Canada and Liberal Internationalism

Liberal internationalism is not the same as neoliberalism or market fundamentalism. The goal of liberal internationalism is to build an open world economy without negatively affecting social welfare and employment stability. Liberal internationalism, by definition, combines two somewhat different strands: liberalism and internationalism. Internationalism focuses more on ideas of world government and solidarity between nations, while liberalism pursues the realization of political freedom. One direction does not necessarily imply the other. For example, liberals favor limited government, while internationalists favor more government in the international sphere. Canada has in the past been an outspoken supporter of liberal internationalism, but in recent years the Canadian government has moved away from the above-mentioned ideas in some areas towards conservatism. It is necessary to analyze whether Canada needs to continue with this perspective or whether it should reconsider its worldview in the internationalist direction.

It is important to begin with, an analysis of what characterizes the school of liberal internationalism. It is essentially the antithesis of political realism, not only in explaining the world order but also in what it should be. The attainment of the greatest possible human freedom is the main goal of liberal internationalism, but this can only be achieved in the absence of war and the preconditions for war (McPherdan, 2016). And since conflict and war are inherent in the present system, in which sovereign states seek to maximize their power, the necessary preconditions for the realization of human freedom can only be achieved by governing or transcending the principle of politics from a position of force (McPherdan, 2016). This argument is supported by four main points:

  1. Rational politics is a prerequisite for the effective management of international relations (Paris, 2014);
  2. International cooperation, both rationally and ethically, is preferable to a state of conflict: the growing material interdependence of states creates the need for international regulation;
  3. Peace and stability are spread through international organizations, whose main instruments are international norms and mechanisms for regulating conflicts and whose work is to appease powerful states (Paris, 2014);
  4. In world politics, progress is possible only when the principle of power politics is not seen as a prerequisite for the maintenance of interstate order: this principle can be greatly reduced or completely overcome as international relations are gradually reformed or domesticated (McQuillan, 2015).

Hence the conclusion: In order to help prevent wars, policies must first reorganize the states themselves, not the international community of states as a whole.

Nevertheless, the debate over how liberal internationalism saw global governance continued. In the period between the world wars, there was a reconsideration of invasion in the internal affairs of states as a permissible measure of influence. Following the success of international organizations established in the nineteenth century, liberalists argued for the creation of some form of international governance with appropriate powers to impose peace. The task of arranging global governance is inherently unfeasible for Canada because of the obvious contradictions that exist among the states (McQuillan, 2015). In current realities, it is practically impossible to achieve such results as, for example, the unification of the world community into a single structure with decentralized governance.

Nevertheless, Canada supports the idea of worldwide democratic world order. Just world order can be achieved if two conditions are met: 1) strengthening and developing of democracy and 2) the creation of the League of Nations, the main purpose of which is to serve as an experiment in global governance designed to ensure security. The main goal of such an organization is to clarify all conflict situations in the key of dialogue, without the use of force, and while respecting the principle of equality of states. It is important to emphasize that the Canadian government supports and is still going in this direction.

Liberal internationalism in Canada has not disappeared, despite the failed experiment. This is due to the fact that the Specialists did not abandon the original ideas but decided to develop them further in a more refined and polished way. (Carment & Nimijean, 2020). The main contradiction is that, although the creation of international governance is realistic, it can only function under the influence of one of the states, presumably the dominant one. This goes against the basic principles and ideas of internationalism.

In Canada, the logic of international cooperation has been reconsidered. The modern stage in the development of the theoretical school under study is characterized by three main currents:

  1. Liberal institutionalism. Recognizing that the U.S. as the hegemon of the modern world may have promoted international cooperation, the Canadian mentality does not support the theory that the ongoing process of multilateral cooperation throughout the post-war period is solely due to the role of the U.S. (Government of Canada, 2018). It is important to emphasize that conflict in this context is the main reason for states to cooperate because harmony excludes such interactions. The power of states is not undermined by international organizations, but, on the contrary, provides an advantageous position in such organizations;
  2. Structural Liberalism. The reason for multilateral cooperation in the post-war period is the liberal character of the U.S. hegemon of world politics. With the help and support of Canada, the very system of modern global governance is presented in this current as liberal (Carment & Nimijean, 2020);
  3. Liberal cosmopolitanism. The main concern is fairness in global governance, which in its present state seems unjust.

Thus, liberal internationalism in Canada is a rather disparate current and represents, in words, an intellectual unity with a real theoretical pluralism. However, this does not mean that Canada has renounced the continuation of a policy of internationalism. The fact is that quite a number of contradictions have begun to arise, hampering the realization of certain ideas. The first and foremost misunderstanding is that of the attitude toward the state as an obstacle to liberalism or as a component of the desired order. Another issue is the ambiguity in the interaction between the political and economic spheres, namely, whether they constitute a merger of the political and economic spheres (Carment & Nimijean, 2020). Third, there has long been a debate as to what form global governance should take. Liberal internationalism directly affects the theorizing of any global change, so its contribution is very important. However, it is precisely for its ideological content and excessive modeling that liberal internationalism has been most criticized, especially by representatives of the political realism and Marxist schools, as well as by individual Canadian political scientists.

Nevertheless, liberal internationalism remains an influential strand of political thought and arguably the mainstream in the study of global governance. It is important to emphasize that it was through internationalism that the main lines of logic and analysis of the shortcomings of modern states and their governance were identified. Moreover, in conjunction with Canadian values, internationalism allowed a great deal of attention to be paid to the environmental field of politics (Carment & Nimijean, 2020). It is important to emphasize that the protection and support of the environment is still a major focus of the Canadian government.

In addition, for an objective assessment, two clear problems in Canadian internationalism must be highlighted. The fact is that there is an explanatory and normative framework loosely linked, often unsupported. Also, the contradictions of the radicalism of existing ideas and goals to conservatism and agnosticism cannot be ignored (Government of Canada, 2018). Finally, it is necessary to clearly distinguish between internationalism and globalism since it is the latter that shapes and regulates modern institutions and regulations.

Canada’s foreign policy, due to the influence of various factors and circumstances on its formation and implementation, is a complex and integrated phenomenon. The main approaches to its analysis are liberal internationalism, peripheral dependence, and a comprehensive neo-realist approach, each of which is a full-fledged, comprehensive and established theory. In practice, Canada’s foreign policy combines elements of all three approaches. Nevertheless, an important refinement is that Canadian foreign policy has become more pragmatic.


Carment, D., and Nimijean, R. (2020). Assessing Canada’s Liberal Internationalism: Where is Canada Headed on the Global Stage? Canadian Political, Social and Historical (Re)visions in 20th and 21st Centuries, , 13-44. Peter Lang.

Government of Canada. (2018). Voices at risk: Canada’s guidelines on supporting human rights defenders. Web.

McPherdan, T. (2016). Majority supports peacekeeping missions in active fighting areas: Nanos survey. CTVNews. Web.

McQuillan, M. (2015). Assessing Canada’s global engagement gap. Open Canada. Web.

Paris, R. (2014). Are Canadians still Liberal Internationalists? Foreign Policy and Public Opinion in the Harper Era. International Journal 69 (3): 274-307.

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