This is a post that appeared on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage page.
Democracies do not go to war against each other, and democracies are less likely than other types of regimes to have disputes with each other. These relationships form the core of what has come to be called the Democratic Peace. Our article “Dangerous Neighbors, Regional Territorial Conflict, and the Democratic Peace,” demonstrates that this relationship actually has little to do with democracy and everything to do with where on the globe these countries rest.
Alex’s research (see his book here, and articles here and here) has demonstrated that the common method of analyzing cross-sectional dyadic data—information about pairs of states in successive years, like the United States and Canada in 1946, 1947, 1948, etc—often produces biased results when examining international conflict. Our statistical analyses assume that all cases in the sample we analyze are independent, but we know that’s rarely true for international conflict. Rather, conflicts commonly cluster in specific neighborhoods or regions, and we show that these conflict “hot spots” strongly affect the democratic peace relationship.
Territorial hot spots also provide another way of measuring the border instability that has been important in Doug’s previous research. His 2007 article found that the relationship between democracies and peace was spurious: border stability leads to both democracy and peace, making the observed relationship between those two variables disappear. Doug used geographic markers such as mountainous territory and ethnically-divided borders to help identify stability (see also his 2012 book). However, by changing the identification of stable borders to territorial hot spots, the study presents another means of validating the Territorial Peace argument that stable borders lead to both democracy and peace (see his earlier Monkey Cage posts, here, here, and here) while also correcting for the statistical problems identified in Alex’s work.
In the end we find that controlling for border stability with territorial hot spots eliminates the statistical relationship between pairs of democracies and peace. We assessed a number of different model specifications of the relationship and only found an effect in one case. When a region is already peaceful (i.e., absent any hot spots of territorial conflicts), democracies are more likely to be peaceful, but even then the substantive effects are incredibly small. In short, the peace between democracies seems to be a product of stable neighborhoods.
To us, this article represents all the best aspects of co-authorship because it blends so well our separate research interests to answer an important substantive question. We thank BJPS and the Monkey Cage for their support of the research.
Doug Gibler is a Professor of Political Science and Arts and Sciences Leadership Board Fellow at the University of Alabama. His most recent book, The Territorial Peace: Borders, State Development, and International Conflict, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012.
Alex Braithwaite is Associate Professor of International Relations in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona. His book, Conflict Hot Spots: Emergence, Causes, and Consequences, was published by Ashgate Press in 2010.
One extension of the democratic peace argument is that democratic leaders have electoral incentives to carefully choose their conflicts. This is why democracies are more likely to fight shorter wars that they win. In a new paper coming out in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, I find (with Steve Miller) that democracies are no more or less likely to fight shorter conflicts or to win them. Using disputes rather than wars, we demonstrate that the association between joint democracy and these empirical regularities is, you guessed it, a function of the (lack of) territorial threat facing democracies. Democracies are rarely targeted by territorial issues.
Below is the abstract, followed by a link to the full paper.
Recent scholarship suggests that democracies tend to fight shorter conflicts that can be easily won. This is most likely due to the accountability incentives that constrain democratic leaders. Fearing removal from office, democratic leaders will try to choose short conflicts against weaker opponents. The authors question this argument by presenting an alternative explanation for the connection between democracy and shorter disputes and victories. Building on prior works that have identified a territorial peace, this article argues that democracies often have few territorial issues over which to contend. In fact, rarely do democracies have territorial disputes with their neighbors. Thus, democracies have less difficult issues to resolve, and this makes conflict escalation less likely against neighbors. Without neighbors ready to attack the homeland, states at territorial peace can more easily choose favorable conflicts to escalate. This logic applies to all states at territorial peace, of which democratic states are just a subset. Analyses of directed-dispute dyads between 1816 and 2001 provide confirmation for our argument. Regime type does not predict conflict selection or victory once controls are added for issue salience.
The British Journal of Political Science has released (online) my article with Alex Braithwaite that examines the effects of concentrations of territorial disputes. We find that these territorial "hot spots" explain much of the relationship previously identified as the democratic peace. In fact, the presence of two democracies in the dyad is NOT a statistically significant predictor of peace once we add the hot spot measure. Only by interacting territorial hot spots with the jointly democratic dyad measure do we find statistical significance. In other words, democracy has an effect only AFTER the region has been settled. However, even here, the substantive significance of joint democracy is quite small. As this chart shows, joint democracy provides an almost imperceptible decrease in the likelihood of conflict.
This article builds on Alex's great work on conflict location and aggregation. The findings also of course provide more evidence that the democratic peace can better be described as a subset of the territorial peace, using an alternative specification from the analyses described in my book.
Here's the abstract, followed by a link to the full paper.
The likelihood of conflict and the observation of joint democracy tend to cluster regionally. This article tests the argument that these clusters can be explained by regional variations in the stability of international borders using a new dataset of territorial dispute hot spots from 1960–1998. These hot spots identify spatial and temporal correlations in the territorial dispute data and therefore serve as close proxies for regional or neighbourhood instability. The addition of these hot spots also eliminates a common form of omitted variable bias – the spatial clustering of conflict – in international conflict models. These results confirm that joint democracy is only statistically significant as a predictor of fatal militarized interstate disputes in more peaceful neighbourhoods once territorial hot spots are jointly estimated. The interaction between joint democracy and regional instability confirms that the effects of regime type on continued conflict apply mostly to dyads in peaceful regions.
this post also appeared on the Monkey Cage.
Last Monday I posted about the water cannon fight between Japan and Taiwan. This exchange meets the definition of a militarized dispute since Japanese coast guard vessels engaged Taiwanese patrol boats. Both of these countries are also democracies, but our principal theory of international relations suggests that democracies do not fight each other. So, does this prove one of our best theories wrong?
Providing one contrary case does not invalidate a theory or law, of course. The empirical relationship is safe. However, I think the water cannon dispute is really useful for thinking about the dynamics of why democracies tend not to fight each other and what explains the larger relationship. If my argument is correct, the connection between territorial issues and state development controls the overall relationship: democracies do not fight each other not because of anything inherent to regime type; rather, democracies seldom have anything to fight over. Disputes like the Senkaku Islands attract so much attention, in part, because they are so rare.
States with Settled Borders Do Not Fight Each Other, Cluster Together Regionally
Japan, Taiwan, and China are each provoking the other states, in different ways, over the Senkaku Islands, and nationalism remains high among the populations involved. Nevertheless, no one expects a war here since the issues are comparatively small right now (the potential for oil and fishing rights). These islands are not core territories for any of the states involved, even though they may eventually be exploitable. Curiously, few are mentioning the fact that Japan and Taiwan are democracies as the prime reason the dispute will fail to escalate further beyond this provocation phase. Perhaps that’s because Japan and Taiwan are behaving exactly the same way as China in this dispute—each is claiming the territories, each has a passionate citizenry, and the threats and rhetoric from each leadership have been quite aggressive.
Based on observed behavior alone, democracy seems not to matter here. This is strange because one of our core understandings in International Relations is that democracies do not fight each other. We do not know exactly why this regularity occurs though, as there are a host of (sometimes competing) reasons for the relationship—democracies and their leaders may be electorally constrained from conflicts against democracies (here and here), their trade interests and IgO memberships may tie them together peacefully (here and here), democratic systems may better inform their rivals of their intentions (here and here), or it could be the fact that democracies and their citizens just have better ways of working things out in mutually acceptable ways (here).
My argument in The Territorial Peace takes a different tack: the reason we find democracies not fighting each other is because disputes like those over the Senkaku Islands are the very rare cases of territorial conflict between them. Territorial disputes have mostly been selected off democracies’ agendas. Recall that I argued in my last post that territorial disputes tend to cause centralization in the state if threats persist. This is why we find unstable borders and centralized, non-democratic governments clustering together over time. This also implies that we will find decentralized states in areas with settled borders; among these decentralized states is where we find the democracies of the world.
Territorial disputes are consistently one of the most dangerous types of conflict for leaders to face.
So, without these issues on the agenda, the likelihood of war between democracies becomes quite small. This implies that democracies are peaceful with each other not because of their regime types but because of their paths to state development. Once we understand the effects of territorial issues on the state, the peace between democracies becomes a spurious finding. [See here, here, here, and here, for statistical tests of the argument, but especially my book, Chapter 7, in which I show that controls for territorial threats eliminate the effects of joint democracy among contiguous states.]
The Larger Democratic Peace: Clustering, Predation Abroad, and Conflict Negotiation and Victory
The logic of Territorial Peace theory can be extended to explain many of the additional regularities associated with democracy. For example, because borders are international institutions, they affect the development paths of both states in the dyad, and stabilized borders that decrease the need for militarization and centralization in one state also tend to demilitarize and decentralize the neighboring state. This is why we find such strong evidence that democracies cluster together in time and space, creating “zones of peace” that began in North America and Western Europe after World War II and then expanded elsewhere (see for example here, here, and our working paper here).
We should also find that any remaining issues between Territorial Peace states will be less conflict-prone since their most dangerous issues have been resolved. This will make negotiation rather than conflict likely in these states. Removal of territorial issues with neighbors will not necessarily make states peaceful with non-neighbors, however. Freed from local threats, those states that are militarily capable can involve themselves abroad without fear of opportunism by regional rivals. Unconstrained, states at Territorial Peace can become militarily involved in many different issues, like the United States has over the past few decades. This may also be the type of transition that China is experiencing now. Russia is becoming less of a threat and other neighbors pose few serious challenges to core Chinese territories, so China may be becoming less constrained and increasingly able to engage on issues well beyond its borders. Of course, if my development story is correct, fewer constraints will also foster decentralization and demilitarization at home. This could portend well for democracy, eventually.
This blog provides additional commentary on current events and academic discussions on themes related to my book, The Territorial Peace: Borders, State Development, and International Conflict, available from Cambridge University Press, September 2012.