The International Community and the Liberal Peace

1 D Simes, ‘America’s Imperial Dilemma’ (2003) 82 Foreign Affairs 94, 97. The use of the word ‘missionary’ to describe the international community’s liberal endeavour also seems appropriate here. In the context of America’s role in the international community, Keller wrote in the New York Times that the Bush Administration embraces ‘an optimism about America’s ability to build a better world. [They have] an almost missionary sense of America’s role’: B Keller, ‘The Sunshine Warrior’, New York Times (22 September 2002), available at:

2 Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, ‘Doctrine of International Community’, Speech to the Economic Club of Chicago (22 April 1999), available at: (‘This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values. We cannot let the evil of ethnic cleansing stand. We must not rest until it is reversed’).

3 For example, in relation to the UK’s military involvement to protect human rights in Libya in 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron explained that ‘Britain could not stand by as Qadhafi slaughtered his people. Nor could we allow a failed pariah state festering on Europe’s southern borders, with the potential to threaten our own security’: D Cameron, Statement on Libya (5 September 2011), available at:

4 ‘The ostensible motive that sustains these nation-building projects may be humanitarian, but the real principle is imperial: the maintenance of order over barbarian threat’: M Ignatieff, Empire Lite: Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan (London, Vintage, 2003) 22. Indeed, Ignatieff argues that even the reconstruction of the Balkans, often cited as a prime example of the international community’s most altruistic humanitarian operation, was in reality motivated by the international community’s desire to protect its own security. ‘The reconstruction of the Balkans has not been an exercise in humanitarian social work. It has always been an imperial project, driven by a clear, if reluctantly grasped imperative to replace the new collapsed Communist imperium of Tito’s era with a new architecture of states that would bring stability to a combustible corner of Europe’ (ibid at 32).

5 L Whitehead, ‘Democratization with the Benefit of Hindsight’ in E Newman and R Rich (eds), The UN Role in Promoting Democracy: Between Ideals and Reality (New York, United Nations University Press, 2004) 161.

6 GA Res 34/101 (14 December 1979).

7 Article 2(4) UN Charter (signed 26 June 1945, San Francisco, in force 24 October 1945).

8 T Franck, ‘Who Killed Article 2(4)?’ (1970) 64 American Journal of International Law 809, 809. ‘Since 1945, so many states have used armed force on so many occasions, in flagrant violation of the charter, that the regime can only be said to have collapsed’: M Glennon, ‘Why the Security Council Failed’ (2003) 82 Foreign Affairs 16, 18.

9 See generally ND White, Toward International Justice: The United Nations System (Boulder CO, Lynne Rienner, 2002).

10 Franck, ‘Who Killed Article 2(4)?’ (n 8) at 809.

11 cf L Henkin, ‘The Reports of the Death of Article 2(4) are Greatly Exaggerated’ (1971) 65 American Journal of International Law 544.

12 T Risse-Kappen, ‘Democratic Peace – Warlike Democracies? A Social Constructivist Interpretation of the Liberal Argument’ (1995) 1 European Journal of International Relations 491, 492.

13 B Russett, ‘The Fact of Democratic Peace’ in M Brown, S Lynn-Jones and S Miller (eds), Debating the Democratic Peace (Cambridge MA, MIT Press, 1996).

14 Indeed, much empirical research is available to substantiate the claim that liberal states have always enjoyed peaceful relations. Indeed, Levy explains that the absence of war between liberal states is ‘the closest thing we have to an empirical law in the study of international relations’: J Levy, ‘Domestic Politics and War’ in R Rotberg and T Rabb (eds), The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989) 88. Risse-Kappen argues that ‘there is no other empirical finding in the realm of international relations that has reached a similar consensus among scholars’: Risse-Kappen, ‘Democratic Peace’ (n 12) at 494. Similarly, Russett has observed that the liberal peace proposition constitutes ‘one of the strongest nontrivial or nontautological generalizations that can be made about international relations’: B Russett, Controlling the Sword: the Democratic Governance of National Security (Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1990) 123. That said, there are still a few dissenting voices over the empirical robustness of the liberal peace thesis: see K Waltz, ‘The Emerging Structure of International Politics’ (1993) 18 International Security 44; C Layne, ‘Kant or Cant: The Myth of the Democratic Peace’ (1994) 19 International Security 5; and D Spiro, ‘The Insignificance of the Democratic Peace’ (1994) 19 International Security 50.

15 Historically, the liberal peace thesis was explained on the basis of the democratic institutions within liberal states (often referred to as the institutional account). The argument runs that because a democratic government is responsive to the people, a democratic government will not sanction violence because it is aware that this will be acutely unpopular with the population, who will have to both pay for and fight in any ensuing violence. Thus, democratic governments will not initiate violence because they fear loss of office at the next election. Consequently, between democratic governments there will be an institutional deadlock in favour of peace. As Kant explained, ‘[i]f the consent of the citizens is required to decide whether or not war is to be declared, it is very natural that they will have great hesitation in embarking on so dangerous an enterprise. For this it would mean calling down on themselves all the miseries of war, such as doing the fighting themselves, supplying the costs of war from their own resources, painfully making good the ensuing devastation, and, as the crowning evil, having to take upon themselves a burden of debt which will embitter peace itself and which can never be paid off on account of the constant threat of new wars’: I Kant, ‘Perpetual Peace’ (translation by H Reiss), Kant’s Political Writings (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991) 100. However, this theory is unconvincing because it assumes democratic governments are inherently peaceful in the international sphere. As history reveals, democratic governments frequently initiate violence against non-liberal states. Indeed, some suggest that democratic governments may be more aggressive than nondemocratic governments: M Small and D Singer, ‘The War-Proneness of Democratic Regimes’ (1976) 1 Jerusalem Journal of International Relations 50. This notwithstanding, liberal states have nevertheless maintained a robust peace between themselves. To this end, I suggest that the normative account provides a far more convincing explanation for why liberal states have achieved a stable peace but are nevertheless prepared to act aggressively towards non-liberal states.

16 J Owen, ‘How Liberalism Produces Peace’ in Brown, Lynn-Jones and Miller (eds), Debating the Democratic Peace (n 13) at 118.

17 W Dixon, ‘Democracy and the Peaceful Settlement of International Conflict’ (1994) 88 American Political Science Review 14, 16.

18 Risse-Kappen (n 12) at 500. ‘Liberals contend that peace is required to advance the basic common interests in self-preservation and material well-being. They see war as a wasteful diversion of resources to destruction that is both irrational and unnatural’: C Kahl, ‘Constructing a Separate Peace: Constructivism, Collective Liberal Identity, and Democratic Peace’ (1999) 8 Security Studies 94, 112.

19 ‘[Thus] the culture, perceptions and practices that permit compromise and the peaceful resolution of conflicts without the threat of violence within countries come to apply across national boundaries toward other democratic countries’: Dixon, ‘Democracy and the Peaceful Settlement of International Conflict’ (n 17) at 15–18. ‘[T]he norms and rules of behaviour internationally . . . [are] extensions of the norms and rules of the domestic political behaviour’: B Russet, ‘Why Democratic Peace?’ in Brown, Lynn-Jones and Miller (eds), (n 13) at 82.

20 UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Democratization, UN Doc A/51/761 (20 December 1996) para 17. In this report the UN Secretary-General further explained that liberal democratic institutions ‘provide a means of compromise which can be respected by all participants in debates, thereby minimizing the risk that differences or disputes will erupt into armed conflict’ and that democratic institutions ‘may likewise be conducive to peace among States’ (para 18).

21 B Clinton, ‘Confronting the Challenges of a Broader World’, US Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Dispatch (21 September 1993), available at:

22 GW Bush, ‘President and Prime Minister Blair Discussed Iraq, Middle East’ (12 November 2004), available at:

23 GW Bush, ‘President Thanks US and Coalition Troops in Afghanistan’, The White House (1 March 2006), available at: The careful reader will notice that throughout this chapter I refer most frequently to statements made by US administrations. This does not mean that it is only the US that subscribes to the liberal peace thesis. I use statements by the US because in material terms this is the most powerful member of the international community and thus most able to operationalise the liberal peace thesis. In this sense, the US has become the leader of the international community and therefore its representative. For a comprehensive review, however, of how the liberal peace thesis dominates the rhetoric of liberal states and liberal regional organisations see S Talbott, ‘Democracy and the National Interest’ (1996) 75 Foreign Affairs 47.

24 Risse-Kappen (n 12) at 492.


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