Critically evaluate the ‘democratic peace thesis’ that liberal democracies do not go to war against one another

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To critically evaluate this question we will clarify what the ‘democratic peace thesis’ actually means. Then within that context, discuss evidence that suggests it may ‘work’, then follow a discussion on the theory’s criticisms. The conclusion will be based on whether the theory is indeed plausible based on the supporting evidence. According to the given research there is more supporting evidence backing up the theory that clearly outweighs its criticisms.

The ‘democratic peace thesis’ is possibly the most widely accepted theory among international relations theorists today. A massive body of literature in the field has been devoted to exploring this idea . Though there is a minority that vocally disagree, the general consensus of what the ‘democratic peace thesis’ entails is that “the absence of war between democratic states comes as close to anything we have to an empirical law in international relations” . The proposition is fairly dated, as far as the writings of Immanual Kant in the 18th century. The principal argument of democratic peace proponents is that democratic states do not call on war against each other. There are exceptions however. The Spanish-American War, the Continuation War, and the most recent the Kargil War are all exceptions, even though they are also regarded as marginal cases . This is why scholars have agreed to modify the claim to “democracies are less likely to fight wars with each other” .
Explanations supporting how democracy may cause peace have traditionally been categorized into two groups. The first focuses on democratic norms. The second explanation focuses on democratic political structures regarding little violence between democracies. Liberal democratic culture making leaders accustomed to negotiation and compromise (Müller & Wolff 2004) is one explanation focusing on democratic norms. Bruce Russett (1993, p. 73-4) also argues that the democratic culture influences the way leaders resolve conflicts. Also, that the social norm emerged toward the end of the 19th century, that democracies should not fight each other, which solidified when the democratic culture and the degree of democracy increased. Increasing democratic stability allowed partners in foreign affairs to regard a nation as reliable democratic. The alliances between democracies during the both World Wars and the Cold War also heightened the norms.
In regards to democratic political structures specifically in the case of institutional constraints goes back to Kant (1795), who illustrates:
“[I]f the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. Among the latter would be: having to fight, having to pay the costs of war from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future”
Democracy therefore gives influence to those most likely to be killed or wounded in wars, including friends and relatives (also those who pay war taxes) Russett (1993, p.30). This theory, however, has explained why democracies attack non-democratic states. One explanation is that these democracies were at some point threatened or otherwise provoked by non-democratic states. Doyle (1997, p.272) argues that the absence of a monadic peace is only to be expected: following the similar ideologies that cause liberal states to be at peace inspire idealistic wars with the non-liberal, whether to defend foreign minorities oppressed.
Criticisms regarding the democratic peace thesis include arguments against the derived empirical evidence, the fact that there are other factors that contributes to peace, not solely democracy as the theory suggests. Many say that the theory is empirically wrong. Only a single study (Schwartz & Skinner 2002) appears to argue that there have been as many wars between democracies as one would expect between any other couple of states. However, its authors include wars between young and questioning democracies, and very small wars. Others like Spiro (1994), Gowa (1999), Small & Singer (1976) state that, although there may be some evidence for democratic peace, the data samples or the time spans may be too small to assess any definitive conclusions.
A general criticism motivating research of different explanations is that the theory cannot claim “democracy causes peace”, because the evidence for democracies being more peaceful is very slight or non existent; it only can support the claim that “joint democracy causes peace”. Based on Rosato (2003) writings, this casts doubt on whether democracy is actually the cause, because if so, a monadic effect would be expected. Perhaps the simplest explanation to such perceived variance is that democracies are not peaceful to each other because they are democratic, but rather because they are similar. This started with several independent observations of an “autocratic peace” effect, a reduced probability of war between states which are both non-democratic, or both highly so (Beck & Jackman 1998). This has led to the suggestion that democratic peace emerges as a particular case when examining a subset of states which are similar (Werner 2000). Or, if that not similar at least have a coherence of strong political regimes such as full democracies and stark autocracies, which in turn might affect the probability of war.
Economic factors such as wealth and growth as an explanation. A majority of researchers regarding determining factors of democracy agree that economic development is a key factor which allows the formation of stable and healthy democracies (Hegre, 2003). It is not a contradiction within the democratic peace theory; it is just a statement about the nature of democracy; although, if a causal link between some economic factor and peace could be found, one could hope to explain the findings of the theory on a purely economical basis.
Mousseau argues that cultures of contracting in advanced market-oriented economies may cause both democracy and peace (2005). Low economic development may hinder development of liberal institutions and values. These studies show that democracy, solely, is unlikely a cause of the democratic peace. Mousseau (2005) finds that democracy is a significant factor only when both democracies have levels of economic development well above the global mean. Twenty one percent of the poorest democracies studied, and the poorest four to five percent of current democracies, are significantly more likely to fight each other. Hegre (2003) finds that democracy is correlated with civil peace only for developed countries, and for countries with high levels of literacy. On the other hand, the risk of civil war decreases with development only for democratic countries. Considering that both World Wars were fought between countries which can be considered highly developed by most criteria casts serious doubts about whether economic development alone can explain democratic peace.
Supporters of the realist perspective regarding international relations generally argue that it isn’t democracy or its absence, but considerations and evaluations of power, that cause peace or war. Particularly, many realist critics claim that the effect accredited to democratic or liberal peace, is in effect due to alliances between democratic states which in turn are caused, one way or another, by realist factors. The most direct counter arguments to such criticisms have been studies finding peace between democracies to be significant even when controlling for “common interests” as reflected in alliances (Ray 2003). Some supporters of the democratic peace do not deny that realist factors are also important (Russett 1995). Research supporting the theory has also shown that factors such as alliances and major power status influence interstate conflict behavior (Ray 2003).
Other examples include several studies finding that democracies are more likely to ally with one another than with other states, forming alliances which are likely to last longer than alliances involving non-democracies (Ray 2003). Also showing studies (Weart 1998) showing that democracies conduct diplomacy differently and in a more conciliatory way compared to non-democracies, another study finding that democracies with proportional representation are in general more peaceful regardless of the nature of the other party involved in a relationship (Leblang & Chan 2003).
In conclusion, although criticism regarding the theory’s empirical value, and plausibility and contradictory theories of what factors causes peace, we see why the ‘democratic peace thesis’ is possibly the most widely accepted theory among international relations theorists today. The supporting evidence is massively outweighing, even though claims suggesting liberal democracies cause no wars at all are seen as radical, it is a known empirical fact based on various research and studies by the mentioned scholars that liberal democracies cause lesser overall conflicts. I believe liberal democracies causing lesser conflicts should be regarded as an important effect that supports the theory. Even though it does not reach the intended extent (that liberal democracies for not go to war against one another), it does not completely disprove the theory which has lead me to reach the conclusion that the democratic peace theory is indeed plausible.

Beck, Nathaniel & Simon Jackman (1998), Beyond Linearity by Default: Generalized Additive Models, American Journal of Political Science 42: 596–627
Doyle, Michael W. (1983a). Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs. Philosophy and Public Affairs (Vol. 12, No. 3. (Summer, 1983)): 205-235.
Doyle, Michael W (1997). Ways of War and Peace. New York: W.W. Norton
Doyle, Michael W (1997). Ways of War and Peace. New York: W.W. Norton.
Gowa, Joanne (1999). Ballots and Bullets: The Elusive Democratic Peace. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hegre, HÃ¥vard (2003). Disentangling Democracy and Development as Determinants of Armed Conflict .
Kant, Immanuel (1795). “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”.
Lake, D. (1992) “Powerful Pacifists: Democratic States and War,” American Political Science Review, 86:1, p. 32
Leblang, David & Steve Chan (2003), “Explaining Wars Fought by Established Democracies: Do Institutional Constraints Matter?”, Political Research Quarterly 56: 385–400
Levy, Jack. (1989) “The Causes of War: A Review of Theories and Evidence,” in Philip E. Tetlock, Jo L. Husbands, Robert Jervis, Paul C. Stern, and Charles Tilly (eds.), Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War, Vol. 1, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 270.
Müller, Harald & Jonas Wolff (2004), “Dyadic Democratic Peace Strikes Back”
Mousseau, Michael (2005), “Comparing New Theory with Prior Beliefs: Market Civilization and the Democratic Peace”, Conflict Management and Peace Science 22(1): 63–77
Ray, James Lee (2005), Constructing Multivariate Analyses (of Dangerous Dyads)”, Conflict Management and Peace Science 22: 277–292
Ray, James Lee (1995). Democracy and International Conflict. University of South Carolina Press.
Rosato, Sebastian (2003), The Flawed Logic of the Democratic Peace Theory, American Political Science Review 97: 585–602
Russett, Bruce (1993). Grasping the Democratic Peace. Princeton University Press.
Schwartz, Thomas & Kiron K. Skinner (2002), “The Myth of the Democratic Peace”, Orbis 46(1): 159
Small, Melvin & David J. Singer (1976), “The War Proneness of Democratic Regimes, 1816-1965”, Jerusalem Journal of International Relations 1: 50–69
Spiro, David E. (1994). “Give Democratic Peace a Chance? The Insignificance of the Liberal Peace”. International Security (Vol. 19, No. 2. (Autumn, 1994)): 50-86.
Weart, Spencer R. (1998), Never at War, Yale University Press
Werner, Suzanne (2000), “The Effect of Political similarity on the Onset of Militarized Disputes, 1816-1985”, Political Science Quarterly 53(2): 343–374

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