Research Paper on The Democratic Peace

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Outline

I. Introduction

II. Theory and Evolution

A. States and Sovereignty

1. Variation Within States: What Makes a Democracy a Democracy?

B. Arguments of International Democratic Behavior

1. Democratic Pacifism (Monadic)

2. The Democratic Peace (Dyadic)

III. Empirical Evidence and Counterarguments

A. The Debate Over Definitions

B. Developing Versus Consolidated Democracy

C. Firing the First Round: Who Initiates War

D. International Context: Democracy and the Cold War

E. The Realist Counterargument to the Democratic Peace

IV. Policy Implications of Democratic Peacefulness

A. Can Democracy Be Sold?

V. Future Directions

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

War between nations is an ancient phenomenon. As long as there have been governments and groups with shared social and cultural identities, there has been conflict among them. A far more recent phenomenon, however, is the development and diffusion of democratic government. Democracy, as is recognizable today, was introduced through the revolutionary liberal movements of the United States and France in the late 18th century. Until the mid-20th century, the number of democracies in the international system remained markedly stable, increasing substantially only after the dissolution of the Axis powers and the end of World War II in 1945.

Concurrent with the spread of democracy, international conflict has become less frequent. A remarkable observation within this trend is that pairs of democratic states rarely, if ever, directly engage one another in violent warfare. This observed relationship between democratic states has come to be termed the democratic peace and is one of the most robust and influential findings in international relations scholarship.

This research paper reviews a selected literature linking democracy to conflict and peace among states. Although the nonwarring relationship between democracies is one of the most robust relationships in international relations, likewise, the study of democracies and war is substantial. Accordingly, cumulative knowledge is considerable. What follows within this research paper is separated into five sections. The paper begins with a discussion of theories concerning the international state system and the role democratic states play there. Second, empirical evidence and caveats within the theories are presented and investigated. Third, practical real-world applications of the democratic peace are discussed. Fourth, projections of future developments concerning the democratic peace are provided. Finally, this research paper concludes with a summary of the most important findings and issues.

II. Theory and Evolution

A. States and Sovereignty

It is impossible to examine the relationship between democracies and international conflict without first acknowledging the context within which democracies exist. One must first, then, identify the shell within which democracies exist, the state, and second identify the structural relationship shared by states in the international system.

Over the course of international relations scholarship, no single unit has been as influential or garnered as much attention as the state (Lake, 2008). States are territorial entities with defined political boundaries, controlled by an amalgam of institutions and rules and inhabited by a sizable population. State governments create and enforce policies to govern their territory. Governments send their soldiers to spill their blood in war and enforce the laws that govern those same soldiers when they are at home. The central government of a state and its interaction with its population, then, is of primary concern of any study of interactions between states.

States are enabled by the existence of sovereignty. Sovereignty is most often characterized as the monopoly of legitimate use of force within a given territory. Sovereignty is thus an authoritative relationship between rulers and their population, in which political elites possess the legitimate right to enact policy and project force to carry the policy through (Lake, 2003). In addition to internal sovereignty exercised by local political elites, other states are not allowed to interfere with the inner workings of that state. There are thus internal and external components to sovereignty as a basis of legitimate monopoly of force. Sovereignty has laid forth the groundwork for what we currently know as a state and defines how states interact.

1. Variation Within States: What Makes a Democracy a Democracy?

When perceived as sets of institutions and rules of law protected by sovereign political boundaries, states are relatively easy to identify. What is not as simple in identifying, however, is the variation that exists among states. This classification is, however, necessary if one is to understand the behavior of said states on the international scene. By identifying differences between state institutions and subsequently differences in political practices within states because of those institutional differences, formal expectations of behavior can be produced. Domestic institutions, and the expectations that follow, are at the core of the democratic peace argument.

The most clear and useful distinction that can be made between states is that which differentiates democracy and autocracy. Democracies are states composed of electoral institutions where leaders are chosen by, and are beholden to, a domestic population, from among numerous contenders. This necessitates regular free and fair elections where the population is free to participate and no individual’s vote counts for more than any others, providing the necessary impetus for leaders to adhere to their population’s wishes (Dahl, 1998). Further, democracies have strict limits on the power of the government over their people. That is, citizens within democracies possess negative rights against their government, or a private sphere within which the government cannot interfere (e.g., Doyle, 1983). Leaders who pass repressive or otherwise unpopular policies that intrude into the population’s private sphere can easily be removed from office through legitimate means sanctioned by law. Thus, democratic leaders adhere to limits imposed on them by their population, or they face certain punishment.

Contrary to democracies, autocracies generally do not possess electoral institutions. Neither are populations within autocracies protected by a private sphere analogous to that which exists within democracies. Autocracies consist of very small, exclusive political regimes without credible elections and are often reliant on repressive policies tomaintain office. Semiauthoritarian regimes exist between full democracy and autocracy. Semiauthoritarian regimes (also referred to as anocracies) exclude large portions of the population from political processes and can use moderately repressive means on occasion. This is not to say that elections cannot be held in either autocracies or semiauthoritarian regimes. However, autocratic elections are most often used for political cover to present an air of legitimacy to observant domestic and international audiences. Given the absence of institutionalized political practices, if an unpopular or invasive policy is passed, beyond removal from office by force or violence, it is very difficult to punish autocratic leadership (Goemans, 2000). As a consequence of these political structures, autocratic leaders are not beholden to their population and are largely free to do as they wish.

When attempting to empirically qualify what a democracy is, it is useful to conceptualize democracy as a threedimensional cube. Contemporary scholarship ranks democracies and autocracies according to three scales: executive recruitment, executive restraints, and political participation (Gates, Hegre, Jones, & Strand, 2006). Each of these scales represents an axis of the cube. As any one of these categories increases in nature, the space occupied by the democratic cube increases, creating a more ideal democratic state. Likewise, as any of these categories decreases in nature, the cube’s space is reduced, and the state approaches a more ideal autocracy.

The term executive recruitment refers to the ability of individuals to compete for the highest office in the country. The higher the percentage of a national population eligible to contend for political offices in the country, the more open the society to variation in popular leadership. The term executive restraint is concerned with formal limitations placed on the executive. The higher the level of restrictions placed on political elites, the more power is removed from the executive and is placed in the hands of the electing population. Political participation directly refers to the ability of the population to vote and voice its opinion on leadership free of threats, intimidation, and constraint. As the percentage of a population that can participate increases, and as that population owns more right of input into processes, leaders must speak to a broader audience and are thus accountable to a greater constituency. Participation also refers to the substance of political practice, that is, whether the population merely votes or if they have a hand in setting the agenda as well (e.g., Cohen, 1971).

Using the aforementioned criteria—executive recruitment, executive restraint, and participation—one can differentiate levels of democracy, anocracy, and autocracy. Ideal democracy is composed of regulated and competitive elections in which parties must be able to lose power, constrained executive authority, and openly competitive participation through policy creation and voting by some large proportion of the general adult population. On the flip side, an ideal autocracy has closed elections in which only a select few individuals can run for office, unconstrained executive authority where political elites face little to no opposition, and intentionally constrained, noncompetitive elections where a small proportion of the population can participate via voting, and that population has little to no say in setting the policy agenda. As the levels for these criteria rise and fall, it is easy to visualize the aforementioned democratic–autocratic cube increasing or decreasing in volume.

The institutionalized rules and practices of a state—that is, the respective level of democracy or autocracy— defines the manner in which the state and its people interact. To continue the present line of thought, the more ideal the democracy, the more open the society is to hearing and considering counteropinions and to contending in a legitimate manner with opposing perspectives; in essence, the more ideal the democracy, the more open a society is to nonviolent bargaining (e.g., Dixon, 1994). The mass population can express itself, and the government must listen. Heinous activity on behalf of leaders is punished through lawful removal from office via regular elections or impeachment. Likewise, unruly citizens can be punished through formalized judicial proceedings.

Whether the state in question is an autocracy or democracy, the domestic political environment permeates up to decisions made at the state level and is in turn represented to the world on the international scene. The domestic political environment assists in defining the parameters within which states interact internationally, and thus, the distinction between democracy and autocracy is critical to our understanding of international warring behavior.

B. Arguments of International Democratic Behavior

There are two prominent perspectives regarding the internal behavior of democracy and subsequently its impact on the international scene. This distinction must be made clear, since the behavior of democracies as they act alone and as they act in pairs are two separate and distinct theoretical persuasions. The first perspective concerns the behavior of democracies as stand-alone entities. This is the argument of democratic pacifism. Democratic pacifism is commonly referred to as the monadic theory of democratic behavior given its concern for a democracy acting individually and not in a relationship with any other particular state. The second perspective concerns the behavior of democracies interacting directly with one another. This argument is the focus of this research paper, the democratic peace. The democratic peace is a dyadic theory, as opposed to a monadic theory, because it is concerned with a pair (a dyad) of democratic states and how they act in accordance with one another.

1. Democratic Pacifism (Monadic)

Democratic pacifism argues that democracies are more peaceful in all of their international interactions than any other form of state in their relations with others. The argument that democracies are pacifistic and war averse has two primary branches: (1) the capitalist peace and (2) normative behavioralism.

The capitalist peace was championed by Schumpeter (1955) and has been advanced more recently by Gartzke (2007). According to this argument, a society based on open economic policies mitigates the desire for aggressive expansion by states. That is, war is generally seen as nonprofitable given its interference with potential domestic economic gains. War is thus incompatible with the utmost preferences of states profiting from open capitalism and is avoided. Capitalist democracies were at the forefront of this line of thought and were considered the least likely to engage in violence with other nations. The population would have voice in rebuking interference in their practices and would pressure the government to avoid costly war. In states where the capitalist population benefits from their own nonviolent nature, war should be unlikely. It is worth pointing out that capitalist peace arguments do not argue that war could not be profitable and that capitalist states will never engage in violence with one another. Although at most a minimal probability at any given time, war is always at the least a minor possibility.

The second argument of democratic pacifism is concerned with the development of a deep liberal culture, which in turn minimizes the outwardly aggressive nature of democracies. The most important liberal ideals developed exclusively in democratic states are threefold: freedom from arbitrary authority, freedom to protect those rights already possessed, and the freedom to represent oneself through active participation in the government (Doyle, 1983). The aforementioned rights develop in democracies a rich culture receptive to contrary opinions and bargaining (see, e.g., Dixon, 1994). Over time, individuals and groups within democracies are socialized into preferring nonviolent dispute resolution and mutual acceptance of contrary opinions. As a result, democracies are inherently more accepting of other states’ ideological stances. In turn, democracies are less likely to villainize states that do not mirror the democracies’ own political practices and ideologies. Ultimately, liberal democracies possess an inherent pacifism to which they alone are privy, and the resultant behavior is that democracies approach other states in a less contentious manner than autocracies, experiencing less war as a result.

2. The Democratic Peace (Dyadic)

The democratic peace is an argument that democracies, when paired together, rarely go to war with one another. To be clear, this does not mean that democracies never come to low-level violent terms with one another. There are certainly instances where democracies engage one another in lower-level crises (Mitchell & Prins, 1999). Nor does it mean that democracies do not go to war regularly with autocratic states. In fact, democracies frequently engage in warfare with nondemocratic societies (Bueno de Mesquita & Lalman, 1992). Rather, the democratic peace argues that democracies, when paired together, are probabilistically highly unlikely to engage in violent warfare against one another relative to any other pairing of states (i.e., autocracy– autocracy or democracy–autocracy) (Bennett, 2006; Bremer, 1992; Maoz & Abdolali, 1989). There are three distinct theoretical perspectives as to what fuels the behavior of democratic pairings of states: (1) structural, (2) normative, and (3) informational.

Structural theory argues that the peace between democratic states is a derivative of the legal institutional structures of the democratic states. Democratic institutions bind state leaders and their policies to their national population. If a democratic leader sends his or her state into battle on grounds that the electorate finds insufficient, illogical, or damaging to themselves or the state, the leader can easily be removed from office via institutionalized rules of office: election or impeachment. As a result, democracies are war averse. This relationship, however, holds only when there are two institutionally constrained states (i.e., democracies) acting against one another.

The idea of a structural “perpetual peace” between democracies was first espoused in 1795 by Immanuel Kant (1795/1903) but did not gain significant attention until the early 1980s with the work of Michael W. Doyle (1983). Kant argued that states should base themselves on three “definitive articles.” These three articles are as follows: (1) the civil constitution of each state shall be republican; (2) the law of nations shall be founded on a federation of free states; and (3) the rights of men, as citizens of the world, shall be limited to the conditions of universal hospitality. Kant further argued that as an increasing number of states adopted the articles, a more pacifistic international union of states would develop, resulting in an international perpetual peace between states. Given the centrality of Kant to the democratic peace, these three articles are now discussed in further detail.

The first definitive article argues that a state’s preservation of basic individual rights, such as representation, is critical in determining the external behavior of a state. A representative republican state provides protection for the individual citizen to act autonomously from the state. Autonomous citizens, free of the reigns of an overarching government, are at liberty to voice opinions contrary to that of their state’s regime. Possessing the freedom to express an opinion vocally first, and institutionally through voting second, places a tremendous amount of power in the state’s population and beyond the grasp of political elites.

More important for Kant (1795/1903) than the ability of the people to voice dissent, however, was their will to resist fighting a war not of their choosing. Ideally, according to Kant, a republican constitution embodies the ideals of those it represents. As such, the consent of those living under the constitution is required to determine whether there shall be a war. The citizens of the nation will be the ones spilling blood in war, not their leadership, and as a consequence it is the citizens’ prerogative to resist a burden unduly placed on them. By owning the right to representation and having limited barriers against domestic resistance to fighting, democracies should be less likely to engage in violent wars.

The second definitive article proposes that, over time, peaceful republics such as those discussed in the first article, shall join together under a common law in a pacific international union. This union of states, with each state sharing similar internal republican dynamics, will help individual states come together internationally to overcome and avoid violent tendencies through international acceptance and application of republican law. This international covenant of peace equates roughly to a single government composed of numerous nations and will expand only as the number of individual republics increases, reducing war between nations at the same time.

The third definitive article focuses on universal hospitality between states. Universal hospitality implies that no state or representatives of a foreign state shall be treated with hostility when they enter another’s country. Specifically, scholars have taken this to mean that no state shall impinge on another’s ability to trade commercially with another: States have “the obligation of maintaining the opportunity for citizens to exchange goods and ideas, without imposing the obligation to trade” (Doyle, 1983, p. 227). Commerce and trade between nations, it seems, is important to maintaining the collegial international union sought in the second definitive article (Russett & Oneal, 2001). However, evidence supporting the pacific effect of trade is mixed. In fact, the impact of trade on proclivity for violence is dependent on the volume of trade, trade dependency, and the form of good being traded (e.g., Barbieri, 1996; Crescenzi, 2003). In some instances, strategic advantage is assumed by a predatory trading partner increasing the chances of war. In most all cases, however, the impact of trade is mollified by either the presence or absence of democracy (Beck, 2001). The Kantian peace hinges much more critically on democracy than on trade. However, when the three definitive articles are adopted simultaneously, the evidence of dyadic democratic peace is substantial.

Moving beyond Kant’s theory of perpetual peace, the second theory of democratic peace, normative theory, claims that ritualized behavior within democracies creates what are often referred to as “norms of bounded contestation” between democracies (Dixon, 1994). Norms are expectations shared between states as to what constitutes proper and expected behavior. A democratic state behaves in a certain manner given its domestic environment. Over time, the domestic milieu becomes entrenched and creates a solidified internal democratic behavioral culture. When acting in pairs internationally, democracies recognize the constraints placed on one another by their domestic environments and do not expect one another to violate their respective domestic obligations. These normative expectations are further instilled between states through their repeated interactions with one another. Ultimately, recognition and acknowledgment of these norms reduce paranoia brought about by strategic uncertainty between states, limiting potentially extreme behavior and in turn making democratic dyads less war prone.

The third argument of the democratic peace is based on information conveyance. Being transparent organisms, democracies are able to signal their intentions and capabilities more credibly than autocracies (Fearon, 1994). International observers can easily witness policy processes and any potential military activity. In doing so, democratic transparency reduces uncertainty between nations and ameliorates the need for preemptive violence.

This argument is contingent on the policy preferences of leaders and their electorate. Given the visibility of policymaking processes within democracies, when democratic leaders make decisions, domestic observers “assess the performance of leaders” (Fearon, 1994, p. 577) and punish or reward said leaders accordingly. The same inherent transparency of the democratic structure allows the state to credibly convey their intent internationally. A constituency supportive of aggressive behavior advocated by political decision makers is an effective signal to outside states that the democratic leader will act in a likewise aggressive fashion. Backing down in the face of domestic pressure would lead to the potential loss of office. The same can be said of nonaggressive policy; if both leaders and the electorate favor nonconfrontational means, the signal is easy to interpret internationally. For the leader to act aggressively in this situation would result in an unfavorable public reaction. Thus, the ability of a democracy to signal interests and intent should reduce observing states’ uncertainty about the democracy’s actions and should relieve paranoid onlookers of their inclination to preemptively act on their fears.

III. Empirical Evidence and Counterarguments

The democratic peace is a theory of human and state behavior. Humans and states are able to alter their behavior under any given circumstances. As such, the democratic peace is a probabilistic theory of behavior and not a concrete law governed by, for example, Newtonian laws of physics (as are billiard balls on a table). However, the empirical fact that democracies have so rarely gone to war has compelled some to deem the democratic peace a law or something very close to it. Levy (1988) was the first to accord democracies with this impressive trait: “The absence of war between democracies comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations” (p. 662). More recently, Ray (1995) has argued in support of this claim, in that when definitions of democracy and war are sufficiently strict, there are no observed instances of wars between democracies.

Although the statistical absence of war between democracies is impossible to ignore, there are, however, five focal counterarguments to the democratic peace. First, one must confront definitional aspects of the theory. That is, how does one define war and democracy, and in turn, how do varying definitions alter the cases that support or violate the democratic peace? Second, states vary in respective levels of development. As such, one must question the validity of the democratic peace across both developed and developing democratic states and assess if the democratic peace holds across all levels of state development. Third, the theory of democratic pacifism must be investigated. That is, are democracies truly peace loving and risk averse as arguments of monadic democratic behavior would have us think, or are democracies wolves in sheep’s clothing? Fourth, the international context and its impact on democracies and war must be addressed. Finally, the dominant theoretical persuasion of the latter half of the 20th century, realism, will be discussed in relation to the notion that democracies, of all states, are war averse.

A. The Debate Over Definitions

Although theories diverge in their explanations of the democratic peace, the ultimate litmus test for any theory of behavior is the historical record. In this regard, evidence is overwhelmingly in support of an international peace between democracies. Of the 80 recognized interstate wars that have occurred between 1816 and 1997 (Sarkees, 2000), there have been fewer than a handful of wars involving democracies on contending sides. However, when one presumes a specific empirical relationship such as war between democracies, the relationship itself is dependent on how one defines both democracy and war.

Empirically, war has most often been defined as an occurrence of violence between two or more states involving at least 1,000 battlefield deaths (combatants, not civilians) per year between belligerents (Sarkees, 2000). This definition may seem arbitrary, but it is a fair barometer of the level of violence between parties (e.g., Ray, 1995). A cutoff of 25 battlefield deaths would qualify small riots and uprisings as wars. If the level were such, the number of wars in the international system would be incredibly high. Thus, the 1,000 battlefield deaths per year mark is sufficiently high as to exclude smaller-scale incidents such as localized uprisings, while simultaneously including those incidents that vary from the largest of international confrontations, for example, World War I and World War II (approximately 8 million and 16.6 million relative combatant casualties), to brief but intense wars such as the 4-day 1969 Football War between El Salvador and Honduras (1,900 casualties) or the 2-week 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and its Arab neighbors (16,401 casualties).

Although the aforementioned definition of war has been widely accepted by the scholarly community, the definition of democracy is far more ambiguous. As previously discussed, democracies are an amalgam of popular participation, executive restraints, and free and fair elections. Any study attempting to ascertain the proclivity for democracies to go to war must address the questions of what necessary levels of popular participation and executive limitations on power are. According to Ray (1995), in conjunction with one’s definition of war, the definition one uses for democracy alters the number of wars that could potentially violate the democratic peace dramatically.

In the strictest sense of democracy—a system with regular elections for political leaders, at least 50% of the adult population votes or is eligible to vote, there is more than one political party within the government, and governing parties can lose elections—and using the 1,000 battlefield deaths marker as the definition of war, there are, in fact, no wars between approximately 1800 and 1997 that would classify as wars between democracies (Ray, 1995). However, there are a number of conflicts between states approximating democracy or of such intensity as to be borderline wars. The most notable challenges to the democratic peace include the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the Boer War.

B. Developing Versus Consolidated Democracy

An important element of state proclivity to engage in international war is the stability of the involved state’s domestic political environment. The difference between a stable and consolidated democracy and an unstable political institutional environment arguably has a significant impact on the warring behavior of the state in question.

Recall the three primary criteria used to identify and categorize democracies: executive recruitment, executive restraints, and political participation. The ideal democracy possesses the highest levels of all three categories, while the most extreme autocracy the lowest. A third distinct category, anocracy, is a state occupying the somewhat nebulous middle area between autocracy and democracy. The process of transitioning from any one of these regime types to the other can be termed either democratization or autocratization. States are considered to be

democratizing if, during a given period of time, they change from autocracy to either anocracy or democracy, or if they change from anocracy to democracy . . . autocratizing if they change from democracy to anocracy or autocracy, or from anocracy to autocracy. (Mansfield & Snyder, 1995, p. 9)

These processes have a profound impact on the internal stability of states and, in turn, their warring nature.

Democracies are significantly different from their autocratic counterparts, making for difficult transitions. Autocracies are characterized by the centralization of decision-making processes and very often the forceful silencing of opposition. As such, when states move from autocracy to democracy, there are suddenly myriad localized and sometimes national political groups that had previously been politically excluded. Local and national elites are compelled to compete for their respective groups’ interests. Very often, this competition can either overwhelm the newly formed democratic institutions, leading to domestic turmoil, or elites can engage in risky foreign policy in attempts to bolster their domestic support (e.g., Mansfield & Snyder, 1995). Both domestic turmoil and foreign policy maneuvering from the democratization process arguably increase the potential for war.

Although seemingly intuitive, statistically speaking, the argument that regime change increases war proclivity is inconclusive. Mansfield and Snyder (1995) argue that states undergoing democratization show a roughly 60% increased probability of being involved in war relative to stable counterparts. However, scholars have had difficulty replicating their assessment. Neither Maoz and Abdolali (1989), Enterline (1998), nor Thompson and Tucker (1997) find any evidence that democratization increases either the possibility of international war or even lower level international dispute. Rather, these authors independently argue that only autocratization increases the likelihood of interstate dispute. Given the ultimate rarity with which democracies fight (recall that there are no incidences of democracies engaging in war with one another and minimal cases of war with autocracies), there is room to debate the absolute impact of democratization on violence.

C. Firing the First Round: Who Initiates War

A glaring question remains to be answered. Within mixed dyads composed of both a democracy and an autocracy, is one state more prone to initiating war than the other? By addressing this question, scholars can directly assess the theory of democratic pacifism in terms of war initiation and examine if democracies are, in general, more peaceful than are other types of states or if they are dragged into wars by other violent states.

On further investigation of this phenomenon, democracies instigate a significantly smaller proportion of wars with autocracies than do autocracies with democracies (Reiter & Stam, 2003). “Democracies are not significantly more likely to target dictatorships than vice versa, but dictatorships are significantly more likely to target democracies” (p. 336). To further extrapolate this point, between 1816 and 1990, democracies initiated a total of 15 wars, whereas autocratic regimes (dictatorships and oligarchs) initiated 42 wars. However, it is worth noting that not only do democracies initiate a sizable number of wars with autocracies (Bueno de Mesquita & Lalman, 1992), but also they tend to win those that they instigate (Lake, 1992; Reiter & Stam, 2002). Democracies win 93% of the wars they initiate, whereas dictatorships win roughly 60% of conflicts they initiate (Reiter & Stam, 2002).

Democratic and autocratic victory records, it is argued, are a byproduct of the respective democratic and autocratic systems. Democratic leaders, knowing that they can be easily removed from office, choose to involve themselves in short, relatively bloodless wars that can be won fairly easily. Thus, there is a strategic selection process within democracies where wars that can be won are instigated, and those that would potentially drag on are overlooked. Contrarily, autocratic leaders have less fear of popular reprisal for their decisions to engage in war. Thus, autocracies instigate more wars than do democracies, and they tend to lose a fair number more of those wars they instigate given the limited consequences of losing war and a lessened need for strategic choosing of winnable wars.

One is thus led to the conclusion that there is a significant amount of war being fought in the international system at any given time and that democracies play their fair share. Democracies instigate and win a sizable number of wars against autocracies, and although the overall number of wars involving democracies is substantial, democracies simply do not fight each other.

D. International Context: Democracy and the Cold War

As discussed thus far, claims of the absence of international war between democracies are dependent on definitions of war and democracy, the stage of democratic development, and recognition that democracies are very willing to engage autocracies in open warfare. This research paper must now address the fact that democratic war is also dependent on (a) the number of democracies within the international system and (b) the willingness of democracies to fight one another under the auspices of a unified, nondemocratic threat.

At the end of World War II in 1945, there were as few as 19 recognized democracies in the world, many of which were less than a decade old (Marshall & Jaggers, 2007). As of 2009, the number of democracies had grown to approximately 120, and they now represent the majority of the states in the international system. However one chooses to perceive this trend, an indisputable fact is that democratic proliferation is a relatively recent phenomenon, and until only incredibly recently there were very few democracies in the world.

Critical to this point is the timing of this spike in democratic states. From 1945 until 1991, the international system was bifurcated between two economic and ideologically competing super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The era of the cold war pitted capitalist democracies on the side of the United States and centrally organized communist states with the Soviet Union. During this period, the United States and the Soviet Union enforced peace between their respective ideological groups. Further, the United Nations was largely incapacitated during the cold war by the presence of U.S. and Soviet veto power in the UN Security Council and pressure on their respective blocs to vote uniformly. As such, with such a minimal number of democracies in the world and the relatively recent adoption of democracy as a system of state governance, democracies have had relatively little opportunity to engage one another in war. Coupled with the advent of the cold war and United States pressure to avoid conflict with other democracies, one could make the plausible argument that the democratic peace is merely an artifact of (a) the low level of contact between an equally low level of democracies and (b) cold war power politics.

E. The Realist Counterargument to the Democratic Peace

Perhaps the dominant theoretical approach to international relations in the latter half of the 20th century was realism. For realists, the necessity of state survival in the international system precludes domestic politics, and regardless of whether a regime is democratic or autocratic, a state will act similarly to other states. Among others, Waltz (1979) famously declared states to be “billiard balls” in that given identical international circumstances, states will respond identically.

The reality is, however, that states do not respond identically to similar scenarios. Realism presents no reasoned argument why democracies should not go to war with the same frequency as all other states. As billiard balls, the international system should drive them to conflict with the same propensity as all other states, and yet it does not. Democracies alone do not engage in war, and they do so only when paired together.

IV. Policy Implications of Democratic Peacefulness

Rarely does a scholarly observation gain such momentum within the policy community. U.S. presidents have routinely stated that international peace is dependent on the presence of democracy. Among others, Bill Clinton famously remarked in his 1994 State of the Union Address, “Ultimately, the best strategy to ensure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of democracy elsewhere. Democracies don’t attack each other” (cited in Reiter & Stam, 2002, p. 1). More recent rhetoric by U.S. leaders pertaining to the spread of democracy in the Middle East further weights this point.

A. Can Democracy Be Sold?

Given the propensity for Western political leaders to draw attention to the importance of democracy on the world stage, it is prudent to address the question of whether democracy can be successfully supported or imposed in previously nondemocratic nations. This question is particularly important given the proclivity for the United States and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and United Nations to explicitly pursue the systematic democratization of states. The question must be asked: Can democracy be sold?

Enterline and Greig (2005) argue that democracy, imposed by an outside power, can have grave implications for localized peace. Their argument is contingent on the “brightness” of the imposed democracy. A bright democracy is analogous to a highly consolidated democratic state, while a dim democracy is equivalent to an anocracy and may be quite politically unstable. Results are telling. Bright democracies reduce localized interstate war and are particularly effective at reducing war waged by states that share political borders with the new democracy. However, bright democracies have no democratizing impact on the region. Contrary to bright democracies, dim democracies actually increase localized instability and reduce the likelihood that regional states will democratize. In the instance a state shares a border with a dim imposed democracy, they have an increased likelihood of becoming involved in war and lessened chances of democratizing.

Given these results, politicians would be wise to consider the potential repercussions of imposing democratic institutions in states or regions where democracy has not traditionally existed. Where imposed democracies “burn brightly [and] . . . reflect strong democratic institutions” (Enterline & Greig, 2005, pp. 1089–1090) localized violence may decrease. The potential for a dim democratic imposition is a very glaring reality, however, and may actually increase localized violence and slow the spread of democracy: the exact opposite reaction politicians may desire.

V. Future Directions

Future scholarship on the democratic peace would do well to explore several areas of research. First, there has been a glaring absence of work investigating democratic processes and warring behavior. Work on developing or transitional democracy provides only a rough proxy for the limited ability of weak democracies to function properly. This should not inhibit scholars from exploring different manners in which democracies process and institutionalize means of conflict resolution. For example, majoritarian democracies such as the United Kingdom approach policy construction in a manner quite distinct from a consensus democracy, which is exercised, for example, in Switzerland.

Second, the willingness of democracies to fight must be addressed. Gartzke (1998) argues that if democracies vote in a similar fashion in the United Nations, they should have nothing to fight about given the vote’s reflection on state preferences. Although the evidence is intriguing that democracies vote in a very similar fashion, this argument is hindered by the aforementioned cold-war context argument. It is thus not surprising that democracies have voted in a consistent manner, thereby reflecting unified preferences and avoiding conflict. Continued scholarship on convergence of democratic preferences in the post–cold war era would be highly informative, and studies outside of the United Nations would inform the current understanding.

Third, scholars must address the notion that democracies are a relatively new phenomenon in the international system and that a continued increase in the number of democracies could have substantial consequences. Over time, the democratic fraternity has increased in number, and democracies are increasingly likely to have direct contact with one another. To assume that the democratic peace is a law when much of the time period under consideration was largely devoid of democracy and to allow the argument to persevere in the face of an ever-increasing number of democracies would be a tremendous oversight. Just as an increase in a state’s population gives rise to an increased probability that any one person could partake in an extreme act of violence, it is likely that as the number of democracies in the international system increases, so does the proclivity for interaction and deviant cases of war between democracies. Further, as a derivative of the spread of democracy, scholars must also be cognizant that the ever increasing number of democracies could, in fact, be driving increases in instability between the decreasing number and thus increasingly isolated autocratic nations (Ray, 1995).

VI. Conclusion

Although democracy’s international advancement has been relatively recent, the observation that democracies rarely, if ever, fight has attracted the attention of academic and policy minds alike. Many studies, empirical and purely theoretical, have added substantial weight to the argument. Yet one must not assume this research agenda to be complete. Many questions remain in this area of inquiry, focusing not only on the statistical rarity or definition of democracy but also on democracy’s constitution and how its spread (imposed and not) will impact the world stage in the future. Rigorous examination of international context, democratic process, and democratic interest are needed.

Inconsistencies within the democratic peace argument, such as the presence of international cold-war alliances (e.g., NATO) and the concurrent explosion of democratic states post–WorldWar II, or the willingness of democracies to attack nondemocracies with regularity, also require further examination. Although scholars disagree as to the exact causes behind the democratic peace, only continued examination will tell if the democratic peace is truly worthy to bear the heavy yoke of law or if it is merely an aberration.

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