The Myth of Democratic Peace: Theoretical and Empirical Shortcomings of the “Democratic Peace Theory”
By Binnur Ozkececi-Taner
The study of international affairs should be understood as a protracted competition between the realist and liberal traditions. Although not a monolithic paradigm itself, realism depicts that international affairs is a struggle for power among self-interested states and is generally pessimistic about the prospects for eliminating conflict and war. This paradigm dominated the field in the Cold War years because it provided simple, yet powerful explanations for war, alliances, imperialism, and obstacles to cooperation and because its emphasis on competition was consistent with the central features of the American-Soviet rivalry. The principal challenge to realism comes from a broad family of liberal theories, which does not constitute a monolithic view, either. While one strand of liberal thought has argued that economic interdependence would discourage states from using force against each other because warfare would threaten each side’s prosperity, the second, more recent liberal view has suggested that international institutions and regimes could overcome selfish state behaviours, mainly by encouraging states to forego immediate gains for the greater benefits of enduring cooperation. The third view, however, probably has had the most popularity in both scholarship and policy circles, which sees the spread of democracy as the key to world peace, based on the claim that democratic states are inherently more peaceful than authoritarian states. This essay is about the third variant of liberalist thought, namely the “democratic peace.” The essay will review the “democratic peace” literature critically and will argue that the “democratic peace” is theoretically and empirically overdetermined.
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