Liberal internationalism

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Liberal internationalism is a political philosophy, which involves proactive international action, but to perfect a world community rather than to increase the power of a specific nation. Francis Fukuyama, in his book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy [1] described it as one of the four basic styles of American foreign policy. It is not, however, an exclusively American viewpoint, and arguably has been a motivator for many international organizations such as the League of Nations and United Nations, as well as less ambitious international democracy promotion, peace operations and poverty elimination. Woodrow Wilson arguably is one of its best-known advocates.

In a 2004 essay, Suzanne Nossel wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, addressing the reclaiming of liberal internationalism by American progressives, especially to counter neoconservatism.

To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war. Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership -- diplomatic, economic, and not least, military -- to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Unlike conservatives, who rely on military power as the main tool of statecraft, liberal internationalists see trade, diplomacy, foreign aid, and the spread of American values as equally important. [2]

Particularly to those who believe the international system is stable only when based on national sovereignty, this philosophy is anathema. Threats to sovereignty feature, with strong emotional connotations, in culture wars in the U.S. and elsewhere. A less emotional argument comes from Samuel Huntington, who presented, in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, a model that the international structure is on cultural (i.e., not necessarily national) lines and is not remotely ready for a universal view. '[3]

Variations on this theme, which is often presented as idealism, are present in works such as The Pentagon's New Map by Thomas P.M. Bartlett. Bartlett's hypothesis is that developed nations exist in a "connected core", and instability is most likely in those countries that are disconnected from it. Both economic development and free information flow, therefore, are contributors to international stability.[4]


  1. Francis Fukuyama (2006), America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300113994,p. xiii
  2. Suzanne Nossel (March/April 2004), "Smart Power", Foreign Affairs (magazine)
  3. Huntington, Samuel P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster. 
  4. Barnett, Thomas P.M. (2005). The Pentagon's New Map: The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century. Berkley Trade.