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Debunking the Democratic Peace Theory Essay

The development of the democratic peace theory started with the writings of has its roots in the writings of German Philosopher Immanuel Kant. In 1795 Kant went talked about “perpetual peace based partially upon states sharing ‘republican constitutions.’” He then said, “that a republican form of government, exemplifying the rule of law, provides a feasible basis for states to overcome structural anarchy and to secure peaceful relations among themselves.” Kant continues to argue that “once the aggressive interests of absolute monarchists are tamed and once the habit of respect for individual rights is engrained by republican governments, wars would appear as the disaster to people’s warfare,” rather than an instrument for growing a state, as it was used for many centuries. This was the true beginning of what we now know to be the Democratic Peace Theory.

This theory remained dormant in the minds of realists and neo-realists that strongly influenced the field of international relations for centuries leading into the Cold War. In 1972, American sociologist Dean Babst published an article in which he reported “no wars have been fought between independent nations with elective governments between 1789 and 1941.” This enlightened the worlds of political science and international relations and ever since studies have followed this theory, constantly supporting it and positive relationships between democracies. Expanding on Kant’s original idea of democratic peace, political science professor Bruce Russett a very hot topic, exclaiming, “democracies had rarely if ever gone to war with each other” as a fact. With this simple statement, Russett made political scientists either accept or oppose the democratic peace theory and countless attempts to support each point of view with historical evidence.

Democratic peace theorists have long asserted that all democracies are not only more peaceful than other governments, but are prone to fight against countries ran by other forms of government when they are engaged in war. These theorists and political science buffs argue that democratic peace is supported by a long history of peace and civility between democracies versus military action elsewhere. However, the democratic peace theory is problematic because it prematurely takes a stance on the grounds that a correlation between democratic status and incidence of war is proof of an ally relationship between nations opposed to a statistical anomaly. Does a historical anomaly excuse the desire for mutual democratic passivity? Ph.D. Sebastian Rosato of the University of Chicago argues, “Democracies do not reliably externalize their domestic norms of conflict resolution and do not trust or respect one another when their interests clash.” Rosato makes a very accurate observation, democracies tend to be rather secretive or even circumvent surrounding conflict resolution particularly with other democracies.

Having a democratic government does not assure universal peace, and different forms of democracy assure disputes and clashes between governments between exceedingly democratic societies. In reality, some of the most thorough liberal democratic end up in war with non-democratic nations, justifying combat with the claim of spreading democracy. Though economic interests are typically apparent and the underlying motive for warfare, media throughout democratic countries end up not only tolerating, but also accepting and normalizing war as if it was a trending topic that came and went. Representative democratic systems lead to monolithic party structures that initiate war and still get elected to new terms and positions in government. Advocates of the democratic peace theory often fail to discuss colonial wars and civil wars, as they do not support the theory and its ultimate goal of widespread peace. The histories of many democratic countries have proven to not hold up with the democratic peace theory. Democratic countries have repeatedly fought colonial and civil wars which critics show to make the democratic peace theory false.

Political Scientists Ravlo, Gleditcsch, and Dorussen expand upon the colonial war aspect of opposing the Democratic Peace Theory in “Colonial War and the Democratic Peace” in 2003’s The Journal of Conflict Resolution. They elaborate on reasons suggested to explain why colonial wars do not invalidate the democratic peace argument, saying, “First, although democracies rarely, if ever, fight one another, they participate in war as much as non-democracies. Thus, mixed political dyads have the greatest propensity for war. Second, the nature of colonial conflict has changed over time. Finally, a correct assessment of the democratic peace argument needs to rely on a multivariate model.” The trio makes great points regarding colonial wars and how they work against the democratic peace theory.

Regarding the first point, if non-state rivals were perceived to be nondemocratic, democratic states would regularly engage in colonial wars. Also, the nature of colonial conflict has indeed changed over time, and the relationship between democracy and colonial war is tested in imperialist, colonial, and postcolonial eras. With appropriate control variables in place, it is apparent that the positive relationship between democracy and war begins to vanish. History also shows us that in the post-World War II period, democracies begin to fight colonial far less than non-democracy states. There are various reasons why this occurred other than a simple theory that universal democracy equals world peace without question. Primarily this may have occurred due to changes in the views non-European peoples, typically in non-democracies outside of the primarily Caucasian western world. Legendary Political Scientist and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee stresses, “It is primarily democracies that have made colonial conquests and fought wars to prevent the liberation of colonies,” and, “Preferring to deal only with “coherent,” “mature,” and “stable” democracies, when these varying regimes prevent coherence, maturity, and stability abroad, is clearly ethnocentric.”

Excluding the civil and colonial war histories form democratic governments from the study and validation of the democratic peace theory not only makes the affirmative point of view on the theory inaccurate, but also does come off very ethnocentric. In short, civil and colonial wars expose some of the bloodiest and most dysfunctional, corrupt eras in the governments of democracies around the globe. In the published piece, “Democracies are Their Own Enemies,” Political Science Professor Dr. Gilbert N. Kahn claims, “In watching the events throughout the world over the past few weeks, one is struck by how profoundly challenged democracy has become. In the United States, Great Britain, and even Israel, fundamental democratic values appear to be undermined by the political behavior of elected leaders. All of this is occurring at a time when the West is trying to sell democracy to the world.” While America is being criticized for starting war through attempting to spread democracy with clear economic motives, Israel is realizing the extent of its social and economic disparities as a few rich families have their hands in much of the government, and The United Kingdom is seeing regular revolts and terror attacks in its economic centers.

Democracies are becoming their own enemy in promoting a democratic government, and showing how they react when under social and economic pressure. Democratic nations rarely engage in wars of aggression against other democratic nations, absent substantial provocation or dire necessity. Nations tend to go to war mainly based upon: Expansion of territory or ideals, defense and pre-emptive strike upon a threatening nation, or conflicts of interest that are inexplicable through diplomacy. These other vital conflicts are worth further consideration. Two democracies could still find themselves inexplicable conflicts of interest. If both two democracies required resources in a border region to prevent their economic turmoil, economies from collapsing, and there wasn’t enough resource in that border region to share between the two of them, that just may force them against each other. Under conditions when democracies are in competition under the pressure of economy, the democratic peace theory supplies no explanation for why widespread democracy would work equally peacefully for all nations.

Democratic Peace Theory harps on the idea that democratic nation-states won’t go to war because its citizens would vote against heads of government for re-election for putting the nation in conflict. No one likes the idea of war despite whatever government they live under, or the idea of family members being sent off for extended periods of time without a promise of returning. According to Dr. Hebert West, “correlation does not equate to causation is one of the first and foremost rules of the social sciences, and causality requires several alternative explanations to be proven wrong.” The fact that the correlation between democracy and war does not equate to causation proves that though correlation between democracy and peace is strong by many accounts, sufficient evidence to prove that a causal relationship exists in the desired direction by democratic peace theorists, without the influence of other variables, has yet to be published.

This disproves a key part of the democratic peace theory: that the need for the face of government discourages igniting war. The field of International Relations has always debated when and why democracies would go to war with one another. Debaters disagree that liberal ideas in democracies help them avoid war. The over legitimacy of empirical evidence typically used to defend democratic peace also comes under fire in most political fields. Using historical evidence to prove that widespread democracy bring world peace is a very far fetched comment without examining all the details that make it possible for democracies to engage in war internationally with having the action always take place within the non-democratic state. The theory has been difficult to prove empirically, which is why it remains a theory.

While the idea of democratic peace is enticing, it does not allow for the error that occurs even when international democracy is accomplished. When looking at the face of historical circumstance the democratic peace theory may appear to be true. However, when one uses this historical anomaly as a predictive tool for future behavior of states seems ill-informed when no one field of politics can agree on one side of the argument, or give solid evidence that democratic peace would be successful even if applied. The longevity of democratic peace is strongly unlikely as no two democracies have ever been the same. Difference in ideals encourages nations to force their form of democracy on other countries. Democratic peace theory takes advantage of circumstance. This debunks the idea that if all nations were liberal democracies, there would be no war because no two democracies are the same and the urge to spread one nation’s ideals will always cause conflict.

A strong example of a democracy that helps break down the democratic peace theory is South Africa. On April 26, 1994, South Africans of all heritages voted like never before to mark the symbolic end of apartheid and the beginning of South Africa’s rough transition to democracy. In nearly two decades, South Africa has achieved greater political stability and greater economic freedom and growth, lowering public debt. While major political parties hold on to democratic ways, more South Africans now receive education and have access to electricity and clean water. However, South Africa still has major challenges ahead such as extremely high HIV/AIDS rates and government corruption. South Africa is a democracy in that it is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. South Africa is rather peaceful with its neighboring countries (Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique and Namibia), being that the last official war South Africa has engaged in was the Boer War (1899-1902).

The war was supposedly based on British expansion with “an underlying cause being the presence in the Transvaal territory of the largest gold-mining complex in the world, beyond direct British control.” This sounds familiar, that the United Kingdom, a democracy, would kill and pillage for economic, monetary benefit. South Africa is a perfect example of why universal democracy would not manifest into long-term world peace. South Africa is a representative democracy; in that it’s current government is a variety of democracy, opposed to direct democracy. South Africa’s Legislative Branch consists of the National Council of Provinces where there are 90 seats are occupied by 10 members elected by each of the nine provincial legislatures for five-year terms, and the National Assembly where 400 seats are occupied by members elected by popular vote under a system of proportional representation to serve five-year terms.

South Africa also has a common judiciary system where The Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and High Courts have the power to protect and regulate their own processes, and to develop the common law. However, South Africa’s executive branch is unique In that the people to not vote directly for their president, Jacob Zuma, instead South African citizens only have the power to elect members of the National assembly, which in turn ends up choosing the next president for the country. In a world where the democratic peace theory is put into action, South Africa’s different way of running a government while still under the title of democracy would certainly clash with democracies of the western world.

The People’s Republic of China is a huge world player and has seen an incredible economic boom since the 1990’s. China’s Legislative Branch has a National People’s Congress where the level of Congress directly below them indirectly chooses them. The Judicial court has a typical high court and smaller courts. However the executive branch is run by Communist Party of China (CPC), “whose power is enshrined China’s constitution.” Local politicians are voted for but a hierarchical electoral college chooses higher officials and the president, Hu Jintao, a position that was officially created in China’s 1982 constitution. Though China’s Communist Party has modernized its authoritarianism to fit the times, it is still certainly an authoritarian government.

As a communist country that runs on a social organization characterized by submission to authority and its administration, which is, compared to the size of the country, concentrated in a small group of politicians. China isn’t engaged in war, and hasn’t been since the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979. Also China still owns Tibet after invading the territory in 1950. Given this information, China maintains relationships with many of it’s neighbors so that the two nations never reach the point of war, but cannot be classified as non-violent wit neighboring countries Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.

The Islam Republic of Afghanistan is made of one of the world’s oldest nations. Afghanistan is certainly a totalitarian country, being that the Islam Republic of Afghanistan is a political where the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life. Afghanistan’s judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court, High Courts, and Appeal Courts. The legislative branch consists of a National Assembly, which consists of an upper and lower house. The executive branch, however, is run by the president, which is voted in by the public through a run off majority vote. President Hamid Karzai is the head of the executive branch, serving as the head of state and the Command-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is currently in a war with the United States. In fact, the War in Afghanistan began on 7 October 2001, as the armed forces of the United States, the Kingdom, France, Australia, and the Afghan United Front launched Operation Enduring Freedom following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. America has tried to introduce democracy to Afghanistan while fighting the war on their land and killing their citizens, a common action of democracies around the world. Hence, Afghanistan is currently not in good peaceful with its neighbors, which include Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Iran.

Indubitably, the democratic peace theory is simply just that, a theory. It is doubtful that democracies are less violent that other countries, despite not having militarized disputes with other democracies. With that in mind, the tendency for democracies to attack fledgling democracies has shown to stand out among the observed pattern that democracies do not fight with each other if the hegemonic or economic or hegemonic benefits are high enough. This debunks the claim that democracy determines the level of peace between any given states. Perhaps relationships between democracies are simply just a facade and raise the question of alternative explanations, such as a spurious relationship.

Political Science Professor Erik Gartzke proposes that, “it is capitalism, and not democracy, that is the independent variable which causes peace and war.” Despite the validity of this claim, one would doubt that the state of international war and affairs would depend upon one single variable regardless. It is much more likely that a combination of variables between nations, under specific conditions, creates one of countless outcomes necessary for the potential for war. The spread of democracy is relatively new compared to other widespread forms of government and statehood, providing far too few examples to weigh its statements on.

Works Cited
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Chan, Steve. In Search of Democratic Peace: Problems and Promise. Mershon International Studies Review 41 (1997): 59-91.

Chan, Steve. “In Search of Democratic Peace: Problems and Promise.” Mershon International Studies Review 41 (1997): p. 60

“CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA.” People. (accessed November 20, 2012).

Dorussen, Han, Nils Peter Gleditsch, and Hilde Ravlo. “Colonial War and the Democratic Peace.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution Vol. 47, no. No. 4 (2003): 520-548. (accessed November 20, 2012).

Doyle, Michael W. “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs.” Debating the Democratic Peace. Eds. Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E. Miller. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1996, p.24

Gartzke, Erik A. “Erik A. Gartzke, Associate Professor, University of
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Haas, Michael. 1995. “When Democracies Fight One Another, Just What is the Punishment for Disobeying the Law?” Paper presented at the 91st annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, August, Chicago. 7.

Haas, Michael. 1995. “When Democracies Fight One Another, Just What is the Punishment for Disobeying the Law?” Paper presented at the 91st annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, August, Chicago. 14.

Khan, Dr. Gilbert. “Democracies are Their Own Worst Enemies.” The New Jersey Jewish News, August 17, 2011. (accessed November 20, 2012).

Russett, Bruce. Grasping the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post-Cold War World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993: p. 4

Sebastian Rosato (2003). The Flawed Logic of Democratic Peace Theory. American Political Science Review, 97, pp 585-602.

West, Dr. Herbert. “The History of ‘Correlation Does Not Imply Causation’ .”Slashdot. October 3, 2012. (Accessed November 20, 2012).

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