Does Incomplete Democratization Risk War?

January 7, 2009

[First published March 28, 2006] Perhaps you have come across this argument about promoting democracy: “Yes, maybe once countries achieve a liberal (mature, well-established) democracy, they don’t make war on each other, BUT in the process of democratization, they make more war than do other nations, even more than dictators against each other.” Therefore, it is sometimes concluded, fostering democracy is a dangerous project. And this argument is used against our involvement in Iraq.

A major source for this assertion is the published research by Jack Snyder and Edward Mansfield in their book, Electing To Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go To War (2005). I’m increasingly finding that academics, commentators, and journalist critical of Bush’s promotion of democratic freedom are supporting their arguments with quotations and “findings” from this book Snyder and Mansfield’s research is often misconstrued and anyway, their research does not support the claims made about it. For a most recent example of this misuse, see “Democracy and Violence”.

Because of the great importance of this issue and getting the facts right, I’m editing and reposting my review of the Snyder-Mansfield book.

They analyze data for over a century of wars, 1816-1992, during which they found (dealing with only their composite index of democratization for simplicity here) 90 incomplete transitions to democracy for 64 nations, and 50 complete transitions for 35 nations. Over this period, there were 79 wars, and for their sample, the probability of a nation going to war in their sample was .037, very small.

Now, using these data, they confirm—that is, further empirically prove— that when democratized, nations do not make war on each other. This is an easy one, since in their data no two democracies made war on each other.

This should be the highlight of any fair use of the Snyder-Mansfield book, since this confirms what Bush says in support of his Forward Strategy of Freedom: “democracies don’t make war on each other.” However, this empirical finding does not agree with the biases of those wanting to use the book against American involvement in Iraq and fostering freedom, and it is ignored.

Second, the authors go though extensive tests to determine whether incomplete democratized nations were most prone to war. Having done such research myself, I have much respect for the effort, time, and thought they put into this, and therefore hate to be a spoilsport. However, it is like two neighbors who build a car in their garage. It’s beautiful, with glittering chrome, comfortable fake leather seats, state of the art dashboard, and a well waxed red paint job. But when they start it up, all the unseen motor will do is put-put a few times, and stop.

Since they are trying to establish whether democratizing nations went to war (1 = yes, or 0 = no) more than others, they used logistic regression analysis, but they did not check if the assumptions of their model were met in order to assess the significance of their regression coefficients (see on the use of “p” and significance). They provide no correlations between the independent variables so that one can assess their multicollinearity (see my
Little Primer” on this here, which is as applicable to logistic regression as it is to multiple regression) and seem unaware of the problem it creates. They put much emphasis on the significance of their index of incomplete transition, but if their twelve independent variables are highly correlated, which I think they are, then the significance of their regression coefficients may be inflated. When they claim that nations with incomplete democratizations are “roughly four to fifteen times more likely to go to war,” this is probably based on highly biased regression coefficients.

Also, the authors provide no justification for their applying tests of significance to a whole population. If this whole sample is meant to represent all nations at all time, then it is not random, and its distribution is unknown. Then there is the problem of the number of cases for which they calculate their significance. As the number of cases (“N”) increases, smaller results become significant until what is significant is meaningless (again, see on the use of “p”). For example, a correlation of .378 is statistically significant for 20 cases, .165 for 100 cases, and .052 for 1,000 cases. Now, square .052, which is .003 rounded off. This says that the two variables only have 0.3% of their variation in common. This is meaningless (would you buy an expensive drug that had a 3 out of a 1,000 chance it would help you? Only if you had terminal cancer), although some unwary researchers might trumpet such significant results. This misuse of significance happens all the time, since the idea is that bigger samples are always better. This is only true if one concentrates not on significance, but on the percent of variation in common. All this being said, what was the sample size in the democratization study? It was 9,229! And the gist of their results depends on significance.

Then there is the question of efficiency. How well does the logistic regression fit (predict, account for, explain) wars, if democratization is incomplete? They provide no measure of this. In regular multiple regression, there is the multiple correlation squared (R^2) which tells us the proportion of variation in the dependent variable accounted for by the regression equation. However, such is inappropriate for logistic regression. So, there is a “pseudo R^2” one can calculate, or for the list of wars, one can count the number of nations correctly placed in the no-war, or war category. The authors do neither.

But, there is one thing we can do. The logistic regression comes out with the likelihood — probability — that war will occur, given the independent variables, among which is incomplete democratization. But this is usually such a small number in logistic regression that the natural log of the likelihood is given. Now, to get the probability of war from their logistic regression, one takes the anti-log of the log likelihood, which is e^(log likelihood). I did this for their log likelihood of -1339.96, and it is an infinitesimal number. It is so small that the google and my Mac calculators could only give it as zero. Just for e^-13, it is 2.26 x 10^-6; for -130 it is 3.5 x 10^-57. That is, the equations they provide in their book are useless.

Then there is their way of measuring war, which is as yes, or no. And this is a methodological mindset that has led many researchers to mistakenly conclude that democracies are as warlike as other regimes (see my published article on this here). It gives the same weight to a war in which a democracy suffers few killed in combat versus a nondemocracy that has millions killed, e.g., the Boxer Rebellion counted as a war for Britain when it had 34 killed versus 7.5 million for the Soviets in WWII. One war each. This biases results against democracies, which by far have the least killed in wars, as they should by democratic peace theory. Rather, it is the number killed in war that should be counted for each country, and not the number of wars.

In sum, the results about the war likeness of democracy in Electing To Fight do not prove (show, establish, indicate) that incomplete democratization is a danger to peace. The results cannot fairly and objectively be used to argue against Bush’s foreign policy, BUT ONLY FOR IT.

Related Links

“He’s started a GOP civil war over foreign policy” By Daniel W. Drezner, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago and a rare Republican one:

ON A VARIETY of recent national security issues — port security, Iran, Hamas, China — President Bush has received as much criticism from conservative Republicans as from Democrats. After a first term in which Republicans were in lock step with their leader, why is the president having trouble with his right flank? …. In the eyes of his party, Bush’s biggest foreign policy sin is not his aims, or even his means. It’s that he has done the improbable — he’s made the Democrats look like a credible alternative.

RJR: I don’t think that Drezner has a firm enough understanding of the democratic peace to criticize Bush in this way, judging among other thing by his apparent support for the shoddy research of fellow political scientist Erik Gartzke (I will soon be posting here my exchange with Gartzke)

“What Brings Peace, Wealth or Democracy”By Martin Sherman in The Middle East Quarterly (1998) After discussing these two paradigms, he says:

historical fact closely bears out the political explanation. Two prominent scholars review almost two decades of study and find a “near consensus” that democratically governed states rarely go to war with each other. In fact, they go further, observing that

the proposition that democracies are generally at peace with each other is [so] strongly supported . . . [it] has led some scholars to claim that this finding is probably the closest thing that we have to a law in international politics.

Sherman concludes that the American emphasis [by the Clinton Adm.] on economic development in the Middle East is stressing the wrong paradigm. Rather: …

American policymakers need seriously to rethink their present course, one which seems certain to foster warfare rather than welfare. [They should favor democratization].


Do Non-Western Cultures Prevent Democratization?

January 1, 2009

[First published April 4, 2006] AMARTYA SEN, the 1998 Nobel laureate in economics, and original proponent of the proposition that democracies never have famines, has an excellent article, “Democracy Isn’t ‘Western’ 
Cultural determinists should look beyond Ancient Greece,” that I want to bring to your attention. He says:

….The determinism of culture is increasingly used in contemporary global discussions to generate pessimism about the feasibility of a democratic state, or of a flourishing economy, or of a tolerant society, wherever these conditions do not already obtain.

Indeed, cultural stereotyping can have great effectiveness in fixing our way of thinking….

Many have observed that in the ’60s South Korea and Ghana had similar income per head, whereas within 30 years the former grew to be 15 times richer than the latter. This comparative history is immensely important to study and causally analyze, but the temptation to put much of the blame on Ghanaian or African culture (as is done by as astute an observer as Samuel Huntington) calls for some resistance. Mr. Huntington closes his contrast with a spectacular formula: “South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization and discipline. Ghanaians had different values. In short, cultures count.” Ghanaians, and perhaps many other Africans, seem doomed to stagnate, according to this analysis.
In fact, that cultural story is extremely deceptive. There were many important differences, other than any differences in cultural predispositions, between Ghana and Korea in the 1960s….

The temptation of founding economic pessimism on cultural resistance is matched by the evident enchantment, even more common today, of basing political pessimism, particularly about democracy, on alleged cultural impossibilities….It is worth remembering that democracy has developed well enough in many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and in the case of some, such as South Africa, even foreign assistance to local democratic movements (for example through economic boycott) has positively helped.

When it is asked whether Western countries can “impose” democracy on the non-Western world, even the language reflects a confusion centering on the idea of “imposition,” since it implies a proprietary belief that democracy “belongs” to the West, taking it to be a quintessentially “Western” idea which has originated and flourished exclusively in the West. This is a thoroughly misleading way of understanding the history and the contemporary prospects of democracy.
Democracy, to use the old Millian phrase, is “government by discussion,” and voting is only one part of a broader picture….

There can be no doubt at all that the modern concepts of democracy and of public reasoning have been very deeply influenced by European and American analyses and experiences over the last few centuries….

The belief in the allegedly “Western” nature of democracy is often linked to the early practice of voting and elections in Greece, especially in Athens. Democracy involves more than balloting, but even in the history of voting there would be a classificatory arbitrariness in defining civilizations in largely racial terms. In this way of looking at civilizational categories, no great difficulty is seen in considering the descendants of, say, Goths and Visigoths as proper inheritors of the Greek tradition (“they are all Europeans,” we are told). But there is reluctance in taking note of the Greek intellectual links with other civilizations to the east or south of Greece, despite the greater interest that the Greeks themselves showed in talking to Iranians, or Indians, or Egyptians (rather than in chatting up the Ostrogoths).

Since traditions of public reasoning can be found in nearly all countries, modern democracy can build on the dialogic part of the common human inheritance….for democracy and freedom did not emerge from any Western “imposition.”
Similarly, the history of Muslims includes a variety of traditions, not all of which are just religious or “Islamic” in any obvious sense. The work of Arab and Iranian mathematicians, from the eighth century onward reflects a largely nonreligious tradition. Depending on politics, which varied between one Muslim ruler and another, there is also quite a history of tolerance and of public discussion, on which the pursuit of a modern democracy can draw….

Cultural dynamics does not have to build something from absolutely nothing, nor need the future be rigidly tied to majoritarian beliefs today or the power of the contemporary orthodoxy. To see Iranian dissidents who want a fully democratic Iran not as Iranian advocates but as “ambassadors of Western values” would be to add insult to injury, aside from neglecting parts of Iranian history (including the practice of democracy in Susa or Shushan in southwest Iran 2,000 years ago). The diversity of the human past and the freedoms of the contemporary world give us much more choice than cultural determinists acknowledge. This is particularly important to emphasize since the illusion of cultural destiny can extract a heavy price in the continued impoverishment of human lives and liberties.

RJR: I’m glad that he hit the “exporting democracy” line that has been taken by so many “realists” and those opposed to the Iraq War, although I take a different tack. To me, fostering democracy is fostering the freedom of people from their thug rulers, and is hardly different from freeing people from deadly concentration camps.

On Sen’s argument that culture is not as much an inhibiting factor in spreading democracy as is claimed, I agree. But one does not have to look at the distant past too show the fallacy of this argument. All one needs to do is look at the diverse nature of the cultures of current democracies (leaving out Western Europe and related nations). Representative regional-cultural representatives that are now democratic include Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, and Taiwan in North East Asia; India and Bhutan in South Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor in South East Asia; Albania, Greece, Poland, and Hungary in Eastern Europe; Turkey and Israel in the Middle East; Botswana Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, and Lesotho in Africa; Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts & Nevis in the West Indies; Argentina, Brazil, and Peru in South American; Mexico, Costa Rica, and Dominican Republic in Central American; and the Philippines, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Micronesia in the Pacific.

Surprised by this list, which if all democracies were included would number 121 out of 192 nations? Many people are, since they see democracies as mainly Western European or their historical derivatives, such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. But, as can be seen, this is a distorted view.

One is almost tempted to say all major cultures are represented, but that is wrong—the Arab Muslim culture of North Africa and the Middle East is missing. But it is not an Islamic culture itself, since the Muslim nations (The) Gambia, Senegal, Mali, and Indonesia are democracies. There must be something within Arab culture itself that plays a role, whatever that is (I’m researching this at the moment and will write on it soon). In any case, with all the world’s major cultures but one having democratic representatives, it is foolish to argue that the one—the Arab culture— will prevent democratization.