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Home arrow Law arrow United States law and policy on transitional justice : principles, politics, and pragmatics
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B. LIBERALISM

Liberalism shares realism’s beliefs that the international system is anarchical and that states pursue their interests. However, liberalism rejects the realist assumption that states are unitary rational actors. Rather, liberalism argues that state interests can be more expansively defined (beyond just power and security to include, for example, values), and that states also are driven by domestic factors, such as societal identity (e.g., who belongs to the society, political ideology) and institutions (e.g., the nature of domestic political representation) that shape state preferences. Liberalism stresses that these preferences can vary among states, leading to conflict. Like realism, liberalism has several variants, such as ideational liberalism, commercial liberalism, and republican liberalism.48

Political scientist Stanley Hoffmann defines liberalism in international relations as “the doctrine whose central concern is the liberty of the individual: both his or her freedom from restraints and contraints [sic] imposed by other human beings ... and his or her freedom to participate in a self-governing polity.”49 Hoffmann cites “self-restraint, moderation, compromise, and peace” as ideas that comprise “the essence of liberalism.”50 His work has set out a “liberal trans- formist strategy” that seeks to promote the principles of what he calls “transparence,” “accountability,” “responsibility,” “solidarity,” and “nonviolence,” in part to defend human rights, including by combating genocide.51 Liberals thus focus on the “second image,” or second of three levels of analysis in international relations that Waltz laid out.52 Philosopher Immanuel Kant is one of the earliest liberals;53 more modern liberals include political scientists Michael Doyle,54 Bruce Russett,55 Andrew Moravcsik,56 and Anne-Marie Slaughter.57

One of the primary claims of liberalism is that liberal states do not engage each other in war. Rooted in Kant’s Perpetual Peace, and later developed and popularized by Doyle and Russett, this view is termed Democratic Peace Theory.58 A variation of Democratic Peace Theory makes a similar claim based on shared markets instead of shared polities. The “Golden Arches Theory” of conflict prevention, coined by commentator Thomas Friedman, claims that “no two countries that both have McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other since they each got their McDonald’s.”59

Like realism, liberalism proponents have been well-represented within the U.S. foreign policy establishment, perhaps most famously President Woodrow Wilson. Although they have not always practiced what they preached, Reagan and every subsequent U.S. president have espoused the need to promote democracy throughout the world, in part to make the world safer, including for the United States itself.60

Liberalism adherents are more optimistic than realists about the likelihood and desirability of interstate cooperation, including on justice issues.61 Moreover, liberalism theory would predict that the United States would export its liberal values,62 and would do so through the creation and operation of ICTs if such institutions were viewed as facilitating that goal. Bass claims that liberalism does indeed view ICTs as buttressing those values. He summarizes “the liberal case” as being

broken down into a series of five major arguments. Liberals argue that international war crimes tribunals build up a sturdy peace by, first, purging threatening enemy leaders; second, deterring war criminals; third, rehabilitating former enemy countries; fourth, placing the blame for atrocities on individuals rather than on whole ethnic groups; and, fifth, establishing the truth about wartime atrocities.63

As Bass argues, although liberals might acknowledge the risks inherent in this transitional justice option, they “still argue that the benefits of war crimes tribunals outweigh them.”64

 
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