Saturday, December 27, 2008

Owen, Layne and Waltz: Liberalism and Structural Realism

Owen: How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace
Layne: Kant or Can't: The Myth of the Democratic Peace
Waltz: Structural Realism After the Cold War

Part I:Summary

The main point of the Layne article is that democratic peace theory (DPT) establishes a correlation between peace and democracies, not a causal link between peace and democracies (p. 209) and that realism is a better predictor of states’ actions (p.178). The DPT has two possible causal links: the absence of war between democracies is attributable to institutions and the absence of was between democracies is because of democratic norms and culture (p. 177). The author states that it is not the institutional attributes that enable democracies to behave peacefully towards other democracies, so it must be the norms that are the causal logic in DPT (p.183). After four case studies (the most recent being 1923 (p.186)) the conclusion is that DPT establishes a correlation between democracies and peace, but not a causal link (p.209). Instead, in all four instances, realist factors provided the reason why the democracies did not go to war (p.209). Showing that DPT is not valid matters in order to show policy makers that they should not focus on the implications of DPT (spreading democracy because democracies don’t make war on each other), but rather on security (realist) concerns (p.217).

The Waltz article’s main point was that structural realism is still the dominant theory because there has been no change in the system that would render the theory obsolete (p.30). Waltz labels the democratic peace theory a “fact” because if democracies don’t fight with other democracies, then that is not an explanation but a statement of fact that needs an explanation (p.31). According to Waltz, international relations theory deals with the system (p. 34) and that no matter how wide spread democracy might be, that is a unit level change (p. 34) and so does not alter the system or shape the system (p. 34, 35, 39). Instead Waltz states that the power of the state is still strong (p. 42) and that the presences of international institutions (p. 44) and interdependence (p. 39) (which arise in times of peace – brought on by democracy says DPT believers (p.38-39)) are simply methods that a state uses to protect itself in the anarchic world and gain power. Countries have always competed for wealth and security and this competition has often led to conflict (p. 59), and will lead to conflict so long as states are in a self-help world (p.65). Until the self-help, anarchic, world has transformed into something else, the structure of the system will remain the same, and so realism is the dominant theory (p. 67).

The Owen article’s main point is that although the institutional (structural) factors and normative factors of DPT don’t explain democratic peace individually, when those two variables are put together they do explain the democratic peace (p.142). He also believes that perception is important because if a state doesn’t perceive another state as liberal (democratic) they the first state will not treat the second state in the same way the first state would treat another liberal state (p. 146). Based on the definition of a liberal democracy as a state that is dominated by liberal norms, and structure (p.152), then a liberal state will avoid war with another state that it believes to be liberal (p.152). In order to demonstrate his idea, Owen uses four case studies, the latest of which is in 1896 (p.154). Owen then concludes, after studying these cases, that the causal mechanism linking liberal structures and norms to peace is the liberal ideas that create the structures and norms in a liberal democracy (p.173).

Part II: Analysis

The Layne article is short-sighted in that the author seems to believe that it has to be either democratic norms or democratic structure that is the causal link between democracies and peace (p. 209). Layne does not consider the position that the two variables might work in tandem. Additionally, he seems to add an element into the DPT: that there has to be an absence of military threats from one democracy to another (p. 184). This seems to be stretching the DPT to a point so that no case-study or situation could fit under the umbrella. The DPT states that democracies do not make war on other democracies (p.177), not that democracies don’t threaten other democracies with military power. This seems to be an addition to DPT that Layne makes, without any good analytical basis for the addition; simply that he thinks the absence of war “sets the threshold of proof too low” (p.185). Lastly, he claims to have four “modern” case-studies, but the most current study is from 1923 (p.186), which isn’t modern at all.

The Waltz article simply seems to reiterate points that we have heard from Waltz before, namely: anarchy, anarchy and balancing. Waltz dismisses nuclear weapons as a unit level concern (p.30), but then contradicts himself when he uses nuclear weapons in his description of what should happen with balancing (p.56). The structure of this article was very confusing to me, because it seemed that he was trying to discredit DPT by saying that DPT states a fact, not a theory (p. 31) and that realism still holds sway because the system (anarchy) hasn’t changed (p. 67). However, he launches into balancing explanations that seem to have nothing to do with DPT or liberalism, and are simply Waltz expounding on the virtues of his definition of realism. Overall, I was confused by this article. Waltz tries to make another case for realism being relevant, but in doing so dismisses all domestic factors that other theories rely on simply by saying: they are changes in the unit level, not the structural level (p. 30). Once again, Waltz seems to lack certain logic to his thoughts.

The Owen article ignores instances later than 1920’s because bipolarity and nuclear weapons change the picture (p.154). This is problematic for the author’s explanation of DPT because (1) democratic peace still exists now, after those factors, so if the theory is valid wouldn’t it need to account for the democratic peace now as well as before the 1920’s? And secondly, if all the DPT applies to is a world without nuclear weapons, what good is this theory today? The world has nuclear weapons, and they are likely not going away, so shouldn’t the theory take into account the fact that we have a democratic peace today? Also, by adding in the proposition that a democracy will not war with another state they perceive to be a democracy (p. 146-147), the author is able to explain away any possible exceptions to the theory, and include all possible situations. Therefore, his explanation over-reaches.

Additionally, it is clear there needs to be a common definition of democracy in the DPT literature. All three articles treated Germany differently in the same time period. One article said Germany was a democracy, one said it wasn’t, and one said it was an illiberal democracy. A common definition would be helpful to provide cohesiveness for the theory.

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