Issue Report: Democratic peace theory

Is the democratic peace theory correct?

The democratic peace theory (or liberal peace theory or simply the democratic peace) holds that democracies — usually, liberal democracies — never or almost never go to war with one another. The original theory and research on wars has been followed by many similar theories and related research on the relationship between democracy and peace, including that lesser conflicts than wars are also rare between democracies, and that systematic violence is in general less common within democracies. The democratic peace theory has been extremely divisive among political scientists. It is rooted in the idealist and classical liberalist traditions and is opposed to the previously dominant theory of realism. However, democratic peace theory has come to be more widely accepted and has in some democracies effected policy change. Presidents of both the major United States parties have expressed support for the theory. Former President Bill Clinton of the Democratic Party: “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.” Current President George W. Bush of the Republican Party: “And the reason why I’m so strong on democracy is democracies don’t go to war with each other. And the reason why is the people of most societies don’t like war, and they understand what war means…. I’ve got great faith in democracies to promote peace. And that’s why I’m such a strong believer that the way forward in the Middle East, the broader Middle East, is to promote democracy.” The United States Congress has passed the Advance Democracy Act which states: “Wars between or among democratic countries are exceedingly rare, while wars between and among nondemocratic countries are commonplace, with nearly 170,000,000 people having lost their lives because of the policies of totalitarian governments.”

Theory: Is democracy instrumental to peace or do geopolitics play a larger role?

Power kills; absolute power kills absolutely

"Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War".

“It is true that democratic freedom is an engine of national and individual wealth and prosperity. Hardly known, however, is that freedom also saves millions of lives from famine, disease, war, collective violence, and democide (genocide and mass murder). That is, the more freedom, the greater the human security and the less the violence. Conversely, the more power governments have, the more human insecurity and violence. In short: to our realization that power impoverishes we must also add that power kills.”

Democracy promotes harmonious and cooperative inter-state relations

Martin Wolf, Why Globalization Works?. Yale University Press. 2004. ISBN 0-300-10777-3. pp 33.– Liberal democracy does not only have domestic virtues. It is also the only system of governance for which harmonious and co-operative inter-state relations are a natural outcome. This important proposition was put forward by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in his tract Perpetual Peace. Liberal democracies may fight with other states, but have no reason to fight with one another. When Norman Angell, the British liberal, wrote in his subsequently derided masterpiece, the Gran Illusion, published in 1909, that a war among the great powers could only prove mutually ruinous, he was correct…Liberal democracy is conducive to harmonious international relations because the prosperity of a nation derives not from the size of the territory or population under its direct control, but from the combination of internal economic development with international exchange. The insight is the heart of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. It was not just a point about economics, but an equally original and important point about international relations. Mercantilism – the view that the aim of trade is the accumulation of treasure – was worse than bad economics. It was also lethal politics, because it led to conflict where conflict was unjustified.”

Democracies share democratic values that help maintain peace

James Baker III – “We believed that the defeat of communism and the rise of the democrats created an unprecedented opportunity. We hoped to build our relations with Russia, Ukraine, and the other new independent states on the basis of democracy and free markets: what we came to call a “democratic peace,” the type of peace we enjoyed with Germany and Japan. This peace would be based on shared democratic values, not just converging interests. While the democratic impulse in Russia and in most of the new independent states of the Commonwealth was genuine, these nations had little in the way of democratic traditions, and we were far from certain that democracy would take root. But we did not want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by pursuing a pure balance-of-power policy that assumed from the outset that these states would eventually return to authoritarianism.”[1]

Democracy drives economic growth and integration, reducing violence.

Democracy increases information flows, which reduces violence.

Democracies are peaceful only when their interests coincide

Sebastian Rosato. "The Flawed Logic of Democratic Peace Theory". The American Political Science Review. Vol. 97, No. 4 (Nov., 2003)

Democracies…do not trust or respect one another when their interests clash.”

Peace by force is actually what allows peace between democracies

“There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” – A. J. Muste.[2]

Powerful democracies are frequently aggressive and violent

Imagine you are visiting an aquarium that features a large shark tank. There are 100 sharks in the tank. Ninety-five of the sharks are either docile or too small to injure a human. There are, however, five hungry great whites. Certainly, the overwhelming majority of the sharks are harmless, but would you swim in that tank? Similarly, we should not ask, are democracies peaceful?, but is the United States peaceful? Are the other militarily powerful democracies – United Kingdom, France, India, Israel, peaceful? History shows they are not. See, Figure No. 6. As Gowa writes, “Theory suggests and empirical studies confirm that major powers are much more likely than are other states to become involved in armed disputes, including war.”

Democracies are quick to mobilize forces

Sebastian Rosato. "The Flawed Logic of Democratic Peace Theory". The American Political Science Review. Vol. 97, No. 4 (Nov., 2003)

“Open political competition does guarantee that a democracy will reveal private information about its level of resolve thereby avoiding conflict.”

Voters: Are voters more peaceful?

Sacrificing citizens of a republic demand peace from representatives

Citizens that choose their leaders are more peaceful.

Talbott’s version, “Countries whose citizens choose their leaders . . . are more likely than those with other forms of government to be reliable partners in trade and diplomacy, and less likely to threaten the peace.”

The act of voting itself does not pacify people

James Bovard. "The Democratic-Peace Fraud". The Future of Freedom Foundation. 23 May 2008

“The notion that democracy will end all mass killings implies that there is some nobility latent within the masses that merely requires a change in the process of selecting a nation’s rulers to blossom. That would hold true if the only reason people sought blood was that they had not picked their own chiefs. The history of mobs does not indicate that popular selection of leaders ensures nonviolence.”

Democratic populations are not more aware of the costs of war

Processes: Are democratic decision-making processes more likely to produce peace?

Democracies better resolve disagreement without resorting to violence

Rudolph Rummel describes democracy as “a way of solving without violence disagreement over fundamental questions.”[3]

The desire to get re-elected constrains war-making

Immanuel Kant. "Perpetual Peace.". 1795

“But there is another important theoretical thrust regarding the impact of regime type that relies less on the idea that democracy evokes normative commitments to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and more on the idea that “leaders in democracies might avoid wars against other democratic states…because they feel that fighting such wars might be harmful to their chances of staying in power” (Ray 1995, p. 40). Bueno de Mesquita et al (1992), Bueno de Mesquita & Siverson (1995) find that interstate wars do have important impacts on the fate of political regimes, and that the probability that a political leader will fall from power in the wake of a lost war is particularly high in democratic states.”

Democracies do not externalize their conflict resolution processes

Sebastian Rosato. "The Flawed Logic of Democratic Peace Theory". The American Political Science Review. Vol. 97, No. 4 (Nov., 2003)

“Democratic peace theory is probably the most powerful liberal contribution to the debate on the causes of war and peace. In this paper I examine the causal logics that underpin the theory to determine whether they offer compelling explanations for the finding of mutual democratic pacifism. I find that they do not. Democracies do not reliably externalize their domestic norms of conflict resolution.”

There are few checks on the foreign policies of elected executives

Elected leaders are not particularly accountable to peace loving publics or pacifist interest groups

Pretext for war: Is the democratic peace used as a pretext for war?

Spreading democracy and "peace" is used as a pretext for war

George W. Bush, in his 2005 State of the Union address, declared, “Because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.”[4]

Western powers exploits "democratic peace" to maintain dominance

Majority: Does majority rule help or jeopardize peace?

Ethnic division: Does democracy help constrain or amplify ethnic divisions?

Ethnic voting in Democracies often stokes ethnic violence

Ethnic groups often vote in specific patterns. In this way, voting can highlight and foment divisions between ethnic groups, leading to violence, civil war, genocide, or even regional war.

Non-democracies: Do democracies fight non-democracies, and is this OK?

Democracies mostly only engage in defensive wars with non-democracies.

Anti-Westernism is a driving philosophy in opposing Democratic Peace

R.J. Rummel. "The Democratic Peace: A new IDEA"

“anti-Westernism (or anti-Americanism) have caused many intellectuals to reject fundamental Western values, including the faith in classical democratic freedoms; and with this has also gone a rejection of any evidence that these freedoms could promote peace.”

Democracies attack non-democracies, undermining pacifism myth

James Bovard. "The Democratic-Peace Fraud". The Future of Freedom Foundation. 23 May 2008

“Other democracies also lack pacifist resumes. Britain, which was a constitutional republic that became increasingly democratic as the 20th century wore on, attacked many nations to expand or defend its empire. Since the government of Israel was established in 1947/48, it has attacked Egypt (1956), Egypt and Syria (1967), and Lebanon (1982–2006), as well as engaging in more than 35 years of armed struggle against the Palestinians living in the occupied territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war. It also engaged in a defensive war in 1973 against Egypt and Syria.

Unless we assume that it is morally irrelevant when democratic governments kill people in nondemocratic countries, the bellicose record of democratic governments must be considered. The fact that democracies have been rare in history cannot whitewash democracies per se. The fact is that democracies attack.”

Democracies often support violent, repressive dictatorships

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