Democratic peace theory - Definition

Immanuel Kant first posited an early theory of democratic peace.
The democratic peace theory or simply democratic peace (often DPT and sometimes democratic pacifism) is a theory in political science and philosophy which holds that democracies—specifically, liberal democracies—almost never go to war with one another. Scholars have proposed a number of explanations for this this phenomenon. Many believe that democracies tend to find alternatives to violent conflict (such as negotiation or arbitration); whereas others believe that the accountability of democratic governments makes leaders less likely to engage in armed conflict.

Early theories

The idea that democracy is a source of world peace came relatively late in political theory. No ancient author seems to have thought so. Early authors referred to republics rather than democracies, since the word democracy had acquired a bad name until early modern times. Nicolo Machiavelli believed that republics were by nature excellent war-makers and empire-builders, citing Rome as the prime example. It was Immanuel Kant who first forshadowed the theory of a peace between liberal democracies in his essay "Perpetual Peace" written in 1795. At that time, however, there were very few republics in the Western world (the United States, France, some Italian city states and Swiss cantons) and none of them was truly democratic by today's standards. Early in the 20th century, Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalism made modern states inherently peaceful and opposed to conquest and imperialism, which economically favored the old aristocratic elites. Since World War I, there has been widespread popular rhetoric that democratic states are peace-loving, but the idea was not systematically studied by social science. The gradual spread of liberal democracy in the world in the second half of the 20th century drew greater attention to the relationship between democracy and peace.

Modern origins

Kant's theory was revived in the 1960s by Dean Babst, then a research scientist at the New York Narcotic Addiction Control Commission, and expanded in the 1970s by R.J. Rummel, professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii. Rummel wrote that democracy is a "method of nonviolence." The term also refers to an ever-increasing state of world peace, which Rummel credits to democracy. The following propositions formed the basis of Rummel's original theory:
  • Democracies do not make war on each other.
  • The more democratic two nations are, the less the violence between them.
  • Democracies engage in the least amounts of foreign violence.
  • Democracies display, by far, the least amounts of internal violence.
  • Modern democracies have virtually no "democide" (i.e. genocide and mass murder)
A related but slightly different concept is Rummel's Law, which states that the less freedom a people have, the more likely their rulers are to murder them.
Rummel's ideas combined propositions about the external and internal behavior of democratic regimes with regards to violence. As the theory took shape in the 1980s, particularly through the work of Michael Doyle and Bruce Russet, it increasingly focused on the "weak" proposition that democracies (or liberal regimes, as Doyle preferred it) behave peacefully towards each other. The "strong" proposition that democracies are in general more peaceful in world affairs drew less wide acceptance.

Empirical evidence

From an early point on, statistical studies were employed to examine the validity of the theory. Using some 2,000 cases of war or other armed conflicts, the Correlates of War Project did not find a single case where the theory did not hold. Their database started in 1816 and so it excluded the War of 1812 between the United Kingdom and the United States; while neither of the two belligerents had universal suffrage, both regarded themselves as democracies with governments decided by elections. The most widely used data set in democratic peace theory research is the Polity Data Set put together by a number of scholars, most prominent among whom is Ted Gurr. The Polity Data Set does not codify states in a binary fashion (democracy/non-democracy) but rather gives each state a democracy and an autocracy score for any given period, based on a number of criteria. Studies using the Polity Data Set have concluded that the theory is also validated when a continuous measure of democracy is used (i.e. the higher two countries' joint scores, the lower their chance of being involved in a war against each other). Most statistical work on the democratic peace has focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, but there is a significant body of literature on the applicability of the theory outside the modern western world.
Despite what Rummel believed, most democratic peace theorists today do not hold that democracies are generally more peaceful than other regimes. Statistical studies have shown that democracies are about as likely to initiate wars as authoritarian states. However, some theorists insist that democracies usually enter these wars because they are provoked by autocracies.
Regarding pre-19th century cases, one must understand that the definition of democracy has substantially changed over time and whether pre-modern states that identified as democracies were indeed democratic remains controversial. In Ancient Greece, where the word "democracy" was coined, city-states that were democracies did fight wars between them (most noted is the Athenian expedition against Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War). The evidence from Ancient Greece is mixed, while some proponents of the theory do not deem Ancient Greek city-states sufficiently democratic because of the large numbers of slaves and other non-voting inhabitants. An interesting case is the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which had some qualities of today's democracies and in which szlachta (the nobles), using Sejm (a parliament), blocked many monarchs' attempts to declare a war on other countries. Some scholars have put forward the Swiss Confederation (or parts of it) and the Six Iroquois Nations as early examples of communities of democratic states upholding the theory.
Regarding 19th and 20th century cases, it is true that the definition of democracy has shifted over time, as civil and political rights have been expanded to greater segments of the population. Continuous measures of democracy used in statistical studies attempt to create a consistent scale of comparison for all states across the modern period, but the research teams that produced these data sets have been criticized for the methodologies they employed.


The democratic peace is primarily a statistical association, and association does not establish causality. There is currently no definitive theory as to why the democratic peace theory is true.
Many theoretical arguments have been put forward as explanations for the democratic peace. Dating back to Immanuel Kant, many have argued that democracies are characterized by the rule of law, and are therefore inclined to resolve disputes between them through arbitration. Following Schumpeter, some hypothesize that the phenomenon is explained by the fact that democratic countries tend to be capitalist states, whose trade relations with one another create interdependence among them. This interdependence constrains the ability and willingness of democratic nations to go to war with each other due to the incurred costs in lost trade. Other scholars suggest a theory of common culture: the citizens of democratic societies are less likely to view the citizens of other democracies as enemies, and since their support for the war is neccessary (due to the democratic system), war is less likely. Following Rummel, some support the idea that democracies are inherently peaceful because wide citizen participation ensures that decisionmaking power lies in the hands of those most likely to die in wars. This last argument cannot explain why democracies are very bellicose towards non-democratic states while remaining peaceful towards each other, unless we also posit that citizens of democratic states feel constantly threatened by the existence of non-democracies.


Two points of contention are popular among skeptics of the democratic peace theory. The first notes the imprecise definition of democracy, which calls into question the putative evidence in support of the theory. The second objection is that, even if the first concern were resolved, the existing data would still be insufficient to establish a causal link between the democratic political institutions of a state and the frequency with which that state will engage in conflicts with other democracies. The relative peace between democracies may just as well be the consequence of the international power structure of recent decades, these detractors claim. And if so, the very core of the democratic peace theory collapses.
Those who harbor the first concern note that the methodology employed in collecting the data for testing the theory has been unscientific, and that democracies have indeed have initiated conflict with one another at a rate much higher than what proponents have determined. These critics point out that "democracy" and "peace" are essentially contested concepts, difficult to operationalize for measurement, and so subjective that they run the risk of manipulation to arrive at a predetermined conclusion. For example, several opponents of the theory claim that World War I was a war between liberal democracies by that period's criteria and that later classifications of the German Empire as insufficiently democratic are spurious. This draws attention to the general problem of mixed regimes—polities featuring both democratic and autocratic institutions, whose classification may be problematic. Others argue that democracies have engaged in covert conflict resulting in a change of regime on the losing side.
Opponents of the theory point to the British and American-supported 1953 coup d'etat in Iran against Mohammed Mossadegh and the 1954 U.S.-backed coup in Guatemala, led by Carlos Castillo Armas as examples of such events. Another argument is that modern democracies grew around a core system of states intermittently allied to each other (from World War I to World War II to the Cold War), and therefore strategic reasons (especially mutally assured destruction) peculiar to the modern international system are more important in explaining democratic peace.
One noted case of a democracy declaring war on another is the United Kingdom's declaration of war on Finland on December 6, 1941 in reaction to the Continuation War, when Finland allied with Germany in attacking the Soviet Union. However, the United Kingdom's only significant act of war happened prior to the declaration (a Royal Air Force raid on the port of Petsamo on July 31, 1941). Democratic peace theory proponents point out that Finland was loosely allied to Germany and spent World War II fighting a totalitarian opponent. The Boer Wars, the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in recent years, and the 1999 Kargil border war between Pakistan and India are other cases that have prompted similar debate. Proponents counter that neither Pakistan nor the Palestinian Authority are liberal democracies.
The second common criticism, argued effectively by Joanne Gowa in Ballots and Bullets: The Elusive Democratic Peace, is that the structure of the international political system during the Cold War was responsible for creating the illusion of a democratic peace. At about the same time many of today's democracies came into existence, the Cold War effectively split the world into three discrete camps (the democratic or "free" world, the communist "second" world, and the non-aligned world). Democracies cooperated with each other and abstained from attacking one another in a collective effort to help contain—and rollback—the bigger threat posed by communism. Since the growth of democracy coincided with the Cold War, studies on the democratic peace theory rely on samples which draw heavily from a time when gravitation toward the Eastern and Western poles overrode domestic political arrangements. An analysis of the behavior of democratic states in existence prior to the Cold War indicates that they were just as caustic in their interactions with each other as they were with non-democracies. Thus although most democracies have co-existed peacefully throughout modern times, they have done so due to external factors, not because of the reasons propounded by the democratic peace theory.
Despite such criticisms, the democratic peace theory has grown in prominence among political scientists in the last two decades and has become influential in the policy world in Western countries. Experts in the field of international relations often cite Jack Levy's aphorism that the democratic peace is "the closest thing we have to a law in international politics."


  • Beck, Nathaniel, and Richard Tucker. "Democracy and Peace: General Law or Limited Phenomenon?" Midwest Political Science Association: April 1998. [1] (http://www.vanderbilt.edu/%7Ertucker/papers/dempeace/mwpsa98/)
  • Correlates of War Project. [2] (http://www.umich.edu/~cowproj/)
  • Brown, Michael E., Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller. Debating the Democratic Peace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.
  • "Do Democracies Fight Each Other?" BBC. November 17, 2004. [3] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4017305.stm)
  • Doyle, Michael W. Ways of War and Peace. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.
  • Gowa, Joanne. Ballots and Bullets: The Elusive Democratic Peace. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.
  • Huth, Paul K., et al. The Democratic Peace and Territorial Conflict in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press: 2003. ISBN 0521805082.
  • Levy, Jack S. “Domestic Politics and War.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 18, No. 4, (Spring, 1988), pp. 653-673.
  • Lipson, Charles. Reliable Partners: How Democracies Have Made a Separate Peace. Princeton University Press: 2003. ISBN 0691113904.
  • "Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2002." [4] (http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/polity/)
  • Ray, James Lee. Democracy and International Conflict: An Evaluation of the Democratic Peace Proposition. University of South Carolina Press: 1998. ISBN 1570032416.
  • Ray, James Lee. "Does Democracy Cause Peace?" Annual Review of Political Science 1998:1, 27-46 [5] (http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/ray.htm)
  • Rummel, R.J. Power Kills: Democracy As a Method of Nonviolence. Transaction Publishers: 2003. ISBN 0765805235.
  • Russett, Bruce. Grasping the Democratic Peace. Princeton University Press: 1994. ISBN 0691001642.
  • Schwartz, Thomas, and Kiron Skinner. "The Myth of Democratic Pacifism." The Wall Street Journal. January 7, 1999. [6]


Adam Faiz said...

thanks for ruining my essay. ass

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