Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Democratic Peace Phenomenon, Institutional Credibility, and Path Dependency

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Democratic Peace Phenomenon, Institutional Credibility, and Path Dependency

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study is to explain the "Democratic Peace" phenomenon, the idea that democracies do not go to war with each other, as a manifestation of an emergent complex adaptive system (cas) in the international realm. Based on the works of scholars such as Douglass North, W. Brian Arthur, and Lewis W. Snider, the author proposes that this phenomenon is a path dependent system emerging from the domestic institutional environments of civil societies.

A critical element of the main argument is that public administrators serve as third party enforcers of the law. In this role, they directly contribute to the development of civil societies, and indirectly impact the international realm by fostering peace between such nations. As a result, public administrators acquire credibility among people, which creates a credible institutional environment in that nation. Here, credibility means public administrators are capable and willing to implement public policies that impartially protect people's property rights according to the rule of law. This is necessary to sustain both capitalist economies and liberal democratic political orders. Therefore, these institutional environments, called civil societies, are at the nation-state level of analysis.

Furthermore, when private parties and public agencies from these civil societies interact in the international realm, a complex adaptive system emerges as an unintended outcome. This cas is the Democratic Peace phenomenon, and emerges in the international level of analysis. In other words, this phenomenon is actually a manifestation of a complex adaptive system emerging from the path dependent transactions of private parties and public agencies in the domestic realm.

The first part of this article describes the Democratic Peace proposition. The second part explains Douglass North's institutional theory further developed by political scientist Lewis W. Snider. Finally, the concept of path dependency and complex adaptive systems are linked with this institutional theory, which is useful to explain the Democratic Peace phenomenon.


Research on the Democratic Peace proposition multiplied after the end of the Cold War, when a new foreign policy framework was needed to guide the United States. (1) Scholars observed that conflicts between liberal democracies (2) rarely if ever escalate into interstate war to the extent that this can be thought of as a law of international relations. The root of this proposition is found in Immanuel Kant's (1991) work, and the essence of the debate between its proponents and critics concerns the possibility of sustaining cooperation between democracies in a state of anarchy. Note that the term "anarchy" refers to the absence of a common sovereign, not the absence of a degrsee of order or organization (Axelrod & Keohane, 1993; Baldwin, 1993).

Democratic Peace scholars argue that sustained cooperation between democracies is a unique tendency in the international realm, and they typically provide normative or structural explanations for this phenomenon. Normative explanations hold that liberal norms restrain democratic leaders from going to war with each another. Democratic norms typically include: valuing negotiation and compromise over violence, majority rule with minority rights, political and religious toleration, regulated political competition, and the peaceful transfer of power (Russett, 1993).

Other scholars (e.g., Morgan & Campbell, 1991; Risse-Kappen, 1991; Morgan & Schweback, 1992; Bueno de Mesquita & Siverson, 1995; Russett, 1993; Maoz & Russett, 1992; Maoz & Russett, 1993; J. Oneal, F. Oneal, Maoz, & Russett, 1996; Bueno de Mesquita, Morrow, Siverson, & Smith, 1999) argue that domestic democratic structures inhibit the ability of leaders to initiate war against other democracies. These include: economic freedom; freedom of the press; public opinion; and the institutional structures characteristic of democracies, such as power divided among domestic government branches, checks and balances, constitutional restraints on executive decision war-making powers, and pluralistic institutions. …

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