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.

Realism Theory in IR

  • Realism explains international relations in terms of power.
  • The most important single indicator of a state’s power is its GDP.
  • Realists consider military force the most important power capability.
  • Rational-actor approaches treat states as though they were individuals acting to maximize their own interests.
  • International anarchy–the absence of world government–means that each state is a sovereign and autonomous actor pursuing its own national interests.
  • The international system traditionally places great emphasis on the sovereignty of states, their right to control affairs in their own territory, and their responsibility to respect internationally recognized borders.
  • Seven great powers* account for over half of the world’s GDP as well as the great majority of military forces and other power capabilities.
  • Realists believe that a hegemon–the predominance of one state in the international system–can help provide stability and peace in international relations.
  • The economic variant of realism, mercantilism, shares many of realism’s central assumptions (in particular about primacy of states, power and anarchy) and applies them to economic issues.
  • Mercantilists tend to suggest policies of economic nationalism.

Source: International Relations by Joshua S. Goldstein and Sandra Whitworth

The Japan Times G7 Issue .jpg

The Group of Seven or G7 is an informal bloc of industrialized democracies consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The European Union has participated fully in the G7 since 1981 as a “nonenumerated” (separate) member. These countries represent the 7 largest advanced economies in the world.

Angela Merkel at Ise Jingu

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Ise Jingu during G7 Ise-Shima Summit


Obama and Abe at Ise Jingu

President Obama and Prime Minister Abe at Ise Jingu


Air New Zealand and Nation Branding

National airlines are major contributors (and detractors) from a nation’s brand image. Consider the 4-star Air New Zealand. Its award-winning airsafety videos are cheeky, humorous, and drenched in unconventional celebritydom. Let’s take a look:

Filmed at Warner Bros. Studio in Los Angeles.

As the official airline of Middle-earth, Air New Zealand has gone all out to celebrate the third and final film in The Hobbit Trilogy – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

The All Blacks’ video was created in association with Sony Pictures.

Betty White — Safety Old School Style

Golden Girl Betty White proves age is just a number as she gives us the old school version of Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety.

Let Richard Simmons get you fit to fly. Lose the baggage, fasten your safety belt, take a breather and let’s GO!

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

Sinek says that the limbic brain corresponds to leadership in the following way:

The neocortex is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought and language. The middle two sections make up our limbic brains, and our limbic brains are responsible for all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. It’s also responsible for all human behavior, all decision-making, and it has no capacity for language.

Why it’s important to know why you do what you do:

But if you don’t know why you do what you do, and people respond to why you do what you do, then how will you ever get people to vote for you, or buy something from you, or, more importantly, be loyal and want to be a part of what it is that you do. The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have; the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe.

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.

Trump & Obama: A Tale of Two Speeches



Trump’s Statesmanlike Speech in Riyadh

Elliott Abrams, National Review, May 21, 2017

 … any balanced strategy will require continued close partnerships with our regional allies to expand and improve the effectiveness of counter messaging programs, especially online. The inclusion of the Saudi Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology on the president’s itinerary was a good sign, but since September 11, 2001 we have seen far too many such initiatives fall short…. Although counter-messaging and counter-radicalization programs are not a cure all, they are a vital part of any strategy especially as America invests in its more military-focused initiatives.

Trump Changed His Tone on Islam—Will He Change Strategy?

Michael Leiter, The Atlantic, May 22, 2017

But the President’s address reflected a more substantive break. By focusing on Muslim governments rather than people, and by focusing on terrorism rather than the broader conditions of the Middle East that catalyze volatility and violence, he broke with his two immediate predecessors’ strategies for engaging the Muslim world.

Trump’s Speech in Riyadh Puts Ball Squarely in Court of Muslim-Led Governments to Fight Terrorism

Eric Trager, The Washington Institute for Near East Studies, May 21, 2017

Most important was Trump’s willingness to point to the ideology of Islamism as the enemy. This matters exceedingly for, just as a physician must first identify a medical problem before treating it, so a strategist must identify the enemy before defeating it. To talk about “evildoers,” “terrorists,” and “violent extremists” is to miss the enemy’s Islamic core.

‘This Wasn’t a Speech About Islam’

Mustafa Akyol and Wajahat Ali, The New York Times, May 21, 2017

I’m not a naïve, wide-eyed idealist and I didn’t drink the Halal Kool aid. I knew the bar was exceedingly low, so all Trump would have to do is stay on script, not say anything egregiously offensive and it would be considered an “improvement.” Which it was.  Mustafa Akyol: … I agree that it definitely did not come out as advertised…. This was a more modest, narrow and pragmatic speech, mostly appealing to Muslim leaders — in fact, only Sunni ones — for more cooperation against terrorism. But given Mr. Trump’s earlier views on Islam, it could have been worse!


Is America on track to be the Great Satan again?

Is America on track to be the Great Satan again?


This week I published an essay in The Japan Times about the perception some have of America as a Great Satan. This piece explores the nomination of Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the world. Is this a sign of a Trump administration embrace of corporatization of foreign policy? I’ve always been troubled by too much top-down, for-profit focus in American foreign policy. This was the subject of my first book, Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World.