The Decision to Go To War: Developing the Democratic Peace Argument through a Foreign Policy Framework

Conference Paper

Schjølset, Anita (2001) The Decision to Go To War: Developing the Democratic Peace Argument through a Foreign Policy FrameworkPaper presented at the International Studies Association (ISA) meeting in Chicago. A revised version of the paper was presented at the Center for International Studies, USC, March., December.

Scholars within the Democratic Peace paradigm refer to two competing theories when explaining why democracies do not participate in war against each other but are as warprone as non-democracies. The normative/cultural model proposes that these relationships are due to shared ‘democratic’ norms at the dyadic level and shared ‘non-democratic’ norms monadically. The structural/institutional model argues that executive constraints work to limit use of force as an option, but only in relations between democracies. I have argued elsewhere that institutional constraints also work at a monadic level, and in non-democratic states as well as in democracies. In this paper, I argue that a hybrid model is the best way to explain peaceful relations or the resort to force between states. My suggestion is twofold: First, monadic level research on the democratic peace needs to go beyond a dichotomous understanding of regime. Second, the institutional and normative explanations of the democratic peace need to be framed in a wider understanding of warfare decision-making, and the relationship between these explanations need to be explored. I suggest a foreign policy framework for this purpose: Governmental makeup of a country defines the limitations within which foreign policy-making takes place, and thus affects the opportunity to make decisions related to conflict. Furthermore, norms vary depending on the adversary, and signify the willingness of certain actions. More specifically, I argue that different governmental institutions and norms are parts of an environment that shapes politicians opportunities and willingness to make decisions regarding conflict involvement. In a preliminary analysis of the period 1816-1992 I explore the independent and joint effects of institutions and norms on the likelihood of dispute involvement, using a non-dichotomous understanding of regime. The findings suggest that the effect of institutional structure is contingent on norms. I conclude that further theoretical modeling and empirical research is warranted along the lines suggested here.


Anita Schjølset

Anita Schjølset

Senior Researcher