Chapter 4 Democratic peace (Week 5)

4.1 Discussion questions

  • Had Russia been a democracy, would the current Russia-Ukraine war still have broken out?

  • Why don’t democracies fight against each other? Do you agree with Owen (1994)’s explanations? Why?

  • How strong is the empirical evidence of democratic peace? What is still lacking in Imai & Lo (2021)?

  • What additional theoretical explanations of democratic peace can you offer beyond Owen (1994)? (*)

US denies policy of “regime change” in Russia after widespread criticism - BBC News

Blowback: Iran, the Ayatollahs, and the CIA

Democracy over time

4.2 Theory

There are two main theoretical explanations offered in Owen (1994):

  • Normative or behavior
  • Institutional

Let us think about and discuss two questions. What alternative explanations can we offer? What additional explanations can we add (hint: rationalist)? [*]

4.3 Empirics

Imai & Lo (2021) examines the robustness of the empirical results from 1950 to 1992. Let us think over two questions. What is a confounder?[*] What is this paper trying to showcase? What is still left out in terms of examining the robustness of the results?

4.4 Policy implications: U.S. foreign policy

It should be noted that the most direct policy implications are driven by the universalism underlying the democratic peace theory. For instance, Elihu Root, former US secretary of state, claimed in 1917 that

“So long as military autocracy continues, democracy is not safe from attacks, which are certain to come, and certain to find it unprepared … To be safe democracy must kill its enemy when it can and where it can. The world can not be half democratic and half autocratic. It must be all democratic or all Prussian. There can be no compromise.”

— Elihu Root, quoted in Russett (1994, 33)

Christopher Layne argues that:

“As a theory of international politics, the democratic peace theory carries little weight … However, democratic peace theory has a lot of clout in policymaking because it plays to the Wilsonian predispositions of U.S. strategists and provides the United states a handy pretext for intervening in the internal affairs of regimes it considers troublemakers … According to Wilsonian precepts, the best way to deal with such states is to use American power to bring about regime change.”

“U.S. policymakers believe America’s values are good for the United States and right for the rest of the world, and that, in self-defense, Washington has the right to impose them on others … Wilsonian liberalism self-consciously rests on the conviction that the United States is a model for the world and that its values and institutions are superior to everyone else’s … The inclination to universalize liberal democracy puts the United States on a collision course with others whose ideologies, institutions, and values differ from America’s, and it causes Washington to regard world politics as a Manichean struggle between good and evil, rather than as a contest between rival powers with conflicting national interests.”

Layne (2006, 121-122)