Liberal and Critical Approaches to IR

  • Liberal and critical approaches challenge the central claims of realism: anarchy, primacy of state actors, rationality, and the utility of military force.
  • Liberals dispute the realist notion that narrow self-interest is more rational than mutually beneficial cooperation.
  • Neoliberalism argues that even in an anarchic system of autonomous rational states, cooperation can emerge through the building of norms, regimes, and institutions.
  • Collective goods are benefits received by all members of a group regardless of their individual contribution. Shared norms and rules are important in getting members to pay for collective goods.
  • International regimes–convergent expectations of state leaders about the rules for issue areas in IR–help provide stability in the absence of a world government.
  • Hegemonic stability theory suggests that the holding of predominant power by one state lends stability to international relations and helps create regimes.
  • In a collective security arrangement, a group of states agrees to respond together to aggression by any participating state; the UN, NATO and other IGOs perform this function.
  • Peace Studies is interdisciplinary and seeks to broaden the study of international security to include social and economic factors ignored by realism.
  • Peace Studies acknowledges a normative bias–that peace is good and war is bad–and a willingness to put theory into practice by participating in politics.
  • Mediation and other forms of conflict resolution are alternative means of exerting leverage on participants in bargaining. Increasingly these means are succeeding in settling conflicts without (or with no further) use of violence.
  • For scholars in peace studies, militarism in many cultures contributes to states’ propensity to resort to force in international bargaining.
  • Positive Peace implies not just the absence of war but addressing conditions that scholars in peace studies connect with violence–especially injustice and poverty.
  • Peace movements try to influence state foreign policies regarding military force; such movements are of great interest in peace studies.
  • Nonviolence–the renunciation of force–can be an effective means of leverage, especially for poor or oppressed people with few other means available.
  • Feminist scholars of IR agree that gender is important in understanding IR but diverge into several strands regarding their conception of the role of gender.
  • Standpoint feminists* argue that real (not arbitrary) differences between men and women exist. Men think about social relations more often in terms of autonomy (as do realists), but women think in terms of connection.
  • Standpoint feminists argue that men are more warlike on average than women. Although individual women participants (such as state leaders) may not reflect this difference, the participation of large numbers of women would change the character of the international system, making it more peaceful.
  • Liberal feminists disagree that women have substantially different capabilities or tendencies as participants in IR. They argue that women are equivalent to men in virtually all IR roles. As evidence, liberal feminists point to historical and present-day women leaders and women soldiers.

*Standpoint feminism holds that social science should be practiced from the standpoint of women or particular groups of women, as some scholars say that women are better equipped to understand some aspects of the world.

Anarchy: absence of governmental authority/State: Organized political unit that has a geographic territory, stable population, and a government to which the population owes allegiance and that is legally recognized by other states/Rational actor: in realist thinking, a state or individual that uses logical reasoning to select a policy; that is, it has a defined goal to achieve, considers a full range of alternative strategies, and selects the policy that best achieves the goal.



Liberal Democrat President Barack Obama


Critical Perspective on Syrian Airstrikes

Former New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer sets out a very plausible reason why the US, UK and France keep intervening in Syria. It is not about children or chemical weapons. It is to prevent the Syrian government and Russia triumphing over the jihadists, as they have been close to doing for some time.

Realist Perspective on Syrian Airstrikes

So this weekend’s actions are not simply about chemical weapons violations. True enough, if such weapons are used in “Nowherestan,” the United States and its coalition allies are not likely to bomb, even if a good argument can be made for enforcing international law against such crimes. The United States is not the world’s police force. But if such crimes take place in a region whose destabilization can lead to global disorder, and if they take place with the cooperation of powers, like Russia, that mean us ill, then the United States can and should act.