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November 14, 2004

Bush Knows
Do You?

R.J. Rummel

Or, maybe you do and like some reporters and commentators, you have heard it, and amazingly, just think it is more of the usual political rhetoric.

In the Q&A following the remarks by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom after their discussion of Iraq and the Middle East on November 12, ABC News correspondent John Cochran pressed the President on what he meant by his insistence that the Palestinian Authority become democratic. Bush responded pointing out that, ". . . the reason why I'm so strong on democracy is democracies don't go to war with each other. . . . I've got great faith in democracies to promote peace."

President Bush's faith in democracy and its connection to peace is nothing new. This fact of the democratic peace is, in fact, the basis of his "forward strategy of freedom." He proclaimed as much in his November 2003 speech on the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. He declared then that, "As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace." With regard to the Middle East, he said, "As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export."

The president has not been alone among leaders in explicitly recognizing the democratic peace. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, President Clinton's former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, and former Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu have mentioned it. It underlay President Clinton's foreign policy. In his National Security Strategy of September 2002, one of the three pillars is "...to extend the peace by seeking to extend the benefits of freedom and prosperity across the globe."

This is not just another careless variation on the idea of democracy. The connection between democracy and peace rests on a solid empirical and theoretical basis. Historians and political scientists who have studied the relationship between democracy and war over the past several decades, with few exceptions, now accept it as a law of nations. Indeed, the fact that there is no war between democracies carries with it the historical understanding that democracies are also most peaceful domestically and have the least terror, as recently shown in the research of Harvard Professor Alberto Abadie.

But mere recognition of this fact about democracy is not enough. One must also recognize, as President Bush does, that it provides us with a route to peace where now there is violence. We can only be astonished at the ho-hum response to this fact-finally, finally, after centuries of searching for a solution to war, we have it. We now know how to bury this horseman of the apocalypse that has killed hundreds of millions of people. Foster democracy! To this I can only say, "Wow!"

Think about it. A solution to war. How can that not amaze? How can a reporter's jaw not drop when the president says, "the reason why I'm so strong on democracy is democracies don't go to war with each other." For he is saying in effect, that I know how to solve the problem of war, and that is through democracy.

Although the goal should be a totally democratic world, even just increasing the number of democracies increases zone of peace in the world. In 2003, of the 192 governments in the world, there were 117 democracies governing over 60 percent of the world's population; 88 of these governments were liberal democracies. This number of democracies already has reached such a critical level (there were no liberal democracies in 1900, and only 22 in 1950) as to catalyze a sharp reduction in the number of wars and battle dead.

In its 2004 Yearbook Report the respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute states that, "In 2003 there were 19 major armed conflicts in 18 locations worldwide, the lowest number for the post-cold war period with the exception of 1997, when 18 such conflicts were registered." In 1991, there were 33 wars. The trend line of wars and violence conflict is sharply down. This drop is further verified by the Canadian organization Project Ploughshares, which in its Armed Conflicts Report 2004 claims that the number of armed conflicts, broadly defined, fell to 36 in 2003, from a peak of 44 in 1995. Finally, looking at this more systematically, I have statistically analyzed a variety of violent conflict data sets and found a clear decline in the amount and severity of conflict in recent decades (see the Democratic Peace Clock).

The president's forward strategy of freedom is right on. We should be awed by this solution to war, which is within our grasp. The best foreign policy for peace is clear. Foster democratic freedom.

R.J Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Nobel Peace Prize finalist, has published twenty-nine books, and received numerous awards for his research. See his short bio.

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