Democracies at War

Democracies at War

Democracies at War

Democracies at War


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. In Democracies 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.


About the Russian pact Hitler said that he was in no ways altering his fundamental anti-bolshevist policies; one had to use Beelzebub to drive away the devil.

—German Ambassador Ulrich von Hassell, August 29, 1939

I can't take Communism nor can you, but to cross this bridge I would hold hands with the Devil.

—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

If Hitler invaded Hell, I should at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.

—Winston Churchill

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 explanation for why democracies win wars? Are democracies especially likely to come to each other's aid and create overwhelming countercoalitions to strike down threats to one of their own? More generally, do liberal democracies share a sense of international community that prevents conflict between them and draws them together in times of trouble? This mechanism for democratic victory differs substantially from those identified in chapters 2 and 3. It claims the existence of a sense of international community or family among democracies. in this view, democracies win because they stand together and treat individual threats as common threats, which they resist collectively.

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