Counting the Democratic Peace Away

May 14, 2009

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[First published October 9, 2005] I often come across the assumption that science is so explicit, empirical, precise, and clear that it is a proven alternative to assumption laden philosophy, traditional scholarship and what passes for social analysis. Wrong.

Social scientific research is laden with assumptions. For example, one assumption in the scientific studies of which I’m aware that concerns me is the following. So many applications of correlational methods, as of the correlation coefficient itself or regression analysis, assume that the relationship between an x and y is necessary and sufficient (necessity: y does not occur without x; sufficiency: if x then y; necessary and sufficient: y occurs if and only if x). But what if x is sufficient only; or necessary only? Then the correlation could be weak, even though there is a very strong causal relationship. For example, that both nations be democratic is a sufficient condition that they will be at peace with each other. However, they may be at peace for other reasons, such as distance (e.g., Ecuador and Kenya), shared interests of the moment (e.g., Syria and Iran), or fear of a third party (e.g., China and Taiwan). For peace between countries, that they be democratic is only a sufficient, but not necessary condition. This theoretical relationship is shown in the figure below, each dot representing a hypothetical war or act of violence.

If the figures reflect the true relationship, which I’m sure it does, then it is incorrect to test this relationship between democracy and peace by correlational methods, since they would obscure it. But this is what is most often done, followed by the exclamation: “See, the relationship is weak. There is no significant democratic peace.”

A more appropriate way to test this is by cross-classification tables, such as Tables 1 and 2 in the upper left of the democratic peace chart below (click to enlarge)

A more specific problem of concern is the general use of a simple count of wars to test/assess relationships. The problem is especially evident in testing whether democracies are less warlike than other types of regimes. But a count of wars is very misleading, since a regime coded as having a war can have virtually no one killed in the war as long as, using the common criteria that it had over 1,000 troops involved, or that many were killed overall in the “war” (thus, a nation suffering 800 killed in a violent confrontation in which the overall toll is 950 would not be counted as having fought a war).

For example, in the Boxer Rebellion (1900), which is classified as a war since there were over 3,000 battle dead, Great Britain lost 34 killed, the United States 21, and France 24. Yet, this would be classified as a war for each of these nations. Then consider the Falklands War of 1982 between Great Britain and Argentina. Figures vary on the number killed, but somewhat less than 1,000 seems a good number, with about 650 to 700 of those being Argentineans. But by virtue of the criteria mentioned, since it did not rise to the 1,000 battle dead threshold, in spite of her high number killed compared to Great Britain, the USA and France in the Boxer rebellion, this would not be counted as a war for Argentina or Britain.

The problem with this simplistic count of wars for a regime can be seen in another way. Counting wars or military actions equates conflicts that are vastly different. For example, the Philippines lost 90 killed in the Korean War, and this is counted as one war for the Philippines because she had more than 1,000 troops involved. But the Soviet Union lost 7,500,000 battle dead in World War II, and this also is counted as one war. Thus, in comparing, say, the democraticness of regimes and their use of force, if we measure force by a frequency count of wars, then Great Britain in the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippines in the Korean War, and the USSR in World War II are treated as equally using force, since each gets a count of one for war, even although Great Britain lost only 34 in combat, the Philippines 90, and the Soviet Union over 7,000,000. Yet, such frequency counts of wars or the use of force have been the main way the relationship between democracy and violence, among other relationships, have been tested.

Consider also that whatever we theorize to be the underlying conditions inhibiting or preventing democracies and near democracies from violence, to my knowledge no one argues that democracies are equally inhibited from using force in a conflict in which the expectation is of losing a dozen or so soldiers versus engaging in a total war in which the loss of millions may be suffered. But this is the theoretical assumption in the use of a simple count of wars.

Sometimes I think that the mechanics of analysis (getting and preparing data for analysis, setting up the computer application, applying it to the data, and then reporting the results), and the pressure to do what others have done in their research, overwhelms common sense.

Keep this in mind when you will read here and there on the internet that democracies are as warlike as other regimes.

Links of Day

“Mark Steyn: Islamist way or no way” By Mark Steyn (10/4/05)


. . . . the Islamists don’t even bother going through the traditional rhetorical feints. They say what they mean and they mean what they say. “We are here as on a darkling plain …” wrote Matthew Arnold in the famous concluding lines to Dover Beach, “where ignorant armies clash by night”.
But we choose in large part to stay in ignorance. Blow up the London Underground during a G8 summit and the world’s leaders twitter about how tragic and ironic it is that this should have happened just as they’re taking steps to deal with the issues, as though the terrorists are upset about poverty in Africa and global warming.
. . . . The word peace, for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam — or House of Islam — to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought. Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar a-Salam, or House of Peace.”
That’s why they blew up Bali in 2002, and last weekend, and why they’ll keep blowing it up. It’s not about Bush or Blair or Iraq or Palestine. It’s about a world where everything other than Islamism lies in ruins.

” Zarqawi justifies killing of civilians”:

Iraq’s al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Zarqawi said militants were justified under Islam in killing civilians as long as they are infidels, according to a new audiotape attributed to him yesterday. “Islam does not differentiate between civilians and military, but rather distinguishes between Muslims and infidels,” said the man on the tape posted on the Internet, who sounded like Zarqawi.

RJR: If I may spell this out (assuming that you and your family is nonMuslim), it’s like getting an email or phone call from a gang leader saying, “I’m going to murder you, your mate, and your children.” What protects us is that we are hidden in a crowd of hundreds of millions of Americans.

Links I Must Share

“NATO widens role in Afghanistan”

NATO will increase its force in Afghanistan to as many as 15,000 soldiers and will take on counterinsurgency operations as its expands its mission into southern Afghanistan over coming months . . . .

RJR: This is quite a breakthrough in this war on terror. NATO, an all democratic 26 member military alliance of mainly East and West European democracies (plus Turkey, Iceland, Canada, and the U.S.) has broken out of its Europe only shell with its increasing involvement in African peacekeeping, and now this enlargement of its contribution to the Afghan democracy. Can one hope that NATO will soon be the military arm of a global Alliance of Democracies?

“Who Cares About Midterm Elections?”

RJR: This is sardonically put, I’m sure. The point is that too many are caught up in the 2008 battle, while ignoring the 2006 one for Congress that is of utmost importance. Imagine that the Democrats take over the House and Senate. What will they do then about Iraq and the War on Terror? Hmmmm.

“Terrorism Strikes the Heartland”:

. . . .it’s not every day that there’s a terrorist attack on U.S. soil and supposedly there hasn’t been one since 9/11. But that’s exactly what happened outside a packed football stadium at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma on Saturday night (10/1).

RJR: That authorities would suppress and distort information on this terrorist attempt to murder thousands should be a wake up call regarding what they will do if bird flu hits some area in the U.S. I’m not trying to malign health authorities, but their primary concern will be to avoid a panic that would make quarantine and the isolation of the pandemic difficult. What is society-wise may not be for the alert individual, if they can avoid the pandemic altogether.
STAY ALERT. Consult pandemic 2005 every day (here).

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