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14.1 Does democracy create peace among states?

1.  What is at stake in the definitions of war and democracy used in the statistical finding of the 'democratic peace'?

  • Democratic Peace Theory finds its origin in Kantian thought (Perpetual Peace). Peace could be assured, Kant argued, among republican states, who obeyed the rule of law, guaranteed freedom of travel and were members of an international federation.
  • This theory has been applied statistically, where it was found that Kant may have been correct as none or very few democratic states have waged war against one another since 1816 (e.g. Doyle).
  • However, opponents to this theory stress that the very definition of democracy is problematic. Thus, they argue that prior to 1939, almost no democracy existed to the extent that we conceptualize it today (e.g. universal adult suffrage). This means that a statistical examination of the democratic peace theory compares apples to oranges.

2. Are exceptions like covert war as significant as the fact that the major democratic states have never waged a war against one another?

  • The waging of covert wars is another point that opponents of the democratic peace theory continue to highlight. Thus, covert wars are often state-led wars that are conducted by the intelligence apparatus, rather than by the states' military forces. In this way, they are not included in the statistical examination of the democratic peace theory, which, consequently, leads to manipulated results.
  • Even more significant, perhaps, is the emphasis of the state in the defining parameters of the democratic peace theory. Thus, democratic states have often crushed democratic popular uprisings (particularly in relation to postcolonial independence movements). However, such events, once again, would not be included in statistical analyses of the democratic peace theory.
  • Of course, this is embedded in the very difficulties inherent to defining what constitutes war. As we have seen there has been a shift from conceptualizations of war as merely related to sovereign state actors, to what has been termed 'new wars', which focus on the involvement of non-state actors.  Defenders of the democratic peace theory would thus stress that along Kantian lines, one must set the parameters such that what is considered are republican states, not non-state actors.

3. In assessing the significance of the 'democratic peace', how important is the fact that most of the time most democratic states have no reason to go to war with one another? Should we use statistical correlations or specific case studies to assess the idea that democratic states do not got to war with each other?

  • Opponents to the democratic peace theory have often stressed that democratic states often have no reason to go to war with one another. This might be related to international organizations which mediate conflicts such that war is avoided, or the fact that democratic states are often economically intertwined in a manner that would constitute self-harm if they started to compete for material resources and territorial power.
  • Some also argue that the incentive to go to war with one another among democratic states is further diminished if they build alliances to face an external threat. In this sense, one might argue that the second aspect of the democratic peace theory – that democratic states wage, often horrific, wars against non-democratic states – is indeed a prerequisite to asserting that democratic states do not go to war with one another. What is created among democratic states, then, is a kind of imagined community (Anderson) set against a greater external enemy.
  • What the conflicting views on the definition and application of the democratic peace theory examined above suggests, is that there a multiplicity of determining factors to take into consideration when analysing this theory. A more detailed evaluation of this theory might thus have to be placed within case-by-case analyses rather than a universal statistical application.