Foreign Policy Explained, Ep. 7: 6 Reasons Why Libertarians want Foreign Policy Reform

Christopher Coyne,

Release Date
August 30, 2016


Role of Government

Do the benefits of foreign intervention outweigh the costs?
Foreign intervention is a source of much disagreement among those who believe in a limited government. If the role of government is to keep us safe, is intervening internationally necessary to do so? Professor Chris Coyne of George Mason University explains. Learn more:

Foreign Policy (playlist): In this series, we discuss the many ways that government policies abroad tend to come back home and negatively affect American citizens. 
“When Should the U.S. Invade Other Countries?” (video): Most wars seem to create costs that far outweigh their benefits, but is war ever justified? 

Foreign policy remains a major area of disagreement among those who believe in a limited government, whose main purpose is to protect the life and liberty of its citizens. Some think foreign intervention is rarely, if ever, justified, and others think the government should play an active role in international affairs.

This was abundantly evident in the cases of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some were staunchly against both interventions, while others were strongly in favor. Still others supported intervention in Afghanistan, but not in Iraq. And even among those who considered themselves supporters of the invasion by the US government, there was disagreement over the appropriate scope and scale of the military effort.

These disagreements did not end with Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, there is a lack of consensus among libertarians and classical liberals over a range of foreign policy issues including, but not limited to, the appropriate role of the national security state at home and abroad, humanitarian intervention, nuclear agreements, and the US government’s drone program.

At the core of these disagreements is a lack of consensus regarding answers to six questions. Do political institutions create incentives that make providing security to citizens difficult, if not impossible? What are the fiscal costs of foreign interventions, and do the benefits of the interventions outweigh these costs? What knowledge is required to achieve the ends stated by proponents of a proactive foreign policy, and do political institutions generate this knowledge?

What mechanisms are in place to mitigate inevitable unintended consequences of foreign intervention? What is different about security, relative to other government activities, that provides many classical liberals and libertarians with confidence in the state’s ability to act efficiently and effectively? Must citizens give up liberties to the state in order to be more secure, and if so, what is the proper trade-off?