Chapter Summary with Learning Objectives

Chapter 6

Looking at today’s world, the liberal perspective focuses on the integrating forces of international institutions and economic interdependence; the expansion of international law and the global trading system; the use of negotiations, bargaining, and compromise; the spread of non-governmental organizations; and better leadership, as well as institutional and economic transformation, at the domestic level. Liberal perspectives argue that ethnic, nationalist, and terrorist conflicts are largely results of failed diplomacy and development, focusing some of the blame on American foreign policy and domestic politics.

The Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991 was a textbook case of collective security. In its aftermath, the United Nations called for peace-enforcement activities in addition to the peacekeeping activities they had carried out during the Cold War. However, the flawed intervention in Somalia and the lack of intervention in Rwanda showed the limits of collective security. The 2011 intervention in Libya is the latest attempt at collective security.

International negotiations have been used to pursue peaceful conflict resolution by offering bargains that are less costly than war. Negotiation is a form of bargaining, but bargaining can fail if costly signals don’t communicate a credible commitment, or if there are information deficiencies. The Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization are an example of negotiations that were successful, at least temporarily. But when negotiations fail to resolve conflict, the necessity and legitimacy of war is hotly debated; recent military actions like the NATO interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo and the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have alienated key states, bypassed the United Nations, and possibly violated international law.

Strengthening international institutions and regimes is the preferred way of dealing with interstate conflict. The key international institution has been the United Nations, which engaged in peacekeeping in the post-Cold War world. International institutions seek to broker peace in ethnic conflicts, which are driven by elite manipulation, and to engage in post-conflict reconstruction. They also seek to establish guidelines for intervening against terrorist strongholds and in cases of humanitarian disasters; they have promoted the doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” allowing them to intervene when a state is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens. International institutions are also active in promoting the non-proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction, as well as other types of weapons.

International institutions also play other roles in mediating conflict and promoting peace. Non-governmental organizations work to promote various causes at both the national and transnational level. International law – working through a system of international courts like the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court – seeks to adjudicate international disputes. Among the types of cases heard by these courts are cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. Institutions like the UN Economic and Social Council and the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization) also promote economic and social development and manage international economic activity. Finally, a series of regional institutions – like the European Union – seek to promote regional cooperation and integration.

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter students should be able to understand:

  • What means of mediating conflict and promoting cooperation are favored by the liberal perspective.
  • What specific example of each of those means are.
  • What the flaws of each of those means are, and what criticisms are leveled at those means by the realist and identity perspectives.