The Democratic Peace Theory

The primary claim of democratic peace proponents is that democratic states do not wage war against each other[1]. This theory is based on the findings of Immanuel Kant in the late 18th century. In his findings Kant argues that “the natural evolution of world politics and economics would drive mankind inexorably toward peace by means of a widening of the pacific union of liberal republican states”.[2] According to Kant’s theory liberal republics insure that the state interests are transferred from single monarch to the society thus making wars less probable. This assumption can be explained by a notion that in democratic societies the decision of waging wars is transferred from a monarch to the average citizen who bears the costs of war. Furthermore, the interdependence between national interests and citizens self-interests establishes a tendency of “placing ultimate authority in the hands of the average voter”[3] thus reducing the chance for well-institutionalized democracies to fight wars against each other.

Michael Doyle in his publication “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs” adds another principle of pacification to Kant’s list of three “definitive articles” of liberal constitutions. According to Doyle:  “The regular rotation of office in liberal democratic polities is a nontrivial device that helps ensure that personal animosities among heads of government provide no lasting, escalating  source of tension”[4]. The inner state check and balance system does not exclude the probability of war between states, but instead it explains that “liberal wars are only fought for popular, liberal purposes”[5].

Accordingly, most common argument of democratic peace theory is the constitutional and legal restraints on executive action. In other words placing constraints on the ability of leaders to fight other democracies are the foundations of peace in democratic states.

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The democratic peace theory also suggests that Democracy tends to foster economic interdependence, which reduces the likelihood of war.  Firstly, it is more likely for countries who share the same values, to have close economic ties with each other. The economic interdependence significantly reduces the probability of confrontation between states. “The preponderance of systematic evidence for at least the post-World War II era, however, suggests that mutual economic interdependence, measured as the share of dyadic trade to GNP in the country where that trade is proportionately smaller, is strongly associated with peaceful relations in subsequent years”.[6]  In other words, economic interdependence helps create transnational ties that promote peace rather than conflict. Furthermore, states have a mutual benefit from the economic relations and conflict with each other is going to harm their economy. Thus, the potential loss of trade and its negative impact on countries critical imports or exports decreases the willingness of both sides to fight.

Based on historical evidence, despite the liberal claim that democracies have never gone to war with each other, there have been more conflicts than instances of cooperation – situation which provides a fertile ground for realism to flourish. Up until the end of the Cold War realism was the dominant theory of international relations as it explained most of the political events. However, after the end of the Cold War started crisis of realism due to the circumstances that it failed to predict or predicted wrongly several events, especially the unification of Germany (October 1990), dissolution of Warsaw Pact (July 1991) and the end of Cold War (dissolution of USSR December 1991). None of this events resolved in a hegemonic war as many realist predicted. It seems as if other theory such as democratic peace theory is better at explaining the events after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The democratic peace theory gives a logical explanation of the events which lead to peaceful dissolution of Soviet Union and end of the Cold War. “Any understanding of the change in the Soviet Union’s international behavior, before its political fragmentation, and in time reciprocated by the West, demands attention to the three legs on which the liberal vision of Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace Stands”. This stands are: 1. Development of Liberalization and democratization process in Soviet Union; 2. Desire to enter western markets – rise of economical interdependence; and 3. influence of the International organizations.

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As Emmanuel Kant has predicted in his findings “the natural evolution of world politics and economics would drive mankind inexorably toward peace by means of a widening of the pacific union of liberal republican states”.[7] Democracy, economic interdependence and international organizations constitute the basis of the 21st century international relations.


[1] Edward D.Mansfield and Jack Snyder, Democratization and the Danger of War, P8

[2] Michael W. Doyle, Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, Part 2, p349

[3] Edward D.Mansfield and Jack Snyder, Democratization and the Danger of War, P21

[4] Michael W. Doyle, Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, p.230

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bruce Russet, a neo-Kantian perspective: democracy, interdependence, and international organizations in building security communities, Security Communities, Cambridge University Press, P.374

[7] Michael W. Doyle, Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, Part 2, p349

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