national identity and our state membership.
  • But this is often not true.
  • Sometimes different aspects of our identities are
    more important than others.
  • For example, many of you in the room today have
    more in common with each other than you do with
    many people from your home countries.
  • Sociological liberals argue that people have many
    different identities and memberships.

Identity and membership 2
  • For example gender age nationality race
    education occupation hobbies political
    beliefs rural or urban identity and local,
    national or cosmopolitan identity.
  • Sociological liberals argue that patterns of
    human relations are driven more by mutually
    beneficial cooperation than by conflict.
  • Because individuals have interlocking memberships
    of many different groups, and share the same
    values, conflict will be reduced. (But note,
    Huntington and Walzer)

Interdependence liberalism
  • Transnational relations are increasing in
  • This means a higher level of interdependence, and
    therefore, to some extent, dependence.
  • Interdependence means mutual dependence in the
    sense that peoples and governments are
    increasingly affected by what happens in other
  • Examples include terrorism, AIDS, and
    environmental degradation.
  • An important idea here is interdependence

Is major war obsolete? 1
  • Since the 1950s, modernization has seen the
    emergence of several large industrialized
  • A number of authors, such as Mueller and
    Rosecrance, argue that states have changed their
    attitude to war in the past 50 years.
  • Historically, states have used military force to
    achieve territorial expansion.
  • In the past, wars have been winnable at
    comparatively low cost, and clear objectives have
    been met.
  • However, highly industrialized states can now
    achieve power and prosperity more cheaply and
    with less risk through other methods, such as
    economic development, and foreign trade.

Is major war obsolete? 2
  • The costs of using force have increased, and the
    benefits have declined.
  • Trade is increasingly beneficial for states.
  • This is because of the changing basis of modern
    economic production.
  • Before, territory and resources were the key.
  • Now, the most important things for success are a
    highly qualified labor force, access to
    information, and financial capital.

Interdependence reduces violence
  • In support of this claim, two of the most
    successful countries of the postwar period,
    Germany and Japan, have been trading states.
  • These countries have not prioritized high
    military expenditure and economic
    self-sufficiency in the way that
    realist/mercantilist theory suggests that they
    ought to.
  • Instead, they have intensified the international
    division of labor supporting their economic
    success, and increased their interdependence.
  • A strong division of labor in the international
    economy increases interdependence between states,
    and discourages and reduces violence between
  • Violence is likely to be costly in relation to
    the other options which are open to advanced

Complex interdependence 1
  • In Power and Interdependence (1977) Keohane and
    Nye suggest that the advanced economies are
    living in a state of complex interdependence
  • CI, they argue, is qualitatively different from
    earlier and simpler forms of interdependence.
  • In the past, international relations involved
    state leaders dealing with other state leaders.
  • The use of military force was always an option.
  • There was a distinction between the high
    politics of security and survival (realism) and
    the low politics of economic and social

Complex interdependence 2
  • Keohane and Nye argue that this is no longer the
    case. Under conditions of CI
  • 1. Transnational actors are increasingly
    important. States are often not coherent units
  • 2. Military force is less useful than in the
    past. Economic and institutional instruments are
    often more useful.
  • 3. Military security is less important, and
    welfare issues are seen as increasingly important.

Complex interdependence 3
  • Keohane and Nye argue that under conditions of
    complex interdependence, international relations
    will be much more friendly and cooperative than
    realists believe.
  • 1. Transnational actors such as non-governmental
    organizations and transnational corporations will
    pursue their own separate goals relatively free
    from state control.
  • 2. The importance of international organizations
    will increase. This is because they provide
    opportunities for weak states to act, and also
    allow for coalition formation and agenda-setting.

Complex interdependence - scope
  • Keohane and Nye argue that CI can be dated to
    the long-term development of the welfare state
    which began in the 1950s.
  • Conditions of CI apply to the relations within
    and between the countries of western Europe and
    north America, Japan, South Korea Australia and
    New Zealand.
  • The conditions of CI develop as modernization
  • Discussion point could relations of complex
    interdependence develop between Japan and China?

Complex interdependence - caveats
  • It should be noted that realism is not obsolete.
  • Realism is still useful for helping us to
    understand international relations between
    countries which are complexly interdependent, and
    countries which are not.
  • Liberalism supplements realism, rather than
    replacing it.
  • It is also possible, if highly unlikely, that
    force could be used to settle a dispute between
    complexly interdependent countries in the future,
    if the stakes were high enough.
  • Keohane and Nye are much less idealistic than
    other writers such as Deutsch.
  • Samuel Huntington argues that interdependence
    increases cultural friction.

Institutional Liberalism
  • Institutional liberals argue that international
    institutions make cooperation easier and far more
  • An international institution is an international
    organization such as NATO or the European Union.
  • It can also be a set of rules which govern state
    action in particular areas, such as aviation or
  • These sets of rules are often called regimes.
    Often the two go together the international
    trade regime is primarily shaped by the WTO.
  • However, sometimes, there are regimes without
    formal international organizations, such as the
    law of the sea.

Regime theory 1
  • A regime is defined by Krasner as
  • a set of explicit or implicit principles, norms,
    rules, and decision making procedures around
    which actors expectations convergence in a given
  • This definition is intentionally broad, and
    covers human interaction ranging from formal
    organizations (i.e. OPEC) to informal groups
    (i.e. major banks during the debt crisis).
  • Note that a regime need not be composed of states.

Regime theory 2
  • International institutions promote cooperation
    between states and help to reduce the lack of
    trust and fear
  • These are two of the biggest problems associated
    with anarchy.
  • Regime theory states that cooperation in anarchy
    is possible without a hegemon because there
    exists a convergence of expectations.
  • Regimes facilitate cooperation by establishing
    standards of behavior which signal to all other
    members that individual states are in fact
  • When all states expect the other participants to
    cooperate, the probability of sustaining
    cooperation increases dramatically.

Regime theory 3
  • Keohane argues that international regimes can
    therefore increase the probability of
  • 1. Regimes provide information about the behavior
    of others by monitoring the behavior of members
    and reporting on compliance.
  • 2. By institutionalizing cooperation, regimes can
    reduce the cost of future agreements. By reducing
    the cost of reaching an agreement, regimes
    increase the likelihood of future cooperation.
    (e.g. GATT)
  • 3. Regimes generate the expectation of
    cooperation among members. By creating the belief
    that interaction will continue for the
    foreseeable future, regimes increase the
    importance of reputation and allow for the
    employment of complex strategies.

Republican Liberalism
  • Liberals believe that there are basically only
    two different types of state in the international
  • These are democracies and non-democracies.
  • If this is true, it follows that three types of
    dyadic relationship are possible.
  • 1. Non-democracy non-democracy.
  • 2. Non-democracy democracy.
  • 3. Democracy democracy.
  • Can you give me examples of wars for each of
    these dyadic types of international relations?

Democratic peace 1
  • Republican liberalism is based on the claim that
    liberal democracies are more peaceful than other
    types of political system.
  • Republican liberals argue that democracies do not
    fight each other.
  • This is known as the democratic peace theory.
  • This argument was first made by the German
    philosopher Immanuel Kant. More recently, writers
    such as Dean Babst, Michael Doyle and Bruce
    Russett have updated the theory.
  • Because of democratic peace theory, liberals are
    optimistic about the long-term prospects for
    world peace.

Democratic peace 2
  • War is one of the most serious problems in the
    international system.
  • If democratic peace theory is true, then it
    provides us with a way to break the realist
  • This also suggests that domestic politics DO
    matter. The domestic politics of a state
    dictate the international relations which that
    state is capable of engaging in.
  • Moreover, the number of democracies in the world
    is increasing, and, if democratic peace theory is
    correct, this suggests that the number of
    conflicts will reduce.
  • Theoretically, if all of the countries in the
    world became democratic, then the threat of war
    would disappear.

Reasons for the democratic peace 1
  • According to Doyle, there are three reasons why
    democracies do not fight each other.
  • 1. Democracies have domestic political cultures
    based on the principle of peaceful conflict
  • Democratic governments are controlled by their
    citizens, who will not support the idea of war
    with another democratic country.
  • 2. Democracies hold common moral values which
    lead to the formation of a Pacific Union or a
    zone of peace.
  • This is based on the common moral foundations of
    all democracies.

Reasons for the democratic peace 2
  • 2. continued Peaceful conflict resolution at the
    domestic level is seen as morally superior, and
    this attitude is transferred to relations between
  • Freedom of expression and free communication
    promote mutual understanding across political
  • 3. Peace between democracies is strengthened by
    economic cooperation and interdependence.
  • The economies of countries in the zone of peace
    are complexly interdependent (Keohane and Nye).

Pauls 6 arguments about democracy
  • Democracies do not fight wars against each other.
  • Democracies do not experience famines.
  • Democracies do not commit democide. Democracies
    have better human rights records than
  • Democracies have higher living standards than
  • Democracies are more economically productive than

Prospects for the Zone of Peace
  • The end of the Cold War contributed to what
    Samuel Huntington has referred to as the third
    wave of democracy.
  • This led to initial post-Cold War optimism.
  • Most liberals argue that there is a democratic
    zone of peace among the consolidated liberal
    democracies of Western Europe, North America
    Japan, korea and Australasia.
  • However, the continued expansion and
    consolidation of this zone is far from assured.
  • Republican liberals are optimistic, but they do
    not share Fukuyamas excessive optimism that the
    Cold War marked the victory of liberalism and the
    end of history.

Prospects for the Zone of Peace
  • Pacific Unions do not emerge automatically. They
    must be built over time on all three of the
    foundations identified by Doyle.
  • As Jackson and Sorensen note, most of the new
    democracies fail to meet at least two of the
    three conditions of the democratic peace outlined
  • It is also possible that newly democratic
    countries will not consolidate their democratic
    opening, and could revert to autocracy.
  • Democracies are also often said to possess a
    number of other advantages.

Prospects for the Zone of Peace
  • Republican liberalism has a strong normative or
    moral element.
  • Republican liberals believe in progress towards
    peace and cooperation in international relations
    in the long run.
  • They see it as their responsibility to promote
  • There are many interesting debates about how best
    to promote democracy. (My later classes).