'Democracies do not make war on each other, and the more democratic, the less violent nations are in general.'
But there is hope still. Developments in human thought and governance do offer promise for the future. As both literacy and technology have advanced over the ages, the capacity for the exchange of ideas and encouragement of independent thought has grown exponentially in ways that even our fathers could not have imagined. The earliest dawn of this Enlightenment can count among its progeny the most important social invention of the past thousand years, the modern liberal democracy. And it is in democracy and its attendant focus on human liberty that our best hope for a peaceful tomorrow resides.
This article will trace the history of-and posit the future for-the theory of war avoidance known as the 'Democratic Peace.' As new to the political and philosophical dialogues as the modern form of government upon which it relies, the 'Democratic Peace' is founded on two related principles. The first of these is that democracies do not engage one another in wars. The second is that democracies do not initiate wars with non-democracies, instead resorting to armed combat only as a defensive measure.
Part I of this article will examine the historical formulation of the theory and the overwhelming empirical proof for its validity. In Part II, various critiques of the 'Democratic Peace' will be analyzed, including a refinement of the doctrine known as "incentive theory," promulgated most coherently by University of Virginia Law professor John Norton Moore. I will argue that foreign policies embodying the fundamentals of incentive theory offer the best tangible hope for a true realization of a lasting peace, through strength. Finally, Part III will focus on the future of the 'Democratic Peace' as it relates to the Bush administration's foreign policy in the tumultuous wakes of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the recent war in Iraq. In sum, this article will proffer the hypothesis that the best-and perhaps only-hope for a more peaceful future lies squarely within the framework of the 'Democratic Peace' and its foundations of human dignity, liberty, and freedom.
I. THE 'DEMOCRATIC PEACE'
Kant's prescience in anticipating the notion of a 'Democratic Peace' at the very birth of modern liberal democracy is surpassed, even, by his notion of why a world of democracies would lead to an Eternal Peace. For it is in this explanation that he offers a preview of the notion of "public choice theory" which would win James M. Buchanan the Nobel Prize in economics in 1986.6 In recognizing that government decision makers are rational thinkers who act in their best interests-and that the interests (and mechanisms for realizing them) of elected officials differ from those of non-democratic rulers-Kant wrote nearly two hundred years before Buchanan that
This observation relating to the differing war incentives as between democratic leaders and autocratic rulers is among the seminal advances in the history of thought on war avoidance. From it is born Moore's incentive theory, an extension of the 'Democratic Peace' which provides us with our most tangible and potentially effective mechanism for realizing an enduring peace.
B. EMPIRICAL SUPPORT
In 1997, University of Hawaii professor Rudy Rummel published his examination of all major international wars for the period between 1816 and 1991.8 While his tally ran upwards of 350 dyads of nations engaged in major international conflict, not one of these pairings included two opposing democracies.9 So too does a statistical analysis explicitly support the idea that democracies are loath to instigate aggression against other nations (which, by virtue of Rummel's findings, of course must be non-democracies). To this end, Professor Moore writes that in an examination of all major international wars since the inception of the United Nations in 1945, only one could reasonably be deemed international aggression on the part of democratic states-that being the Suez War of 1956 in which Britain and France went to war with Egypt as a reaction to the nationalization of the Suez Canal.10 These quantitative findings are strong evidence that the 'Democratic Peace' and its component hypotheses are more than mere conjecture and in fact tangibly manifested in the international community.
There is still other statistical evidence that tends to support the idea of democracies acting in a measure more commensurate with ideals of human dignity. Studies undertaken by two pairs of scholars have shown that while democracies have won over three-quarters of the wars they've fought since 1815-due largely to the fact that democratic leaders exert more caution in entering them in the first place-casualties inflicted by democratic states in these wars are significantly fewer than the numbers caused by non-democracies.11 As a closing salvo in the argument that democracies act, in total, in ways congruent with the liberty of man, Professor Moore offers the following:
II. CRITIQUES OF THE DEMOCRATIC PEACE
A. 'CLASSICAL' REALISTS AND IMAGES OF ANALYSIS
As has been seen with respect to Kant's explanation for what is now called the 'Democratic Peace' and as will be seen in examining Moore's incentive theory, to ignore the image of individual psychology of regime elites is to obscure perhaps the most telling correlating factor in considering war avoidance. Waltz himself, it should be noted, is guilty of this oversight despite his standing as one of the true giants in the field. For by failing to account for the incentive structures that differ from regime to regime or even between successive leaders in the same state, classical realism fails to recognize the very insight which serves as the best explanation for why democracies do not fight one another-that it's just not worth it for democratic leaders to start wars when it is they who will bear the electoral costs of failed or imprudent aggression. This is due to the reality that it is the electorate itself who will bear the true-life costs of the war in terms of loss of life and treasure and will thus be all too eager to vote out of office a president or governing parliamentary party that risks either precious commodity for anything but the best of reasons.
Classical realists would ignore the image of individual decision-making psychology in favor of viewing states as amorphous wholes that act of their own momentum and volition. To this end, it does not matter if a state is democratic or totalitarian, for the geographical, social, and assorted other characteristics of the state itself are seen as almost unconsciously driving the policy of the state, including war policy. While one would be remiss not to consider these static characteristics in examining a nation's propensity for war (or any other type of state action for that matter), such a consideration is useless if not undertaken in the context of the rational decision-making process of regime elites. That is to say, a mere recognition that a certain state is rich in oil will not logically dictate that any leader governing that state will deal with the oil abundance in the same manner.
The classic formulation of the idea that the psychology of regime elites is indispensable to the question of war avoidance is embodied in the following hypothetical: Had Adolf Hitler not survived the wounds he suffered as a courier in World War I, would Germany have nonetheless charted the same path to war it embarked upon in the 1930s? To be sure, the factors of worldwide economic depression and German resentment over war debts would have been present regardless of who led Germany in 1932 or 1939. However, to dismiss the intensely hateful nationalist sentiment that fomented in Germany almost solely as a function of Hitler's unfortunate skill as a purveyor of Nazi ideology would border on the foolish.
One need not look to extreme examples such as that of Hitler to refute the classical realist idea that form of government or particularized incentives of regime elites are irrelevant to the consideration of war avoidance. One need not even look beyond our American shores or outside of the familial relationship between two of our past three presidents. During the Gulf War of 1991, President George H.W. Bush overruled the military advice of his top field general and instead heeded the call of then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell to refrain from attempting to march on Baghdad and remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Just over a decade later, his own son faced down considerable domestic and international opposition15 and ordered American troops to do just that.
How could the same America, governed, even, by members of the same family, act so differently in a matter of just over a decade? Static realist governance characterization cannot explain this, but the incentives for President George W. Bush to order the march on Baghdad can. Possessing a Republican Congress (the House and Senate were Democratic during the first Bush Administration), a more unified and passionate core political base, a weakened Iraqi opposition, and most importantly the overwhelming national security concerns resulting from the September 11 terrorist attacks, the second President Bush was able to make the decision to march on Baghdad and remove Saddam Hussein from power.16
With these examples in mind and an awareness of the emphasis on individual decision-making spanning some two centuries from Kant to Buchanan and Moore, any realist dismissal is faulty if it discounts the notion that the general disincentive for elected officials to go to war correlates with overall war avoidance. Far from being irrelevant, the incentive structure unique to a given leader-democratic or autocratic-is in actuality the most important factor in determining whether that leader will instigate aggression against another sovereign nation.
B. STATISTICAL DISAGREEMENT AND THE EFFECT OF THE COLD WAR
Still other scholars, perhaps most prominently among them David Spiro, take issue more with the methodologies used to compile the statistics that serve as empirical support for the 'Democratic Peace.' Chief among these questions are how to deal with instances of conflict small enough so as not to constitute major international war (the general threshold used by most in the field is one thousand combat casualties; anything above is deemed a war, anything below a minor coercion) and how to 'score,' so to speak, conflicts involving democracies that are still emerging and thus not fully developed.20
I find these statistical quarrels to be largely an example of missing the forest for the trees. While clear statistical refutation of the 'Democratic Peace' would have to be taken seriously, to take issue with whether a given conflict resulted in nine hundred as opposed to eleven hundred casualties misses the bigger picture. I would also argue-citing Mark Twain's famous lamenting over "lies, damned lies, and statistics"-that what is at issue with many of these dissents is not a true quarrel with methodology or the resulting findings but with the premise of the theory itself. That is, being adverse to the idea that the 'Democratic Peace' is of validity, scholars undertake a results-oriented search through databases and compilations to find dubious support for their claims.
One theory rebuffing the 'Democratic Peace' is born not out of disputes over methodology but rather focuses on the subjective conclusions to be drawn from existing data. In doing so, it finds that the unique situation of the Cold War and the necessity for alliances between democratic nations and against the Soviet Union explains the lack of combat between democracies. Promulgated most readily by Joanne Gowa, this hypothesis posits that there is nothing uniquely peaceful about democracies or the relationships between them.25 Instead, the greater nuclear threat of the Cold War Soviet Bloc was the impetus for peaceful alliances (namely, of course, NATO) between democratic states. Gowa's premise holds little water. Despite her early and unwavering contention that the 'Democratic Peace' would not outlast the Cold War, it actually has. Since the downfall of the Soviet Union there has been not one instance of aggression between democratic states. While the admittedly limited time frame in question keeps that twelve-year analysis from being dispositive, the fact that no such wars were fought between established liberal democracies prior to the advent of the Cold War goes a long way toward refuting Gowa's hypothesis.
C. MOORE'S INCENTIVE THEORY
Professor Moore's incentive theory has as its pillars three main components. The first of these is that the 'Democratic Peace' is a valid starting point in discussing war avoidance, but that it doesn't tell the entire story. Moore cites as proof for the latter portion of this postulation the fact that while democracies are not fighting each other, they are still engaged in defensive wars.27 The first clause, that being the basic underlying veracity of the 'Democratic Peace,' has been the topic of this article to this point.
The second prong of Moore's incentive theory builds both on Kant's observation about the varying incentives for war as between democratic leaders and autocrats and on Buchanan's Nobel Prize-winning public choice theory. Viewing these two predicates in conjunction, Moore cites a political amalgam increasingly known as "government failure theory." Dealing primarily with the almost unfettered ability of rulers of non-democratic states to internalize all benefits of international aggression while externalizing (upon their populations) any potential harms, Moore summarizes this idea thusly
This insight is key to the understanding of incentive theory and thus to the future success and viability of the 'Democratic Peace' and policies which might flow from it. Recounting a favorite analogy of Professor Moore, a democratically elected leader is in a "heads-I-win, tails-I-lose" situation with regards to entering his nation into international conflict. To be sure, a successful and justified military effort often has remarkable positive effects on the popularity of a president. George H.W. Bush's approval ratings after the Gulf War, though fleeting, are perhaps the most ready example. On the reverse side of the coin, though, an unsuccessful military campaign is the kiss of doom for an elected leader-one need look no further than Lyndon Johnson.
To the contrary, a ruler of a non-democratic state has a different outlook on the metaphorical coin-flip. His potential outcomes are "heads-I-win, tails-you-lose," with the you in the formulation being the members of his population who will have to fund, fight, and potentially die for the war effort. With few exceptions (including the very recent example of Saddam Hussein) a war for a dictator is almost always a no-lose situation.
With this incentive structure in mind, the third major prong of Moore's incentive theory can be properly examined. Moore posits that democracies do not wind up fighting defensive wars because of bravado or bellicosity that spurs attack from non-democratic nations. Quite the opposite, democracies are put in the position of defending themselves either because of a lack of truly effective deterrence or, more likely, because of a failure to clearly communicate and employ this deterrence with regard to hostile autocrats. Considering the lack of checks-and-balances in a non-democratic governance structure, it is incumbent upon democracies to serve as those checks with respect to potentially aggressive rulers. More eloquently, "[I]t is the totality of external incentives through deterrence that is the only remaining modality of control."29
Because autocrats are able to externalize onto their populations the deleterious effects of wars, a comprehensive set of incentives (and disincentives) must be communicated by democracies. A clear and convincing communication is essential; in both American-led wars with Iraq, it has been made clear through his actions and even his own words that Saddam Hussein did not believe until it was too late that the United States would resort to military action. In a very real sense, the recent war with Iraq perhaps serves as the most effective communication of deterrence ever sent in the direction of dictators. With no intended degree of levity, it appears for now that if America, Great Britain, and like-minded democracies suspect that their safety is in question, the offending dictator can face a future of living in spider holes and eventual capture.30 Whether this renewal of Reagan's "Peace Through Strength" is intentional or unintentional, desirable or undesirable does little to impose doubt that it is now in the ether.
It should be noted that despite his passionate belief in not only the just nature of democracies for purposes of human dignity but also in their utility in avoiding war, Moore's incentive theory does not suppose a duty for democracies to impose that most noble of governments upon other nations. In defining his theory, Moore states that
To wit, Moore suggests that the way to allow the seeds of freedom to germinate the world over is through an increased dissemination of ideas, namely those relating to the fundamental wonders of an established liberal democracy. Though its utility is of course lessened in poor and underdeveloped nations, the advent of the Information Age provides an amazing opportunity for this exchange of ideas to take place. One of the most helpful developments would be a removal of barriers to free trade; Professor Russett (along with John Oneal) finds a strong correlation between trade relationships among nations and the reluctance to engage one another in armed conflict.32 As incentive theory is hopefully manifested in this manner, a welcome paradox will emerge: the increase in human freedom will be accompanied by a decrease in wars among nations.
III. CONCLUSION: IRAQ, 9/11, AND THE FUTURE
Politicians, scholars, and the masses alike have debated whether the Iraq War was legal under international law and as such whether the doctrine of preemptive self-defense is one which should be welcome in the international community. Both are likely close questions that will probably find no true consensus. Now that the war has been fought, however, and the doctrine applied, the ramifications for the future of the 'Democratic Peace' are beginning to take shape. It can fairly be said that for reasons both honest and disingenuous, international and domestic opposition to the war was widespread and vociferous. Much of this attention focused upon the person of President George W. Bush, and it would not be an understatement to say that he is reviled not only by a fair portion of the international community but also by portions of the American electorate. Oddly enough, this factor might have the most lasting impact on the future prospects for the 'Democratic Peace.'
Perhaps no other president in American history save for Franklin Roosevelt has led the nation into armed conflict more explicitly based on the ideals of the right for people to determine their own form of government. While it can be debated as to whether this was a just rationale for the war in Iraq, the fact is that not a day passes when Bush or those on his behalf are not speaking of bringing democracy to a new Iraq. This cursorily looks to some exactly like the ideals embodied in the 'Democratic Peace,' and the fact that this faulty connection has been and will be attached to Bush might well dampen the chances for the world to take to the idea that democracy should spread. By virtue of his domestic and international opponents tying the spread of democracy to a leader whom they despise, this opposition could fall into the unfortunate trap of erecting barriers to policies relating to the 'Democratic Peace' not because they disagree with them, but because they fear that support for them will be tacit approval for a President they abhor.
This very real possibility underscores three key observations. The first of these is that Moore's paradigm for spreading democratic ideals with words and only defending them weapons must be advanced in a clear manner in order to divorce the notion of the spread of democracy with the imposition of a Pax Americana.33 Through a consistent and unrelenting program of international cooperation in promoting the merits of human liberty, a slow move in the direction of a proliferation of such can be realized. Man's natural yearning for freedom will latch on to these ideals, and I believe that despite opposition by those dictators who benefit from refusing their populations the blessings of this liberty, the movement cannot fail.
The second noteworthy connection between the war in Iraq and the prospects for the 'Democratic Peace' refutes the idea that America's military involvement somehow sets back or even disproves the idea that democracies do not start wars. Whether the threat was real or only perceived, a majority of the American population and the officials they elected believed in good faith that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to American security. All available evidence-most gruesomely the videos of Kurdish refugees having been gassed by weapons of mass destruction-tends to support that idea, and the evidence is still being collected. Despite this threat, despite possessing the most lethal military in the history of the world sure to win a relatively easy victory, despite the raw wounds in the American psyche still left open since September 11, and despite an electorate generally supportive of the war effort and a unified-party government, America still deliberated for almost eighteen months before a single soldier set foot on Iraqi soil. Even then, it was not a unilateral action but an effort of contributions to varying degrees by nearly fifty nations. Steps taken to ensure the safety of innocent Iraqi citizens were unparalleled in the history of warfare, and while not fail-proof they rightly preserved untold numbers of people. Indeed, far from refuting the 'Democratic Peace,' the war in Iraq might be one of the best offers of proof for its underlying truth.
The final and most important of these observations is that the promoters of democracy must not yield in the face of setbacks, be they military, political, or theoretical. There will always be evil persons who wish to deny human beings the freedom they were granted by birthright. Those who wish to see them reclaim that freedom must not relent. There will always be honest and well-meaning scholars, indifferent moral relativists, and self-interested tyrants who will for different reasons dismiss the idea that democracy is inherently just and peaceful. Adherents to the 'Democratic Peace' in whatever future incarnation it might take must not give the floor, so to speak, but dictate the terms of the debate. In a remarkable speech at the University of Virginia Law School, former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Schifter observed rightly that the battle for minds and souls between democracies and those who hate them is not a "Clash of Civilizations," as Huntington has suggested, but rather a "Clash of Ideologies."34 It is a battle that those who love freedom cannot afford to lose.