How far can it be argued that democracy is essential to the promotion of global peace and security?

This essay will briefly outline a suitable definition of democracy and other terms applicable to its contents, before investigating whether or not democracy is a prerequisite of attaining a condition of global peace, security and stability.


The word Democracy originates from the Greek "demos" meaning "the people" and "kratein" meaning "to rule". Kegley and Wittkopf define democracy as;

"A government process of making foreign and domestic policy, which allows the mass public to exercise power and influence over the officials elected to formulate the state's policies." (Kegley & Wittkopf 2001 p61)

Democracy exists in many forms, from the direct democracy of Athens – where all eligible citizens would be directly involved in the process of running the polis, or city, to the many variations of democracy that operate around the world today. Direct democracy, while arguably the most "democratic" of democracies, is largely extinct. (Jor 1997)

Democracy as a concept is the idea of the people ruling a realm of some description. Such a realm may be a nation-state, but it could also be larger, such as the EU parliament, or smaller, such as a city. (Held 1996)

Through history, "the people" has been defined in different ways. In modern democracies, "the people" is usually every citizen of both genders over a certain age, who have not been stripped of their democratic privileges through crime, insanity or otherwise. (Jor 1997) Other factors, such as place of residence and nationality, also play a role in an individual's voting eligibility.

Some scholars have argued that there is a need to distinguish between "liberal democracies" and "illiberal democracies". One such scholar is Fareed Zakaria. He does not suggest that elections are insignificant, but make the case that elections and the label of "democracy" alone are inadequate protection against aggressive external behaviour, as long as states are able to label themselves democracies (such as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). (Zakaria 1997) For this reason, a more precise definition of democracy is required:

"The older distinction between liberalism, which focused on the limitation of political power, and democracy, which emphasized voting, has been largely erased. (...) Modern 'democracies' are understood to be political orders that have constitutional and limited government, enjoy the rule of law, prize the protection of individual rights, and select their governments by universal free suffrage." (Braun 2004)

War between democratic nation-states

It is a common observation, first aired by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, that democratic states rarely fight each other. The notion of democratic peace is much disputed, but its believers explain that this is a phenomenon developed from the mutual respect, understanding and co-operation that often exist among democratic governments. The concept of democratic peace is often split into two arguments: The monadic argument is that a highly democratic state will be peaceful to all other states. The dyadic argument is similar, but limits the tendency to peace only extends to other democratic states. Considering the post-second world war era only, the dyadic version of democratic peace theory when applied to liberal democratic states seems statistically viable (Özkeçeci-Taner 2002).

If one accepts the dyadic democratic peace theory despite of its shortcomings and exceptions it can be argued that a liberal democratic government indeed maintains peace and stability between liberal democratic countries. There are many reasons for this tendency to keep peace. Democratic states tend to trade actively with each other, and one explanation of their reluctance to go to war is the direct effects it may have on international trade. Moreover, the effect of a war that is perceived to be unjust may be significant; trade boycotts from nations not directly involved in the war, but who may sympathise with the defending state, may have dramatic effects on the offending nation's economy. (Özkeçeci-Taner 2002).

Another reason may be that many democratic states' defence programmes are tightly intertwined, and are often based on co-operative organisations such as NATO. This means that a sole democratic state is unlikely to win a war against another democratic state, and hence wars are unlikely to take place. Declaring war on Denmark, for example, would be the equivalent of declaring war on all the other NATO member states. This example was extended even further in the 1990s, when NATO started including "democracy" and "peaceful relations with neighbours" as essential admission criteria. (Braun 2004)

Another issue, which may have an effect on warmongering, is the democratic process itself. The fact that the people of a liberal democracy have the opportunity to elect who rules the country means that the government will have to persuade voters that going to war is justified. As people are well aware that the war will have to be financed with their tax money, a government's arguments need to convince the people that war is a better investment than increasing spending on welfare like education and health. In reality, war is more likely to reduce these budget posts than the absence of war increasing budgets, but the point remains the same. This process of persuasion – dubbed the manufacturing of consent – is time-consuming, and may explain why many democracies are reluctant to initiate wars (Herman & Chomsky 1988).

War between democratic and non-democratic nation-states

As early as 1923, the German political theorist Carl Schmitt argued that democracies intrinsically identify non-democratic states as threats. (Schmitt 1988) Many scholars, including one of today's most prolific German philosophers, Jürgen Habermas, believe that Schmitt was correct. If one accepts Schmitt's theory as true, one has answered part of the question, and can conclude that democracy is not naturally stable in a world that is partly non-democratic. (Jor 1997)

Bill Clinton summarised the situation in his 1994 State of the Union address:

"Ultimately, the best strategy to ensure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of democracy elsewhere." (Clinton 1994).

This statement, combined with the statistical observation that democratic states are likely to initiate wars against non-democratic states as a solution to a problem (Özkeçeci-Taner 2002), it follows that the democratic peace theory may actually be an incentive to war in itself. If it is true that a democratic state will not attack another democratic state, it makes sense to attack non-democratic states and "convert" them (after which they are democratic, and hence will not attack you), rather than waiting for the non-democratic state to be the first aggressor.

Democracy and non-military security

There is more to security than warheads and machineguns. There are many other large global security questions, such as environmental concerns, the gathering and distribution of resources, global economic stability, organised crime, terrorism and the fighting of diseases. While this essay has already argued that democracy is not the solution to world peace, many other security issues demand a high level of trans-national co-operation and diplomacy. (EIS 2003)

There is little doubt that democracies are better vehicles for co-operation and uniform response to international issues than a tyranny. This is not only because collaboration is more practical between democratic nation-states, but also because many other forms of government have neither interest nor draw advantages in participating on such alliances.


As argued, there are several reasons why democracies are cautious about attacking each other. If the world consisted entirely of democratic nation-states, it would theoretically be possible to experience a world more stable and more peaceful than today. However, for all foreseeable future, the utopian vision of an exclusively liberal-democratic world is unrealistic, and hence, even if the theory of democratic peace is correct, its premises are not fulfilled, and it does not result in world peace.

Over time, scant natural resources like fossil fuels are becoming scarcer and pollution may become a more serious and immediate problem than it is today. The advantages of liberal democracy – especially the tradition of international cooperation, may assist in solving these untraditional security issues.

Based on the findings in this essay, the author concludes that a network of democratic nation-states is better equipped to deal with problems that arise, than a series of individual non-democratic states. If the "new" issues in global security become urgent enough, it can be argued that one can tolerate the side effects of democracy – the occasional war with non-democratic states, for example – in order to be better prepared for new challenges.


Bibliography ( adhering to the harvard style of referencing)

Braun, D (2004) Democracy and the prospects for peaceful relations in Eastern Europe. East European Quarterly, winter 2003

Clinton, B (1994) State of the union address: Transcript. accessed 31 March 2004

European Information Service (EIS) (2003) Justice and Home Affairs: Commission adopts strategy for combating organised crime. European Report, May 3, 2003 p471

Held, D (1996)
Models of democracy.
Cambridge: Polity Press

Herman, ES and Chomsky, N (1988)
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.
New York: Pantheon Books

Jor, F (1997)
Problemer i Politisk Idehistorie (Norwegian, "Problems in the history of policical ideology").
Oslo: Gyldendal.

Kegley, CW & Wittkopf, ER (2001)
World Politics: Trend and Transformation. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Schmitt, C (1988)
The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.
First published in 1923, translated by Ellen Kennedy. Cambridge: MIT Press

Zakaria, F (1997)
The Rise of Illiberal Democracy.
Magazine article: Foreign Affairs November/ December 1997 pp. 22-42.

Özkeçeci-Taner, B (2002)
The myth of Democratic Peace: Theoretical and empirical shortcomings.
Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations Vol 1, no 3,

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