The post-cold war era has been a constant effort to restore conflict with peace. There was an utmost need to maintain international peace and security. Organizations like the United Nations were formed as it was a global necessity to put an end to worldwide chaos and bring back tranquility. Have democracies played a part in building world peace? If so, how?
Unlike the Athenian democracy, which gave the citizens complete agency by direct participation in the political arena, representative democracies are more complex and indirect.
Now the question is, how can such democracies come together to resolve disputes? This is where the hypothesis of the democratic peace theory comes in.
The democratic peace theory claims that liberal democracies, in general, refrain from any form of warfare. The theory was advocated by Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, in his essay “Perpetual Peace” (1975). In the essay, Kant asserts that, unlike monarchies, a democratic country needs the consent of its citizens, who are warriors, to begin a war.
The theory doesn’t declare that democracies certainly don’t involve themselves in conflicts. Rather, it tries to put out the fact that they are comparatively more peaceful than non-democracies.
The concept became enormously studied and researched during the time of tensions between democratic states and communist states. Digging into the past, there have been fewer instances of fights between democracies than between non-democratic countries.
There can be various reasons for democracies to be more restful than others. To begin with, as Kant stated in his essay, democracies need the approval of their citizens to declare war. Unlike aristocracies, the authorities are answerable to the public regarding the loss of lives and materials.
It is observed that the mindset of people from democracies is more inclined towards peace and problem-solving. Thus, the government will be required to form an organization that guarantees security and progressiveness. It is also possible for countries with the same style of governance to have a similar approach towards the idea of war.
So it is less likely for them to turn against each other. Lastly, wealth being their core resource, they would prefer to preserve it for the country’s development and emergencies that might occur in the future.
Application of the theory
The first-ever application of the democratic peace theory was in 1831 by the US. The country announced that it would not withstand any European kingships that try to colonize the democratic nations of America.
In the 1990s, US President Bill Clinton adopted the theory in the framing of the country’s foreign policy. He observed that if the dictatorial nations of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that broke down could be transformed into democracies, the US could be much more relaxed about military attacks from their side.
After the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, the-American President George W. Bush believed that the democratization of Iraq could gradually improve the situation in the entire Middle East.
The role of democratic countries in maintaining peace is visible in the post-cold war era. The existence of fewer major powers is reflected in the lack of wars worldwide. When the US chose to ally with democratic nations to resist fascism and authoritarianism in WW1 and WW2, it showed the ability of democracies to instill peace in the world.
Can democracy alone create peace? Well, few critics insist that the Industrial Revolution has played a considerable role in the same. The increased modernization and development in terms of standard of living, employment,
prosperity and education shaped a more sensitive and calm society that gave the least priority to war and conflict.
How power got transformed would have affected the scenario as well. When countries became more realistic in the formulation of foreign policy and preferred to cooperate with other democratic governments on the grounds of economy and defense, there seemed less scope for the need to dominate each other.
The democratic theory of peace might have had its practical possibilities. But if the theory is solely based on the assumption that countries can be less disagreeing if they are democratic, then the assertion will go in vain considering the present universal state of affairs.
But the theory can be defended when it is noticed that it was designed after the public statement “The world must be made safe for democracy” by Woodrow Wilson, the ex-president of America.