In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Democracy and Conflict

  • Introduction
  • Establishing a Finding
  • Monadic Democratic Peace
  • Systemic Democratic Peace
  • Extensions of the Argument

International Relations Democracy and Conflict
Douglas M. Gibler, Patrick Rickert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0183


Contemporary research on democracy and conflict began with the observation that democracies are much less likely to fight each other than are other types of regimes. Empirical evidence of this relationship began in the 1970s. The relationship was occasionally stretched, though without a great deal of support, to that of a monadic “democratic peace,” in which democracies are less bellicose overall. The argument has expanded to include contentions that democracies perform better in wars and that the wars they fight are of shorter duration. Explanations offered for the relationship are several: normative models in which democracies have customs of cooperation leading to a tendency to negotiate; structural models that find that the complex mobilization process in democracies makes war unfeasible; and selectorate models that rely on the electoral incentives and constraints facing democratic leaders. The democratic peace has faced much criticism, though. Questions of economic development, peace antedating democracy, and, more recently, a territorial peace whereby peaceful border settlements leads to both peace and democracy.

Establishing a Finding

Studies of democracy and conflict during the early years revolve around the simple, yet curious empirical finding that democracies do not fight with other democracies. The original finding was at the dyadic level (the relationship between state pairs) with some suggestion that democracies may be less war prone overall (see Monadic Democratic Peace). The major finding of a democratic peace was first observed by the author of Babst 1964. It was enhanced by the authors of Small and Singer 1976, who find evidence of a dyadic democratic peace but did not find evidence that the peace was monadic—democracies were just as likely to be involved in conflict as other regime types. Weede 1984 contests the claims of a Democratic Peace, arguing that it was a function of the selected time period, which the author finds to be both exceptional and limited and also finds no significant negative relationship between mutual democracy and conflict. Bremer 1992 finds that territorial boundaries were the best predictor of war, but joint democracy was also peaceful and substantively important when compared to other predictors of conflict. Maoz and Abdolali 1989 finds evidence of both dyadic regime type and democratic systemic (see Systemic Democratic Peace) relationships when examining both conflict onset and escalation. Later models, such as in Maoz and Russett 1992, integrate controls for distance, economic variables, and stability, while Oneal, et al. 1996 focuses on controlling for trade and interdependence. Ray 1993 attempts to further specify the relationship between democracy and conflict by providing a cogent definition of democracy for future research.

  • Babst, Dean V. “Elective Governments: A Force for Peace.” Wisconsin Sociologist 3.1 (1964): 9–14.

    The earliest modern quantitative observation of the democratic peace. Babst uses Quincy Wright’s A Study of War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942) to find that no elective governments have fought each other. Tests cases from the two world wars and finds the difference in proportions statistically significant.

  • Bremer, Stuart A. “Dangerous Dyads Conditions Affecting the Likelihood of Interstate War, 1816–1965.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 36.2 (1992): 309–341.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022002792036002005

    One of the first major empirical studies of dyadic relationships in war. Explores seven conditions influencing the likelihood of war and finds that contiguity is the best predictor of war onset while democracy still promotes peace. Also finds that advanced dyads are less likely to fight each other, and dyads that involve at least one major power, dyads without a large power difference, and dyads that are both militarized and allied are more likely to fight each other.

  • Maoz, Zeev, and Nasrin Abdolali. “Regime Types and International Conflict, 1816–1976.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 33.1 (1989): 3–35.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022002789033001001

    The authors find no evidence of a monadic democratic peace, but a significant negative relationship between dyadic regime type and the probability of conflict. Also discovers that the proportion of democratic dyads in a system has a negative effect on the frequency of war and how often disputes escalate.

  • Maoz, Zeev, and Bruce Russett. “Alliance, Contiguity, Wealth, and Political Stability: Is the Lack of Conflict among Democracies a Statistical Artifact?” International Interactions 17.3 (1992): 245–267.

    DOI: 10.1080/03050629208434782

    The authors find that, even when controlling for the independent effects that distance, wealth, economic growth, alliances, and political stability have on the probability on conflict, political regime type still has a statistically significant influence on decreased probability of conflict.

  • Oneal, John R., Frances H. Oneal, Zeev Maoz, and Bruce Russett. “The Liberal Peace: Interdependence, Democracy, and International Conflict, 1950–85.” Journal of Peace Research 33.1 (1996): 11–28.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022343396033001002

    Finds a more nuanced understanding of the democratic peace that includes variables for trade and economic interdependence relationships. However, the pacifying influence of democracy still remains when controlling for those variables.

  • Ray, James L. “Wars between Democracies: Rare, or Nonexistent?” International Interactions 18.3 (1993): 251–276.

    DOI: 10.1080/03050629308434807

    Provides a clear and concise definition for democracy for future understandings of the democratic peace. Asserts that, with this definition of democracy, the idea that democracies do not fight one another is defensible.

  • Small, Melvin, and J. David Singer. “The War-Proneness of Democratic Regimes, 1816–1965.” Jerusalem Journal of International Relations 1.4 (1976): 50–69.

    One of the earliest findings of the democratic peace, arguing that bourgeois democracies do not fight one another. However, there is no finding of a monadic peace, as the authors assert there is no evidence that democracies are less war prone as a whole.

  • Weede, Erich. “Democracy and War Involvement.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 28.4 (1984): 649–664.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022002784028004004

    Offers a contrasting finding to the democratic peace theory, finding no statistically significant negative relationship between democracy and war involvement. Argues that previous findings have been due to the period of observation, and that any such period is temporary in duration.

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