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No War, No Famine

STOCKHOLM: Two hundred years ago in his essay “Perpetual Peace” Immanuel Kant imagined a future “union of liberal republics.” In 1795, however, liberal republics were abstract ideas. Yet Kant imagined our present reality of flourishing liberal democracies. Moreover, Kant’s idea of perpetual peace seems even less far-fetched because no democracy has ever made war on another. Indeed, “No War Between Democracies” is as close as we are likely to get to an immutable diplomatic law.

Scholars have demonstrated the truth of this. Professor R J Rummel of the University of Hawaii investigated 353 pairs of combatants between 1816 and 1991. Democracy fought non-democracy in 155 cases. Dictatorship fought dictatorship in 198 cases. He found no examples of democracies at war with each other. Some pedants quibble, claiming that exceptions exist. Study the details, however, and you find that the conflict in question was either some type of civil war or in which one participant was not a real democracy (Germany in 1914), or that the number of people killed was too low to call the conflict a war at all.

This is no mere statistical error or lucky coincidence. In a democracy it would be almost impossible to secure sufficient public support for a military confrontation with another democracy. Democratic peoples know and trust each other. Democratic governments find it natural to negotiate with one another.

The costs humanity has paid in waiting for Kant’s vision to near reality is horrific and was exacted in places other than the battlefield. Between 1900 and 1987 about 170 million people were killed for political reasons not involving war. Totalitarian states murdered 138 million out of those 170 million. Authoritarian countries killed another 28 million. Democracies killed about 2 million people, primarily through intentional bombing of civilian targets. No matter how controversial examples of democratic excess are, however, they do not change the overall picture.