Does Democracy Reduce Conflicts and Wars?

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Fukuyama and McFaul believe that democracy reduces conflicts and warfare. This is why they say “If democratic regimes ruled all countries in the [Middle East] region, conflicts between states would be less likely…”

A democracy can be militaristic, however, and prone to warfare, while an autocracy can be non-militaristic and avoid warfare. Large numbers of Americans relished going to war against the Spanish empire and then Germany in World War I. No lack of American martial spirit and support for wars, misleadingly but often termed patriotism, can be found in other cases.

An early example that contradicts the Fukuyama-McFaul thesis is the behavior of the empire of democratic Athens. However, the history of the U.S. provides many examples closer to home. Fukuyama and McFaul regard the U.S. as a democracy, but virtually every war that the U.S. has fought has been either aggressive, or avoidable, or instigated in one way or another by the U.S., or carried to an extreme degree. This includes the War of 1812, the Indian wars, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Grenada War, the wars in Yugoslavia, the Iraq Wars, the Afghanistan War, and the Libyan War. America’s “democracy” has not apparently succeeded in reducing its proclivity for war.

Great Britain has had a parliamentary democracy for centuries. It is far from clear that this ever restrained that nation from building up an empire and engaging in numerous wars while doing so.

On the other hand, it is not clear that the lack of democracy in the Soviet Union and Red China gave rise to aggressive wars by these governments. The Soviet Union invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia on its periphery, but then think of the U.S. invasions of countries in this hemisphere, including Canada and Mexico. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, but then so did the U.S. The Russian Federation is democratic, certainly more so than the Soviet Union, and it has had wars in Tajikistan, Chechnya (twice) and Georgia.

9:56 am on October 6, 2013