Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Public Goods Liberalism (Kat)

Public goods liberalism, as the name implies, concerns providing public goods for other nations. To explain it, Sterling-Folker uses the example of Kosovo, where NATO intervened to provide the humanitarian goods of security, well-being, and justice. Originally, NATO was unable to agree on whether raw power or soft power should be used to achieve its goals, but it ultimately to adopt a more "coercive" position.

Sterling-Folker argues that individual countries' desires for private goods brought about this reversal. Every country expected to reap a reward specific to their needs; in other words, NATO's activity in Kosovo became the means to a greater end. Ultimately, this culminated in a public good being provided in Kosovo, but it did not derive from what could be referred to as "pure" intentions -- a humanitarian effect, but not necessarily humanitarian motivations. This sounds like a realist perspective; Sterling-Folker insists that it is actually "evidence of the changing nature of the international system" and that "liberal international values and structures are developing in incremental ways that will ultimately lead to greater levels of cooperation over the long term" (89).

What struck me was that, at a certain point of global interdependence, realism and liberalism converge; while pursuing your own security and advantages for your own country, you could actually create better security and better advantages in another country. In Kosovo, for example, the United States intended to "establish... an economic and political presence in Eastern Europe as a significant counterweight to the EU" (89), among other benefits, but in the process it brought the aforementioned public goods to another country.

Obviously, what helps one country does not always help its neighbors. Powerful nations have often oppressed weaker ones in pursuit of their own goals -- as we've heard so often in the past few weeks, "the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must." Although the campaign in Kosovo had certain positive results, there were negative ones as well. However, it seems intuitive that as nations become more interdependent, it will become less and less profitable for one to make gains at the expense of another.

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