Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Other People's Human Rights Keeps the US Safe

Since the 1970’s, various commentators and political science theorists have opined that liberal democratic governments do not go to war with each other. The genesis of this idea can be found in Emmanuel Kant’s essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” from 1795. “[I]f the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. Among the latter would be: having to fight, having to pay the costs of war from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future.”

In Kant’s time, there were not enough representative democracies to determine the validity of his theorizing. However, over the next two hundred years, enough representative governments came into being and enough time had passed for political scientists to confirm the essential truth of Kant’s observation. Maoz and Russett put it this way: “Beyond the extraordinary convergence of research results that confirm that "democracies rarely fight each other,” there is more importantly, significant evidence that this finding is causally meaningful.” (pg 624)

This belief that democracies rarely fight each other, has entered the popular consciousness. In response to a statement by a reporter during a news conference in 2004 that “You can be elected and be a tyrant.” President Bush responded “Well, you can be elected and then be a strong man, and then you get voted out, so long as you end up honoring democracy.” President Bush then went on to affirm the centrality of democratic peace in a way that evoked Kant: “the reason why I'm so strong on democracy is democracies don't go to war with each other. And the reason why is the people of most societies don't like war, and they understand what war means.”
It may be a banal observation, but people who rule themselves will not abuse their own rights. Countries that are democracies guarantee the human rights of their own people. Further, countries that are democracies do not go to war with other democracies that are coincidentally protecting the rights of their own people.

In the abstract, if a democratic country, (country X) can influence or force another country, (country A) to become a democracy, country X would be safe from invasion by country A. Since democracies protect human rights, the concomitant effect will be that people in country A will have human rights, but the key to security for country X is fostering democracy. In reality, history has shown this abstraction in practice. The US forced Japan and Germany to create democratic institutions and nudged South Korea in that direction. Even given the historical animus that existed between Japan and Korea, neither has fired a shot in anger at one another in more that 60 years. Germany has peacefully co-existed with its neighbors since WWII. And interestingly, given the breathing space that lack of war allows for the people to achieve real peace, all those countries have become loud and aggressive watch-dogs for human rights around the world.

Bush, George W. “President and Prime Minister Blair Discussed Iraq, Middle East” (November 12, 2004) retrieved 2 November 2007 from “http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/11/20041112-5.html”

Kant, Immanuel. “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (1795).

Maoz, Zeev, and Bruce Russett. “Normative and Structural Causes of Democratic Peace, 1946-1986” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Sep., 1993), pp. 624-638.