Democracies at War

Democracies at War

Dan Reiter
Allan C. Stam
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s7tq
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  • Book Info
    Democracies at War
    Book Description:

    Why do democracies win wars? This is a critical question in the study of international relations, as a traditional view--expressed most famously by Alexis de Tocqueville--has been that democracies are inferior in crafting foreign policy and fighting wars. InDemocracies at War, the first major study of its kind, Dan Reiter and Allan Stam come to a very different conclusion. Democracies tend to win the wars they fight--specifically, about eighty percent of the time.

    Complementing their wide-ranging case-study analysis, the authors apply innovative statistical tests and new hypotheses. In unusually clear prose, they pinpoint two reasons for democracies' success at war. First, as elected leaders understand that losing a war can spell domestic political backlash, democracies start only those wars they are likely to win. Secondly, the emphasis on individuality within democratic societies means that their soldiers fight with greater initiative and superior leadership.

    Surprisingly, Reiter and Stam find that it is neither economic muscle nor bandwagoning between democratic powers that enables democracies to win wars. They also show that, given societal consent, democracies are willing to initiate wars of empire or genocide. On the whole, they find, democracies' dependence on public consent makes for more, rather than less, effective foreign policy. Taking a fresh approach to a question that has long merited such a study, this book yields crucial insights on security policy, the causes of war, and the interplay between domestic politics and international relations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2445-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. TABLES AND FIGURES
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. ONE DEMOCRACY’S FOURTH VIRTUE
    (pp. 1-9)

    The twentieth century ended with near consensus among leaders, populations, and academics alike on the virtues of democracy. Successive waves of democratization crashed upon the world with unexpected rapidity and completeness: in all regions of the world, autocratic regimes have been swept from power to be replaced by new, more democratic forms of government. Even states such as the Soviet Union, Nicaragua, South Korea, and Chile that had seemed in the middle 1980s to be paragons of authoritarian stability were by the early 1990s fledgling democracies. This most recent wave of democratization has renewed democrats’ faith in their political system:...

  6. TWO DEMOCRACY, WAR INITIATION, AND VICTORY
    (pp. 10-57)

    Wars do not occur by chance. They are not the result of some fanciful alignment of the planets and moons; rather, states choose to start them. States deliberately select themselves into the population of war participants by attacking other states. Armies clash on battlefields not because of mechanical accidents, flights from reason, or the whimsy of the gods, but because at least one national government or leader prefers war to peace. Belligerents in war are closer to Oedipus, meeting his peculiar fate because of his personal tragic flaws and fatal choices, than to Job, a pure innocent, made to suffer...

  7. THREE DEMOCRACY AND BATTLEFIELD SUCCESS
    (pp. 58-83)

    What is it that makes democracies more powerful? Exactly how do democracies fight wars more effectively? In chapter 2, we demonstrated that there are two aspects to democracies’ military prowess. The first is a selection effect that results from the choices of which wars they start and which wars they avoid: democracies almost always start only those wars they go on to win, successfully avoiding risky situations where they would otherwise find themselves overmatched. The second explanation is more of a story about tangible power: democracies are actually better at waging war than other kinds of states. To support this...

  8. FOUR BALANCERS OR BYSTANDERS? THE LACK OF FRATERNAL DEMOCRATIC ASSISTANCE DURING WAR
    (pp. 84-113)

    The greatest threats to Western civilization since the height of the sixteenth century’s Ottoman invasion came in three sustained blows during the twentieth century. In World War I, Germany threatened to establish a European hegemony. In World War II, the Axis powers gambled all in a bid for worldwide dominance. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union headed a global bloc of Communist states intent on spreading universal political oppression. In all three cases, groups of democratic states banded together to confront and eventually defeat the threat to liberal civilization.

    Does the emergence of these democratic coalitions contain the real...

  9. FIVE WINNING WARS ON FACTORY FLOORS? THE MYTH OF THE DEMOCRATIC ARSENALS OF VICTORY
    (pp. 114-143)

    Thus far, we have looked to complex explanations for democracies’ wartime prowess. We have claimed that democratic leaders make better choices, and that soldiers in democracies fight with better leadership and initiative. Both of these themes indicate that the critical difference between democracies and autocracies lies with the people: in democracies they are able to constrain their national leaders at the ballot box, and they make better soldiers in combat. We also examined the proposition that a sense of global democratic community encourages democracies to band together in support of one another during wartime, but we found no evidence to...

  10. SIX DEMOCRACY, CONSENT, AND THE PATH TO WAR
    (pp. 144-163)

    Thus far, the focus in this book has been on why democracies win wars. We have found that democracies emerge victorious because they start winnable wars and because their soldiers fight with higher military effectiveness. We have also demonstrated that democracies do not win wars because their economies are stronger or because they join together when one is attacked.

    What do these findings tell us about the origins of war? Specifically, what can we say about when democracies start wars and when they do not? Our earlier chapters provide some purchase on this question. From chapter 2 we know that...

  11. SEVEN THE DECLINING ADVANTAGES OF DEMOCRACY: WHEN CONSENT ERODES
    (pp. 164-192)

    Foreign policy in a democracy lives and dies with the provision and denial of public consent.¹ In chapter 2, we argued that democratic leaders rarely start risky wars, and that democracies only start wars when their estimated chances of victory are very high. Of course, democracies do not fight indiscriminately; they do not fight every war they could win. In chapter 6, we argued that one of the chief constraining factors holding democratic leaders in check is the need to generate public consent for the potential war at hand. Not only must democratic leaders be able to convince the public...

  12. EIGHT WHY DEMOCRACIES WIN WARS
    (pp. 193-206)

    We now know why democracies win wars. The two key dimensions of the democratic character that best explain democratic victory are the skeleton of democracy, those political institutions that hold democratic leaders accountable to the consent of the people, and the spirit of democracy, with its emphasis on the development of individual rights, responsibility, and initiative. When governments must answer to the will (and anger) of the people, they start only those wars they are confident they will win. Democracies differ from other kinds of states in that democratic leaders are, as Tocqueville and others feared, restrained by the need...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 207-242)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 243-268)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 269-283)