Should liberal states promote their values abroad? Is force a legitimate tool in advancing these goals?

Topics: United States, Liberal democracy, Iraq War Pages: 6 (1909 words) Published: April 13, 2008
Since the post-World War 1 period, Liberalism has been actively advanced by Western (or 'first-world') states as a desirable system of political theory. According to Dunne (in Baylis & Smith 2001, pp. 163), the basis for its appeal stems from the fact that Liberalism is viewed as inherently 'optimistic', making it a natural counter-theory to the Realist theories advanced by practitioners of realpolitik in the past (feudalism, dictatorships etc.). What makes Liberalism 'optimistic' in a sense is that, as an ideology, it is fundamentally anchored around the liberty of the individual, and furthermore, strives for global peace. Considering the rampant destruction and bloodshed experienced by many of the states involved in both the World Wars, it would logically follow that states would find it in their best interests to have a political system in place which would provide them with the tools necessary to avoid military conflict as far as possible.

But as history has shown us, the advancement of liberal values has not always been done through peaceful means, and indeed, one only has to look at the disaster that was the Vietnam War and the current war in Iraq to notice the forceful strategies utilised in an attempt to advance those very goals. And at a recent war protest in the US, Justin Cliburn, an ex-army veteran, was quoted as saying that "We're occupying a people who do not want us there" (Barakat 2007, 'More than 190 Arrested at Iraq Protest', The Guardian). Cliburn had served in Iraq and knew first-hand the attitudes of the Iraqi people, and from his experiences, saw that not everyone embraced the glowing torch of liberty. It thus begs the question: should liberal states be actively trying to promote and instil their values abroad? And if so, is force - a tool apparently contradictory to the Libertarian dream - a legitimate instrument in securing these goals? This paper will first seek to analyse the driving motivations behind the spread of liberal values and conclude that, while the ideology of liberalism is not well-suited to every state, it does have validity as a successful and peaceful political system. The paper will then analyse the use of force and show that while its legitimacy is without question, it remains highly undesirable and in most cases, harmful to the successful implementation of liberal values within the state in question. The alternative tools available will be analysed for effectiveness, and the paper will conclude with the belief that the best hope for the successful dissemination of liberal values would be through liberal states' own examples.

Liberalism's fundamental element has been that of democracy. With regards to this, no one nation encompasses the ideal of liberal democracy more than the United States of America. For decades, the spread of liberal democracy has been indoctrinated into American foreign policy, exemplified by Woodrow Wilson's 'Fourteen Points', Harry Truman's 'Truman Doctrine', John F. Kennedy's 'Freedom' Doctrine, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'Four Freedoms'. The US clearly views the spread of democracy and liberal values as a duty, as obligation to their fellow man, leading Samuel Huntington (, pp. 30) to comment that "[America's] identity as a nation is inseparable from its commitment to liberal and democratic values." But why would one nation take it upon itself to so vehemently advance these goals? The answer lies within two rationales: altruism and national security.

According to Fukuyama and McFaul (2007), the promotion of liberal democracy is the right thing to do, for democracy is the best form of government. No doubt, many would view this statement as egoistic and typical of the brash nature of Americans, but Fukuyama and McFaul go on to articulate the formulation for this belief. Liberals believe that the state must always be the servant of the collective will (Dunne 2001, pp. 163). Thus, political competition stemming from a democratic political climate...

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Bhagwati, J. 1990, 'Aggressive Unilateralism ', in Aggressive Unilateralism: America 's 301 Trade Policy and the World Trading System, University of Michigan, pp. 1-45.
Diamond, L. 2000, 'Promoting Real Democracy ', Blueprint Magazine, January 1, 2000, viewed 16 September 2007, http://www.ppionline.orgDoyle, M. W. 1983, "Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 12, Nos. 3 and 4 (Summer and Fall 1983).
Dunne, T. 2001, 'Liberalism ', in Baylis, J & Smith, S (eds.), The Globalization of World Politics, Second Edition, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 162-181.
Fukuyama, F. & McFaul, M. 2007, 'Should Democracy be Promoted or Demoted ', The Stanley Foundation, June 2007, viewed 16 September, 2007,
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Huntington, S. 1991, The Third Wave, University of Oklahoma Press, pp. 30.
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