Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Democracy and the Prospects for Peaceful Relations in Eastern Europe

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Democracy and the Prospects for Peaceful Relations in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

Neorealist theorists like Kenneth Waltz have portrayed anarchy as the single most important characteristic underlying international relations. (1) Drawing on the writings of realists like Morgenthau, but in part disregarding his recognition that the essence of international politics is identical with its domestic counterpart, (2) they have sharply distinguished domestic and international politics. Yet domestic politics may well provide important clues to the mitigation, though not the elimination of anarchy in the international system. Historic events such as the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe, the transition in most instances to democracy and the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have created opportunities for at least a partial reshaping of the international system. Further, democratic peace theory may provide certain important insights about cooperation among states and may demonstrate that at least in particular areas and cases, it is the norm. This is in sharp contrast to the realist approach, which holds that conflict and warfare area constant characteristic of international politics.

This paper intends to explore the possibilities for democratic peace theory to explain the prospects for peaceful relations among democratic states in the post-Cold War period and focuses specifically on Eastern Europe. It argues that democratic peace theory is basically correct about the congruence of interests among democratic states and that in turn peaceful relations among democracies (at least in that part of the international system) mitigate anarchy. This is not a claim that there is a clear, unbroken causal relationship. It is a more modest undertaking which seeks to demonstrate a powerful correlation between the existence of democratic states and peaceful relations in the international system. Such a powerful correlation, in turn, does tell us something noteworthy about the possibilities for cooperative relations in the international system. This paper, therefore, will have two parts. The first part will assess democratic peace theory itself, and the second will examine the behavior of three transitions states in Eastern Europe, now members of NATO--Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary--as an empirical test to evaluate the efficacy of the theory. In the second half thus the paper will try to ascertain how well grounded the theory is and how it holds up in terms of its ability to explain and predict behavior in a strategically vital region of the world.

Democratic peace theory, as noted, focuses on war avoidance and the cooperative nature of relations among democratic states. This, however, begs the question as to what is a democratic state. After all, both Sweden, a state with a long tradition of respecting basic human rights, and Erich Honnecker's repressive German Democratic Republic (GDR) claimed to be democracies. It is essential therefore to define democracy in a meaningful way. In advanced industrialized Western countries (and in terms of categorization, this includes states such as Japan and Australia), the political order is characterized as liberal or social democratic--or just democratic. The older distinction between liberalism, which focused on the limitation of political power, and democracy, which emphasized voting, has been largely erased. (3) In a merger of terms therefore, modern "democracies" are understood to be political orders that have constitutional and limited government, enjoy the rule of law, prize the protection of individual rights, and select their governments by universal free suffrage. These are important standards, to be taken conjunctively. This is why the GDR would certainly not have qualified. It was a state where the monopoly of power of the vanguard party, which essentially claimed to be omniscient and omnipotent and was omnipresent, made constitutional government devoid of form and any limitation on the power of government a mere illusion. …

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