Liberal Internationalism
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Liberal Internationalism

Liberal internationalism, also known as International Liberalism and Pan-Liberalism, is a foreign policy doctrine that argues two main points, first that international organization should achieve multilateral agreements between states that promote liberal democracy, and secondly that liberal states should intervene in other states in order to pursue liberal objectives. Such intervention can include both military invasion and humanitarian aid. This view is contrasted to isolationist, realist, or non-interventionist foreign policy doctrines; these critics characterize it as liberal interventionism.


Liberal internationalism emerged during the nineteenth century, notably under the auspices of British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Lord Palmerston
Liberal internationalism was developed in the second decade of the 20th century under U.S. President Woodrow Wilson

Liberal internationalism emerged during the nineteenth century, notably under the auspices of British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, and was developed in the second decade of the 20th century under U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. In this form it became known as Wilsonianism.[1] John Ikenberry and Daniel Deudney have also associated liberal internationalism with foreign policy ideas promoted by Franklin D. Roosevelt.[2][3]


The goal of liberal internationalism is to achieve global structures within the international system that are inclined towards promoting a liberal world order. It foresees a gradual transformation of world politics from anarchy to common institutions and the rule of law. To that extent, global free trade, liberal economics and liberal political systems are all encouraged. In addition, liberal internationalists are dedicated towards encouraging democracy to emerge globally. Once realized, it will result in a 'peace dividend', as liberal states have relations that are characterized by non-violence, and that relations between democracies are characterized by the democratic peace theory.

Liberal internationalism states that, through multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, it is possible to avoid the worst excesses of "power politics" in relations between nations. In addition, liberal internationalists believe that the best way to spread democracy is to treat all states equally and cooperatively, whether they are initially democratic or not.


Examples of liberal internationalists include former British Prime Minister Tony Blair,[4] U.S. President Barack Obama,[5] and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.[6] In the US, it is often associated with the American Democratic Party.[7] Some liberal-leaning neoconservatives shifted towards liberal internationalism in the 2010s.[6]

Commonly cited examples of liberal interventionism include NATO's intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia; British military intervention in the Sierra Leone Civil War; and the 2011 military intervention in Libya. According to historian Timothy Garton Ash, these are distinct because of liberal motivations and limited objectives, from other larger scale military interventions.[8]

Multilateral institutions, such as UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, and the UN General Assembly, have also been considered examples of liberal internationalism.[9]

See also


  1. ^ "Stanley Hoffmann, "The Crisis of Liberal Internationalism, Foreign Policy, No. 98 (Spring, 1995), pp. 159-177.
  2. ^ Ikenberry, Daniel Deudney, G. John. "The Intellectual Foundations of the Biden Revolution". Foreign Policy. Retrieved .
  3. ^ Drezner, Daniel (2021). "Perspective | Roosevelt redux?". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Timothy Garton Ash (2010-01-08). "Timothy Garton Ash: After 10 years Blair knows exactly what he stands for | Comment is free". The Guardian. London. Retrieved .
  5. ^ Suri, Jeremi (2018-12-31), Zelizer, Julian (ed.), "Liberal Internationalism, Law, and the First African American President", The Presidency of Barack Obama, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 195-211, doi:10.23943/9781400889556-015, ISBN 978-1-4008-8955-6, retrieved
  6. ^ a b "The Democratic foreign policy reckoning". The Week. Retrieved .
  7. ^ "Debating Liberal Internationalism". The American Prospect. Retrieved .
  8. ^ Ash, Timothy Garton (2011-03-03). "Libya's escalating drama reopens the case for liberal intervention". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2013.
  9. ^ Abrahamsen, Rita; Andersen, Louise Riis; Sending, Ole Jacob (2019). "Introduction: Making liberal internationalism great again?". International Journal: Canada's Journal of Global Policy Analysis. 74 (1): 5-14. doi:10.1177/0020702019827050. ISSN 0020-7020.

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