orgtheory.net

rachel maddow will not bring peace

Andrew Sullivan’s blog excerpted a passage from Rachel Maddow’s recent book. Understandably, Maddow’s book urges Congress to take a stand against war:

When we go to war, we should raise taxes to pay for it. We should get rid of the secret military. The reserves should go back to being reserves. We should cut way back on the contractors and let troops peel their own potatoes. And above all, Congress should start throwing its weight around again…

I agree in principle, but disagree on practice. Rules and institutions that end war are ineffective for two reasons. First, if you really want war, you can always vote to have a new rule for war or to make an exception. Also, most rules have wiggle room in them, which makes it easy to wage war under other guises. Secondly, there’s a consistent “rally around the leader effect.” It is incredibly hard for anyone to oppose leaders during war time. Elected leaders are in a particularly weak position. Simply put, legislatures can’t be trusted to assert their restraining role in most cases.

So what actually ends war? Well, there’s a body of research in political science called “the democratic peace” literature, which was discussed in Steven Pinker’s new book. The idea is simple – for whatever reason, democracies almost never fight each other. Of course, democracies go to war against non-democracies. But for some reason, democracies just don’t fight each other.

What’s the policy implication of all this? First, the sorts of rules that Maddow proposes are useless. People will just ignore the rules when they want to when they want war. Second, you have to reduce the population of non-democracies. Thus, if the Federal government wants to protect the United States by preventing war, the best, and cheapest, way to do it is to provide support and assistance for indigenous movements for democracy and tolerance. Once people have a genuine democracy at work, they just don’t want to fight with each other. They just don’t.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 16, 2012 at 12:02 am

24 Responses

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  1. Reinstate the draft and we would end permanent war. All the old hippies who wanted to opt out of Vietnam think this blasphemy, but they ONLY way to ensure that war ends it to make every effort to ensure that ALL are at risk of having their children killed. Now that we’ve made the National Guard the front line, we seem to have eliminate the main exemption used by the wealthy in Vietnam….

    Like

    sherkat

    April 16, 2012 at 1:13 am

  2. … democracies almost never fight each other. … democracies just don’t fight each other. … Once people have a genuine democracy at work, they just don’t want to fight with each other. They just don’t.

    Nicely said (several times), this is an important empirical fact that begs theoretical explanation.

    Like

    mikemarotta

    April 16, 2012 at 1:40 am

  3. That’s the point. A rule, like conscription, can be evaded. Drafts can be ended, exemptions awarded. And the record is clear – if a country has democracy, it won’t fight another democracy, even if it has conscription. But democracies have sued conscripts to fight lots of wars against non-democracies.

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    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 1:41 am

  4. Fabio – a few things spring to mind.

    1) Even if Priority #1 is supporting “velvet revolutions” why shouldn’t we generate some more rules (particularly fiscal rules) on the conduct of war? Of course the rules will have wiggle room and will be subverted some of the time, but:

    a) If they only work once, then they were worth the effort.

    b) Greater fiscal transparency about war is vital to the economy of the USA in particular. I’m sure you’ve seen the graph about US defence spending. Twice the rest of the world put together – and that’s not including appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan. Historically, the likelihood of “military adventurism” is directly related to the size of the army you have sitting around doing nothing. And “military adventurism” is one of the big problems we’d like to solve.

    3) The final, less constructive, thought is that the empirical fact about democracies and war is the product of some serious selection bias, due to the structure of who the democracies have been over the last century. Maybe we need to be careful before we put too much weight on it?

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    metatone

    April 16, 2012 at 10:30 am

  5. @metatone: I am not against rules per se. If the Geneva conventions save the lives of a few civilians or soldiers, great. But when it comes to impact, we have sorely misallocated our resources. Treaties, conventions, and legislation seem paltry in the face of democratization as a factor ending war.

    Regarding selection effects, it sounds plausible on the surface, but a lof of extremely violent nations have chilled out post-democracy. Some cases, democratization was violent (Japan, Germany), In other cases, democratization was not violent (the UK). Others, it was in between (Korea). But the pattern is the same. If you can somehow get to a tolerant and democratic society (relatively speaking), you no longer fight other democracies.

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    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 11:52 am

  6. Democratization was not violent in the UK? What!?!

    Like

    OC

    April 16, 2012 at 4:58 pm

  7. You state that “the best, and cheapest, way to [end war] is to provide support and assistance for indigenous movements for democracy and tolerance”, but since when was this ever simple or cheap? We have great examples of the monetary, psychological, political, and social costs of such efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan right now and neither are likely to become democracies within our lifetimes.

    Like

    Bartok

    April 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm

  8. What is a “true democracy”? The Athenian version or the American power elite?

    Like

    Guillermo

    April 16, 2012 at 5:47 pm

  9. @OC: Fair point, I was only thinking of the 19th century, when the monarchy lost a lot of its actual power.

    @Bartok: I stand by my point. By support, I don’t mean wage wars, I mean providing modest support for democratic social movements. And this is extremely cheap.

    But you do raise a legitimate question. How do we support democracy? The evidence that we have is that war making is not an efficient way to bring democracy. For every success, like post-war Germany, we have lots of non-success (e.g., Haiti, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan). The batting average isn’t very good.

    My view is that non-violent support works well and it’s easier than war making. It’s also cheap. Proving non-violence training to activists in Iran is more humane, cheaper, and probably more likely to be successful than bombing Iran, which is likely to have the effect of radicalizing the population.

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    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 5:54 pm

  10. @Guillermo: Don’t be cynical. If a country can have multi-party elections and tolerance towards dissidence, that’s probably enough to suppress their war making tendencies.

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    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm

  11. “Don’t be cynical. If a country can have multi-party elections and tolerance towards dissidence, that’s probably enough to suppress their war making tendencies.”

    Or rather, that a limited set of countries within a limited historical time frame have been resolving their differences by means other than direct war. I would not jump from there to the conclusion that to cultivate democracy in every single country is a sure way to avert war.

    Like

    Guillermo

    April 16, 2012 at 6:09 pm

  12. Guillermo, I strongly suggest that you read the literature. “Limited set of countries” now includes all of Western Europe, all of North America, much of Latin America, parts of Africa and some major nations in Asia (India/Japan). Also, “limited time period” includes centuries. Studies go back to the 19th century, some earlier.

    And the evidence is amazingly consistent. The probability of way between two democracies is almost zero. Political scientists who study this sort of thing can count democracy wars on a single hand.

    The democratic peace can’t be waived off as a fluke or some contingency. It appears to be a fundamental feature of human political systems and should be taken seriously.

    As far as policy, supporting democratic movements is way more plausible than other peace strategies such as treaties, international organizations, and internal policies (e.g., the War Powers Act). Such strategies have not been found to reduce wars much. They all pale in comparison to democratization.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 6:28 pm

  13. And isn’t there also literature which is critical of that point of view?

    Like

    Guillermo

    April 16, 2012 at 7:19 pm

  14. Show me the data that undermines the democratic peace thesis and I’ll change my mind. What evidence do you cite that indicates that the correlation is spurious or severly misunderstood?

    Like

    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 7:21 pm

  15. A digression first, just so that you don’t get the impression I’m being the contrarian for the sake of it: I fully agree with your point that democracy can and should be promoted by peaceful means. I do not agree with the causal relationship democracy = no war.

    Now to answer your question, here is a review of the literature which is not behind a paywall:

    http://mkp.fisip.unair.ac.id/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=148:a-critique-of-democratic-peace-theory-&catid=34:mkp&Itemid=62

    Like

    Guillermo

    April 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm

  16. Fair enough. But logically, if you believe that democracies don’t fight each other, then creating an all democracy world actually means ending inter-state war. But very few social scientists would say democracies fight fewer wars in general. The key to my argument is to focus on the population of states. Also, there is still internal repression and violence, even though some scholars have now argued that democratic states are actually nicer to their own people, on the average.

    And, yes, I’ve seen that type of counter argument. A lot of the argument revolves around definitions. I might believe that it might change the results a little, but not much. For example, multiple people note that new states do have some conflict and this is consistent with a broader literature pointing out that new democracies aren’t terribly stable. But even accounting for newness and different definitions, you still see some broad trends.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 7:39 pm

  17. Being cynical, here is a strong trend: “Communist countries almost never fight between them (except maybe one or two exceptions in the course of history). Consequently, Marxist-Leninist regimes are more peaceful”. Clearly, statistical analysis of this kind does little service to such a theory. As you have pointed out, there are other, underlying factors which explain the propensity to wage war. The subject is complex and difficult to explore fully in blog format, but there it is.

    Like

    Guillermo

    April 16, 2012 at 7:48 pm

  18. Yes, I would (almost) agree that inter-communist state war was lower than the average. But here we have to ask why. The answer is simple. For most of the era of communism, most states were satellites. For example, every single communist state in Europe was a puppet, except Yugoslavia. The few deviants were met with violence (think Hungary 1956 or Prague 1968).

    So yes, there was a “Communist peace” (sort of), but the reason matters. The Communists keep peace through repression and domination. Democracies keep peace because democracy seems to make people not care as much about war. So, I’ll go with democratic peace.

    Note 1: If you count National Socialism as a type of socialism, then there definitely was not a communist peace.

    Note 2: if you count “threat of invasion” as a form of inter-state violence, then there was no communist peace.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm

  19. The Communist peace idea becomes even more weird when you remember that many people who resisted the Soviets were forcibly converted (e.g. the Baltics, the Central Asian republics, etc). It’s easy to get peace if you conquer all your neighbors!

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    fabiorojas

    April 16, 2012 at 8:10 pm

  20. “If you count National Socialism as a type of socialism, then there definitely was not a communist peace.”

    Hmmm, well, what this definitely shows is that the National Socialist countries were not puppets or satellites of the Soviet Union. What is then the use of your extended definition of Communist, which I presume includes Hitler, Mussolini and Franco?

    Like

    Guillermo

    April 17, 2012 at 12:43 am

  21. I’d agree with the evidence of the democratic peace theory, but, Fabio, I think you’re running into some questionable logic…

    “For most of the era of communism, most states were satellites. For example, every single communist state in Europe was a puppet, except Yugoslavia.”

    By the same token, one could argue that most of the democracies of the Cold War era were quasi-satellites, as well. Particularly in Europe, where democratic peace theory has made its bones. Yes, the communist bloc was a bloc. But so was/is NATO.

    “For most of the era of communism, most states were satellites. For example, every single communist state in Europe was a puppet, except Yugoslavia.”

    Are you telling us you didn’t laugh when conservatives charged Obama with being a Fascist-Socialist?

    Democratic peace theory is a good finding, but defend it with better logic.

    Like

    cwalken

    April 17, 2012 at 4:18 am

  22. That link to a review of the literature does not cover the most interesting recent work on the Capitalist Peace; this is based on the proposition that the correlation between democracy and peace is largely spurious and it is economic interdependence of one sort or another that is driving the reduction in interstate violence. Here are a couple of many references:

    Erik Gartzke, “The Capitalist Peace,” American Journal of Political Science, 51:166-191 (2007)
    Michael Mousseau, The Social Market Roots of Democratic Peace, International Security, Spring 2009, Vol. 33, No. 4, Pages 52-86
    Patrick J. Macdonal, 2009. The Invisible Hand of Peace: Capitalism, the War Machine, and International Relations Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Then again, there is this very recent article that claims the statistical association between democracy and peace remains and that Gartzke and gang are wrong.
    Allan Dafoe, Statistical Critiques of the Democratic Peace: Caveat Emptor, American Journal of Political Science, Volume 55, Issue 2, pages 247–262, April 2011

    Like

    Joey

    April 18, 2012 at 3:25 am

  23. […] think this is good, sound sense. Fabio Rojas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University, disagrees. “[T]he sorts of rules that Maddow proposes are useless”, he argues. “People will […]

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  24. “Are you telling us you didn’t laugh when conservatives charged Obama with being a Fascist-Socialist?”

    Fabio is most likely tired of the discussion at this point, but his arguments are wrong on so many levels they are difficult to overlook. This conflation of fascism and communism, for instance, is patently absurd. In Germany, Italy and Spain (to name only a few cases) communists and socialists fought in the front line against National Socialist regimes and suffered terrible persecutions because of it. As anyone who has read a little history can tell, this happened during the same time the Western democracies were pretty much just coddling and tolerating those regimes, basically helping them become the biggest threat to world peace in the last century.

    Like

    Guillermo

    April 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm


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