Liberalism (international relations)

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Liberalism is one of the main schools of international relations theory. Its roots lie in the broader liberal thought originating in the Enlightenment. The central issues that it seeks to address are the problems of achieving lasting peace and cooperation in international relations, and the various methods that could contribute to their achievement.

Broad areas of study within liberal international relations theory include:

  • The democratic peace theory, and, more broadly, the effect of domestic political regime types and domestic politics on international relations;
  • The commercial peace theory, arguing that free trade has pacifying effects on international relations. Current explorations of globalization and interdependence are a broader continuation of this line of inquiry;
  • Institutional peace theory, which attempts to demonstrate how cooperation can be sustained in anarchy, how long-term interests can be pursued over short-term interests, and how actors may realize absolute gains instead of seeking relative gains;
  • Related, the effect of international organizations on international politics, both in their role as forums for states to pursue their interests, and in their role as actors in their own right;
  • The role of international law in moderating or constraining state behavior;
  • The effects of liberal norms on international politics, especially relations between liberal states;
  • The role of various types of unions in international politics (relations), such as highly institutionalized alliances (e.g. NATO), confederations, leagues, federations, and evolving entities like the European Union; and,
  • The role, or potential role, of cosmopolitanism in transcending the state and affecting international relations.