After witnessing the horrors of the two ‘World Wars,’ people have come to the conclusion that shooting guns at each other may not be the brightest idea. As states gradually came to favor the general people as the decision maker rather than a potentially despotic king or Fuhrer, the possibility of starting a war grew even dimmer. After all, people would never want to sacrifice their property and more importantly, their lives. Going to war isn’t popular, and in a democracy, politicians tend to distance themselves as far as possible from unpopular ideas.
Such phenomenon is nicely summed up by what’s called Democratic Peace Theory (DPT). DPT is a “proposition that democracies are more peaceful in their foreign relations.” Of course, even within the theory there are disagreements on how to define “democracies” or “peaceful,” but in general the theory proposes that democratic states prefer less brutal ways (like starting a war or arguably supporting a war) to deal with its foreign affairs. Now, this theory now poses an interesting question: are democratic hegemonic powers also more likely to be peaceful?
Reasons Behind Peace
Although there exist various types of DPT, in this article we will only focus on the most widely accepted, dyadic DPT. Dyadic DPT limits the scope of DPT by saying that democracies are peaceful with other democracies (i.e. with each other) but not necessarily so when dealing with non-democratic countries. There exist various explanations for this, but to list a few:
- Human Rights:
War is not humane. That is a fact, and people fully well knows this. In an age when people are ever more sensitive about ‘human rights,’ it would be a political suicide to openly say, “Let’s ignore basic rights of humankind and kill people!” Of course, this is often not the case, especially when a state with strong nationalistic sentiment feels ‘challenged’. In that case, concerns for human rights may not do much to prevent politicians from declaring war, since people will be supportive of trampling the human rights of the opponents.
“War is not humane.”
You are less likely to shoot your family members and friends. The closer your personal connection to the other is, the more uncomfortable you become of turning 180 on them and declaring their destruction. In the modern world where globalization connects people from different civilizations and culture, people are less likely to revert back to the ancient ‘us and them’ logic and decry people from other countries as ‘barbarians.’ With this sense of kinship, people are less likely to call for war as they come to understand better the other culture and identify with them as humans.
Democracy is often (although by no means always) accompanied by capitalism. In a capitalist point of view, the ideal world is a place where people play by the rules rather than use brute force to simply get what they want. For these reasons, democracies with advanced capitalist economy prefer the rule of international law to the rule of military force- with peace grows prosperity, and nobody hates prosperity.
According to this theory, one would expect the US to be unlike the previous hegemonic powers- after all, it is the birthplace of democracy. But the world we face today is far from ‘peaceful.’ So what is the fatal flaw in this theory?
The thing is, America’s preference for peace in foreign policy is only applied when the counterpart is also a democracy. When the state they are dealing with doesn’t fit the moral standard America’s democracy upholds, the hegemonic power often declares them as ‘rogue,’ and uses force to ‘correct’ them. So does this mean that the US, as a hegemonic power in the modern world, is just like any other previous hegemonic power despite all the rhetoric about Pax Americana? In the next article, the question of whether American hegemony has been a recipe for peace or possibly, a recipe for neo-imperialism.
Photography by Jordy Meow, uploaded on 29 December 2014, provided by Unsplahs
Available at: https://hd.unsplash.com/photo-1419848449479-6c8a7d8d62c2
 This is a sweeping generalization; for example, PM Tony Blair decided to go to war with Iraq despite the public’s grumbles against the decision. It may perhaps be better to add that even when politicians make unpopular decisions, they try to keep up their popularity as an individual.
Oxfordbibliographies.com. (2016). Democratic Peace Theory – Political Science – Oxford Bibliographies – obo. [online] Available at: http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756223/obo-9780199756223-0014.xml [Accessed 5 Sep. 2016].