What Is The Democratic Peace?

[First published March 31, 2006] Research on the democratic peace, the idea that democracies do not make war on each other, has become a dominant finding in the field of international relations.

What is the democratic peace? In the literature on or referring to the democratic peace, this means the idea or fact that democracies do not (or virtually never) make war on each other. I will call this the war version.

Although this understanding of the democratic peace is extremely important–after all, it implies the end of war–I believe that focusing only on this version is fundamentally misleading. It is as though we had scientifically established that a drug would generally cure or minimize all cancer, while only focusing the drug on lung cancer in our medical advice.

This analogy is not strained, for democracies have not only not made war on each other, but they also have, by far, the least foreign violence, domestic collective violence, and democide (a much greater killer than war by several orders of magnitude). That is, democracy, or to be more precise, democratic freedom is a general cure for political or collective violence of any kind–it is a method of nonviolence. This is truly a democratic peace. I call this understanding of the democratic peace, which is supported by the theory, evidence, and analyses on my web site at http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills, the general version.

To be clear, then:

The War Version of the Democratic Peace is that:

democratically free countries do not or virtually never make war on each other.

The General Version of the Democratic Peace is that:

(1) Democracy is a general method of nonviolence. Democracies:
Do not make war on each other;
minimize the severity of foreign violence and war;
minimize domestic (collective) violence;
don’t murder their own people.

(2) And power kills. Totalitarian regimes (the power opposite of democracies):

make war on each other;
have the most severe foreign violence and war
have the most severe domestic (collective) violence
murder their own people.

Most of the world’s people have been robbed of their freedom by one dictatorship or another. Some, like the regimes of Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan, are more than just dictatorships. Their tyrannical dictators are slave masters ruling their people by the their slightest whims and desires and those of their henchmen. These poor people live in constant fear for themselves and their loved ones. And they are murdered by hundreds of millions. In the last century alone 272,000,000 of them were shot, burned, stabbed, tortured, beaten, starved to death, blasted to death, buried alive, or whatever other ways of murdering their slaves these thugs could imagine. This horrific and evil toll of bodies could head-to-toll circle the earth over ten times. It as though a catastrophic nuclear war had happened, but its mountain of deaths spread over each day of the last century.
The existence of these ruling thugs creates an unbridgeable chasm in the world. On one side are such criminal gangs, sanctified by the term “government,” and the United Nations they dominate, enforcing by their guns mass slavery, mass death, mass violence, mass impoverishment, and mass famines. On the other side are democratic countries where people are free, secure, and need never fear mass impoverishment, death at the hands of government agents, and killing famine.
This chasm between life and death, security and fear, on the same planet and at the same time, must no longer be tolerated. Dictatorships, even if benign, are by their very existence a crime against humanity, and must be eliminated peacefully, if possible; by force if they are murdering their people. However, the intellectuals, commentators, analysts, academics, and reporters of the democracies have identified power with greatness, thugs with statesmen, and propaganda with results; we have let moral and cultural relativism silence our outrage, while conceding the moral high ground to the utopian dreamers; we have refused to recognize evil as evil; and we have ignored the catastrophic human cost of such confusions, and the natural and moral right to freedom.
What is so often ignored is that all people, everywhere, want to be free, to exercise their human rights that are theirs by natural and international law, and by an implicit social contract. Were this the only justification for freedom, it would be sufficient to make spreading freedom the ultimate policy.
But there is more to freedom than this. Much more. It provides the most important Moral Goods that humanity can desire. First:

The more people are free, the greater their human development and
national wealth. In short, freedom is the way to economic and social human security.

Still, human security involves more than wealth and prosperity. There is the security of knowing that one’s life and the lives of loved ones are safe from deadly famines. Therefore, second:

Free people never have famines.

But as important as these Moral Goods are, they do not deal with the worst hell to which billions of human beings are still subject — torture, rape, beatings, forced labor, genocide, mass murder, executions, deportations, political violence, and war. With no human rights, these billions live in fear for their lives, and for those of their loved ones. There is a third Moral Good of freedom:

Where people are free, political violence is minimal.

Where people are not free, as in Burma, Sudan, and North Korea, people are only pieces on a playing board for the armed thugs and gangs that oppress them, rape them, loot them, exploiting them, and murdering them.
The gangs that control these so-called governments oppress whole nations under cover of international law. They are like a gang that captures a group of hikers and then does with them what it wills, robbing all, torturing and murdering some because gang members don’t like them or they are “disobedient,” and raping others.
And they murder their slaves by whim, by hatred, by quota, and sometimes for no reason at all. The worst of these gangs are megamurderers with their victims reaching into the tens of millions. Such murder is democide, and its elimination as one of humanity’s plagues is the greatest of all Moral Goods.
Then, fourth:

The more freedom a people have, the more unlikely their government
will murder them. Democratically free governments commit no democide.

This huge moral split in the world between governing thugs that murder their slaves wholesale, and free people that fear no such personal disaster for them or their loved ones, is unconscionable and unacceptable. It is time for concerted nonviolent action to eliminate these criminal thugs and free their slaves.
However, there is still one more Moral Good that even more strengthens this moral imperative. Finally:

The less free the people within any two nations are, the bloodier and
more destructive the wars between them; the greater their freedom,
the less likely such wars become. Free people do not make war on each other.

What this means is that we do not have to wait for all, or almost all nations to become democracies to reduce the severity of war. As we promote freedom, as the people of more and more nations gain greater human rights and political liberties, as those people without any freedom become partly free, we will decrease the bloodiness of the world’s wars. In short:

Increasing freedom in the world decreases the death toll of its wars.
Surely, whatever reduces and then finally ends the scourge of war in our history,
without causing a greater evil, must be the greatest moral good. And this is freedom.

The implications of all these Moral Goods of freedom for foreign policy and international activism are profound.

To promote global human security, to do away with famine, mass impoverishment, democide, and war, and to minimize internal violence, promote freedom.

Since peace, national security, and national and global welfare are the paramount concerns of a democratic nation’s foreign policy, its overriding goal should be to peacefully promote human rights and democratic freedom. This should be the bottom line of international negotiations, treaties, foreign aid, and military action (if necessary for defense or humanitarian reasons, as in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, or Iraq). As to defense policy, military planning usually is based on assessments of the intentions and capability of others. What is clear is that the less free the people of a nation are, the more we should beware of the intentions of their rulers. In other words, it is not the democracies of the world that we need to defend against.
Moreover, consider what the peace-creating power of freedom means for nuclear weapons. Many people are justly worried about the ultimate danger to humanity—nuclear war. They protest and demonstrate against nuclear weapons. Some cross the line into illegal activities, such as destroying military property, and risk prison to draw public attention to the cataclysmic danger of such weapons. Were these dedicated people to spend even half this effort on promoting freedom and human rights for the people of the most powerful dictatorships that have or may soon have such weapons—for instance, China, North Korea, and Iran—they would be striking at the root cause of the risk of nuclear war.
The power of freedom to end war, minimize violence within nations, and eradicate genocide and mass murder almost seems magical. It is as though we have a single-drug cure for cancer, but in the case of freedom, it is all true and well established.
Our knowledge of the peace-creating and peacemaking effects of freedom now gives us a nonviolent way to promote a nonviolent world. The ultimate conclusion of all this is:

Power kills, absolute power kills absolutely.

And

Democratic freedom is a method of nonviolence.


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For the books, articles, papers, data, theory, and tests supporting the above propositions

One Response to What Is The Democratic Peace?

  1. Barry Clemson says:

    I really wish your general thesis was true, but it is not. The US Republic is certainly the most noble and most free national experiment in history. At the same time the US empire is directly responsible for massive poverty and starvation around the world. You should read Naomi Klein (Shock Doctrine) or John Perkins (Confessiions of an Economic Hitman) for details on how our policies have forced huge numbers of people into such abject poverty that they exist on the edge of starvation or beyond. The US empire only resorts to violence when these other practices fail but they seldom do — or I should say they seldom failed in the past. Today almost all of Latin American and much of the rest of the world has caught on and is more or less successfully resisting these practices.

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