Tuesday, May 16, 2006
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What is liberal internationalism?
Blogging will be light tomorrow, as I'm attending a Princeton conference on The Future of Liberal Internationalism, which is a follow-up to this conference from last fall.
One question that came up at today's sessions was pretty basic but rather important: how, exactly, would one define liberal internationalism? It's one of those terms that foreign policy wonks like to throw around, but often means very different things to different people.
[So what's your definition, smart guy?--ed. A marriage between the pursuit of liberal purposes (security, free trade, human rights, rule of law, democracy promotion, etc.) and the use of institutionalist means to pursue them (multilateral institutions of various stripes -- not only the UN, but NATO or the G-7 as well).]
Why should foreign policy wonks be the only ones to debate this question? Readers, have at it.posted by Dan on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM
What of the Vatican? Or, the millions of people in the NGO's, which now far outnumber governments? Last time I looked, there were already more than two million people in just the human rights NGO's; non-state players are a growing influence upon 'international liberalism,' or 'liberal internationalism,' thanks to the Internet.
Frankly, the agility, flexibility and adaptability of the NGO's makes governments and policy wonks look hopelessly slow and behind the times.
'Be free.'posted by: a Duoist on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Why only foreign policy analysts? Umm..may be everyone is busy in their own world discussing much better things.
The problem with liberal internationalism is not the theory, it's the institutions. There is nothing inherently wrong with multi-lateral institutions, but most of them were set up in the aftermath of WWII to deal with a very different world. Because of entrenched interests, organizations such as the UN, the WB and IMF have proven very reform resistant. NATO is still set up to fight an enemy that has not existed for almost two decades. Even the EU has lost its mojo.
Many of the organizations can be salvaged, but doing so will require visionary leadership and a great deal of patience. Unfortunately, as I look around the world I see little of the latter and none of the former.posted by: SteveinVT on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
UN...black helicopters...world government...sign of "end times"....dont like it at all!posted by: Ralph Reed on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
A marriage between the pursuit of liberal purposes (security, free trade, human rights, rule of law, democracy promotion, etc.) and the use of institutionalist means to pursue them (multilateral institutions of various stripes -- not only the UN, but NATO or the G-7 as well).
Perfect.posted by: anonymous on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Dr Dan about nails it. However, there's also a very important qualitative distinction that if I recall correctly Peter Beinart makes well. Liberal internationalism (at least in the post-WWII, post-Hiroshima Reinhold Niebuhr variant) is restrained, by a basic and pervasive humility regarding America's motives and fundamental character. The need for multinational institutions springs in this view from the recognition that we cannot and must not engage in some sort of mission civilisatrice or conservative crusade against evil, not least because the US itself is a flawed nation that must extend and improve freedom and security for its own weaker citizens at home as it pursues those goals internationally.posted by: thibaud on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
I'm probably mangling Niebuhr's thesis, and I've yet to read Beinart's book, but it seems to me the key distinction that needs to be made is against Wilsonian liberal internationalism, which is unrealistic, sweeping, naive and missionary in its zeal. That way neo-con schizophrenia lies.posted by: thiabud on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
The tone of our rhetoric matters, hugely. A bit more humility from our leaders would do a world of good, so to speak, in mollifying the world's (natural, understandable) fear and loathing of the hyperpower.posted by: thibaud on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Why is security a liberal pursuit?posted by: Z on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Why is security a liberal pursuit?
Because national security enables and extends individuals' security at home. Remember FDR's Four Freedoms? The fight against fascism abroad was part and parcel of the fight against "want" and "fear" at home.
Glad you raised this, Z. This is the Democrats' challenge, in a nutshell: the need to link a tough line on national security with a liberal commitment to greater justice and increased economic security for the vulnerable at home.posted by: thibaud on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
To me liberal internationalism means
1) internationalism, i.e. opposition to naive nativism and xenophobia regarding globalization and immigration
2) solidarity with fellow secular liberals worldwide. This means strong, non-tolken opposition to dictators like Saddam Hussein.
"Humility" is often used as an excuse for nonaction. Today's New York Times editorial on Libya made me want to puke.posted by: Peter K. on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
I thought Beinart made a good point about how acting abroad is harder to sell when the economy isn't fair or just.posted by: Peter K. on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
... My main concern with Dan's definition is that he reduces the role of institutions to a "means" of spreading liberalism; certainly many liberal internationalists would view international institutions as an ends as well: liberalism's writ spreads governance and law at the expense of international anarchy ...posted by: Dan Nexon on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Peter K., to my mind the foreign-policy views of Gail Collins at the NYT have more in common with those of Pat Buchanan or Father Coughlin than with any truly liberal internationalist. Here's a specific example of the humility I have in mind: rather than blow off the Iranian letter, respond subtly and intelligently ie with every rhetorical and diplomatic/PR arrow in our quiver to the Iranian letter. This would be shrewd diplomacy and would turn the tables on the Iranians by eliminating any arab/muslim perception of US intransigence or warmongering-- all without restricting our options, including military ones, in the slightest.posted by: thibaud on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
2 million in Human rights NGOs? That has to be wrong. That is like 10x the Walmart workforce. That cannot be accurate.posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Liberal internationalism strictly speaking is a contradiction in terms. You cannot have a liberal society and its associated rights and obligations without a constitutional state to enforce them, and such societies are only fully possible at the national level right now.
This is not to say that liberal internationalists shouldn't continually press for changes in the world that advance the principles or outcomes of a liberal society. One does not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. But perhaps a question gatherings of this kind could address is whether the pragmatics and maybe the deeper ideas of liberal internationalism are going to be as useful in this century as in the latter half of the last. Three questions in particular come to mind:
1. The obvious one is whether the functioning of the world order requires a benevolent hegemon as the next best thing to a world state, and if so, how multilateralism can be sustained in a world of greater multipolarity.
Will the world of the mid-twenty first century be delineated vertically, by competition among great powers for control of outer space, natural resources on earth, and dominance in various regions? Or will it be delineated horizontally, by a growing ability of small states and private groups to destroy or destabilize modern life in ways that drive all of the great powers closer together?
2. Is a new era of competition on the horizon involving science and engineering to which intense moral objections are likely to be raised in some societies more than in others?
If it becomes possible for parents to enhance the genetic endowment of their children, or for nations to enhance their populations, will those societies that give themselves the freedom to do these things be more competitive? Can those individuals and nations whose advantages would be preserved by the status quo defend it against those who seek access to genetic technology to level the playing field?
3. Given the unexpected tenacity of intrinsic values, are these a permanent problem for a liberal order, given that utilitarian ethics exclude them a priori? Can societies sustain a pragmatic compromise between the two kinds of value, or is a confrontation of principle eventually inevitable?
posted by: David Billington on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Could Dan's definition not mean just about anything except for turning away from foreign relations altogether and seeking world domination through American power alone?
Zathras: If I'm reading the literature correctly (the good Dr. Drezner would correct me if I'm wrong, I hope), the tendency towards accepting power and institutions as means to the pursuit of various national interests is something that has divided the "mainstream" liberal theory. Dr. Nexon @ Ducks moves in the direction of pointing out that there are "liberal internationalists" that would see institutions as ends themselves rather than means implied by the basic definition that Dr. Drezner uses. One of the assumptions of Dr. Drezner's definition comes from a liberal internationalism that relies on some basic concepts of realism (power, interests, etc.). I think that may be what you're detecting, and what was somewhat obliquely mentioned by Dr. Nexon. From a theoretical perspective, I think the definition that Dr. Nexon cites is too restrictive to include all liberal internationalists and certainly excludes my personal favorites lately, the constructivists. However, the definition isn't so bad, from a foreign policy perspective.
Ostensibly, the focus of policy is on outcomes towards the furtherance of a presumably deliberated national interest. The exclusion of process I believe to be alluded to by Dr. Nexon @ Ducks in this particular policy perspective is also changing with views that look to process and outcome as being more ambiguous.
These are some quickly formed observations. I hope the professors will jump in.posted by: Dan Zaccariello on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Liberal internationalism? Liberal biases plus socialism-like burocratic prejudices, at best. To which you have to add low-level moralism
The result: corruption, instability, etc.
In other words, it is to reject it completely.
aaposted by: aa on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Liberal internationalism is that foreign policy approach that seeks to use power to establish an international order based on rules and predictable outcomes.posted by: michael on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Why are we using a term that we can't define?
Why are we using a term that people understand differently? This makes communication more difficult, which is the opposite of what language is supposed to do.
Why are we using a term that combines various things (liberalism, multilateralism, etc.) if these things sometimes go together and sometimes do not?
Let's use each concept by itself and then ask how and when they go together instead of assuming that they do go together by using a silly term like liberal internationalism.
Who isn't a liberal internationlist under Dan's definition? I like all of those things, and believe in cooperating (until cooperation becomes an excuse for inaction in the face of an imminent threat to one of those ends). I guess I'm a liberal internationalist then, but if that's the case its only because the definition seems, shall we say, extraordinarily inclusive...posted by: adr on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
It appears you are mostly concerned with the means to accomplish this difficult-to-define objective. That is, it appears that the ONLY moral way to achieve the difficult-to-define objective is through transnational institutions.
So, while we can't really define internationalism as a "good" that all agree should be promoted, we agree that transnational institutions should be given the power and authority to accomplish the difficult-to-define objective.
Sounds to me like you all want to build the institutions first.
But, of course, those pesky Americans are too nationalistic to trust transnational institutions. With some reason, it looks to me like all those institutions are explicitly anti-American. So there is a zero-sum game that requires Americans to give up freedom to others for this to work your way.
It seems to me that "security, free trade, human rights, rule of law, democracy promotion" are fine and it doesn't matter how they are achieved.posted by: Jack M on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
As I recall, Martin Griffith's book Fifth Key Thinkers in International Relations says that liberal internationalists think that world peace is attainable and hold three sorts of developments are needed for it: democracy, free markets, and global institutions, with different liberal internationalists differing in where they put the emphasis.
From what I understand the best known liberal internationalist is Noman Angellposted by: Les Brunswick on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Oops, that should be Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relationsposted by: Les Brunswick on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Smilus - actually, Wal-Mart employs more than one million people, not just 200,000.
The explosive growth in the numbers of people in human rights NGO's around the world is exponential; the growth curve is so steep that the Internet groups which used to track the groups and their numbers finally gave up. Punch in 'human rights' into your search, and stand back!
A scholarly human rights group (human freedom as a philosophy) is at: www.philohr.org
'Be free'posted by: a Duoist on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
Liberal internationalism advocates for the use of international organizations and treaties in order to ensure peace throughout the international community. Liberal internationalists feel the protection of the rights of humans throughout the world as one of their primary concerns. They know that war is inevitable, but would prefer multi-lateral action to a unilateral response. Liberal internationalists promote the idea of collective security, which means an attack on one state belonging to an international alliance or organization is an attack on all others. Liberal internationalists refute the realist idea that the only interactions between states is that of political-military, but that states economic and cultural interactions play an important part in states' relations. Liberal internationalists consider non-state actors such as NGO's and mass media as important functioning elements in the international arena. They believe that man is not inherently evil and has the capacity to learn, which will eventually lead to the development of international peace and stability.posted by: Aaron on 05.16.06 at 11:35 PM [permalink]
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