Flaws of the Democratic Peace Theory

How convincing is the Democratic Peace Theory in explaining war and peace between states?

Democratic peace theory - Wikipedia

The concept of Democratic Peace Theory is that liberal states knowingly assume that they are creating an informal, mutual agreement. Throughout recent history there has been little or no war between democratic states, although there has been conflict on other levels such as international law. War is unlikely as democratic states want to keep the peace. "Liberalism becomes either unself-consciously patriotic or inherently 'peace loving'" (Doyle 1983:205). Democratic states do, however, go to war with non-liberal states, for example the USA and its allies in Afghanistan. During and after WW2, up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, although regarded as 'peacetime', there were more wars than ever; how could this be Democratic Peace? The question undermined its validity as peace was clearly not being kept. Most research on the theory of peace is dyadic, reiterating that democratic states don't go to war with each other but that democratic and non-democratic states do go to war. "Liberal states are as aggressive and war-prone as any other form of government or society in their relations with nonliberal states" (Doyle, 1983: 225). For Doyle it's more of a political than a causal scientific problem.

Elman, “The Need for a Qualitative Test of the Democratic Peace Theory,” 10-14.

The Democratic Peace Theory - E-International Relations

This essay will examine the existing arguments on "why democracies do not fight each other" using The Democratic Peace Theory and will give conclusions on how effective could be this theory during the present days, where the concept of War has changed.

Elman, “The Need for a Qualitative Test of the Democratic Peace Theory,” 10-14.

Nonetheless, a few studies have cited rare occurrences of democracy-on-democracy, direct warfare (Rosato 2003), leading staunch supports of the reliability of democratic peace theory to cite what they perceive as a deliberate manipulation of the definition and/or criteria of the independent variable (democracy) and the dependent variable (the dichotomous variable: war or peace) substantiating democratic peace theory refutation. Predictably, modern realists also accuse liberal, democratic peace subscribers of careful variable manipulation, leading to the sustainment of the theory.

Research on the democratic peace theory has to define


Although some scholars regard the institutional and normative explanations as mutually exclusive, a much more intuitive and persuasive defence of the democratic peace theory emerges from combining these two viewpoints. Thus, the particular democratic practices that make war with other liberal democracies unlikely – free and fair elections, the rule of law, free press, a competitive party system – are driven by both ‘converging expectations about what conventional behaviour is likely to be’ (institutions) and ‘standards for what behaviour ought to be’ (norms). These two explanations are complimentary and mutually reinforcing: cultural norms influences the creation and evolution of political institutions, and institutions help generate a more peaceful moral culture over time.Of course, the point on which critics of the democratic peace theory are largely correct is that liberal democracies are not significantly less likely to go to war with other nondemocratic states. The available evidence largely disproves the monadic proposition that democratic states are less prone to use force regardless of the regime type of the opposing state. This is likely due to the fact that democratic states still function in an ‘incompletely Kantian world’ where democracies have only recently gone from being a minority to the slight majority within the post-Cold War period. Power politics, therefore, is still a necessary reality for most democratic states, particularly given the high levels of conflict between mixed dyads. Nonetheless, there are a number of important advantages for democracies: they are more likely to enter low-level conflicts than full-scale wars; more willing to refrain from escalating disputes into an actual war; and less likely to initiate the use of violence against another state.It has been argued that the absence of war between democratic states ‘comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations.’ Although statistically the probability of war between any two states is considerably low, the absence of war among liberal democracies across a wide range of different historical, economic, and political factors suggests that there is a strong predisposition against the use of military violence between democratic states. This democratic peace proposition not only challenges the validity of other political systems (i.e., fascism, communism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism), but also the prevailing realist account of international relations, which emphasises balance-of-power calculations and common strategic interests in order to explain the peace and stability that characterises relations between liberal democracies. This essay argues, however, that the structural and normative arguments of the democratic peace theory together offer a far more logical and convincing explanation for this seeming anomaly. Furthermore, in line with Immanuel Kant’s theory of perpetual peace, I argue that the global spread of democracy will result in greater international peace if this occurs in parallel with the strengthening of economic interdependence and international organisations. The difficulty lies in the significant risk of instability inherent in the process of democratisation and the uncertainty that remains in an ‘incomplete Kantian world’ where the Hobbesian state of anarchy has not yet entirely disappeared from the international system.In contemporary international relations (IR) theory, there is perhaps no subject more contested than the democratic peace. The origins of democratic peace theory can be traced back to Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace, in which he argues that democracy has a pacific effect on states. Specifically, he argues that because the people bear the burdens of war, a state whose government is directed by the people will be more peaceful than a state whose government is autocratic. In the last twenty years, Kant’s simple proposition has been debated at length. Modern political scientists have studied the democratic peace using many methodologies and have come up with innumerable explanations for the supposed phenomenon. Dyadic democratic peace theory, according to which democracies are only peaceful in relation to one another, is the most prominent version of democratic peace theory. Monadic democratic peace theory has been largely rejected by analyses showing that democracies, overall, fight wars almost as often as autocracies. Most work on the democratic peace comes from quantitative studies, which are useful starting points for the formation of a comprehensive theory. At the same time, however, this methodology has major limitations. This paper will discuss the pros and cons of both quantitative methods and historical case studies and show that the preferable methodology for studying the democratic peace is not one or the other, but a careful reconciliation of the two. The result of the discussion will be a revitalization of monadic peace theory in probabilistic terms. First, however, the paper will discuss why finding the truth about the democratic peace matters in the first place.Empirically speaking, there are two cases, which can possibly contradict the democratic peace theory: the war, waged by the ancient Athenian democracy against the democracy Syracuse, as well as the wars between Israel and Lebanon. For the Athenian case, it has been forcefully argued that Syracuse was perceived by Athens as a highly instable democracy. Also the case of Israel and Lebanon is contested: Israel is often seen as an «ethnic democracy», and Lebanon as an instable «consociational democracy». Furthermore and maybe more importantly, Lebanon has been under Syrian hegemony until the disengagement of Syrian troops from the country as a result of the 2005 “Cedar Revolution”. The Lebanese government does not hold the monopoly of power in the south of the country, which currently is a stronghold of Hezbollah. Thus, the wars between Israel and Lebanon can hardly be seen as a war between two democracies.The long history of the US destabilising and overthrowing democratic but leftish regimes would support that interpretation. Though I guess a democratic peace theorist would say it's significant they used covert action and proxy forces rather than open declarations of war.