While the focus is often on the cause of war, just as important is the cause of peace. Why do some countries avoid going to war? One explanation is the Democratic Peace Theory. It is based on the fact that no two democracies have ever gone to war with each other.
The reasoning is that democracies are accountable to their people and people generally don’t like war. After all, there is a good chance they or someone they know will be killed in one. Wars are expensive and lead to reduction in civil liberties and the standard of living. A politician is more likely to get elected promising tax cuts than one who promises to maintain a costly army. Therefore they will only go to war if it is against a truly evil enemy, like a brutal dictatorship. It is much harder, if not impossible to convince a nation’s population to attack a free country.
Dictators are also more likely to start wars. They do this for a variety of reasons such as to boost their ego and present themselves as war heroes (an allure few dictators can resist). Wars are a great way of distracting a population from the country’s problems and make the dictator seem more successful. They provide a handy excuse for dealing with political opponents. Finally, dictatorships are more likely to antagonise opposition either at home or abroad, leading to uprisings and/or invasions.
There are criticisms of this theory which mainly centre on whether it measure correlation or causality. In other words, does democracy cause peace or does peace cause democracy? The world’s democratic countries are mainly concentrated in Western Europe, perhaps there is something else influencing them. It has been found that rich countries are less likely to go to war and democracies tend to be richer. Others argue that increased trade decreases the likelihood of conflict. Cynics argue the theory is overly naive and paint too rosy a picture of democracies which can be ruthless when it is in their interest. There are also technicalities regarding what exactly defines a war or a democracy.
While it may not be the perfect answer, the idea that democracy may be a harbinger of peace is an fascinating concept that deserves more study.