Peacemaking by Democracies: The Effect of State Autonomy on the Post–World War Settlements

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9780271023984: Peacemaking by Democracies: The Effect of State Autonomy on the Post–World War Settlements
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When theorists explain how democracies conduct foreign policy, they tend to ignore or downplay differences and assume that democratic governments all behave similarly. Challenging this assumption, Norrin Ripsman breaks down the category of "democracy" to argue that differences in structural autonomy among democratic states have a lot to do with how foreign security policies are chosen and international negotiations are carried out. Concluding with an examination of the implications of these findings for security policy in contemporary democracies, Peacemaking by Democracies combines innovation in international relations theory with careful primary research in historical archives.

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Norrin M. Ripsman is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Concordia University.

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Introduction

Not all democracies are alike. Some grant extraordinary powers to their heads of state or government to make policy, while others possess complex arrays of checks and balances among the various branches of government that limit such power. Parliamentary democracies vest power in a cabinet drawn from the legislature, presidential systems place executive power in the hands of an independently elected president, while still others divide executive power. Some democratic electoral systems are based on proportional representation, while others are based on single-member constituencies and majority or plurality voting. Some are dominated by two political parties; others, by many. In addition to these and other institutional differences, their populations subscribe to different political attitudes and norms pertaining to the use of political power and the goals that the state should pursue.

Political scientists studying the domestic and foreign economic policies of democratic states have concluded that these differences between democracies affect both the policies they select and the autonomy that democratic executives have to choose policies when faced with public and legislative opposition. Surprisingly, however, international security scholars pay little attention to these differences and assume that they do not affect the way democracies choose their national security policies. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that democracies react in similar ways to international threats and opportunities. This conventional wisdom is wrong.

In this book, I argue that the differences between democracies have profound effects on the way they conduct foreign security policy. In particular, they affect the ability of different democratic governments to choose foreign policies at odds with domestic preferences. Thus, for example, shortly after World War II, the Truman administration was able to commit American troops to Europe to serve its security interests, despite public pressure to bring the troops home. In contrast, the difficulties encountered by the Israeli government, led by Rabin, Peres, and Barak in implementing the 1993 Oslo Accords indicate that some democratic regimes must take domestic opposition seriously, even on security matters of the utmost importance. Clearly, it would be useful to discover the conditions under which domestic opposition affects foreign security policy in different democratic states.

This book examines the institutional, procedural, and normative differences between democracies in order to determine how they affect the independence of democratic leaders from domestic opinion. It argues that domestic political structures that insulate the government from the public and the legislature increase its ability to pursue unpopular policies, but simultaneously weaken its position in international negotiations. Governments that are not structurally insulated can still achieve some independence when they are willing to deceive their domestic opponents, but this is a costly strategy that is of only limited utility.

I test this argument by examining the peacemaking policies of Great Britain, France, and the United States after both world wars. In each country, domestic opinion demanded punitive peace terms, while national leaders believed that some degree of moderation was warranted. Yet, they followed very different policies. The structurally insulated governments (the United States and Great Britain after World War II) opted for moderation, while the rest (all three democracies after World War I and France after World War II) made significant concessions to public and legislative demands. Furthermore, the structurally weaker governments (all three democracies in 1919 and France after World War II) were able to parlay their democratic constraints into gains in international negotiations over the postwar settlements. Thus, the conventional treatment of democracies as a group of like states that behave similarly in the international arena is both inappropriate and misleading. We must, therefore, unpack this category in order to generate a richer understanding of the complex range of democratic arrangements and their effects on national security policy.

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