The theory of democratic peace: if you want peace, prepare for war

by Laura Santilli

Fonte: Pulgarías

The concepts of defence and security are usually imagined in terms of military power and tactical capabilities of armies, or in terms of great operational strategies capable of employing the most sophisticated combat techniques in theatres of war. However, as Sun Tzu and his book The Art of War teaches, a strategist's greatest skill is to win a battle without fighting it. It is in this perspective that this article aims to analyze the American theory of democratic peace according to which democracies, by not declaring war on each other, guarantee peace and security on an international scale. Democracy, therefore, and not war, becomes the most important instrument for the external defence of a country.


1. The theory of democratic peace: its conception and use by the US administrations


Among the scholars of international relations, the first to formulate the theory of democratic peace was the American political scientist Michael Doyle in 1983, with his article: "Kant, Liberal Legacies and Foreign Affairs”[1] and he did it taking into consideration what many political scientists and analysts consider as the first formulation of the theory of democratic peace: the work of Immanuel Kant For Perpetual Peace written in 1795. In the contemporary academic world, the debate on what to mean by "democratic peace" and especially on how to implement it, is still very heated.


Among the various currents of thought, however, one can succeed in extrapolating several factors common to each of them. What each vision of democratic peace has in common is the concept behind it: democratic systems tend not to declare war on those they recognize as their own peers, hence other democracies. Furthermore, democratic leaders cannot fail to take into account that public opinion, after the Second World War and in the case of the US even more so after the Vietnam War, is hardly likely to see their country involved in a war. The political class of democratic systems also thinks in terms of re-election, which is a hard goal to achieve if, in addition to having led their country into war, you perhaps also get a defeat. Another element common to the various currents of thought on the theory of democratic peace is that to resolve disputes at international level, democratic regimes prefer to use the instrument of diplomacy and are firm supporters of international institutions, first and foremost the UN.


A further affinity between the different visions of democratic peace is that democratic countries hardly consider themselves hostile to each other and, moreover, their governments tend to invest more in welfare spending, what are called social spending rather than military spending; this, both because welfare spending is useful in terms of political re-election and because democratic governments themselves should have an interest in supporting it, since it generates a better system of democracy understood as a confrontation between people as opposed to military spending, which, on the contrary, is not born with the aim of generating more democracy.

Source: Financial Times

The theory of democratic peace began to be considered by the US political class, particularly by President Ronald Reagan's administration (1981-1989), as a possible and valid alternative to the Soviet Union containment theory employed during the Cold War. According to US academics and politicians, in fact, the theory of democratic peace could have helped the United States to ensure the stability and security necessary both during the last decades of the Cold War and, above all, in the delicate phase of transition from an international system based on a bipolar division of power between the United States and the Soviet Union, to a world that would have been characterized instead by multipolarism and, from an economic point of view, by globalization. During the 1980s, the US security strategy moved from a defensive notion of containment to an active one of enlargement, in which the United States committed itself to creating and supporting a "community of democracies".