Friday, August 24, 2007

Democracy and Peace in a Unipolar World

Read the papers, watch the news, visit the news sites. The world is becoming less peaceful. Right??


Noted Political Scientists Daniel W. Dezner and R.J. Rummel recently commented on
The first Human Security Report which documents a dramatic, but largely unknown, decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuse over the past decade. Published by Oxford University Press, the Report argues that the single most compelling explanation for these changes is found in the unprecedented upsurge of international activism, spearheaded by the UN, which took place in the wake of the Cold War. [Introduction to the report]

Wars 1946 to 2004

Drezner summarizes the data:

The number of genocides and politicides plummeted by 80% between 1988 and 2001.
The number of armed conflicts around the world has declined by more than 40% since the early 1990s.
International crises, often harbingers of war, declined by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001.
The number of refugees dropped by some 45% between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came toan end.
The period since the end of World War II is the longest interval of uninterrupted peace between the major powers in hundreds of years.
The number of actual and attempted military coups has been declining for more than 40 years. In 1963 there were 25 coups and attempted coups around the world, the highest number in the post–World War II period. In 2004 there were only 10 coup attempts--a 60% decline. All of them failed. [I've touched on this point before as well--DD.]

Naturally, they offer different explanations for this good fortune.

Neither of then sees the "single most compelling explanation for these changes is found in the unprecedented upsurge of international activism, spearheaded by the UN, which took place in the wake of the Cold War." which the authors of the report claim, perhaps in defererence to funders of the report. The UN is a membeship organization. When the significant members decide to use it as the spearhead for activitism, much can be accomplished, otherwise UN activitism is so much empty motion at best.

Drezner sees this resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and resulting uni-polar international system.

I think the largest factor was the fall of the USSR. The lack of a rival superpower to the US means there is little point in powerful nations fomenting wars on the periphery of the rival superpower. The fall of the USSR made the containment and ultimate removal of Saddam Hussein possible, either of which would have been unthinkable before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The USSR would have backed Hussein, who was their client. That would have been that.

The second major change is the forming of the EU. More precisely the alliance formed by formerly vicious enemies France and Germany. The border over which both world wars started this century now doesn't even have passport control.

The major powers seem to be comporting themselves with restraint and reason today. Look at China or France. Both are adversaries and major trading partners of the US. Neither is fomenting wars designed to hurt the US or it's neighbors. The US returns the favor.

Rummel sees this as further proof to the Democratic Peace thesis, that democracies do not or very seldom go to war with each other.

[He says] look at the charts . . . for the growth in democracies in comparison to the great decline in violence.

 democracies 1946 to 2004

As the number of democracies increase over the 58 years, they reach a tipping point in 1992 where armed conflict then steeply decline.

I predicted that a decline would occur with this growth of democracies in my 1979 book on War, Power, Peace (link here). For additional evidence of this decline and a related Q and A, see my democratic peace clock (link here) and my blog “Democracies Increase and Ipso Facto, World Violence Declines” (link here) chastising commentators for missing this. Yes, yes, I know, correlation does not prove causation. But, if there is a solid theory, consistent replications, and complimentary evidence, then it is no longer a working hypothesis, but fact. In sum, there is a sharp decline in internal and foreign violence worldwide, and the best explanation for this is the growth the number of democracies. This decline provides more evidence of the power for peace of the democratic peace.

These two ideas do not necessarily disagree with each other. Dezner is looking at proximate causes and Rummel at underlying causes. The break up of the Soviet Union created a number of new states, while many of these are in a transitional stage to democracy rather than democracies it is a move in the right direction. Also with out the threat of the Soviet Union the US became less tolerant of dealing with authoritarian regimes resulting in pressure to reform. The fact that it was the democratic West that one the Cold War provides an endorsement that democracy works.

This is good news. the same conclusions have been published in a number of places but they just are not as exciting as a good war for news coverage. Is the trend certain to continue, no, but it looks good. Peace is more a goal than a default status. It takes constant effort maintain a situation that promotes peace ( a democratic peace) or at least inhibits the chances of war (a balance of power.)

NOTE: The Human Security Report, is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the governments of Canada, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and the U.K. it was formerly located at the Universityof British Columbia and recently relocated at Simon Fraisier University in Canada.

The graphics are from Rummel's website.


El Jefe Maximo said...

I wonder, though, at the prognosis for the future, given the revival and return of 19th century style authoritarian great powers. This animal can be operationally defined here as powerful and rich states governed by systems that may act with fewer constraints on their self-interest than democracies; and not hemmed in, either, by the need to promote a particular ideology.

I've got a couple of articles on the subject that I've been carrying around, not fully digested yet.

As for this study: I would wonder how many devils lurk in the bookkeeping and definitions.

hank_F_M said...

El Jefe

Thanks for the comment.

As for bookkeeping and definaitions. I have seen similar data from other sources with somewhat different definitions. I think the data is pretty sound for large trends, though their will be exceptions someplace. The biggest challenge to the data is that it is just a coincidence of isolated facts that can be explained in their own environment. I would think it is too broad based to just be local circumstances. Time will tell but it seems pretty solid.

You perhaps noticed that Denzner and Rummel are tend to lean to opposite ends of the political left right scale though both are quite happy to let facts interfere with ideology.

You are right about the growth of authoritarian régimes being threat to the system. Probably the biggest threat I would think. And even in democratic countries we are getting more centralized systems with with less pratical or legal chance to object. The most insidious because their supporters really intend to be accomplishing what they belive to be positive goals.

I finished with

If the trend certain to continue, no, but it looks good. Peace is more a goal than a default status. It takes constant effort maintain a situation that promotes peace

For a reason.

Rodger said...

Just a note: the Human Security Report was originally compiled at U of British Columbia. The move to Simon Fraser was fairly recent.

In any case, the researchers use data from a wide variety of sources -- most from North America and Europe.

hank_F_M said...


Thanks for commenting.

I corrected that note.

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