Willful Blindness?

January 27, 2009

[First published July 12, 2005] In spite of being repetitive, I’m gong to keep writing about this as long as the press and academics keep misunderstanding or ignoring the reason for the recent decline in violence. In “Researchers see lowest levels of war in the world since ’50s,” (no free link), published in the National Weekly Edition of the Washington Times, David R. Sands points to the 2005 edition of the Marshall-Gurr “Peace and Conflict Survey, which shows a sharp drop in violence while the number of democracies has rocketed. But these and other academics, and Sands do not connect the dots. For the statistical analyses of this, see my Democratic Peace clock.

I addition to this, the Marshall-Gurr survey points to a study by Victor Asal and Amy Pate that shows that the governments practicing political discrimination against their ethnic groups has almost been cut in half while those trying to remedy past discrimination has quintupled.

It seems almost willful blindness to miss the role of democracy in all this, especially when one considers how others try to explain the decrease in violence. The most often cited reason is the end of the Cold War, which also ended the U.S. and Soviets indirectly fighting the Cold War through the Third World. I find this an amusing reach, since the most prevalent explanation for conflicts after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was that it took the lid off conflicts that the U.S. and soviets kept a lid on so that they didn’t escalate into direct violence between them. The expectation at that time among students of war and violence was that violence and war would increase in the 90s.

Another explanation is that the European Union and the U.N. have played a significant role in the decline of violence. I don’t see it. If anything, the E.U. and U.N. failed miserably in preventing the Bosnian and Kosovo violence, and then there is the U.N. and Rwanda, Sudan, and Burma. By its own reckoning, its peacekeeping efforts have been a failure.

Then there is the claim that war is an international institution that is becoming discredited and obsolete and is dying out like dueling and slavery did.

Since the huge increase in the number or democracies (about 120 today) is recognized, how can they not see the connection and completely ignore the voluminous democratic peace literature that makes the connection (bibliography here). I’m almost willing to say its willful blindness, since the Marshall-Gurr survey provides empirical support for President Bush’s claim that promoting freedom will promote peace. To my knowledge, no commentator or academic (I’m retired) has made the connection between the sharp decline in war/violence, the soaring number of democracies, and Bush’s Forward Strategy of Freedom.


Link of Note

“Laying to Rest the Autocratic Peace (2004) By Karen K. Peterson
Presented at “Journeys in world Politics,” University of Iowa

Professor Peterson is a political scientist at Vanderbilt University.

This research focuses on militarized interstate conflict between pairs of nondemocratic states. It is based in part on a categorical indicator of regime type that is more comprehensive than the dichotomous indicator currently used in most research. My measure distinguishes among the different types of democratic and non-democratic regimes found in the international system between 1816 and 2001. I then use my new measure in conjunction with the existing Correlates of War Militarized Interstate Dispute data to analyze the conflict propensity of different types of regimes.

As part of a larger project, I present findings below related to the conflict behavior of pairs of non-democratic states. Regardless of how I conceive of the idea of regime similarity, I find no evidence of an autocratic peace at either the initiation or escalation phases of militarized interstate conflict, suggesting that the notion of an autocratic peace that functions in a manner similar to the democratic peace lacks empirical support.

Her conclusion makes it clearer, “. . . there is something unique about joint democracy that reduces the likelihood of conflict initiation and escalation and that non-democratic regimes do not possess this quality.”
Democratic Peace