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The mechanisms of the democratic peace

- September 19, 2008

Paola Conconi, Nicolas Sahuguet and Maurizio Zanardi report on some interesting sounding research at “VoxEU”:http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/1602. The democratic peace – the thesis that democracies are far less likely to go to war with each other than other states, and less belligerent in general – appears to be one of the best supported regularities in international relations theory. But as its critics never tire of pointing out, we don’t know much about the underlying causal mechanism underlying this result. Conconi, Sahaguet and Zanardi provide some evidence in support of one such mechanism – the accountability of government. They find that “democracies in which the executive is in the last possible mandate … are as likely to be involved in conflicts as autocracies.” In other words, those democratic governments that are least accountable to their electorates (those which cannot be re-elected in their current form) are indistinguishable from autocracies in terms of their propensities to go to war. I’ll leave it to others more directly concerned with this literature to poke holes in their model, investigate whether the results might be driven by some omitted variable etc etc – but this claim does at least seem plausible on its face.