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Democratic Peace Theory - Why Liberal Democracies Do Not Go To War With Each Other

Updated on April 15, 2013
Liberal Democracies almost never go to war with other liberal democracies.
Liberal Democracies almost never go to war with other liberal democracies. | Source

Dyadic vs. Monodic Explanations

Dyadic explanations are key to the Theory of Democratic Peace. While Democratic Peace Theory exists in a complex, and sometimes ambiguous field, International Relations, Democratic Peace Theory can be economically summarised: Liberal democracies, in general, do not go to war with other liberal democracies. I will argue that relations between States, and Democratic Peace Theory, cannot be solely be explained by focusing on the internal conditions within those States, that they must be considered dyadically. This is not to say monadic explanations of Democratic Peace Theory are irrelevant, the opposite is true, but I will argue that the key explanations of Democratic Peace Theory are dyadic. I will first consider the somewhat problematic term of "liberal democracy", before considering both the monadic and dyadic explanations to DPT. Finally then, I will examine which explanations hold true in the real world, before concluding.

Before dealing with the explanations and justifications, both monadic and dyadic, we must confront the controversy surrounding the term "liberal democracy". As with much of the terminology in the study of politics, the definition of liberal democracy can change on an article by article basis. For clarity, and as a foundation for my arguments, we will define liberal democracies as containing the following charachteristics:

1. Rule of law and division of powers.

2. A legacy of peaceful, democratic transitions of power.

3. Respect for basic human rights

4. Citizens enjoy basic liberal rights (speech, religon etc)

5. Independent media

Now that we have confronted that would-be problem, we can move on to Democratic Peace Theory itself.

First, we will consider the monadic explanations of Democratic Peace Theory. The first point we will consider is that, in liberal democracies, decisions on whether to go to war or not attract mass media and public scrutiny. People, in general, don't like war. In countries where Governments are accountable to their citizens, a decision to go to war against mass public opinion, would not be taken lightly. If the decision is made, and the public disapprove, or the war goes badly, there is a strong chance the Government will be defeated come election time. As the aim of all political parties is to win power, and then retain it, a decision like going to war against public opinion would not be looked upon favourably by party members. Linked closely to this point, there are institutional constraints in most liberal democracies. For the most part, it is not that decisions on war and peace are taken seriously, they have to be taken seriously. There are measures in place to prevent sporadic outbreaks of war. Leaders in liberal democracies can't go to war on a whim. Measures in place range from the need for ministerial backing, parliamentry/congressional approval to presidential approval. At the very least, there is always parliamentry debate on the decision, which will also play a role in dyadic explanations, but we will consider that later. Another point in the unit-centred, or monadic, explanations of Democratic Peace Theory is that, in liberal democracies, there are filtering mechanisms to keep those of fragile or unstable mind out of power. This might seem like a trivial notion, but it is valid nonetheless. First of all, to be elected, candidates require support from the general public, who tend to vote on fairly "safe" candidates. Then (in parliamentry systems, at least) candidates need to garner support from within the party to obtain a place in the executive. Another influential argument in Democratic Peace Theory is as follows: liberal democracies tend to have strong private enterprise. To most areas of business, war is expensive. As well as its cost to wage, it destroys trade links (which we will consider later). The private sector would be opposed to war in this situation, and would put pressure on the government not to go to war. An important point to consider is that in liberal democracies free, independent media scrutinize government decisions thoroughly. This makes it harder for leaders to exaggerate external threats to garner public support, as a precept to war. Finally, in liberal democracies, there are non-violent processes of conflict resolution for disputes. Having such measures in place make it more likely the same process will be applied internationally. This can be applied to dyadic explanations too, which we will now consider.

Now let us consider some of the dyadic explanations for Democratic Peace Theory. The first we will consider is the process of going to war (continued from earlier). As I have stated, liberal democracies have a certain process to going to war (parliamentry debates/votes etc.) Both liberal democratic States involved in a dispute know that the other can't just suddenly declare war, without warning, and so both are less likely to feel a pre-emptive military strike against the other is necessery. At the very least, this gives diplomacy more time to work. The security in knowing that the other won't, or can't, suddenly declare war, eases tensions between the two states in itself. One of the hallmarks of liberal democracy, trade, plays an important role in Democratic Peace Theory. Liberal democracies tend to have strong trade with other States. Going to war against a trade partner would be hugely detrimental to the economy, and the private sector of the economy would nearly always lobby against war. Combine the economic cost of the war, which inevitably trickles down to the public, with the human cost of the war, and it doesn't bode well for government popularity, which again ties in with my earlier point. Somewhat linked to the monadic explanation of habits of conflict resolution in liberal democracies, when conflict arises between two liberal democracies, both States know that war is the other's last option. This shared expectation overshadows the possibility of war, and again gives diplomacy more time to work. While there aren't as many dyadic explanations for Democratic Peace Theory, they are the vital components of it. We will now look at my reasoning for stating that dyadic explanations are required for Democratic Peace Theory.

Now that we have considered bothe the monadic and dyadic explanations of Democratic Peace Theory, lets look examine how they hold up in reality. The theory of Democratic Peace tells us that liberal democracies will not go to war with other liberal democracies. This, despite some definitional disputes, generally holds true. There are two explanations for this: unit centred and dyadic. I don't believe that either explanation, by itself, can hold true in real life. I reject the notion that either one of them is correct, and the other incorrect. There is a trade-off between the two. If the monadic explanations were correct, independent of dyadic explanations, that would imply that no liberal democracy would be involved in war. This, of course, is not true. In the last decade alone, the U.S.A. and Great Britain, two stalwarts of liberal democracy, have waged wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Regardless of personal opinions on the war (the point was made to me that the U.S. and GB try to police the world, and the majority of war in the last century has involved them), this shows that monadic explanations, by themselves, do not hold true. If monadic explanations, by themselves, explained Democratic Peace Theory, it is reasonable to assume that no liberal democracy should be involved in any war. This is just not the case. However, I believe, as I have shown, that the dyadic explanations are strongly linked to the monadic ones. Without the monadic explanations, there would be gaping holes in the dyadic ones. Both are important, but considering that monadic explanations by themselves, do not hold true, I have to conclude that Democratic Peace Theory requires dyadic explanations.


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      Sanxuary 13 months ago

      It could just be luck. Almost all of them have been allies united against a much bigger problem. The other factor is that we are no longer in the buisiness of expansion and that means that fighting for nothing is good sense. Fight when you have to is a better policy.

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      Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Very interesting and complex Hub, Gav. I believe that liberal democratic countries do not generally go to war with one another is because public opinion would be strongly against it. Especially in the absence of an extraordinary provocation. It is far easier for a democratic government to justify war against an authoritarian government than a democratic one. Neither would be easy though. Your point about generally positive trade relations between democratic nations is also very valid. Great food for thought.

    • GavNugent profile image

      Gavin Nugent 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Sorry for the late reply Nick, havnt been on in ages! In this context, monodic means involving one country, for example public opinion in country A preventing going ti war. Dyadic means involving two countries, example strong trade between country A and country B making it unlikely that they attack each other.

    • Nick Hanlon profile image

      Nick Hanlon 5 years ago from Chiang Mai

      What is a MONODIC explanation?What is a DYADIC explanation?Is it 1 explanatory cause versus 2?Be good to know what these terms are

      Good article though.