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.
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.