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Was the ‘Liberal Internationalism’ espoused in 1919 destined to fail or merely a concept ahead of its time.

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Introduction

Evolution of the International System Liberal Internationalism Was the 'Liberal Internationalism' espoused in 1919 destined to fail or merely a concept ahead of its time. With the benefit of hindsight, it does seem that the conditions in 1919 were so unstable that there was never a chance that the newly coined 'liberal internationalism' was going to success. This is not necessarily true however as there was a genuine consensus for change in the aftermath of the First World War and had the United States ratified the Treaty of Versailles and not taken such an isolationist stance on international economics and politics, the ideas of the time, particularly those of Woodrow Wilson could have had a chance. As it was, the plethora of underlying weaknesses in the economic and political international system coupled with the fact that liberal internationalism was essentially too advanced for the post war period, caused the collapse of the international system again in twenty years time and the rejection of liberalism as a global ideology for many years after. Liberal internationalism has been defined as the 'the play-off between 'progressive internationalism' of the American centre-left and 'conservative internationalism' of Howard Toft and the LEP'1. This however, is too simplified as liberal internationalism is an evolving concept that, if not necessarily new, was formalised in the post war period, and is still very much in existence today. Many would say that is was enshrined in the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. ...read more.

Middle

Balance of Power in 1914, a powerful league could have made sure that Liberal internationalism was a success, creating the framework for international relations which had grown extremely complex8, virtually unrecognizable from the Westphalian system. The background to the League can be accredited fourteen points, but those like the Bryce Group also investigated into such as system and realised that some kind of a formalised system of co-operation was necessary. There were however several problems inherent in the League. The Hankey memorandum points out that relying on international organs to arbitrate would 'create a sense of security which is wholly fictitious'9. This argument certainly holds water, with the need for unanimous voting on all actions, states could use their veto to protect their national interest, even if the motion would have been generally advantageous. The League was also considered to be a 'European Club' where the main actors in Europe sat on the Council and influenced the Leagues direction10. It was also the case that several treaties such as those of Sykes-Picot and London had been agreed during the war caused the league problems, especially in the case of Italy and Fiume11. All of these underlying weaknesses of the League of Nations would have been fundamentally insignificant however, had the US signed up to the League. They objected mainly to the threat to their sovereignty and in particular, Article X, the Monroe Doctrine12. It was the League of Nations, and therefore the Treaty of Versailles that the US Senate failed to ratify. ...read more.

Conclusion

It would seem then that liberal internationalism should not fail. Unfortunately, Wilson's optimism was not shared by his government who could have tipped the balance in favor of the success of liberal internationalism if they had have ratified the Treaty of Versailles. As it was, the economic collapse of the 1930's after a period of illusory recovery gave rise to a new threat which destroyed much of what the concept stood for. Perhaps it could be said that no-one could have envisaged the rise of Hitler out of the ashes of a broken Germany, but those like Keynes did predict the cost of such high reparations, with astounding accuracy, though were not listened to. The European powers without America could not form a cohesive body and failed to address the problem of Germany's disproportionate power in Europe. Liberal Internationalism was definitely a concept ahead of its time with ideas such as the trafficking of drugs, women and children being made illegal are still very much in existence today, and the fair treatment of laborers in their own countries and 'all countries to which their commercial and industrial relations extend'21 are not even fully adhered to today. It was not so much the over adventurous aims of liberal internationalism that were the cause of its failure, moreover the sheer turmoil left after the First World War and the fact that the most powerful nation on earth, the only nation that could perhaps have held the system together and was supposed to underpin the world economy, decided to continue to pursue the isolationist policies that it briefly took a break from in 1917. ...read more.

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