Contemporary Security & Strategy

The third assumption made by President Clinton in his 1994 speech, was that with every nation following the democratic system of government that America's own security would be ensured. However he clearly ignored the fact that all states, regardless of the system of government, acts first and foremost in their own self interest. As a result, even in an entirely democratic world, states will strive to ensure their self-preservation in the world, regardless of how this is interpreted or whether it upsets other states.

One of the best examples of this is that of the seven nations, which are known to possess nuclear weapons, most are at least on the surface democratic countries. Several other democratic states, most notably Germany and Japan are eager to join in the nuclear weapons race. Realists have also dismissed the suggestion that democratic states do not go to war or at the very least come dangerously close.

Realists have pointed out that Great Britain and France nearly went to war in 1898 over the outpost of Fashoda in Egypt, Great Britain and the United States clashed in the War of 1812, Spain was a democracy at the time of the Spanish-American War of 1898 and that Germany was just as democratic as Great Britain and France in 1914 and as recently as 1954, the United States secretly supported an armed raid that brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala.

Supporters of the "democratic peace" theory have argued that the examples of wars used to discredit the theory are not truly relevant because the countries used as examples don't truly qualify as democratic countries by the modern definition of the term. R. J. Rummel has also attempted to explain America's covert interference in other countries including Guatemala, Chile, Iran and the Dominican Republic, "Democracies have engaged in covert action. However, this was done secretly by agencies of government, such as the CIA, operating with minimum democratic oversight.

The agencies were really enclaves of power acting abroad without the normal restraints of democratic leaders and outside of the democratic culture. They were insulated from the effects of freedom that operate within a democracy. " (R. J. Rummel, "The Miracle That Is Freedom: The Solution to War, Violence, Genocide, and Poverty", Martin Monograph Series No. 1 Moscow, Idaho: Martin Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, University of Idaho, 1996). Realists have also questioned the very ideas that constitute the "democratic peace" theory.

It has been argued that democracies are constrained from going to war against other democracies because of their liberal views, yet they are rarely constrained from threatening war, the most prominent examples of this are the disputes between Greece and Turkey and Israel and it's neighbours. "Democratic peace" supporters would justify this by pointing out that often the route of the problems that exist between states such as Greece and Turkey date back hundreds of years and are not the fault of democracy and if anything it is democracy that is preventing these long time enemies going to war.

Realists have raised the question as to how "democratic peace" theorists can be sure that a world of democratic states would never experience war when such a world has never existed. They argue that even if evidence does suggest that there is less likelihood of war between two democracies, it is absolutely impossible to guarantee that such a thing would never happen. R. J. Rummel has attempted to answer this question by stating that "All predictions are based on the past" (R. J. Rummel, "The Miracle That Is Freedom:

The Solution to War, Violence, Genocide, and Poverty", Martin Monograph Series No. 1 Moscow, Idaho: Martin Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, University of Idaho, 1996) and because the past has shown that democracies have not gone to war he can justify his argument. Realists have also attempted to explain the lack of war between democracies from 1945 onwards by suggesting that because of the bipolar system of global control that saw the United States and the Soviet Union battle for supremacy up until the demise of Communism in Russia in the early 1990's, many democratic countries have avoided possible conflict because they feared the USSR more than they feared another democratic country.

As Kenneth Waltz wrote "A bipolar world tends to be more peaceful than a multipolar world. " (Kenneth Waltz, "The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better," Adelphi Papers, Number 171, London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981). While "democratic theorists" accept that the Cold War may have accounted for the lack of war between democracies, it does not explain why there have not been wars between democratic states before or since, while in Europe, unity has continued to grow rather then hostility.

One argument Realists use against the "democratic peace" theory is that democracies themselves are not entirely free of violence as the continued troubles in Northern Ireland and French massacres in Algeria have shown. However "democratic peace" theorists argue that on average democracies have much less violence than other forms of government, regarding examples of democracies with "high" levels of internal violence, one can easily point to cases of much more deadly violence within non-democracies. The Teiping Rebellion in China during the 19th century may have killed 20,000,000 people, even possibly 40,000,000.

The Mexican Revolution near the beginning of our century left about 2,000,000 dead, the Chinese Civil War that was fought from 1928 to 1949 and killed at least 10,000,000 Chinese. Even the much lesser internal conflicts in smaller non-democratic nations have been deadly. The list is long and sad, including El Salvador (during its non-democratic periods), Colombia, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Czar's Russia, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Uganda.

Just recently 500,000 or more Rwandans were likely slaughtered in a couple of months of civil war. Finally "democratic peace" theorists argue that regardless of the several critiques raised of the "democratic peace" theory, it does not mean that a genuine link between democracy and peace can't be made. In conclusion, "democratic peace" theorists believe that an entirely democratic world would mean the end of all wars, an argument that is disputed by Realists.

While history does suggest that war between democracies is very unlikely it is impossible to predict the future conclusively as we simply cannot know exactly what will happen in the future.


Craig A. Snyder : Contemporary Security & Strategy, Macmillan Press, 1999 John Baylis & Steve Smith : The Globalisation of World Politics (2nd Edition), Oxford University Press, 2001 Jack Donnelly : Realism & International Relations, Cambridge University Press, 2000