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Institutional liberalism or liberal institutionalism is a modern theory of international relations which claims that international institutions and organizations such as the United Nations (UN), NATO and the European Union (EU) can increase and aid cooperation between states. The theory can be compared to idealism, the international relations theory which emerged after the First World War when the League of Nations was founded. Like political realism, institutional liberalism is utilitarian and rationalistic. States are treated as rational actors operating in an international political system in which hierarchy cannot be enforced.
Some call the school of thought rational functionalism instead of liberal institutionalism. Liberal institutionalism is also close to—but not synonymous with—regime theory and neoliberalism. Robert Keohane, a political scientist largely responsible for the development of liberal institutionalism, considers his ideas part of institutionalism or rational institutionalism, even though those schools disagree with him on certain points. Keohane dislikes using the adjectives "liberal" or "neoliberal" to describe his work because he also draws from realism, a school of thought that is often contrasted with liberalism.
- Robert and Georg Sorensen (2006) Introduction to International Relations: theories and approaches. Oxford, OUP, 3rd ed, p. 108.
- Keohane, Robert O. and Lisa L. Martin. "The Promise of Institutionalist Theory" International Security. Vol. 20 No. 1. p. 39.
- David Baldwin (1993) Neorealism and Neoliberalism: The Contemporary Debate. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 10.
- Beth A. Simmons and Lisa L. Martin (2002) International Organizations and Institutions. In "Handbook of International Relations," edited by Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse, and Beth A. Simmons, 192–211. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, p. 195.
- Robert Keohane (1993). Institutional Theory and the Realist Challenge after the Cold War. In "Neorealism and Neoliberalism: The Contemporary Debate," edited by David A. Baldwin, 269–300. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 273.
- Robert Keohane (1984). After Hegemony: Power and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 14.
- Robert Keohane (1993). Institutional Theory and the Realist Challenge after the Cold War. In "Neorealism and Neoliberalism: The Contemporary Debate," edited by David A. Baldwin, 269–300. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 272.
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