NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Democracies Less Likely to Go to War

October 24, 2014

War has undoubtedly been a fixture throughout human history, and the battles raging in the Middle East today are just one example. But is war necessarily a permanent part of human civilization? In Scientific American, science writer Michael Shermer suggests that democracies are less likely to go to war.

In 1795, philosopher Immanuel Kant first suggested that those in democratic republics were less likely to support wars, and -- despite the War of 1812, the American Civil War, the Israel-Lebanon war and others -- since then, scholars have continued to support the theory. In 2001, political scientists Bruce Russett and John Oneal analyzed 2,300 interstate disputes taking place from 1816 to 2001. For each country involved in a conflict, Russett and Oneal gave them a "democracy score" based on the nation's political process, system of checks and balances, electoral process, and the like. According to their research:

  • Disputes would decrease by 50 percent between two countries with high democracy scores.
  • The chance of dispute doubled when one of the countries had a low democracy score or was an autocracy.
  • Countries more dependent on trade in one year were less likely to have a militarized dispute in the year following.
  • The researchers also looked at membership in intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). For any two countries scoring in the top 10 percent in terms of democracy, trade and IGOs, they were 81 percent less likely to have a militarized dispute than a pair of average countries would be.

More recent studies have followed, says Shermer. In 2014, Havard Hegre, political scientist at Uppsala University, made similar findings, concluding that two democratic states were less likely to have conflicts.

Shermer writes that 63 percent of the world's 195 countries are democracies.

Source: Michael Shermer, "Perpetual Peace?" Scientific American, November 2014.  

 

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