How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace
John Owen M.
The proposition that democracies seldom if ever go to war against one another has nearly become a truism. The "democratic peace" has attracted attention for a number of reasons. It is "the closest thing we have to an empirical law in the study of international relations," reports one scholar.' It poses an apparent anomaly to realism,the dominant school of security studies. And it has become an axiom of U.S. foreign policy. "Democracies don't attack each other," President Clinton declared in his 1994 State of the Union address, meaning that "ultimately the best strategy to insure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of democracy elsewhere." Clinton has called democratization the "third pillar" ofhis foreign policy.2 The democratic peace proposition is vulnerable in at least three ways, however. First, it contains two inherent ambiguities: How does one define democracy? What counts as a war? The slipperiness of these terms provides a temptation to tautology: to define them so as to safeguard the proposition. Indeed, some challengers to the proposition claim that democracies have been at warwith each other several times.3 A second challenge is that the
M. and at John Owenis a fellowat theCenter International for Security ArmsControl Stanford University.
This article was written under the auspices of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. The author wishes to thank the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies for its generous support. He also wishes to thank RobertArt, Michael Desch, Gil Merom, Daniel Philpott, Randall Schweller, and David Spiro for comments on a previous draft.
1. Jack S. Levy, "Domestic Politics and War," in Robert I. Rotberg and Theodore K. Rabb, The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 88. See also Bruce Russett, Grasping the DemocraticPeace: Principlesfor a Post-Cold War World(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 3-23; and James Lee Ray, "Wars between Democracies: Rare or Nonexistent?" InternationalInteractions, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring 1988), pp. 251-276. 2. "Excerpts from President Clinton's State of the Union Message," New YorkTimes, January 26, 1994, p. A17; "The Clinton Administration Begins," Foreign Policy Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 4/5 (January-April 1993), p.5. 3. See for example Christopher Layne, "Kant or Cant: The Myth of the Democratic Peace," International Security, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Fall 1994), pp. 5-49; Kenneth N. Waltz, "The Emerging Structure of International Politics," International Security, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall 1993), p. 78; Jack Vincent, "Freedom and International Conflict: Another Look," International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1(March 1987), pp. 102-112; and Henry S. Farber and Joanne Gowa, "Polities and Peace," unpublished manuscript, Princeton University, January 11, 1994. Claiming that democracies have never fought one another is Ray, "Wars between Democracies."
InternationalSecurity, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Fall 1994), pp. 87-125 ? 1994 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology.
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lack of wars among democracies, even if true, is not surprising. Wars are so rare that random chance could account for the democratic peace, much as it could account for an absence of war among, say, states whose names begin with the letter K.4 A third critique points out that the democratic peace lacks a convincing theoretical foundation. No one issure why democracies do not fight one another and yet do fight non-democracies.5 That we do not really know the causal mechanism behind the democratic peace means we cannot be certain the peace is genuine. It may be an epiphenomenon, a by-product of other causal variables such as those suggested by realist theories of international politics.6 In this article I defend the democratic peace...
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