Liberalism: War, Peace & World Order


Any discussion of international peace, world order, conflicts, and wars usually takes place in the context of certain philosophical paradigms and theories. These thoughts and principles influence the public’s approach to organize the order in the world, building peace, and resolving conflicts. Liberalism is one such theory, providing a certain view regarding peace and conflict in the context of domestic and international relations. From this perspective, the theory of liberalism is often discussed as opposed to realism because liberalists do not support the idea of power politics, whereas realists emphasize maintaining world order using power (Burchill 55-57). Thus, liberalism promotes the idea that international peace can be achieved through the use of the most democratic means with a focus on preventing and avoiding conflict while emphasizing the cooperation of international forces. The purpose of this paper is to explain the assumptions of liberalism in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the concepts and principles of peace and conflict on an international scale.

Liberalism as the Theory in the Context of International Relations

It is important to note that, as a specific school of thought, liberalism developed during the era of the Enlightenment. The promoters of the key ideas of liberalism accentuate the importance of achieving worldwide peace by combining the efforts of all actors in the international arena (Tanabe 449-450). This principle is viewed today as an idea that is critical to explaining the major perspective of the core of liberal thought, which holds that political stability is guaranteed through the cooperation of international organizations and key political figures in a way that can peacefully influence the world toward the state of order (Santander 78; Tanabe 449-450). Liberalism “seeks to project values of order, liberty, justice, and toleration into interational relations,” and “domestic and international institutions are required to protect and nurture liberal values” (Dunne 118). From this point, liberalism is based on the ideas of cooperation, promoting the work of international organizations, avoiding the use of power politics, and applying democratic tools.

These modern ideas of liberalism developed after World War II and gained a high level of influence after the Cold War, serving to impact the progress of a new view of liberal principles. The United Nations is a key international organization, established in 1945 to coordinate the cooperation of states while focusing on maintaining world order (Dunne 118-120). It is essential to note that the principles of this organization’s work mainly depend on liberalism, focusing on the idea that combining the forces fielded by various nations is important in the cause of promoting peace and order on a global scale. However, specific peace-building initiatives promoted by the United Nations grew in popularity and became widespread only after the Cold War was concluded. According to Leib, “following the end of the Cold War, the number of armed conflicts had decreased substantially, a trend, which was praised … as the demise of war and the beginning of a more peaceful world” (28). This tendency was associated with the progress of liberal ideas.

The Contribution of Liberalism to the Understanding of International Peace

In discussing the role of liberalism in developing an understanding of the principles involved in achieving international peace as well as progress toward this goal, it is important to state that liberal theory is a key paradigm for peace-building. Researchers see liberalism as providing international actors with a unique perspective, from which it is possible to assess available tools for building peace without using coercion (Santander 78-79; Tanabe 449). Thus, liberalists developed the idea of a “liberal peace” that implies not only the absence of conflict and wars between states and nations but also the development of liberal values. Researchers discuss such values concerning the role of international cooperation, security, and democracy (Dunne 120-122; Tanabe 449). As a result, today, when experts speak of possibilities for regulating conflicts and promoting peace by way of employing non-military tools, they usually mean establishing liberal peace.

From this perspective, liberals’ views toward international peace are associated with avoiding armed conflicts and developing certain peace-building initiatives all over the globe. These initiatives include different types of campaigns by international organizations as well as humanitarian interventions to promote stability and overcome conflict in different regions of the world (Burchill 62-64). However, some researchers also note that in today’s world, a focus on supporting international peace may not be reasonable because the majority of modern conflicts are of a domestic nature (Leib 28-30; Santander 102-103). As a result, international organizations can find only limited opportunities to promote a liberal peace using interventions and approaches aimed at achieving a consensus (Santander 102-103). Still, the risk of domestic clashes escalating into regional and global conflicts is always high. Therefore, the techniques used by liberals and associated with the negotiations of international actors are often viewed as appropriate in attempts to preclude any further development of a problem.

Therefore, it is possible to note that the contribution of liberalism to understanding peace in global terms is significant as it provides an alternative perspective for developing international relations and regulating world order. Liberalists endorse state-building practices aimed at organizing an effective democratic society (Santander 81). In contrast to realism, liberalism also emphasizes possibilities for promoting peace and stability without resorting to the use of weapons and power (Burchill 58-64). The idea of international peace is discussed in the context of liberalism concerning the application of peaceful methods in contrast to the approach espoused by realists who promote building peace by employing forces, including those that are military.

The theory of liberalism adds to understanding and promoting international peace through viewing democratic states as limited by international norms, laws, and other normative values to guarantee the development of a democratic order. Thus, according to Santander, the idea of a liberal peace is “an argument that informs peacebuilding as an effort to maintain a global stable peace through the promotion of liberal, political and economic practices” (80). From this perspective, peace-building based on the ideas of liberalism is regarded as progressive and oriented toward protecting human rights and the interests of the global community (Leib 56-57). In this case, democratic and liberal values are taken into account, and more opportunities for maintaining world order in the context of peaceful international relations seem likely to appear.

Liberalism and Its Application to the Understanding of Conflicts and Wars

Despite the interest that experts and authorities may have in using the liberal paradigm to develop and implement humanitarian interventions and peace-building initiatives, liberalism cannot be viewed as dominating today’s political discourse. Researchers assert that liberalism cannot contribute significantly to understanding conflicts and wars in the context of developing international relations because this school of thought is primarily focused on understanding peace (Dunne 125-126; Leib 56-57). Thus, liberalists tend to promote the role of compromises and cooperation instead of focusing on conflicts and power, and as a result, this theory cannot fully explain the nature of the conflicts observed in the world. Furthermore, liberalists’ views regarding possible approaches to regulating conflicts are not viewed today as effective since nations often choose military operations in responding to conflict.

It is also important to pay attention to the specific understanding of wars in the context of liberalist ideas as processes that lead to violating world order. Picturing conflicts and wars as irrational and threatening to the global order, liberalists promote ways of preventing such hostilities by stressing cooperation and establishing international organizations (Burchill 67-78; Tanabe 449-451). As a result, researchers tend to view any attempts to explain or address conflicts from the liberalist perspective as ineffective because the paradigm does not provide a set of tools to deal with such phenomena (Leib 28-30). According to Dunne, “whether the challenge is protection of the environment, or poverty reduction, or nuclear non-proliferation, or prevention of humanitarian atrocities, liberal institutions and policies have not mitigated or eradicated these issues” (127). Methods and techniques that can be used by liberalists to explain conflicts and global issues are viewed as limited and often inappropriate in the case of civil wars or armed conflicts. Therefore, this philosophy is regarded as more suitable for understanding peace than war.

On a related note, interdependence can be viewed as the main feature of a society or international community that has been built according to the principles of liberalism. In this context, all conflicts and wars are regarded as influencing all nations involved in a conflict directly or indirectly, leading to a decrease in security as well as a rise in economic, social, and political problems (Dunne 118-121). This perspective is a variant of the possible approaches to considering war and conflict through the lens of liberalism. The reason for using this paradigm thus is the problematic aspect of attempting to apply the principles of liberalism to the context of war and power. Liberalism is grounded on using non-military approaches to overcoming conflict and promoting peace, and the idea of a balance in the relationships of nations is key in this context (Tanabe 449). Therefore, liberals accentuate the importance of developing international diplomacy as an approach to addressing the conflicts that liberalism considers unnatural in a democratic world.

According to liberal views, conflicts and wars are processes that should be avoided in international relations in the interest of promoting world order and balance. However, liberalist techniques of supporting cooperative and peaceful relations in the world are not always effective (Dunne 118-121). Following Tanabe’s ideas, “the crisis of liberal peacebuilding is rooted in its standardized, universalistic pretensions and its concomitant failure to engage with local cultural practices of peacemaking and conflict resolution” (450). Tanabe makes the point that discussing conflicts in the context of approaches to resolving them with the help of peace-building approaches are not always efficient. Thus, the problem in addressing numerous domestic and regional conflicts all over the globe can also be associated with “the manifold insecurities of everyday life in societies recovering from conflict” (Tanabe 450). These issues lead to decreasing the effectiveness of any liberal or humanitarian intervention that can be applied by international organizations in this or that region to prevent the escalation of a conflict into a war.


Liberalism has contributed to developing paradigms and frameworks, providing a context in which researchers have focused on building liberal peace, fostering democracy, maintaining world order, and resolving conflicts with the help of peace-promoting tools. However, the problem is that liberal ideas are often discussed as ineffective in the face of reality when campaigns by international organizations and humanitarian interventions fail to attain the expected outcomes in contrast to the effectiveness of using military forces. As a result, debates continue regarding the effectiveness of liberal approaches to maintaining world order in the modern context of developing international relations. Still, it is important to accentuate the idea that liberalism has significantly contributed to the understanding of international peace and war because it provides alternative tools for regulating conflicts without involving weapons. From this perspective, liberalism is widely applied to explain the principles of building peace in the context of international relations.

Furthermore, promoting the work of international organizations responsible for controlling world order is also associated with developing liberal ideas. This aspect has allowed the international community to refer to the benefits of maintaining order and addressing conflicts by applying various non-military tools. Thus, although liberalism does not dominate the political discourse at the current stage of the world’s progress, it is possible to state that the contribution of this theory to encouraging international relations is critical. Liberalism seems to provide researchers and authorities with a unique paradigm for promoting the principles of a liberal and democratic world.

Works Cited

Burchill, Scott. “Liberalism.” Theories of International Relations, edited by Scott Burchill, Andrew Linklater, and Richard Devetak, 5th ed., Macmillan Education, 2013, pp. 55-83.

Dunne, Tim. “Liberalism.” The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, edited by John Baylis, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens, 7th ed., Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 116-128.

Leib, Julia. “Shaping Peace: An Investigation of the Mechanisms Underlying Post-Conflict Peacebuilding.” Peace, Conflict and Development, vol. 22, 2016, pp. 25-76.

Santander, Louis Monroy. “Reconciliation: A Critical Approach to Peacebuilding in Bosnia-Herzegovina.” Peace, Conflict and Development, vol. 22, 2016, pp. 77-116.

Tanabe, Juichiro. “Beyond Liberal Peacebuilding: A Critique of Liberal Peacebuilding and Exploring a Postmodern Post-Liberal Hybrid Model of Peacebuilding.” International Relations and Diplomacy, vol. 5, no. 8, 2017, pp. 447-459.