Saturday, January 22, 2005


Do Democracies Wage War Upon Each Other?

In my earlier posting concerning the prospects for Arab democracy, I alluded to the popular notion that democracies don't go to war with other democracies.

Our good friend See-Dubya made an excellent comment to that post:

We know democracies don't fight each other. But I don't think we know why they don't fight each other.

And I think it's important to have a really good idea of why democracies don't fight each other before we go basing a foreign policy around it. After all, there haven't been two functioning Arab democracies side by side long enough to see whether the democratic peace holds true for Islam.
I admit to being far out of the loop when it comes to recent essays on comparative politics. So, I am unfamiliar with the research available to answer this question. (Bleg?)

In my dime-store analysis-- fueled by the sickening amount of delicious Peruvian rotisserie chicken I just ate-- I would offer the following points for discussion:

-- I am fond of the maxim that democracies represent the will of the people, and sometimes the will of the people is for war.

-- Holding a ballot means little in the equation. Dictators can be elected. There can also be partial democracy: democracy can exist at the legislative, but not executive levels, leaving an executive capable of waging war on their own volition.

-- Economic freedom is important, but is not sufficient. The corollary to the "democracies never fight each other" is the McDonald's Rule, espoused by Thomas Friedman:

When a country reaches a certain level of economic development, when it has a middle class big enough to support a McDonald's, it becomes a McDonald's country. And people in McDonald's countries don't like to fight wars. They like to wait in line for burgers.
The McDonald's Rule held sway for a while, but it has two strikes against it. One, it's already failed, as evidenced with the war in Kosovo. Second, McDonald's doesn't care about political or social freedom-- there are branches in Riyadh, Beijing, and Moscow. I can't see that access to a Quarter Pounder with cheese is going to stop any of those nations from following their own interests.

A parallel example is a popular one: the European monarchies of World War I. Seen in today's light, after a hundred years of ideological struggles, the power struggles of pre-WWI Europe seem offensively petty. Treaties, trade, and even ties of blood did nothing to restrain the leaders of Europe from going to war in 1914. The Hohenzollerns and their Junker patrons did not manipulate the German people into war as much as they unleashed the militarism fostered by over fifty years of Prussian nationalism. And a plausible case can be made that the Kaiser's Germany was certainly more free than Iran, 2005. And we all know how that turned out.

That last point simultaneously gives me pause and cause for optimism in the Middle East.

Pause, because the Islamic tyrannies we face have whipped up their populations into a frenzy every bit as pernicious as that in a Bavarian schoolhouse. Our only reason for denying the existence of this powder keg is that, to date, it has not exploded. The Arab street may seethe, but despite the warnings/hopes of some on the Left, it has rarely erupted.

Yet, there is cause for optimism. While there is benefit to taking the long view of history-- a view that accurately captures the hegemonic aspirations of militant Islam-- we sometimes forget that the current phase of Islamic terror is a rather recent development. Islamic terror today is less motivated by religion than by a fascist totalitarian impulse, influenced heavily by the twin tyrannies of the Twentieth Century, Nazism and Communism. The impulse to tyranny may have always existed in the Islamic world, or it may have only been unleashed by the ideological influence of the West.

So, if the problem is a recent one, by extension this also means it is not a permanent one. While we must ultimately find a solution for the religious imbalance in Islam, the immediate violence of the Islamic world burns from a much more immediate cause. If we are able to remove that cause-- fascist, corrupt, unrepresentative totallitarian government-- by extending freedom to the Middle East, we can perhaps deal with the problems of militant Islam later. Or, those religious problems may disappear when the people of the Middle East achieve freedom-- freedom, that once tasted, they will want to protect from despotism, of either the political *or* religious varieties.

Or, maybe not.

Maybe there is no real solution to this problem, or at least not one we've discovered yet. Perhaps the only thing America can do now is to kill-- kill as many bad guys as possible, isolate the regimes hostile to us, keep The Bomb at the ready, and hope for the best.

Still, as someone who passionately believes in the power of liberty, I can't bring myself to endorse such a "negative" strategy to the exclusion of the exportation of our ideals. The freedom to choose your government-- the structure upon which your social contract with each other is protected-- is the freedom to create wealth. Not simply wealth of the coin, but wealth of societal security, of property ownership, of service to the self and not just to the service to the state. Once you own that wealth, you now have something at risk, something you will want to protect.

And I feel that once you own that wealth, you are less likely to risk it by going to war. Democracy is no guarantee that you will not go to war-- America certainly goes to war more often than most nations-- but it certainly mitigates the aggrandizement motivations present in totalitarian nations. Why steal what you can afford to buy?

Or at least that's my hope. The question is, can anyone prove it?

This posting was made on my personal computer.

I believe the exception to the "Democracies Don't Throw Down With Democracies" rule was Athens going to war with Syracuse. I admit that Classical Greece is not my area of expertise, but I seem to recall Victor David Hanson speaking of both cities as large, rich democracies.

Though, considering the fact that this fight went down 2,500 years ago, I guess we can say that it is still a valid rule.

I think the "throw-down" rule is more effectively understood not as a complete preclusion to war, but a significant mitigator.

Meaning, democracies are *less likely* to go to war with other democracies. Which is still progress, in my book.

What matters most, however, for the Al Qaeda situation is whether or not democracies are any less likely to produce international terrorist masterminds. If they are, then great, let's export freedom. If not, then at the very least we might get a better deal in state-to-state relations. It may not win the war on terror, but it'll still be a good thing.
I wonder if democracies are loath to go to war not only because most people have an owner's stake in economic terms, but also in intellectual terms.

A fascist state will inevitably control (or try to control) the information the people are allowed to receive and process. It becomes much easier to limit knowledge of the outside world, and other peoples are more easily classified as aliens, i.e. not us.

This would account for the rabid nationalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when first hand knowledge of other peoples and cultures was limited, and racial memories were focused on aliens as a threat.

Perhaps your optimism (and mine) is grounded in the tool we are using right now, which allows information to be spread unbelievably quickly, and foments communication which would have been unthinkable as little as 20 years ago. It's been getting harder for tyrants to control the intellectual property of their subjects, and it will become virtually impossible to shutter their minds in the future. Only the North Koreans have been willing to starve the country technologically in order to stave this off.

The more you know about someone else, the more they resemble you, the more human they become, and the more difficult it becomes to countenance violence against them. The world is getting smaller, and everyone is in danger of becoming our neighbor.

There goes the neighborhood.
It really is economics though. Democracies don't fight other democracies because it is much easier, and cheaper (in the long run) to compete in the economic arena. Since war, as we all know, is a continuation of politics by other means (first quoted by some obscure Prussian), war is only necessary when no other means work. Democracies love to trade, talk, argue, so on, but war costs money and often there are other ways to reasonably reach your goals. Personally, I believe that the use of war by republics tends towards self-defense and emergency resource requirements. Prestige wars, expansionism, colonialism, and good old fashioned megalomania are for Commies, Fascists, and Dictators. Therfore, two democracies would go at it only if they thought the other was going to attack first (improbable based upon the natural transparancey of democratic societites) or if one was being resoure starved to death by the other. The natural economic profit motive of capitalistic republics tends to keep resource starvation from occurring as well. So the only resource call for war is if a government says that 'X' cannot be sold to country 'Y' and country 'Y' then decides to take it. Of course, denying another trading partner access to a market is a good way to not be re-elected so the republics have failsafes against even this.

Also, Kosovo is a bad example for Dave to use as A) civil wars don't count B) Not sure that the former Yugoslav republics count as functioning democracies (or more importantly functioning republics...)

Angus, nice of you to join us.

It really isn't economics though.

You would acknowledge that not all wars are reasonable, yes?

You would acknowledge that trading partners go to war all the time, against their best economic interests?

Had Kaiser's Germany gamed out the prospects of a long war, they would never have pulled a trigger, as the blockade was bound to inevitably starve them out.

Had the Confederacy bothered to check the coffers, not to mention the demographics, of the Union before they fired on Fort Sumter, the Southern states would never have seceded.

Had Japan measured its remaining oil on the eve of World War II, it would have negotiated a status quo with America rather than bombing Pearl Harbor.

People do stupid things all the time. So do nations. Of course I grant the primacy of economic motives in going to war. The problem is, there are *real* economics, and *perceived* economics. The real economics rarely favor ANY war, whether between totalitarian regimes or democracies. The perceived economics-- the man on the street thinking they're getting ripped off by the British/Kuwaitis/Imperial Stormtroopers-- is a plague affecting dictatorship and democracy alike.

Then again, Chris above makes a good point about information-- a citizen (slave) of a dictatorship is more likely to have their perceptions skewed than a citizen of a democracy. But again, the profit motive isn't the only preventive force for a democracy to go to war-- if it were, who in America would sign on the dotted line for $50 a barrel oil?

Oh, and you completly misunderstood the Kosovo example. A) The McDonalds are in America and *SERBIA*; and B) the comparison was for discussion of the McDonalds Rule, not "democracy vs. democracy."

And, if civil wars don't count, then I guess we lose as an example the greatest war between democracies, the American Civil War.

One last thing, about my original post: I'm wondering whether we simply don't have a large enough data set. If we use as a starting point the post-Westphalian emergence of the nation-state, democracy is still very much the new kid on the block (I call him "Jordan"). Excluding America and the British Empire (which, it must be remembered, went to war twice, and threatened to do so several times more), and the twisted democracy of France, we've really only seen about sixty years worth of democratic revolutions. And a large swath of those revolutions occured directly under American protection-- Western Europe and Japan.

It really wasn't until recently, with the end of the Cold War, that we find the situation of having a lot of democracies and no stable international system to guarantee order, other than American strategic interests (which do not extend everywhere).

If we're going to really test the theory of "democracy vs. democracy," it will be when two traditional antagonists become democratic without American protection of guidance. If I had to take a bet, I'd say we'll see that first perhaps in India vs. Pakistan. We'll see whether the people there choose war or peace.

Have a pleasant day.
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