May 15, 2005

Why Don't Democracies Fight Each Other?

First, there haven't been that many wars since democracy became widespread, so the sample size is small. But that's largely for technological reasons: cross-border war is too damaging to be attractive, as compared to the 18th Century when mercenary armies could fight gentlemanly battles to redraw borders. Meanwhile, food production per acre of farmland has been growing faster than the birthrate, making wars for lebensraum, like Germany's and Japan's in WWII, pointless.

And, actually, democracies do fight: the Union vs. the Confederacy, Britain vs. the Boer Republics, NATO vs. Serbia, the American Revolution, and Israel vs. Lebanon in 1948. You have to raise the "democracy" bar awfully high to explain away all those away. And WWI certainly represented the will of the people in most of the combatants, including Germany, where the legislature supported the war.

Further, there are examples of wars of aggression instigated by democracies, such as the Suez Crisis of 1956, Iraq in 2003-?, and the Mexican-American War. Mexico was rapidly shifting back and forth between dictatorship and elected governments at the time, but it's ridiculous to think that an elected Mexican government would have given up the Southwest without a fight.

I think, though, that the main reason democracies don't fight each other much is because if the objective situation makes war likely, democracy is unlikely too. Notice that Britain simply suspended its constitutional requirement for a General Election in 1940 for the duration of the war to prevent democracy from interfering with the more important business of winning the war.

Similarly, if a country has disputed borders and a restive minority, democracy is unlikely. For example, Croatia was a dictatorship during its war with Serbia over the Serbs who wanted to break away from the Croatian break-away state. It didn't let Serbs, or anybody else, vote. In 1995, however, Croatia won its war and ethnically cleansed the Serbs out of Croatia (with American backing). Once it became a mono-ethnic state with an undisputed border, it rapidly turned into a democracy.

So, democracy is more likely in comfortable countries that don't need to gird their loins for desperate battle, which is why they haven't gotten into wars with each other.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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