Grasping the Democratic Peace

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11 Apr 2012

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POL208Y1: Introduction to International Relations November 15th, 2011.
Grasping the Democratic Peace
Russett, Bruce. 1993. Grasping the Democratic Peace. Princeton: Princeton University
Press, Ch. 1-2
Context/Questions posed:
- Democracies almost never fight war.
- What does this statement mean?
- Is it true? If yes, what does it imply for the future of international politics? Can
the expansion of democracy lead to an era of peace?
- Can policy makers try to make this peaceful world more likely, and if yes, how?
- Does the Cold War era offer a chance for a fundamental change in the relations
b/w nations?
- Recall Cold War: ideological differences/security dilemma
- ideological conflict was resolved with the end of communism.
- bipolar confrontation (conflict between two extremes) ended with the collapse of
the Soviet Union alliance system, and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.
This ideological surrender to Western values of economic/political freedom
shows that once autocratic systems (ruler has absolute power) become democratic,
democracies have almost never fought each other = this statement implies that:
- Democracies rarely fight each other because:
1) They have other means of settling conflicts between them so they do
not need to fight each other.
2) Belief that democracies should not fight each other.
- Vision of peace among democratic states has been seen as part of the larger structure of
institutions, and practices to promote peace between nation-states for a long time:
- ex. Immanuel Kant (1970): Peace is based partially on states sharing “republic
constitution,” ex. Woodrow Wilson (1918): “a general association of nations”
The Emergence of Democratic Peace (pre-WWI):
- The norm that democracies should not fight each other seems to have developed by the
end of the 19th century i.e. the 1800„s; a number of examples of democracies having
conflicts with each other, and being so close to war, but not going there
ex. Britain in the 1890‟s:
- disputed with Venezuela over the boundary of British Guiana in South America
- American President Cleveland grew tired of Britain‟s inability to let others
mediate i.e. “arbitrate,” and threatened war, but the British soon rejected this
position anyway.
- Cleveland obtained the ability to force arbitration on Britain, but during the
following discussion, the US offered to exclude states that were settled by the
British for at least two generations/60 years.
Britain in turn also backed down, war was avoided, and agreed to
arbitration, and the issue was settled through a compromise with Venezuela.
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