Liberal wars: strategy, history, ideology

Liberalism is not pacifism. The major 'liberal'- states that attach importance, at least internally, to individual autonomy - have frequently been willing to use military force; they have also, on occasion, fought aggressive wars of choice. But liberal ideology and practice are not at ease with military adventures: war of its very nature involves attacks on life; it usually requires some kind of trade-off between security and liberty; and it encourages a warrior ethos that draws upon non-liberal motivations.

On July 6-7 2012, the University of Reading's LImage of soldier entering houseeverhulme-supported Major Research Programme 'The Liberal Way of War' hosted a conference concerned with the past, present, and future of 'Liberal Wars'. It was concerned with the constraints on liberal belligerent states arising from their liberal commitments, the tensions between liberal professions and the realities of large-scale warfare, and the way that such states represent their actions to themselves. The speakers included scholars with backgrounds in History, Law, International Relations, Strategic Studies, or Political Theory. Papers, amongst other things, addressed the following questions:

  • How do liberals justify fighting?
  • What constraints do they respect?
  • Have those constraints been changing over time?
  • Has behaviour that flouts those constraints been counterproductive?
  • How do liberal wars end?
  • Are there ideological reasons for recent wars of choice?

For a focused selection of papers, see Alan Cromartie (ed), Liberal Wars: Anglo-American Strategy, Ideology and Practice (Routledge, 2015). 

The Liberal Way of War Programme is a major research programme supported by the Leverhulme Trust


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