Democratic peace is the proposal that democratic nations are more peaceful in their international relations to prevent war and promote political and economic prosperity. Democratic peace proposition has extensively been debated by international relation theorists. The democratic peace theory relies on the ideology of liberalism. Put differently, diverse states have personal and political liberties, functional democratic traditions and economic growth. Therefore, in liberal democracies, the citizens enjoy political freedoms and exercise their right of free speech. The democratic peace holds for democratic states due to political ideologies and pacified influence of democracy in governance. The primary proposition of democratic peace is that democratic states are less likely to engage in war with each other because these nations place constraints on their leaders. The democratic states tend to be reluctant in waging war against their counterparts. However, a section of scholars disagree with the primary proposition of democratic peace. These scholars believe that democracies are likely to wage war against one another. Historically, there are democratic states that waged war against another. The essay examines arguments presented by supporters and critics of democratic peace.
Democracies Are Unlikely To Wage War
Democratic states are unlikely to wage war against another because of institutional, constitutional and legal restraints. As such, democratic institutions like courts, criminal justice and the constitutions are meant to uphold internal and external peace of a state. These institutions accord democratic states the time and opportunities to amicably settle disagreement arising from trade war or territorial disputes. Stalwart institutional frameworks deny leaders the ability to independently launch wars against other democratic states (Karstedt 462). For example, the President of the United States must seek approval from the senate before attacking a formidable country like Russia. Conversely, the president may unilaterally attack a delicate democratic state like Iran. Moreover, the presidency makes leaders to be more concerned with their re-elections. Hence, leaders may not desire to start a war that would otherwise tarnish the image of his or her candidature. These leaders often fear policy failures and instead tend to focus on retaining their office. It means leaders can only participate in war that they can easily win. Karstedt reveals that wars involving democratic states tend to be longer and bloody posing great risk to public policy (467). Therefore, the institutions and constitutional offices restrain leaders from waging war against their equals to promote peace and political posterity.
The democratic norms, ideals and values make democratic states nonthreatening to other established democracies. Choi affirms democratic states operate on the confines of values that define orderly societies in which order and freedom is balanced (763). The democratic ideals define the governance structure and the power that citizens derive from freedom of speech. Accordingly, it is challenging for a democratic government to make reckless war decision before incorporating the input of the citizens through their representatives. As such, democratic states believe that other democracies are trustworthy, reasonable and predictable on matter to do with conflicts or war. The democratic states cannot wage war against their counterpart because they see that their missions are open, direct, and conciliatory (Choi 765). The democracies often opt to promote peace as they are steered by virtually similar beliefs promoting a sense of political stability, therefore preventing any evil intentions.
The reinforced economic independence and stability eliminate the likelihood of a democratic state waging war against peers. Gibler reveals democratic nations operate in free-market economies (126). Therefore, these states are able to offer negotiated commitment in the market to facilitate the smooth flow of goods, services and capital than undemocratic countries. In most cases, democratic states would always respect other established states in common market and may agree to pursue divergent interests. For example, the interest of the United States and Russia are quite different in Syria ensuring that the nations pursue their independent interests. The United States is interested in protecting the oil field while Russia engages in weapons and arms deal in Syria. The democracies repeatedly remind each other of the need to respect the prevailing independence to limit instances of conflict. Gibler states that democracies attempt to promote peace and mutual understanding while participating in trading activities (128). Well-coordinated trade activities tent to benefit participants as war may directly cut of critical imports and exports. Gibler further affirms that trade may reduce the benefits of conquests, especially in developing countries (129). As a result, the considerable loss of trade reduces the likelihood of democratic states to wage war against one another as there is nothing much to fight for and in the process promote economic posterity.
Democracies Are Likely To Wage War
The arguments presented by supporters of democratic peace notwithstanding, a section of international relation professionals have raised contrary opinions. These scholars believe that democratic states can actually wage against their peers. Historically the attack of Athens on Syracuse contests the hypothesis that democracies cannot wage war against another. Although there are questions whether Athens had earlier knowledge about the democratic orientation of Syracuse, or whether the hypothesis of democratic peace applied to ancient states. The scholars and professional disagree by articulating fundamental concerns to disapprove the hypothesis.
Foremost, historically, neighboring states fought each other in the past. The fact that only few democratic states existed before 1945 is a reliable indication that there were instances and opportunities in which democracies fought each other (Dafoe 253). Second, the perception that democratic peace theory holds for western countries does not mean it can be applied to non-western states. There are countries considered democratic but do not operate under liberal political ideologies but utilize more paternalistic methods of governance. For example, the conflict between India and Pakistan is a prime example of states that do not embrace liberal ideals but are democratic and engaged in conflicts. Therefore, the thesis is inapplicable in such a scenario.
Third, democratic states are statistically prone to war as other systems of governance across the world. These democracies, in show of power and dominance, often feel duty-bound to participate in wars that involve democratic states. Per Reiter, the campaigns against Saddam and Milosevic in the past represent an excellent example of instances in which democratic states sought to engage in wars (605). Finally, those who disagree outlines that young democracies undergoing challenging transitions in democracy and market economies may actually engage in war with another state. The intention of engaging in war with other democracies is to create a diversion from its local struggles.
The essay has examined the arguments presented by both supporters and critics of democratic peace. The arguments presented in support of the thesis show that democracies cannot wage war against one another because these states envisage political, social, and economic cultures advocating for peaceful resolution of disputes. For that matter, the economic independence of these states makes them less threatening. The institutional frameworks also promote separation of powers and reinforce checks and balances preventing leaders from engaging in unsanctioned war. Conversely, the arguments presented by critics of the proposition claim that democracies can wage war against their peers as demonstrated by the Athens-Syracuse conflict. Further, the fact that non-western democratic states like India and Pakistan engaged in conflicts in the past questions the applicability of the theory. Young democratic states as well can engage in conflicts to divert attention from their domestic struggles. Nonetheless, this essay supports the proposition that democracies are less likely to wage war against their peers.
Choi, Seung-Whan. “Re-evaluating Capitalist and Democratic Peace Models”. International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3, 2011, pp. 759–769.
Dafoe, Allan. “Statistical Critiques of the Democratic Peace: Caveat Emptor”. American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 55, Issue 2, 2011, pp. 247–262.
Gibler, Douglas. “Contiguous States, Stable Borders, and the Peace among Democracies”. International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 58, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 126–129.
Karstedt, Susanne. “Does Democracy Matter? Comparative Perspectives on Violence and Democratic Institutions”. European Journal of Criminology, Vol. 12, Issue 4, 2015, pp. 457-481.
Reiter, Dan. “Democracy, Deception, and Entry into War”. Security Studies, Vol. 21, Issue 4, 2012, pp. 594–623.