Neoliberalism Theory in International Relations

Topic: International Relations
Words: 603 Pages: 2

Neoliberalism or neoliberal institutionalism is a theory in international relations that develops the ideas of the political liberal-idealist paradigm that appeared after the Second World War. The revival of the positions of the liberal-idealist paradigm, undermined during the Cold War, occurred after the collapse of the bipolar system of international relations (Newton 2019). At the same time, due to significant changes in the international arena, the initial paradigm was subjected to a profound transformation, which led to the formation of the ideas of neoliberalism (Knafo 2019). Thus, it is important to strengthen international integration processes, the emergence of new states on the world’s political map, non-traditional security threats, and processes associated with globalization. Neoliberalism is a variant of liberal international relations theory that focuses on the role of global institutions in achieving collective outcomes (Sterling-Folker 2016). For this reason, it is often referred to as ‘neoliberal institutionalism.’

In support of the theory of complex interdependence, neoliberals refer to the emergence of global problems (environmental, energy, migration, and others). According to their fair assertion, it requires collective action and cooperation of all states, regardless of their size, level of socio-economic development, and more (Kwon, Kieh, and Lumumba-Kasongo 2022). Neoliberalism studies international institutions in terms of common personal interests to be achieved by substantial joint efforts in the international institutional environment; it assumes that international institutions facilitate self-interested cooperation. The central problem of neoliberalism is achieving cooperation between states and other participants in the worldwide system (Sterling-Folker 2016). Cooperation occurs when states adjust their behavior to the preferences of others so that their partners see the policies pursued by one government as conducive to their own goals (Alhammadi 2021). Unlike other concepts, such as realism, neoliberalism argues that certain historical events in the 20th century have made international cooperation relatively more straightforward to achieve now than in the past (Ogunbanjo 2021). These developments have provided the growth of formal and informal international institutions, which play a fundamental role in the day-to-day operation of modern global politics.

The difference between neoliberalism and other theories is based on the belief in international support in entirely different aspects. Corresponding to neoliberals, the anarchic nature of those relations (the absence of supreme authority) is surmountable, while neo-realists believe this is impossible (Oraby 2019). The absolute benefit of international cooperation is also emphasized, which, according to neoliberals, is always valuable. Realists now believe that the benefit is relative since no state will go for less absolute benefit than any other.

The reason for international cooperation for neoliberals is maximum economic prosperity, while other theories emphasize mainly military security. Neorealists believe the behavior of the state is determined by systemic coercions and restrictions, as well as their fundamental capabilities and abilities (Tziarras 2022). States’ intentions are uncertain, so they cannot be used as a tool for analysis. Neoliberals do not deny the importance of the real possibilities of states, but they believe that state intentions play an essential role, so they should always be taken into account.

Neoliberalism is a variation based on basic liberal assumptions about the possibility of cumulative progress in human affairs. Liberalism assumes that collective benefits can be obtained through a more practical application of human thinking (Hough et al. 2021). The expansion of interaction and information exchange between interested persons and subjects is significant (Sterling-Folker 2016). Then, all variants of liberal theory assume to some extent that benefits can be obtained from developing more efficient institutional arrangements. Thus, compared with other theories, neoliberalism has a greater belief in people’s ability to achieve ever-better collective outcomes that promote freedom, peace, prosperity, and justice on a global scale.


Alhammadi, Abdullah. “The Neorealism and Neoliberalism behind International Relations during COVID-19.” World Affairs 185, no. 1 (2021): 147–75.

Hough, Peter, Andrew Moran, Bruce Pilbeam, and Wendy Stokes. International Security Studies: Theory and Practice. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, 2021.

Knafo, Samuel. “Neoliberalism and the Origins of Public Management.” Review of International Political Economy 27, no. 4 (2019): 780–801.

Kwon, Jinah, George Klay Kieh, and Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo. “Varieties of Neoliberal Capitalism.” Philosophy and Politics – Critical Explorations, 2022, 119–46.

Newton, Kahlil. International Relations and World Politics. Waltham Abbey Essex, England: ETP, 2019.

Ogunbanjo, Martin Abimbola. “View of Neo-Realism and Neo-Liberalism in Global Politics: Towards Assessing the Intellectual Siblings.” KIU Journal of Social Sciences, 2021. Web.

Oraby, Tarek. A Darwinian Theory of International Conflict. Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2019.

Sterling-Folker, Jennifer. “Neoliberalism.” International Relations Theories, 2016.

Tziarras, Zenonas. “A Neoclassical Realist Framework.” SpringerBriefs in International Relations, 2022, 7–18.

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