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Global Politics

Neoliberal Institutionalism and its Critics

Neoliberal institutionalism sees the United States and the European Union as rational actors in world politics. Great powers of the world, US and EU are not bound by the laws of intergovernmental or international organizations such as the United Nations and NATO rather these organizations reflect the power of sovereign states that create them. This essay debunks how the IOs or IGOS do not have independent powers in international affairs because the sovereign powers of the world do not adjust to the obligations and constraints of any form of multilateralism. The multilateralists like the UN and NATO pioneered by the EU and US came together with the main aim of facilitating economic development, formal international agreements, cooperation in international security and law, human rights, peace around the world, and achievement of world stability. However, the sovereign states subsequently insist on acting alone and are reluctant to tie themselves to their own-created multilateral institutes because of their own political and domestic agendas (Mowle, 2003).

The reason why the hegemons like the European Union and the United States create IOs and IGOs but do not give them independent power is because these power entities want to solidify their grasp on power internationally by spreading their ideals and agendas through multilateral organizations throughout the world. Walt as quoted by Ruggie (1992) argues such a political mindset by stating that the US, as well as the EU, create and finance these international institutions to assume the role of “custodians” and “reformists” for themselves that act unilaterally to maintain international stability and order in the world. In this process of neoliberal institutionalism, hegemons or power entities are not dependent on the multilateralist system rather international organizations seek validation from the hegemons and comply with their rules.

This goes to show that sovereign states consider the multilateral system a body with no authority but just a mediator between the head of the governments of the hegemons with consideration to domestic, political, and international agendas. In the nutshell, great powers of the world create, finance, and use international organizations or intergovernmental organizations for the advancement of their own ideals with no vital interests of organizations on the international scale because hegemons feel IGOs’ independence as a threat to their sovereignty. The sovereign states fear that if there would be continued involvement of the multilateral organizations, their political institutions, and legal framework will become subordinate to these organizations. Thus, neoliberalist institutionalism thinks that hegemons will lose their freedom of action throughout the international system because of the lack of stable hierarchy that would be the result if great powers have decentralized character (Hellmann and Wolf, 1993).


Ruggie, J. G. (1992). Multilateralism: the anatomy of an institution. International organization, 46(3), 561-598.

Mowle, T. S. (2003). Worldviews in foreign policy: Realism, liberalism, and external conflict. Political Psychology, 24(3), 561-592.

Hellmann, G., & Wolf, R. (1993). Neorealism, neoliberal institutionalism, and the future of NATO. Security Studies, 3(1), 3-43.



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