The Democratic Peace Theory

There have been claims that democratic states are more peaceful than autocratic states. This led to refinement of the democratic peace theory. It is believed that as much as the democratic states do fight with other countries, few cases have been reported of a Republican state fighting against another democratic state. Some theories have been developed by different scholars that explain why countries with similar ideologies engage in such disagreements. Bruce Russett, Michael Doyle, and James Lee Ray are examples of such scholars (William, 2008, 109).

         The democratic peace theory also referred to as the liberal peace theory arose from the faith of existence of the "democratic peace." Studies indicate that the United States adopted a policy that would help it export democracy to its oversee colonies, but it was complicated as democracy instigated war as countries transited to it. Democracy critics like David Spiro have been arguing that the way the term is defined and instilled into people's minds is the core reason that reason that can be used to explain why there are minimal disagreements among countries that have embraced democracy. Others like Christopher Layne argued that the fact that the democratic states sometimes decide not to fight when they come closer to war has nothing to do with their ideology. Considering the post-world war scenario, the peace that was witnessed was not as a result of the countries involved being democracies, but it was because they were united against the same enemy, the Soviet Union.  

 The democratic peace theory is a branch of international relations. The democratic peace theory is critical as it applies in both historical and contemporary events.  The traditional Theory, about Kant's articles on perpetual peace, is constructed into three claims. One of the significant applications from the democratic peace theory is that countries that are democratic are more peaceful than those that are not democratic. The further dyadic claim that the democracies are more peaceful to each other. The triadic claim suggests that perpetual peace can be achieved through the combination of freedom, free trade and international law (William, 2008, 129).

Whether these claims are applicable or indeed possible has been the subject of much debate. For instance, modern Democratic Peace theorists such as Levy argue that it is ‘as close to an empirical law as we have in International Relations today.' Furthermore, Doyle suggests that ‘Democratic states do not go to war with each other.' On the other hand, numerous theorists accentuate the inadequacies of the theory, with particular emphasis on definitional issues, normativity and the lack of evidence (Beck, " Jackman, 1998, 173).

There is some evidence to suggest that the Democratic Peace Theory is ‘fact.' Democracies by their very nature should be more peaceful than non-democracies. Doyle has done extensive research into the causes of peaceful relations between democracies. His argument has three elements: liberal pacifism, liberal imperialism, and liberal internationalism. Doyle demonstrates support for the monadic claim by arguing that domestic political cultures are based on peaceful conflict resolution. About liberal pacifism, Doyle notes that the only beneficiaries of war are military aristocrats. Consequently, no democracy would pursue war as it would be in the minority interest. Universal suffrage and representation within democracies mean that governments are held accountable and responsible to its citizens who, holding liberal notions of war, will not advocate conflict with another democracy. Within democracies, there are societal structures and domestic constraints that decrease the likelihood of war. As such, there are peaceful international relations between democracies, demonstrating support for the Theory. Moreover, Doyle emphasizes that ‘Free States' account for little warfare.

            Kant argued that the increasing of democracies globally would be followed by the establishment of a ‘Pacific Union.' The ‘Pacific Union' would facilitate a democratic zone of peace, resulting in mutual understanding between democracies. One could view contemporary establishments, such as the EU and UN, as exemplifying this shared understanding. Moreover, within the ‘Pacific Union,' economic cooperation further reduces the likelihood of war between democracies through interdependence (Beck, " Jackman, 1998, 94).

The concept of liberal internationalism emphasizes that democracies are unlikely to engage in inter-state wars with other democracies because of their appreciation of the benefits of trade, which can ‘be enjoyed only under conditions of peace'.  Similarly, the ‘Pacific Union' ensures agreement between nations. More generally, the concept of liberal internationalism suggests that the international scene holds predominantly liberal values. Mansfield and Snyder’s finding that democracies have not fought each other supports the dyadic claim and connects closely to liberal internationalism.

There are, however, numerous concerns with regards to the Democratic Peace Theory, prominently definitional issues. There are varying interpretations and definitions of both democracy and peace. There is no standard guideline for a justice; democracies vary significantly across the world. Indeed, the UK, which many would consider being fully democratic, has aspects that one may infer are undemocratic, such as its constitutional monarchy. Similarly, the United States has no restrictions on discretionary campaign spending, which can undoubtedly be considered communist. There are further definitional issues with regards to war. War is defined as so if there are one thousand battle dead. Subsequently, the definition omits many modern, ‘virtual' wars and covert operations, frequently carried out by democracies. This would, therefore, suggest that the Democratic Peace Theory cannot be considered to be ‘fact'.

The Democratic Peace Theory is also criticised for having a lack of evidence to support the Theory. In many respects, there is more evidence to argue against the Theory. There is little evidence to support the monadic claim. Democracies fight wars, both interstate and against non-democracies. The USA, for example, has been at war two out of every three years since 1989. Mansfield and Snyder used statistical testing to show that democracies become involved in conflicts as frequently as other states; the point is that democracies do not fight each other, demonstrating inexact support for the dyadic claim (William, 2008, 117).

The definitional issues are particularly significant with regards to any supporting evidence for the dyadic claim. The definition of democracy means that there has not been an interstate war between democracies. There are, however, exceptions. Finland declared war against the Western democracies during the Second World War. More recently, the conflict between Lebanon and Israel in 2006 further demonstrates that the dyadic claim is not historically accurate and the significance of definitional issues about the dyadic claim. Moreover, the dyadic claim also neglects ‘near misses' and the fact that peace does not mean the removal of all hostilities and tensions (Jacqui, 2005, 73).

Theorists encounter most problems when attempting to prove the existence of the Triadic claim. The claim suggests that perpetual peace can be achieved through democracy, free trade, and international law. The likelihood of the claim, however, is highly unlikely and very difficult to prove. The claim is undoubtedly utopian. The establishment of democracy worldwide is a process that is unimaginable in the contemporary world. Capitalism has increased on a global scale, but there are numerous problems which arise during the process of democratization.

Kant puts great emphasis on the necessity of global democracy for the establishment of perpetual peace but neglects the problems of democratization, prominent in the contemporary world. The process of democratization commonly coincides with the growth of extremism before the establishment of non-sectarianism. Post Arab Spring nations, notably Egypt and Libya, demonstrate the problems that can occur during and after democratization. Mansfield and Snyder note that countries in the process of democratization become more aggressive and war-prone. Evidence illustrates that democratizing states are more likely to engage in conflict than states that had experienced no regime change.  

Mansfield and Snyder, for instance, indicate that democratizing states are ‘60 percent more likely to go to war than states that were not democratizing'. Significantly, they accentuate that any regime change, either democratic or autocratic, increases the likelihood of warfare. In my opinion, two things can be inferred from the process of democratization. Firstly, it shows that universal democracy could only be achieved with conflict. Secondly, I believe that the process of democratization, overlooked mainly by Kant, is more influential in the causes of warfare than democracy itself (Jacqui, 2005, 26).

The assumption that democracies are more peaceful is fundamentally false and naïve. Democracies are consistently engaged in conflict, albeit predominantly with non-democracies. This is demonstrated in the contemporary world most notably by the USA and their attempts to spread democracy through battle. The most prominent of such cases were their military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. In my opinion, to attempt to instill freedom through the use of force is both wholly undemocratic and morally erroneous; supporters of the ‘development before democracy' theory would be highly critical of such action.  Also, fans of the Democratic Peace Theory can be criticised for having the base assumption that autocratic states cannot be peaceful. In my opinion, such a view is generalized and neglects many of the stable and peaceful dictatorial regimes.

Generally, I believe that the Democratic Peace Theory is more fiction than fact. While the theory is endorsed regarding its concept, it is difficult to falsify, and there are some inadequacies. The main concerns with the Theory are the definitional issues and a lack of evidence. Evidence for the monadic claim is particularly limited; in fact, the evidence would suggest that there is no correlation between a state's form of government and their engagement in warfare. There is more supporting evidence for the dyadic claim, but the evidence rests entirely on definitions of democracies and war. There are also anomalies within history to counter the claim.

The triadic claim is purely utopian and in my opinion, will never be established due to its reliance on universal democracy. Issues of normativity apply to the Democratic Peace Theory. The Theory is a normative claim allied to a correlation of which there is some evidence. Kant's notion of perpetual peace, in my opinion, is sensationalized and utopian - conflict is innate to states. The interpretation of the Democratic Peace Theory is also influenced by individual beliefs. For example, Realists are unlikely to agree with the Democratic Peace Theory as they view international society as being anarchic, preventing perpetual peace. I believe that conflict is inevitable regardless of a state's governmental system; there are just too many influences on the outbreak of warfare. A more efficient approach would be to examine the process of democratization. As Mansfield and Snyder have exemplified, democratizing states are more likely to engage in conflict that mature democracies or stable autocracies. Regime change as a whole has been shown to be more influential and deserves more focus (Jacqui, 2005, 73).

         Apart from the democratic peace theory, many other institutions that consider themselves democratic continue embracing their theories apart from the liberal peace theory. The institutionalism theory in one of such adopted method which provides that each may welcome and cooperate with each other when the action that they intend is of interest to each other. By embracing the democratic principles by some countries, they later realized that they only benefited a few or worked for other countries' selfish interests.


Scott B.; Andrew L.; Richard D.; Jack D.; Matthew P.; Christian R.; and Jacqui T.;(2005). “Theories of International Relations.” 3rd Edition, Palgrave Macmillan.

William B.; (2008). “A liberal international order?” 2rd Edition, Palgrave Macmillan.

Beck, N.; Jackman, S; (1998). "Beyond Linearity by Default: Generalized Additive Models." American Journal of Political Science. 42: 596–627. doi:10.2307/2991772

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