Is Liberalism the Force for Peace in World Politics?
Liberalism refers to a belief in the importance of sociopolitical change as a means to achieve development. It is a political philosophy, which is grounded in the belief in progress, development of the entire humanity and safeguarding of the political and civic liberties. This philosophy considers the government to be an important tool for the eradication of injustices in society. However, liberal doctrines emphasize on the need to cut the powers of the government while at the same time call for the rights and freedoms of the citizens. Liberalism originated from the 16th century religious wars in Europe as individuals came up with defense mechanisms for countering the oppressive governments of the day.
This paper answers the question How plausible is the claim that liberalism is a force for peace in world politics? The claim will be argued answering the question by taking the realistic point of view.
According to liberals, globalization has had a significant influence on world politics. He further suggests that the nature of countries being entwined in both local and international societies helps in shaping the socioeconomic and cultural interactions among nations. Immanuel Kant, one of the proponents of liberalism argued that liberalism leads to peace among nations. However, he further argued that these liberal nations are also always aggressive and hence can easily go to war. The former U.S President, Arnold Reagan also believed that promoting freedom often led to peace. He thus stood for a campaign for freedom and a crusade for democratic development.
According to liberal propagandists, any nation that is founded on the basis of democratic elections, individual freedom of rights, respect for private property, free market systems, etc. is likely to be more peaceful than the conservative one. On the contrary, I am of the opinion that liberal countries are not anti-war or rather peaceful as purported by these old-school scholars. Liberal states are satisfied. As such, these nations are not willing to go into war for the sake of spreading the religion, expanding their territories, glorification or for wealth.
Since individual and national basic needs are met, there is a sense of satisfaction that promotes the existence of peace. The liberalists’ debate that democratic peace theory is ideal is thus misguided. The theory fails to explain how this peace is attained. First, the liberal peace is externalized rather than being internalized. For instance, democracy is a concept meant for the representation of citizens of a nation in a just way. The citizens participate in the formation of their government through an electoral process. Thus, it is clear that if the citizens fail to participate in the elections, there will be a lack of democracy. This lack of democracy due to the failure to participate in elections, however, may not lead to an outbreak of war in the country.
The concept of liberalism has been developed for the purpose of self-gratification. The proponents of constitutional liberalism, for example, have used the concept as a means to legitimize the rule of the elite class. Therefore, those that they elect into office safeguard liberal democracy that is centered on people’s rights. These elite classes, the leaders, are thereafter the directors of policy in the nation. On most occasions, the leaders take action without the approval of the electorate. Therefore, it is evident that liberal thought of ‘democracy’ is misguided.
The other indicator of the failure of liberalism is the relations of nations in post-World War era. In the pre-World War era, nations were seeking to expand their territories and stabilize their economies; thus, in the period after the wars, the nations had come up with articulate ways for discussing issues related to the territories, resource use and international trade. According to Doyle, there is no any indicator pointing to lack of freedom of rights, lack of democratic elections, or respect for individual properties as a cause of conflict leading to the two World Wars.
The relationships of the industrialized nations after the World Wars and the Cold War have changed remarkably, a scenario that cannot be explained by liberal school of thought. This is because the same nations that went to war continue to have immense power and control over the smaller economies that did not fight. The US, the European and Asian countries have a remarkable unity and stable relations despite the anarchy, hegemony, and mistrust that existed before. Despite all these, modern scholars attribute this to the co-binding security organs such as the NATO and America’s supremacy in world issues. In contrast to the liberal arguments, there are powerful semi-sovereign nations that have not fully embraced the concept of free market economy and democracy. A case in point is China, where there are no democratically elected presidents, yet the country has enjoyed tremendous peace.
Proponents of liberalism fail to take individual leaders to task in matters of international relationships. As pointed out earlier, the citizens of a democratic nation do not necessarily have the final say when it comes to national decisions. Consequently, a fully democratic leader may have his/her own justification for leading the country into war. There is a failure of the liberal theorists to take into account the inclinations of individual leaders such as Hitler, their political organization’s or party’s stand on certain matters. Liberals instead concentrate on conflicting national ideologies proposed by hostile propagandists.
John Rawls built a model with three societies. He talks of the liberal society as that which gives top priority to liberal rights and freedom to their citizens. On the other hand, a decent society may not be democratic per se with leadership reserved for followers of the dominant religion. The international community respects these decent people since they give freedom of rights to everyone and ensure that the interests of the minority are catered for in their leadership. On this note, it is evident that both liberal and decent societies are good societies. An outlaw society, on the other hand, is aggressive towards other nations, or civic rights are greatly violated, or both. Thus, based on the Rawls’ model, it is evident that a nation may be internally liberal and externally violent and vice-versa. Therefore, the liberal theory does not substantiate the peaceful relations in the case of a decent society, an internally illiberal state.
Moreover, Rawls continues to argue that a liberal society may not always be anti-war. He, for example, says that a liberal society will fight in self-defense or may intervene in other countries to stop very serious cases of human rights violations. Hence, a liberalized country may not always possess the key for peaceful relations amongst nations. What prompts them to stay calm is the fact they have internal satisfaction, a condition Rawls terms as lack of war, rather than peace. They are satisfied with their current position.
The other issue of the liberal theory and the Democratic Peace thesis is the failure to account for the different political contexts. Kant’s solutions to war were entirely meant for ending wars between absolute states and were fighting for entirely different conditions and reasons from the warfare between the contemporary nations today. Unlike the older wars fought at a time when colonialism was prevalent, warfare today is characterized by a need for counterterrorism, border disputes and protection of the rights of their people. It is thus clear that presently, a nation can still go to war while trying to defend the rights of its citizens, a scenario that is not captured by the liberalism theory.
The prioritization of the interests of the US and other powerful nations is not ‘democracy’ in practice. In the wider context, Kant and his peers argued of the interests of individuals while shying away from the interests of nations. The smaller nations have continued to whine (i.e. they are at war with the powerful nations) about the veto power which seems a violation of ‘individual rights of freedom’ of these smaller nations. The international trade agreements mainly favor the economic powers contrary to the free market economy proposed by liberalists.
Catling asserts that liberal democracy has been used as a source of coercive power among nations throughout its years of existence rather than as a source of international peace. During the colonial era, the colonial masters used it to sustain their rule while the US employed it during the Cold War to gain allies in order to fight off the Soviet Union in the battle for world supremacy. Based on such facts, it becomes clear that the ideologies projected by the liberalists failed in their effort to propagate international peace.
The Democratic Peace theory, which is conceptualized from the liberalism ideologies, has flaws in the sense that it defines war as an inter-nation action that leads to the deaths of 1000 military officers. Thus, peace is the absence of inter-nation war that causes 1000 military deaths rather the freedom of citizens from disturbance and threat. The Global Peace Index (GPI) gives a rank of world nations in terms of peacefulness using indicators like percentage of the jailed population and political stability. For instance, the US was positioned 85th in 2010 despite its ‘democratic ideals’. On the contrary, the liberal Freedom in the World survey in the same year ranked the US as the freest nation in the world. The GPI has enabled us to believe that there cannot exist freedom of rights when most of the citizens of a nation are in jail. This scenario is a typical example of a nation always at war with its citizens.
The US foreign policy, using a Democratic Peace theory approach, over the years had negative effects rather being beneficial. This foreign policy has seen the destabilization of the US and its Western allies through numerous acts of terrorism. This has been prompted by the propaganda that the kind of leadership in the West is the most ideal, which, according to terror groups, is a way of promoting Western influence and interests across the globe. Thereby, the liberalistic ideas have not managed to stop or prevent international war but have just fueled it.
To conclude the argument, it would be worthy to point out that most of the scholars of international peace relations over the years derived their theories from historical writings, which in most cases have been politicized. The leaders of the nations perceived this to be democratic evidenced, trying to democratize illiberal nations, even against the will of the citizens of such nations. This tactic was greatly used by the US in promoting capitalism in some states of the former USSR, which triggered wars and split of a once powerful nation. Thus, the liberal idea of peace was not attained in that case. Further, it has been noted that any war in favor of the US always goes on even at the expense of disapproval by the UN Security Council as evidenced in the Iraq war. It is clear for all realists that before the World Wars there were very few stable democracies. Consequently, it is spiteful for us to accept the liberal school of thought fully in matters of global peace.
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