DEMOCRACY, PEACE, AND WAR
DAN REITER; ALLAN C. STAM
Why do wars start, and what accounts for their nature? The traditional realpolitik answer to this question focuses on the distribution of power among nations. However, much of the recent scholarship a on interstate conflict as moved beyond the realize, myopic focus on power and begun to explore the role of domestic politics in shaping the nature of war. The result has been the generation of wide-ran in in. -ideas and findings about this vital connection. The group of those still doubtful at domestic institutions systematically affect states foreign policies is small and dwindling.
This char focuses on how variations in domestic political institutions affect states' foreign policy behavior. While scholars have not agreed on a single theory how institutions affect foreign policy, they agree on the general framework.
In this framework, and then some specific with the framework which express different visions of how exactly domestic politics affect matters of war and peace.
A general framework for domestic politics and war
Why do wars occur? A commonly held view in the international relations literature is that when state disagree about the nature of a potential war, they will be unable to reach a mutually agreeable bargain/when presenting competing claims on the distribution of international goods, such-as the place Tent of an international border or the distribution of military power between them Fearon 1995; Smith and Stam 2004). A state dissatisfied with the territorial status quo or the local balance of military capabilities may demand that another state make concessions or face war. The target of the demand may accede or refuse, and from refusal, war may follow. Critically, state leaders take the steps to war mindful of the costs and benefits of each individual step: doing nothing, posing a demand, accepting or refusing the demand, and choosing war or backing down.
Within this conventional approach to war, the traditional realist perspective as¬sumes that calculations of costs and benefits take into account only the state's national interest.) The domestic politics approach poses a fundamental challenge to this as-sumption, arguing that when national leaders make foreign policy decisions that may-lead to war they will consider domestic politics as well as the international. The general proposition of the domestic politics approach is that variations in domestic political con tons, especially variation in domestic political institutions, can affect decisions for war or peace.
To understand how domestic politics, affect foreign policy decisions, the domestic politics framework begins whit tree assumptions. The first is that all leaders seek (lo maintain their hold on office, and will make foreign policy choices to improve and defend their domestic political fortunes as well as advance the national interest.
The second assumption of the domestic politics framework is that political institution matter because they determine how leader gain and retain office. In democ¬racies, for example regular, competitive, and free elections provide the means by which publics can hold political leaders accountable for their foreign policy decisions. In dictator ships, the absence of electoral institutions means that leaders face fewer constraints on their choices, but may also face different domestic cost for perceived policy failures. If political institutions such as elections, allow publics to change their leaders frequently and with relatively low cost, then leaders will be more likely to adopt foreign policies that are popular with voters. Conversely, in states where it is difficult and for costly for the public to reselect a leader, then the leader will feel freer to adopt unpopular knowing that public anger will be less likely to cause him or her to lose office.
The third assumption is that political leaders and voters may often have quite different preferences for various foreign policies. Democratic institutions provide a means for voters.to force leaders to act on the public’s rather than on the leader`s preference.
Thus far, the discussion of institutions and selection has focused on the probability of losing office institutions can also matte, by determining the consequences of losing office. Elected leaders may face relatively benign personal consequences from losing of ae, as they can look forward to a comfortable retirement writing memoirs and giving public lectures) Leaders of other states such as dictatorships may face more dire consequences, such as exile, prison, or even execution.
As we noted at the outset there is no unanimous consensus over any single do¬mestic politics model of war. Scholars focus on different components of the war process and employ different assumptions to construct models that in some cases make different predictions. We next describe two major variants within this general framework: public opinion constraints and audience costs. Our goals are to lay out the basic participle of these models, describe their predications, and review how well the empirical record supports them. We should emphasize that these two variants share important similarities, but we hope that by distinguishing them and avoiding the temptation to combine them into a single model, the reader will get a sense of the intellectual depth and ferment within this area of scholarship.
Public Opinion Constraints
The first variant focuses on how institutions can affect the relationship between pub¬lic opinion and foreign policy. The essence of this perspective is that of representative democracy, that political leaders try to maintain their position by serving the public´s interests which the leaders gauge by. measuring public opinion. Many, but not all of these arguments are decision theoretic in nature, assuming, for example, that states targeted for war will necessarily fight back. A critical question this variant is what foreign policies do people prefer? There are three general Law to this question. First, cheaper policies are commonly more popular. The principal cost of wars are casualties and the diversion of resources from other priorities. Because society bears these costs more directly than its leaders, when the people have more influence, a state's foreign policy will reflect greater cost sensitivity.) Democracies should therefore be less like to initiate wars or disputes, and when democracies do fight, they should try to do so quickly and cheaply.
Second, people want success, and elected leaders fear failure. In democracies, voters often react to past or anticipated policy failure by voting leaders out of office. This means that democratic leaders are more fearful than autocrats of policy failure such as defeat in war, as for the former it means the costs of bad policy outcomes and a greater risk of losing political power, whereas for the latter it means only the cost of bad policy outcomes. The principal predictions (this argument is that democracies are more conservative in ventures, doing so only when they are confident of cheap victory, whereas authoritarian leaders are more inclined to engage in risky wars, knowing that even in defeat they are likely to remain in power. Some, such as Bueno de Mesquita et, focus on the constraints imposed by leaders anticipating the costs of voters acting prospectively at elections to select leaders out of office. Reiter and Stun focus on the constraint imposed by a need to generate contemporaneous consent among likely voters for policies leaders would prefer to choose. By generating consent in advance, leaders can inoculate themselves against the possible cost of policy failures. In the prospective voting set-up, voters use information drawn from past events to make judgements about the likely competence of leaders in the future.
The need for policy may introduce perverse incentives. leaders facing, dwindling political fortunes due to failing policies may feel impelled to resort to war or adopt suboptimal military strategies, "gambling or resurrection, since winning might increase their chance of retaining power, while a loss would not matter. for domestic political fortunes because the leader would lose power or face even greater sanction anyway. Others argue that leaders of newly formed democracies may initiate conflicts whit their neighbors to consolidate their domestic political support.
A third line research concerns the stakes of war. Most public constraint theories do not propose that democracies are more or less likely wars of empire or genocide. Sometimes those wars are profitable and popular. One model predicts that democracies are more likely pursue war aims best characterized as public goods, while autocra¬cies are more likely to pursue aims more easily translated into private goods.
Public constraints arguments have attracted substantial empirical support. The popularity of elected leaders declines as casualties mount, though publics are willing to accept casualties for important stakes and when victory seems likely Anticipation of the electoral consequences of declining support for wnriir1 the face of mounting casualties also affects the nature of war. Democracies fight shorter war in part because of the strategies they fight whit and in part because of the type of wars they choose to fight in the first place In these wars, democracies suffer fewer casualties and more readily compromise in longer wars.
Studies show that leaders understand how political institutions shape the domestic political consequences of military defeat. This leads elected leaders to be much more likely to win the international crises and wars they start. Dictators are less likely to win the crises and wars they start because they are more likely to launch risky ventures with ex ante lower probabilities of victory. These findings are quite robust. Consistent with the rational expectations view, because democracies anticipate the electoral consequences of war, they avoid disastrous wars and, as a result, we do not observe that elected lead¬ers lose power faster than non-elected leaders after wars. Some theoretical models that extend the public opinion logic in a strategic setting predict that authoritarian states may seek to exploit this domestic cost sensitivity, and may be especially international disputes against democracies, hoping the democracy will back down rather than risk war.
Though democracies are less likely to fight each other, the evidence on whether, democracies are generally more peace is mixed. Recognizing that publics may be motivated to fight for nationalistic reasons.
Braumoeller argues that liberalism may provide fewer protections against war many surmises. Some have found that democracies are more conflictual in their relations with non-democratic states than. non-democratic states ark with each other. Some found that democracies are more likely to be targeted by other states, though others report different results. Gelpi and Grieco found that after controlling for leaders' tenure, democracies are no more likely to be the target of other states aggression. Some claim that democracies are less likely to initiate crises or the use of force.
The evidence on other implications derived from the public opinion con¬straints approach is Regarding whether democracies extract more during wartime, Bueno de Mesquita found that in certain cases democra¬cies do extract more during wartime, though other tests report the opposite. Some have speculated that representative political institutions may make citizens more willing to consent to conscription. Others have argued that the soldiers of democracies are no more or less willing to sacrifice themselves, though they may fight with better initiative and leadership. An intriguing twist on this line of reasoning is that representative institutions may push democracies to invest more and more broadly in education and better-educated soldiers and officers appear to fight better.
The evidence on exactly variations affect conflict behaviors is also mixed. Some have proposed that elected leaders, with. rower legislative support might be less vulnerable to domestic political challenges, and hence might be more willing to take risks and initiate force. Though there is some supportive evidence for this claim, other studies found no relationship between legislative support and pro¬clivity to use force. Others have proposed that the key institutional check lies in the state's need to serve the preference of the fraction of society whose support the leader needs to saty in power.
The evidence that declining political fortunes cause leaders to initiate conflict is also weak and inconsistent. Other find evidence the potential attackers are less likely to initiate conflict against democracies facing internal strife, suggesting, that these potential attackers anticipate that troubled leaders are more inclined to escalate conflict, and hence avoid giving such roiled states an excuse for war. Many authors are skeptical of the claim that states with newly minted democratic institutions are more conflict prone, though there is empirical support for the narrower claim that states whit new party democratic institutions are more conflict prone.
Fearon's, "audience costs" model is closely related to but theoretically distinct from the public constraints argument. Starting from a somewhat different premises from the public opinion literature, the "audience costs" literature begins with the assumption that war is an inefficient solution to a bargaining problem. One reason state might adopt an inefficient policy is because state A cannot credibly signal to state B what A´s true resolve or cost tolerance is. This line of reasoning is explicitly in that the problem or cause of war or peace lies in one side's strategic incentives to misrepresent its own capability. The theoretical focus is on leaders' ability or lack thereof to decipher their opponent's resolve.
The audience costs permutation of the signaling model of war is based on the indirect effects of anticipated electoral punishments, and assumes that during inter¬national crises states are uncertain about each other's resolve for war (resolve here refers to how willing the opposing sides are to fight and therefore bear the high costs of war to defend their interests) Because a state's costs of fighting are related to troth its own resolve as well as its opponent's, states have incentives to adopt policies short of war to try to force their opponents to reveal credible information about their levels of resolve. Escalating a diplomatic crisis by mobilizing one´s military forces is one way in which a state can attempt to communicate its resolve to the other side, that it will fight to defend its interests, and in doing so, hopefully get the other side to back down.
In the audience costs approach, domestic politics enters the picture when leaders consider what might happen if they back down after precipitating or escalating a crisis. The audience costs model proposes that potential voters will view backing down in a crisis as a policy failure, and when able, will therefore punish at the polls leaders that back down in a crisis. Institutions matter in that citizens of authoritarian states are less able to inflict political costs on their leaders than voters are in states with elected leaders. Notably, some audience costs models have, galled on the political opposition rather than on the public.
From the audience cost perspective, all leaders know that dictators are freer to back down, and hence more likely to bluff, than are elected leaders. In turn, according to this logic, because a democratic leader will suffer greater punishment from backing down than an authoritarian counterpart will, the democrat will be likely to step up the escalatory ladder only when he or she is unlikely to back down; that is, when he or she has a high resolve for ware. Ironically, this become an advantage for democracies as a democracy´s decision to escalate a crisis is a stronger signal of its resolve for war than is an autocrat’s decision to escalate: When democracies escalate they really "mean it," but when autocrats escalate, they are more likely than democracies to be bluffing. Relatedly, some have proposed that democratic domestic audiences are more likely to punish political leaders for reneging on international agreements like alliances, which in turn makes cooperation between democracies more likely.
Empirical testing of audience costs models is at this stage preliminary. However, one central audience costs hypothesis is that when a democracy escalates a crisis, the other side should be significantly more likely to back down, as the prospective audience costs to a democracy of escalating and then backing down are high enough that a democracy would only escalate if it had a high resolve for war. The empirical evidence in support of this prediction, however, is mixed. Finds that escalatory moves made by democratic state, such as increasing the level of opponents than is the case in pairs of non-democracies is similar settings. There are, however, limits to the empirical reach of this result.
Some of the work grounded in the public opinion constraint model offers direct theoretical challenges to the audience costs perspective. In an intriguing paper linking bargaining and war, Filson and Werner challenge the audience costs view that targets of democratic challenge and escalation are more likely to back down because they are convinced that the democracies are resolved for war. Filson and Werner propose that such episodes of democratic challenges are more likely to end peacefully because democracies make lower demands, which their opponents are more likely to accept, not because the democracies are more capable or resolved.
Many theoretical and empirical gaps remain in the study of domestic politics and war. One major undeveloped area concerns how political institutions may affect the qual¬ity of information provided to leaders. When leaders have higher-quality informa¬tion, they may be able to assess more accurately international conditions, including the resolve of the opponent, the likely costs of a prospective war, and the chances of victory if war does come. Some have proposed that because democracies protect freedoms of speech and press, they enjoy a more vibrant marketplace of ideas. These in turn provide liberal leaders with more robust policy debates and analyses, enabling elected leaders to be more likely to avoid military disasters. Authoritarian leaders do not enjoy these benefits. Further, tyrants may suffer greater intelligence shortcom¬ings because their fears of domestic political threats may cause them to purge their militaries, and surround themselves with yes-men and toadies rather than apolitical professionals. The role of the marketplace of ideas informing foreign policy has received only the barest empirical attention, though one study argued that the marketplace in the USA failed in the months before the 2003 Iraq War.
Other important areas of enquiry remain. Scholars are just beginning to un¬derstand the causal arrow reversed: how international factors affect democracy. Oddly, au-thoritarianism itself besides being portrayed as the opposite of democracy is only just beginning to receive study, and one useful path is the exploration of how dif¬ferent kinds of authoritarianism lead to different foreign policy behaviors. In the public opinion and signaling debates, there is no consensus about the timing of the constraint, whether voters evaluate policy prospectively, retrospectively, or contemporaneously. Smith and Stam (2004) develop a model of war built on disagreement with non-common priors that calls into question the logic of the signaling games from which the audience cost literature evolved.
One last puzzle is the odd tendency of democracies to perform quite well in crises and wars, but also to attract attackers. If democracies are quite powerful, and this is well known, this fact should deter potential predators. Instead, they seem to be more likely to strike. If the audience costs perspective is correct, then democracies ought to do quite well at fending off attackers by demonstrating their resolve effectively and efficiently. As noted, Filson and Werner speculate that the presumed higher casualty sensitivity of democracies trumps increased audience costs credibility. This effect works counter to the audience effect and suggests that autocratic leaders may believe that democrats will back down quickly rather than fight or settle for lesser gains in wars under way. However, the repeated willingness of democracies to stand, fight, and win seems to be a lesson ignored by autocrats, as potential attackers look to the occasional instance of apparent democratic faint¬heartedness for encouragement. This puzzle deserves closer examination. In a related vein, the rational expectations approach implies that we should see little advantage accrue to states that initiate wars, as being willing to initiate should signal to potential targets that the target is likely to lose, and so should sweeten its offer in order to prevent the costs associated with fighting a losing war. Empirically, however, war initiators in general, and democratic ones in particular, enjoy a significant edge in the disproportionate number of wars they go on to win. Scholarly consideration of the connection between domestic politics and war is far from complete. Several different theoretical perspectives compete with each other, and the substantial body of empirical results resembles a tangled ball of yarn rather than a completed sweater. Students and scholars of international relations should not see this as a sign of a dying argument, but rather as an open invitation to participate in the debate and help advance our understanding in this crucial area.
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