War, Liberalism, and International Relations


Societies grow and develop in accordance with certain rules and beliefs. Large categories of belief created to better direct actions and thoughts of people are called ideologies. Following particular schools of thought or political frameworks, nations of today have all inevitably changed throughout the course of history. With the evolution of modern philosophy, values of equality, freedom, choice and peace have begun to be seen as particularly important in society. To best follow these values and act within their constraints on both domestic and national scale, countries follow a set of ideological principles promoting particular actions. The increased recognition of the individual uniqueness of human beings, and the need to ensure their universal freedoms has signified the birth of liberalism.

Liberalism has been an important concept in the political and philosophical thought of the recent decades, impacting the growth and development of many nations. In particular, it is interesting to discuss how this ideology works within the framework of international relations and war, where each individual player has their own interests and agenda. It is said that the use of liberalism as the primary national ideology can be beneficial to negotiations and other peaceful solutions, but the truthfulness of this statement can be questionable in the face of warfare history. Furthermore, it is important to consider the relationship between modern drone wars and liberal thought, and the way the two are interconnected.

What Liberalism Is

Liberalism is a line of political thought that regards personal freedoms and liberties as worth consideration and protection. The ideology was first described by John Locke, and other figures of the 17th century. One of the central questions of liberal thought pertains to the role of government in the lives of its people, and the potential level of influence structures of power should have on the individual. Liberal doctrines pose that the government, police, and other institutions are a necessary part of protecting and ensuring individual freedoms. However, it is also noted that the unequal distribution of power and various incentives can lead to corruption, which in turn makes the government impede on the freedoms of its people. In short, structures of power and influence are considered to be a “necessary evil” that must be strictly regulated and managed in order to not overstep its boundaries.

The above discussion pertains chiefly to domestic ideas of liberalism, where personal freedoms of the citizens take central stage. Other necessary considerations include equality, including equality before the law, and actively combatting the problems that pose a threat to the freedoms of the people. The process of combatting social inequality, poverty, abuse of power, discrimination and racial injustice, among other things, are all considerations of a liberal government. In terms of interacting and communicating with other countries, similar principles are to be upheld, where liberal governments seek to maximize the freedoms and wellbeing of people. However, a certain level of complexity is added when involving other countries in the discussion.

Liberalism, Realism, Wars and International Relationships

International relations are an important part of any nation’s operation, as they allow political actors to cooperate, form alliances, assist each other in political discussions and promote mutual development. However, it can also be an especially difficult topic to consider, as the clashing political interests, ambitions and the need for resources often results in conflict and confrontation. Understanding international relations through the lens of political ideology can be an important step to cementing a nation’s approach towards interacting with others, as well as to provide the framework necessary to secure its own interests in the public field. To discuss the topic of international relations, the liberal ideological framework can be applied, and then contrasted with the realistic doctrine. Generally, ideas of liberalism were diametrically opposed to wars, considering peace as the natural state of society and the most ideal outcome of global interaction. Wars, in this view, as considered to be actions outside of the norm, an occurrence that happens when the sides are unable to reach the optima compromise through discussion.

This perspective, however, does not fully encompass the relationship between wars and liberal ideologies. As some research points out, liberal values of freedom and opportunity may clash with a peaceful approach, oftentimes leaving no other choice than violent confrontation. Furthermore, the process of promoting or protecting liberal values may oftentimes only be accomplished through war, which presents another point at which liberal motives clash with peace. The so-called “Liberal Wars” are waged in an effort to improve the human condition and increase the freedoms of people, at least theoretically (Milevski 2020). In practice, however, the process often leaves much to be desired in terms of achieved goals and only brings harm to the participants and their subjects (Milevski 2020). Liberal Wars can also be started as a defence from other parties, which also often leaves a liberal nation with no other alternatives (Singh 2015). Furthermore, any conceivable benefits to liberty and freedom brought by liberal wars need to be weighed against the inherent brutality and immorality of warfare.

Both the war in Vietnam and the Iraq war US has led can be considered prime examples of “liberal wars”. The majority of the directly afflicted parties have not been able to bring any sufficient positive change, only suffering from the violent and devastating effects of war (Williams 2014). These wars sought to expand liberal values to places where the perpetrators thought they have not been present, using their military presence to achieve political goals. This forceful interference into international politics can most aptly describe the main issues of liberalism as an ideology for international relations. While its followers value and desire to promote ideas of freedom and equality, the methods of accomplishing this goal on a global scale often end up less than optimal.

Realism, on the other hand, takes a much less optimistic and idealistic perspective on international relations and their role in the operation of the nation. As an ideology, realism focuses on fulfilling national interests as the primary goal, along with amassing power over potential adversaries (“Explaining War: A Comparison Of Realism And Constructivism” 2021). The existence of a strong centralized state to promote the goals of a nation is considered to be the primary objective. Overall, it can be said that realism envisions the global stage as a field of competing interest, where a party with most influence, power and military preparedness will be able to succeed (“Explaining War: A Comparison Of Realism And Constructivism” 2021). Similarly, realistic perspective assumes that national interest is the main goal of any other global power, and moral or philosophical considerations come second to fulfilling the objectives of a country.

In this vein, war is viewed much more like a tool of influence than a harmful necessity. Realist ideology views military conflict as the default and normal state of the world, where each global power competes to acquire the resources it needs, regardless of the harm done. Politics are seen as tools for national survival and the establishment of superiority before potential competition. This perspective can be more effective at securing the wellbeing and prosperity of a specific state, as all of its efforts are focused solely on that goal. However, the readiness and acceptance of military conflict as a primary way of pushing national interest also puts the citizenry at risk and degrades potential non-conflict relationships a country can have.

Negotiations and Non-Interference

Non-military global political action is also an avenue for discussion in understanding liberalism. As stated before, liberal through emphasises the importance of negotiations as a tool for promoting the wellbeing, freedom and equality of a state and its allies. It is said that through the process of discussion, political actors are able to resolve pressing global matters, secure their interests and potentially promote the liberal ideology to illiberal states. This process is coupled with policies of non-interference, where it is believed that the state should minimize its influence on its subjects and their lives (Mariotti and Veneziani 2017). The principle, however, must theoretically also apply to other global nations, where their boundaries, governments and operations must be respected as well.

At the same time, liberal nations often desire to ensure that the freedoms of the other nations’ people are also protected and respected, often justifying a need to interfere with their aid or direct action. In this effort, the liberal international order can be discussed. The effort of extending national influence over another country is justified as one promoting the freedoms and rights of more people, which, in turn, is believed to be beneficial to society as a whole (“The Real History Of The Liberal Order” 2021). However, regulating and measuring the bounds of such interference becomes difficult when a state acts in a foreign territory. This means that oftentimes, liberal values can be used as a scapegoat for one nation to realize its own needs or ambitions on the foreign territory.

Modern Warfare and Liberal Principles

Discussions of warfare are particularly difficult when talking about liberalism, as the process of waging war can be seen as controversial in and of itself. Sending military troops to fight and kill other people not only harms individuals participating in wars, but also expends resources of all the participants. Wars often leave less economically developed countries and regions to devastation, not having the monetary and human power necessary to operate. Furthermore, war is antithetical to human flourishing, where people are recruited in an effort of upholding political interests instead of bringing positive influence to their community. War, as a whole, is largely detrimental to the common man and local communities. Families left without caretakers and providers suffer from the lack of funds, and the levels of education in regions take a sharp decline as well.

Overall, the process of facilitating a war often leads to exactly the kinds of consequences that liberal societies consider to be most egregious. This means that liberal nations have to find ways of conducting warfare in a manner that both accomplishes their goals on an international stage and brings a minimal amount of harm to all its participants. In this effort, the use and promotion of drone warfare can be seen as the current solution (Foust 2021). Drones, or other remotely operated vehicles conduct military action without the interference of humans, allowing them to more resource-effectively and quickly accomplish goals of nations.

However, there are also significant downsides to the use of military drones and the adoption of automatic warfare as a tool. Firstly, it removes accountability and responsibility from the initiating party, allowing many liberal nations to keep a clean reputation while destroying the livelihoods of people and potentially bringing harm to others. Furthermore, appointing accountability as a whole presents to be difficult in this case, as the drones often act in a pre-programmed manner and do not receive direct commands from people. Additionally, the creation of autonomous warfare can serve as a gateway for more military conflict for liberal nations, which can objectively be seen as a negative consequence of automatization.

International Groups

Countries in the international landscape are linked by a variety of linked interests, desires and needs. Globally active nations use their power and influence to reach certain ends, both for their citizenry and for other countries as well. With the wars of the 20th century, every major country has realized the importance of international diplomacy and the real devastation of global conflict, making the creation of unifying organizations a necessity. To most optimally navigate international relationships and make sure that each country operates within a certain ruleset, organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union were created. In exchange for monetary fees and other obligations, these institutions provide their members with a framework of working with others that is both oriented towards peace and conversational at its core.

As such, the creation and maintenance of international institutions falls in line with values of liberalism. The existence of organizations that are not directly affiliated with a particular country and act as intermediaries between existing parties benefits the effort of establishing neutral and positive relationships between countries. Furthermore, the threat of retaliation by other countries affiliated with these organizations disincentives conflicts and wars among the participants. In the case of the UN, its existence and continued operation contributes towards the promotion of liberal values through mainly peaceful methods. Each party willing to join the organization has to work within the normative constraints it puts forward, meaning that more countries adopt ideas of liberalism in their governance and political action (Barnett 1997). Similarly, the EU facilitates trade and friendly interaction between its members, contributing towards the reduction of wars in the world (Carmichael 2013). In this vein, liberalism as an ideology works at an transnational level to ensure that the principles of freedom and equality are upheld. However, one should also note that the distribution of power within such organizations is often unequal, leading to underrepresentation of certain nations’ interests on the global scale. This means that only the vision of liberal society as created by most influential global players gets to be the driver forward for the rest of the international community.

Prominent Examples of Liberal Countries

When discussing liberalism as an ideology and a way to organize society, a large number of nations can fulfill the op-paper criteria for being called liberal. At the same time, it is necessary to note that the ways in which countries implement their liberal governance can vary significantly. Differences can be found in a nation’s views and reliance on welfare programs, the quality of life for its citizens, issues of the environment, and many other factors. In this vein, it is possible to say that some places are more liberal than others. In particular, a number of European nations have been considered to be particularly successful in their liberal efforts over the past decades. Such nations as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, among many others, are able to provide their people with the necessary resources to thrive and develop, while also being especially supportive to individuals from varied groups. Additionally, it should be noted that these countries are much less frequently engaged in military conflict and other violent struggles, meaning that the potential moral discrepancies of warfare are usually avoided.

Future of Liberalism in the International Sphere

Liberalism has a long way to go before it can truly become an ideology able to support human flourishing and development. It should be said that the effects of the recent pandemic have worked to destabilize many governments, and citizens of all the countries in the world require support and understanding more than ever (“The Future Of Liberalism – Prospect Magazine” 2021). To realize the effort of promoting personal freedoms, equality and opportunity for every individual, it is necessary to make liberal governance more effective at reaching its goals without the need for military action or conflict. Additionally global organizations should work to give more opportunities for development to smaller countries, where the move towards equal opportunity is needed desperately. In terms of conducting warfare, and cases where military conflict presents an inevitability, ways of engagement that minimize impact done to the lives, livelihoods and wellness of people should be prioritized. Furthermore, it is necessary to ensure proper accountability for all participants, as well as codify the use of automatized warfare. In futuristic warfare, the process of harming individuals or communities can be much more easy than before, as the presence of military troops or weapons becomes no longer necessary. The use of remotely-controlled weapons and drones, as well as autonomous weapons makes the questions of harming civilians more vague, as any cases of misconduct can be blamed on programming errors. Additionally the process of codifying the process of modern warfare can be considered as complex, as it needs to be prosecutable under international law. Liberalism must strive to bring violent conflict to accountability, and regulate any modern conflicts in accordance with legislation.

In terms of illiberal countries, the process of promoting the wellness and equality of their people is a difficult discussion to have. It is crucial to respect and understand other cultures, their governments and their own history of civil rights, freedoms and equality. Instead of establishing hostile relationships or using military force to promote liberal values, it might be necessary to support less fortunate countries in their growth. The recent situation in Afghanistan and the results of the Iraq and Vietnam wars have shown that the influence of liberal governments and armed interference only serves to destabilize foreign nations and does not promote freedoms. Monetary assistance and humanitarian aid can be a viable alternative to the use of “Liberal Wars”.


In conclusion, it should be said that liberalism is a complex set of beliefs and a particularly idealistic way to view a nation’s operations. Developed as early as the 17th century, this doctrine has been adopted in a variety of countries to some degree. Liberal values dictate that a human’s life and flourishing should be seen as the most important priorities for the nation, including the protection of freedoms of its citizenry. Liberal nations seek to improve the human condition as a whole, choosing to intervene in the international dealings on their illiberal counterparts. International organizations work in an effort of ensuring that every participant has the ability to engage in global politics and secure the wellbeing of their population, through the promotion of liberal values.

Many countries around the world adopt this ideology as their primary mode of operation. In the process of international interaction, however, liberalism often fails at a fundamental level by employing violence and tactics that are antithetical to human freedom as its tools. Finding a balance between bringing a positive net influence to the world and not harming others while attempting to do so presents an ideological conundrum to this day. With the evolution of warfare, especially, “liberal wars” and their devastation brought at the behest of foreign nations becomes an ever bigger topic of discussion. The reliance on drone warfare and other high-tech military machinery further removes morality of war from the discussion and allows liberal nations to enact their political interest while hiding behind a veneer of humanitarian effort.

Works Cited

“Explaining War: A Comparison Of Realism And Constructivism.” 2021. E-International Relations. Web.

“The Future Of Liberalism – Prospect Magazine.” 2021. Prospect Magazine. Web.

“The Real History Of The Liberal Order.” 2021. Foreign Affairs. Web.

Barnett, Michael N. 1997. “Bringing In The New World Order: Liberalism, Legitimacy, And The United Nations.” World Politics 49(4): 526-551.

Carmichael, Callum P. 2013. “Liberal Theory and the European Union.” Mapping Politics, 5. Web.

Foust, Joshua. 2021. “A Liberal Case For Drones.Foreign Policy. Web.

Mariotti, Marco, and Roberto Veneziani. 2017. “The Liberal Ethics Of Non-Interference.” British Journal of Political Science 50(2): 567-584.

Milevski, Lukas. 2020. “Modern Liberal Wars, Illiberal Allies, And Peace As The Failure Of Policy.” Defense & Security Analysis 36(3): 300-313.

Singh, Rashmi. 2015. “‘Defensive Liberal Wars’: The Global War On Terror And The Return Of Illiberalism In American Foreign Policy.” Revista de Sociologia e Política 23(53): 99-120.

Williams, Andrew. 2014. Liberalism And War. Routledge.

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DemoEssays. "War, Liberalism, and International Relations." January 5, 2023. https://demoessays.com/war-liberalism-and-international-relations/.