Realism has always encountered criticism and attempts to replace it with other alternative approaches.35 The most prominent existing alternative to realism is liberalism, and continuous debates between these two schools have laid the foundation of the discipline known as international relations.36 Nowadays, liberalism is still the most viable alternative to realism and a number of transformations that took place during the last sixty years, for instance, the spread of democracy and international trade, have made this school of thought even more competitive.37 As is the case with realism, liberalism does not represent a single theory, and eventually four branches of liberalism can be identified, in particular, “sociological liberalism, interdependence liberalism, institutional liberalism and republican liberalism”.38
However, for the analysis the author has picked only one strand, namely, republican liberalism. Considering the fact that Russia, which in the early 1990s initiated democratic reforms, diverged from the democratic path and for more than a decade was consistently creating a more centralized and less free political system, could not just give rise to concerns in the West, but also considerably damage U.S.-Russia relations. Thus, high expectations that Russia could become a truly democratic country, sharing similar norms and values with the West, were dismissed due to grim realities of Russian domestic regime. Thereby, by bringing liberal theory into analysis of U.S.-Russia relations, the author will be able to look for an alternative explanation of the “reset” failure and to determine whether the state’s domestic regime can have a significant impact on interstate relations or not.
Liberal theorists pay great attention to phenomenon such as free trade, which according to them is capable of diminishing the chances of war between states.39 However, liberalists regard democracy as another factor that fosters peaceful interstate relations, and theorists such as Immanuel Kant and Michael Doyle asserted that democracies “are unique in that they are able to establish peaceful relations among themselves based upon their shared values and common approach to establishing legitimate domestic political orders”.40 The so-called liberal peace theory takes its origin in the writings of Immanuel Kant. In the essay “Perpetual Peace” Kant laid down three basic elements or “definitive articles” that are necessary for establishing lasting peace between states,41 in particular, “the civil constitution in each state shall be republican”,42 “the law of nations shall be based on a federation of free states”,43 and finally “the rights of human beings as citizens of the world shall be restricted to the conditions of universal hospitality”.44 The idea of these definitive articles is that in a republican constitution citizens can influence the decision to launch a war, and since they are the ones who bear all the costs and miseries of war45 they may prevent their country from engaging in a military conflict. According to the second article, the alliance (“alliance for peace”) created among such republican states would ensure protection of states’ rights such as the right for freedom,46 while the principle of universal hospitality would promote communication and interaction between nations.47
Further developing Kant’s idea, Michael Doyle argues that countries where interests of citizens are taken into consideration through democratic representation are usually more peaceful, as citizens of these countries are “interested in peace because they pay the price of war – in taxes, disruption of trade, material destruction, and lives”.48 Moreover, Bruce Russett asserts that democratic countries also apply norms such as peaceful conflict resolution to foreign policy and that the constraints existing in the democratic system can buy some time for other more peaceful conflict resolution options, which in turn explains why liberal democratic countries are perceived as more peaceful.49 It is argued that liberal democratic states can manage to build their own “separate peace”, since “over time, these liberal democratic states establish trust amongst each other, based on growing economic interdependence which provides material incentives for peaceful behavior, similar political institutions and values, and a history of non-violent conflict resolution”.50
Nevertheless, democratic peace theory does not imply a peaceful foreign policy of liberal democratic states toward all countries in the international system. Democratic states fought a large number of wars against non-liberal states, and those wars could not always be justified as “defensive”. Liberal democratic states distrust illiberal states, since they neglect the interests of their citizens or even oppress their own people and can pursue war agenda either to get material benefits or to distract from internal problems.51 “In pursuit of peace, therefore, illiberal states easily become targets of liberal “missionary” policies”.52 Great powers, even with the liberal democratic regime, also tend to take “preventive” actions in order to eliminate “potential challengers before they become big threats”.53 However, many liberalists argue that international politics indeed could be pacified, which “requires the spread of liberal democracy to as yet nonliberal states”.54 Therefore, Doyle asserts that “the aim of a liberal foreign policy […] lies in a systemic promotion of liberal principles abroad”.55
Raymond Aron is another international relations scholar who paid attention to domestic regime. Even though Aron is considered to be a realist, his theory contains a certain liberal element, which is why the author has decided to include this particular element into analysis. Aron divided the international system into two categories, namely, “homogenous” and “heterogeneous” systems.56 The system is homogenous “when the major powers share similar regimes and conceptions of policy”,57 while heterogeneous system means that “the regimes are organized according to different principles and appeal to contradictory values”.58 Homogeneous system is regarded as more stable, since inter-state relations in this case are more predictable owing to similar political traditions and principles of legitimacy, while heterogeneity implies not only instability and uncertainty, but sometimes even hatred between the adversaries.59 Thus, it is clearly seen that political regime does matter to Aron’s theory and his argument concerning the homogeneity of the international system in a certain way corresponds to the liberal theory. For example, both liberal scholars and Aron believe that the effect of anarchy can be mitigated. For Aron this would be accomplished under conditions of similarity of major powers’ political regimes, as well as for liberalists, but with an emphasis on democratic political regime.
Aron argues that power is certainly a crucial factor in comprehending international relations, however it cannot be separated from objectives pursued by major powers that in turn, to a large extent, depend on the nature of the state’s regime.60 Thus, Aron asserts the following: “In each period the principal actors have determined the system more than they have been determined by it”.61 “A change of regime within one of the chief powers suffices to change the style and sometimes the course of international relations”.62 According to Aron, state leaders’ perception of the world and their decision-making process is largely based on a specific system of values, thus, such factors as the ideological system and even public opinion can significantly impact decision-makers’ thinking.63 Moreover, the conflict between states may become intensified if they do not share common values or principles of legitimacy and can even lead to a struggle to overthrow each other’s regime.64 Therefore, Russia’s move toward a more authoritarian regime could worsen U.S.-Russia relations, as the two countries might have not only competing interests and world order vision, but also incompatible domestic regimes, which could lead to mutual distrust and complicated communication. Moreover, U.S. attempts to promote democracy worldwide could further intensify tension between the two countries, since it could be perceived as a potential threat to Putin’s regime.