The Liberal Moment Fifteen Years On1

Presidential address, 49th Convention of the International Studies Association, San Francisco, CA, March 27, 2008.


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     I have been privileged to work in an environment full of bright young scholars, many of whom have let me use our joint work or even pilfer their own. Halvard Buhaug, Han Dorussen, Håvard Hegre, Håvard Strand, and Henrik Urdal deserve special mention here. Thanks to the same people plus Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, Ragnhild Nordås, and Gudrun Østby for commenting on an earlier version and, of course, to the members of the Association for electing me. I would also like to record my gratitude to the Research Council of Norway for support for the research reported here, as well as sponsorship of the reception following the Presidential Address. Sage Publications Ltd. and PRIO also contributed to the reception. A PowerPoint presentation accompanied the delivery of this address at the convention. The talents of Siri Camilla Aas Rustad are visible in every slide. The presentation can be found, along with references to the data sources, on Replication data for the figures presented here can be found at, and


Fifteen years ago, Charles Kegley spoke of a neoidealist moment in international relations. This article examines how the number of armed conflicts has declined in the decade and a half since Kegley’s presidential address and shows that the severity of war has been declining over a period of over six decades. The number of countries participating in war has increased, but this is in large measure due to coalition-building in several recent wars. Overall, there is a clear decline of war. It seems plausible to attribute this to an increase in the three factors identified by liberal peace theorists: democracy, trade, and international organization. Four alternative interpretations are examined: the temporary peace, the hegemonic peace, the unsustainable peace, and the capitalist peace. The article concludes that the latter, while running close to the liberal peace interpretation, also presents the greatest challenge to it. Indeed, we seem to be living in a commercial liberal period rather than a world of neoidealism.