Installing Democracy

President George W. Bush concluded his final debate with John Kerry by declaring his faith in "the ability of liberty to transform societies, to convert a hostile world to a peaceful world." Now part of his rhetorical repertoire, this statement springs not just from the religious basis of his thinking, but more importantly it is a core principle of what is called the theory of "democratic peace." That theory does not insist that democracies are necessarily peaceful in general. But the last decade of social-science research has produced abundant evidence, besides theory, that democracies almost never go to war with one another. Policymakers from the administration of the first President Bush through that of Bill Clinton have also accepted it. But what this president neglects to mention is that those of us who helped formulate the theory of democratic peace have consistently argued for a second core principle: that a model of "fight them, beat them, and make them democratic" is a very bad idea.

Members of the current administration cite the post-World War II experience of Germany and Japan to bolster their case for invading and occupying Iraq. Certainly the victorious American and British occupation policy was built on the principle that the German and Japanese governments could never be peaceful without democratizing their systems.

But Germany and Japan make poor analogies with respect to the Middle East. The United States and Britain went to war not in order...

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About the Author

Bruce Martin Russett is Dean Acheson Professor of International Relations, Yale University.