Democratic Peace Theory

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  • Topic: Democracy, Democratization, Liberal democracy
  • Pages : 8 (3057 words )
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  • Published : June 17, 2012
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The idea that democracies do not fight each other can be traced back to the writings of Immanuel Kant over two hundred years ago in essay ‘On Perpetual Peace’, however, only in the early 1980s and with the writings of Michael Doyle was the idea consolidated. According to Doyle and other advocates of the democratic peace theory, liberal democratic states have been able to maintain peaceful relations amongst themselves, but are prone to wage war against non-democratic regimes. In order to prove this theory, vast databases have been constructed of historical dyadic relationships between states as well as detailed breakdowns of incidents of inter-state war. The conclusions reached are best shown in the work of Bruce Russett who has argued that alleged wars between democracies (most of which took place in the 19th century) do not meet the criteria for a democracy or for war. These criteria of course are those (conveniently) chosen by Russett. He defines a democracy as a “system of government with a voting franchise for a substantial fraction of citizens” and war is defined by Russett as an “interstate activity with one thousand battle fatalities”. Furthermore, Russett’s data claims to show that since the end of World War II, democratic dyads have not only been able to avoid war, but are less likely to threaten to use force in the settlement of their disputes. So today, the democratic peace theory emerges almost as a truism, democracies don’t fight other democracies, “it is the closest thing we have to empirical law in the study of international relations” says Levy. However, the idea that liberal democracies do not fight other liberal democracies may be a case of false causation. For example we could say ˝fire and the presence of fire engines are closely connected, however we don’t accuse fire engines of causing fire.˝ There are two reasons why liberals make this false conclusion; first are the institutional constraints that argue that democratic governments are reluctant to go to war because they have to answer to their citizens. Because wars are painful and expensive, democratic citizens tend to wage against it. The second is the norms/culture argument, which claims that democracies share the same values and interests, hence they subscribe towards pacifist methods of resolving conflicts, mostly because they benefit from cooperative relationships with each other. In this essay I will argue that even though the liberal democratic peace theory sounds convincing and optimistic, it actually holds no firm ground. As we saw before in history liberal theory often tends to be misleading; in 1910 the general public opinion was that future war was no longer possible because of the economic interdependence, ties between labour and the flow of capital. Again after WW1, the belief was that the victory of democracies would lessen the chances of war. History demonstrates that even as far back as ancient Greece, there are examples of inter-state democracies waging war against each other, as in the case of Athens and Sparta. Therefore the nature of the state whether it is communist or democratic/capitalist is not a sufficient indicator of the likelihood of war. I will argue my case referring to the liberal foreign policy thought, the perceptions of democracy on which I will add a section on the emerging democracies and then I will look upon this theory in a different more realist perspective. I will also briefly consider the quantitative plausibility of the democratic peace theory. Foreign policy

One of the main differences between realism and liberalism, claims Owen, is that liberalism primarily classifies states according to their regime types. Owen also stresses ‘once liberals accept a foreign state as a liberal democracy, they adamantly oppose war against that state.’ According to the democratic peace theory there should be several indicators that lead towards peace between democracies. Firstly, the public opinion should be completely...
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