Liberalism’s foreign policy has never been as widely appreciated as its domestic economic policy. Yet the principles are the same in both cases: voluntary exchange, cooperation and a bias against interventionism.
The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises writes of liberalism’s ‘unconditional’ extolment of peace. ‘[N]ot war, but peace, is the father of all things’, he explains. ‘What alone enables mankind to advance and distinguishes man from the animals is social cooperation’.
Mises understood wars were harmful to human progress and should be avoided unless in self-defense. As he writes:
The goal of the domestic policy of liberalism is the same as that of its foreign policy: peace. It aims at peaceful cooperation just as much between nations as within each nation…[T]he demand for peace within each nation was itself an outcome of liberal thinking and attained to prominence only as the liberal ideas of the eighteenth century came to be more widely accepted. Before the liberal philosophy, with its unconditional extolment of peace, gained ascendancy over men’s minds, the waging of war was not confined to conflicts between one country and another. Nations were themselves torn by continual civil strife and sanguinary internal struggles…It is from the fact of the international division of labor that liberalism derives the decisive, irrefutable argument against war.
Mises then goes on to explain that liberals must work towards peace by promoting free trade and reining in state interventionism – at home and overseas.
Modern-day adherents of liberalism have continued in this tradition. When it came to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, free-market economist Milton Friedman was firm, stating in an interview that he was ‘opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning’. Johan Norberg notes that Friedman was decidedly anti-interventionist:
[Naomi Klein] claims that Friedman was a “neoconservative” and thus in favor of an aggressive American foreign policy, and she argues that Iraq was invaded so that Chicago-style policies could be implemented there. Klein even goes so far as to suggest that Bush administration officials disbanded the Iraqi army and de-Baathified the government because they are neoliberals who dislike the public sector, but nowhere does she mention Friedman’s actual views about the war. Friedman himself said: “I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression.” And this was not just one war that he happened to oppose. In 1995, he described his foreign policy position as “antiinterventionist.” Speaking of the Gulf War, he said it was “more nearly justified than other recent foreign interventions,” but concluded that the arguments for it were “fallacious.”