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.
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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.