Martin Shaw

Democracy and peace in the global revolution

Draft for Tarak Barkawi and Mark Laffey, eds., Making Global Spaces, Lynne Rienner Critical Security Studies series, Boulder 2000


Since the 1980s, there has been, as James Rosenau (1990) proclaimed, a new ‘turbulence’ in world politics. Fundamental processes of change have affected both the internal politics and external relations of nation-states. Although these processes have been complex and contradictory, two major trends have been widely welcomed by liberal and democratic opinion: democratisation within states, and the pacification of relations between them. Even before but especially since 1989, the number of formally democratic - or at least democratising - states has increased rapidly on any criterion. At the same time, inter-state war - at least between central states in the international system - has become increasingly unlikely.

In this new situation, some political and international scholars have proclaimed a specific kind of deep connection between these two trends. Democratic states, it is argued, do not fight each other. Levy (1988: 88) has even claimed this tendency as the nearest thing to an ‘empirical law’ which political science has yet produced. In this contribution, I do not enter into a close critical discussion of this literature. This is not because I doubt either the credibility or the desirability of these trends, or indeed the plausibility of some kind of connection between them. It is because, however, numerous critics (see the survey in MacMillan, 1996), have already shown that the debate about the ‘democratic peace’, as it has come to be called, has posed these issues in very partial ways.

The democratic peace literature made an interesting move beyond realist international theory, in bringing the domestic politics of states back into the international equation. It represented, however, distinctly limited progress, since while linking these hitherto separated spheres it preserved their structural distinctiveness as the basis of analysis. In this sense it failed to address the very blurring of these analytical categories, which Rosenau (with his idea of ‘post-international’ relations) and many ‘global’ theorists had begun to suggest. In restricting the relations of democracy and peace to the correlation of domestic structures and foreign policy, democratic peace arguments bypassed much more profound attempts to restructure the categories of international relations, which were developing in the discipline. They largely ignored the question of how to grasp the relations of democracy and peace as aspects of the global changes of our times. This question that has been raised in various ways by many different contributions, all the way from the longstanding debate about interdependence in international relations, begun by Robert Keohane and James Nye (1977), to David Held’s (1992, 1995) conceptualisation of ‘cosmopolitan’ democracy.

The more interesting issue is therefore how to develop a more holistic conception of contemporary worldwide social and political change, in which the relations of democracy and peace can be understood. One direction from which this may be attempted is that of historical-sociological understanding, reflected in the serious attention paid in international relations to the work of social theorists such as Theda Skocpol (1979), Anthony Giddens (1985) and Michael Mann (1993). In this essay, I do not have space to discuss the general meaning (or problems) of this approach, which I have done elsewhere (Shaw, 1994, 1999c). Instead, I first suggest its desirability by first outlining the pitfalls of ahistorical and non-sociological modes of analysis. Second, I enter into a substantive discussion of what a historical and sociological approach to the question of democracy and peace might look like, offering a schema which raises some of the questions with which the new debate on the democratic peace might be concerned. Third, I examine the meaning of this historical and sociological approach to democracy and peace in the ‘global’ transformation of the present period.

How not to analyse democracy and peace

It is an obvious but important starting-point to remember that democracy and peace are not timeless but historical social concepts. Indeed war itself - the negation of peace - is a historical product. Although some seek to explain war as a product of instinctive aggression, as organised violence it presupposes socially-controlled use, and originates in definite historical forms. Similarly, although there is reason to suppose that war and democracy might be opposites - war is clearly the negation of a democratic relationship between two parties - war has always been compatible, historically, with forms of democratic relationship within one of the organised parties to war (Shaw, 1997a). Indeed the ‘Western way of war’ is generally held to have originated in the same time and place as Western democracy: in classical Athens, citizens were also warriors.

The democracy with which we are concerned today is, of course, very different from that of Athens. It is taken for granted that democracy involves an open representative system based on elections through universal suffrage, with entrenched freedom of expression and association, within a nation-state. This is indeed the dominant model of the Western bloc of states, approximated in a number of other states worldwide, and rapidly becoming (since the end of the Cold War) the norm to which most states pay lip-service, as well as the object of American as well as general Western policy throughout the world (Robinson, 199?).

Even if, however, we agree some such definition of modern democracy, it tells us relatively little about the nature and changing role of democracy in the emerging twenty-first century world, including its relation to peace. Democracy has always been both an institutional form and a social movement - often even a revolutionary movement. In the contemporary world, while democracy is becoming normal, it is also contested - notably between those who wish to use democratic forms to maintain largely authoritarian elite rule, and those wish to enlarge popular freedoms and control. Democracy is part of the great changes of our times and as such is often partial and compromised as well as insecure and unstable.

Today’s wars are also very different, not only from those of classical Greece, but also from those of the recent historical past. We may define warfare as organised violence between two parties in which each seeks to compel the other to submit to its will. We may operationalise this (as most have done since the Correlates of War project: see Small and Singer, 1982) to count conflicts in which there are a thousand or more battle-deaths. But even with such a definitions it is by no means clear that we can find a normal model of contemporary warfare, since any such model, like that of democracy, is challenged by contemporary developments.

Warfare has undergone such huge transformations in modern times, and taken so many diverse forms, that even the standard modern form it is difficult to agree. The distinctive form is sometimes taken to be ‘Clausewitzian’ (van Crefeld, 1991; Kaldor, 1997), but I have argued that, given the conjunction of total mobilisation with total destruction in the warfare of the industrial era, it is better understood from a sociological perspective as ‘total war’ (Shaw, 1988). All agree, however, that the very idea of ‘modern’ war is under great pressure. New forms of war are emerging, seen either as ‘post-Clausewitzian’ (Kaldor, 1997 and 1998) or in terms of ‘degenerate’ forms of total war (Shaw, 1999b).

In these circumstances, it is even less clear that we know what we mean by peace. Many defined Cold War, despite its perpetual war-preparation and proxy wars, as a form of peace. While clearly non-warlike relations have been consolidated between the former Cold War adversaries, and war appears to be in the process of abolition between the major states or groups of states, the worldwide extent of warfare (let alone war-preparation broadly defined) is still alarming. Are we really to understand the post-Cold War order as peaceful - except when the growing lawlessness within the states of the Balkans, Caucasus or central Africa actually takes the form of fighting?

Finally, at the heart of these uncertainties about democracy, peace and war lies the conundrum of the modern state. We may agree some version of Weber’s general definition of states as organisations claiming monopolies of violence in given territories (Mann, 1993: 55, offers an improved, suitably qualified variation of this). We may even agree that modern states have increasingly taken the form of nation-states. This does not mean, however, that we can adequately define contemporary states as national institutions. On the contrary, the national character of states has been undergoing a critical transformation.

The classic modern embedding of national forms of state, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was within imperial relations. More recently, nation-states have been embedded in the bloc relations of the Cold War. Today’s unprecedented number of nation-states is implicated, however, in a new constellation: the emergent power relations of the global order. Many so-called nation-states are hardly able to guarantee the internal pacification which Giddens (1985), following Weber, saw as the hallmarks of the modern nation-state, let alone the external projection of violence which he saw as the corrollary. Today even the most powerful national centres - including the sole remaining ‘superpower’ - are actually embedded in pan-Western and emergent global structures of state power (Shaw, 1997b).

What these uncertainties tell us is that democracy, war and peace, and state or nation-state, are all concepts which need to be grasped historically, in the context of successive changes in social and political relations in general. If our own time is agreed to be one of considerable flux - indeed I shall argue more strongly that it is one of historic transition - then this is precisely the wrong time to try to fix the terms of debate about democracy and peace in terms of concepts of democratic nation-states and inter-state war inherited even from the recent past.

In particular, we should avoid three major traps of contemporary social science, all of which seem to be implicated in the democratic peace debate. Two of these are problems of the social sciences as a whole: the ‘methodological nationalism’ (Scholte, 1996), according to which national states and societies are regarded as the units of social analysis; and the corresponding idea that generalisations in social science should be established principally through the ‘comparative method’ which examines variations across national cases. Both of these ideas embed the idea that national units are the given structures of modern social order.

The corollary of these ideas is the third trap, the favourite notion of international relations theory: the idea that the world is primarily structured into distinct ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ spheres. By assuming the separation of these spheres, we can then proceed to ‘correlate’ the tendencies within them, as has been done in democratic peace analysis. But the notion that this is ‘frontier’ to be penetrated belongs to a particular historical epoch. This period, in which the world can be defined in national and international terms, is drawing to a close. Before we can develop a historical account of democracy and peace, we need to overcome these inherited flaws of modern social science in general and international relations in particular.

A historical framework : state relations in the national and international era

In this paper I can only summarise the general framework in which I propose we may understand the relations of democracy, war and peace. The core of my argument is that we can grasp these issues by locating them within the developing social relations of state power (which I call for short, state relations) throughout modernity. My argument, which I am developing more fully elsewhere (Shaw, 1999), is that the history of the modern period has been the structured critically by the emergence, transformation and eventual decline of particular social relations and forms of state, which are most generally characterised as national-and-international.

My core assumption is that the pivotal historical changes within this modern era are not, as Marxists have proposed, changes in the mode of production as such, important as these have been, but changes in these state relations. In this era, in which typically state power has been fragmented between many major centres, it has been ‘janus-faced’ (Skocpol, 1979), pointing both ‘inwards’ towards society and ‘outwards’ towards other states. Following Skocpol, Giddens (1985) and Mann (1993), I take for granted that the capacity of particular states to mobilise power is developed simultaneously in relation to society and in relation to other centres of state power.

However the central issues in state relations have been two-way. State relations are not only about the control of state over society - its capacity for surveillance or mobilisation of social relations in general. They are also, in contrast, about the ability of society outside the state - individuals, groups and society ‘as a whole’ - to survey, limit and ultimately control the state. The question of democracy has been, in this way, one side of the political dynamics of the entire modern, or national-international, era.

I now need to introduce another key concept: state forms. In the modern period, states have tended increasingly to be centred socially on nations, so the forms of the state have been, in general, simultaneously national (relations between state and nation or groups within it) and international (relations between centres of state power). In this context, democracy has been defined primarily in relation to the nation-state (Held, 1995).

The fragmentation of state power within modern society has meant that the key to state relations has been war between major state centres, which has increasingly shaped the relations of state to society. Inherently linked to the state’s growing capacity for surveillance and mobilisation of society, war has been a central dynamic in the development of modern state relations. The democratic side of these relations has also been bound up in war: as a result of war-mobilisation, society often becomes aroused for political change, and in return for it, democratic states often offer or are forced to concede extensions of democratic rights.

This is particular true with total war, which we can identify (following Kaldor’s 1982 definition) as the dominant ‘mode of warfare’ in which war as a social activity has been organised in the twentieth century. In this mode, warfare has come to be the organising principle not just of state power but of economy and social relations in general. Thus I have suggested (Shaw, 1988) that the prime sources of change in twentieth-century society have been the contradictions of the way in which the expanded mode of warfare has impacted on society. And whereas Giddens (1985) tended to write out revolution from developed modernity, I argued that definite revolutionary processes could be identified within the ‘dialectics of war’ (Shaw, 1989).

If democracy has been a key question within all these political dynamics of the national-international era, and particularly within the dialectics of war, it has not conformed, to a single pattern, but has been constantly transformed and re-posed by each successive historical shift. In Table 1, I try to suggest (in a schematic way) the perameters of these changes, and the corresponding changing relations of democracy with war and peace, which are explored in this discussion.

A major problem for the hypothesis of pacific democracy lies in its articulation with dominant paradigms in international relations theory. If democratic governance explains at all the absence of war in interstate relations within what international relations generally characterises as a ‘Westphalian’ state-system, it can clearly be at best only a very partial explanation of war and its absence. That is to say, it can only explain the contrasting patterns of inter-state relations among democratic and non-democratic states. It cannot explain particular cases of relatively pacific or warlike relations within these groups.

In particular, the question of democracy can tell us very little about relations between states in the early period of the Westphalian system, since no state could be called democratic at that time. And yet Westphalia is generally supposed to have inaugurated a period of relative peace in interstate relations in Europe, compared to the period of general war on much of the continent which preceded it. Ironically, some of the earliest democratic movements (e.g.the radical movements in the English Civil War of the 1640s) had been implicated in that period of war.

The early post-Westphalia period, roughly up to the American and French revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century, is best characterised as a ‘pre-national’ and ‘pre-democratic’ era. Although elements of modern nationality and democracy began to develop together in the core of the emerging world order of European empires in this period, states were generally monarchical and increasingly imperial. They also still had very limited mobilisation-capacity - either in political or economic terms - by later standards. Wars, mostly relating to colonies, were generally limited compared to those of the subsequent and even the preceding periods.

Democracy was very much a subordinate theme in these developments, although by the late eighteenth century it was part of a larger movement towards the growth of a distinctively modern, rational, secular, scientific world. In this movement, the possibility of new constitutional orders was linked to world peace in the most enlightened thought (e.g. Kant, 1796). However, the emergence of democracy as a revolutionary movement and a form of government was hardly a peaceful process. The classic modern revolutions, of 1776 and 1789, proclaimed universal liberal principles in order to create a modern basis for nation and empire. Because of their double threat (internal and interstate) to the old world order, they unleashed counter-revolutionary wars which spread across the European world order.

This was not a historical accident, but something intrinsic (as Skocpol, 1979, argued) to the character of revolution within an interstate system. Moreover, as Clausewitz’s observed (1831), a new form of war was quite clearly linked to developments within these early modern revolutions. In his trinitarian definition of war, therefore, the people represented its quintessentially violent character (generals were linked to statecraft, governments to policy). Since then, military thinkers like Howard (1983) have seen the democratic aspect of modern war - the people in arms - as a source of its prospensity to total violence.

Clearly the early revolutionary states were hardly stable constitutional democracies by contemporary criteria, so it might be supposed that democratic peace theorists could breathe a sigh of relief. They would be mistaken, however, to see this point as of limited significance. The forms of democracy have been harnessed to authoritarian, militarist and ultimately undemocratic purposes throughout subsequent history. Indeed, the tension between pacific and warlike tendencies remains pivotal to the modern history of democracy.

Only by severely restricting the nature of the linkage between democracy and peace as well as the relevance of cases can a one-sided account be sustained. French revolutionary nationalism turned, with Napoléon, into an imperial venture in which democratic tendencies were extinguished. Even relatively democratic settler colonists in North America, Australasia and Africa were distinguished by their often brutal - even genocidal - military campaigns against indigenous peoples (Mann, 1996).

In the high inter-imperial period at the end of the nineteenth century, the development of parliamentary democracy went hand-in-hand with that of imperialism and militarism. It is a questionable historical logic which legitimates the case of Western ‘democratic’ ‘defenders’ (Britain, France, the United States) against German ‘imperialist’ and ‘militarist’ ‘aggressors’ in the Great War. A more balanced judgement would surely recognise the real democratic elements alongside the imperialism in each state’s war-making, even while recognising the differences between them. German social democracy was notoriously mobilised to support the Kaiser, just as its British and French sister-parties supported their governments.

To make this case is not to ignore the important anti-militarist tendencies of democratic movements, particularly liberal- and socialist-internationalist. It is to argue that democracy often had double-edged significance for peace. The triumph of the Western allies in the Great War led to democratic revolutions in Russia, Germany and Italy as well as other states. But within these newly democratised nation-states, democracy was neither stable nor pacific. In Russia, the counter-revolutionary mobilisation by neighbouring states - similar to that after 1789, and whose backers included Western ‘democracies’ - led to a civil war in which the revolutionary democracy of the soviets was quickly extinguished. In Germany and Italy, the new, unstable post-war democratic conditions spawned the Fascist and National-Socialist movements, which glorified militarism.

Fascist movements are perhaps the archetype of the aggressive, anti-democratic militarism, the supreme negative confirmation of the democratic peace hypothesis. We should not forget, then, their exploitation of democratic forms and legitimacy in the seizure of power. Nor should we see the Western democracies as exponents of purely defensive war-making. Only by a historical sleight of hand could we dismiss (for example) the counter-revolutionary violence with which the ‘democratic’ European empires (France, Holland, even Britain) tried to retain their colonial possessions in and after 1945, as defensive.

The point of this polemic is that throughout the emergence, consolidation, heyday and decline of the European nation-state-empires, military violence and culture were structural conditions of democracy. There may be some truth in the idea that the most aggressive empires were least democratic, and that the most democratic were less aggressive. But no safe generalisations can separate democracy and militarism throughout this era. Only a profoundly limited theory and methodology would seek to simplify their complicated linkages in this way.

Moreover in the great crisis of the inter-imperial system, from the First to the Second World War, democracy took on a new significance in state relations. As the great imperial powers moved towards renewed and intensified total war, with much more total control over society, interstate conflict became much more highly ideologised. Nazi Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union were controlled by regimes with (counter-) revolutionary ideologies which denounced parliamentary democracy. Under these conditions, the democratic states mobilised their own populations by intensifying their democratic ideology. Through this process the meaning of democracy came to be understood, first in Britain and then throughout much of the West outside the United States, in terms of socio-economic as well as political rights. There was democratic reform - a social-democratic extension of democracy - as democratic claims became more central to the total-war confrontation and mobilisation.

The democracies were successful in the Second World War, not alone - since they were allied to the Soviet Union - and probably less because they were democratic (although that was a factor) than because, with the American economy behind them, they possessed by far the more powerful war-machine. The claim that this was a victory ‘for democracy’ was meaningful however, since the most extreme anti-democratic model, fascism, was fundamentally defeated and discredited. But even more apparent was that this was a victory for two states, the United States and Soviet Union, above all others and that the secondary victors, such as Britain and France, were subordinate through military and financial dependence if not, as in the case of Japan and Germany, through defeat.

The significance of the embedding of democracy in the Western military alliance became clear in the evolution of this situation into a clear-cut opposition between the two Cold War blocs. The bloc-order was a major evolution beyond the classic state relations of the old national-international world order, since it boiled down the rivalries of numerous major centres of state power to two superpowers and their dependent blocs. It was also a major evolution in that, within the Western bloc at least, alliance spawned integration among nation-states, and the bloc became an increasingly inderdependent single conglomerate of state power (Shaw, 1997b).

State relations underwent fundamental changes. In the Cold War, military mobilisation diminished rapidly and was no longer so extensive (or ‘total’) because of the nuclear transformation of warfare increasingly made the mass army redundant. Mobilisation, so far as it still occurred, was no longer simply national, because of the bloc-system. In these circumstances, while states became horizontally more integrated, they became vertically less integrated. States no longer needed to control economy and society in the same way as they had done in the era of total war.

With shrinking state sectors - even the powerful ‘military-industrial complex’ mobilised a smaller section of the economy and workforce over the decades - came the revival of liberal market economics. Within increasingly integrated Western bloc state-structures, with global reach - and in Europe, a particularly tight form of integration - new state relations developed which provided the framework for the increasingly worldwide, ‘globalised’ economy of the late twentieth century.

The relations of war and democracy in the Cold War flowed from these realities of bloc-competition. Democracy became a line of division and an ideology of the Cold War. The Soviet Union extinguished the transitional democracies of eastern Europe in order the better to control its satellites - as so-called ‘people’s democracies’. The United States developed the Western alliances as a bloc of parliamentary democratic states, notably imposing new democratic constitutions in western Germany and Japan, although some non-democratic states (Turkey, Portugal and Greece) were welcomed as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) so long as their regimes were anti-Communist.

Not surprisingly, democracies in this era did not fight each other. But this was hardly because they were democracies. Rather, they did not fight and were democracies for a common set of reasons: their mutual subordination to the major victor of the war (America) and their common rivalry with the Soviet bloc. As the Cold War period lasted for over forty years, Western-bloc integration developed apace, encompassing many sorts of economic and political as well as military institutionalisation, so that war between the component nation-states became less and less likely. Again, while democracy was a factor in institutionalising this integration, it was hardly the principal independent reason for it.

An ambiguous relationship between democracy, peace and war runs through the Cold War West. Democracy was undoubtedly a mobilising principle in the rivalry with the Soviet bloc. But as such, it was hardly an unambiguously peaceful ideology, since it threatened to lead to nuclear war, including the threat of aggressive ‘first use’. Nor, as Cold War ideology, was it consistently practised even in the Western heartlands. On the contrary, the Cold War was a justification for secret, even authoritarian state institutions and practices, from the McCarthyism of the early years through the continuing machinations of Western security services and the secrecy surrounding nuclear weapons developments.

Even within the Western bloc, as we have noted, openly authoritarian states remained welcome, if generally marginal members. Outside the bloc, in the so-called Third World, Western states and especially the American superpower frequently - indeed generally - backed authoritarian, corrupt and military rulers, including apartheid South Africa, against democratic movements. This cannot, moreover, be represented as a peaceful process. Not only did the internal repression practised by Western-backed states frequently cross the line into civil war. The United States in particular also intervened directly or indirectly by military means to install, support or restore authoritarian rule. European democracies used military power to oppose colonial liberation movements. Western client states - such as Israel - launched numerous wars.

During the Cold War period, therefore, democratic states were hardly unambiguously peaceful in orientation. Moreover, the military conflict with the Soviet Union constrained the quality of democratic culture and institutions within the West, just as it restricted support for democratic movements in the Third World - and even within the Soviet bloc, since the West could hardly give effective support to democratic resistance if that would threaten inter-bloc war.

The Cold War period was a pre-global, transitional period in world order in which there was a major change in state relations. The replacement of the inter-imperial world order, in which a number of major independent centres of state power functioned increasingly more or less as ‘bordered power containers’, by a bloc-order, was a very fundamental change. The democratic structures and ideology of the dominant Western bloc-state undoubtedly conditioned the post-Cold War evolution of state relations in more global and democratic directions. However, during the Cold War, democratic movements within both the Soviet bloc and the Third World - and even social movements for democratic change within the West - often came up against the limits of the democratic Western state.

Democracy in the global revolution

The end of the twentieth century has seen the emergence of several narratives of transition. Most pervasive in the late 1980s was the idea of postmodernity, according to which all historically given forms were in unprecedented flux and relativity. At the end of the decade, and the beginning of the 1990s, this was succeeded (although obviously postmodernist ideas continued to hold much sway) by the idea of a post-Cold War world. By the mid-1990s, this had given way in turn to the idea of globalisation as the dominant narrative. The changing influence of these narratives reflected moments in historical development: the widely diffused cultural sense of oncoming transformation in the 1980s, the dominance of political-military change in and immediately after the tumultuous events of 1989-91, and the pre-eminence of economic and communications changes most recently, as the political dust began to settle.

What is notable about these narratives is that they have tended to emphasise different processes of change (cultural, political-military, economic-communications), and that while the first two are defined in essentially negative terms (‘post-’), only globalisation proposes a new content (the global). On examination, moreover, this content dissolves into largely technical changes (time and space relations), with once again a dominant negative motif (undermining of the nation-state).

It is argued here, in contrast, that the global is not to be understood in this way, and that the current transition should be understood as a fundamental change which encompasses all the processes identified - cultural, political-military and economic-communications. Global means something different from simply world or worldwide, let alone international: globality (this term for the global is defined by Albrow, 1996) is about a fundamental unification or commonality of human social relations. The global transition is a revolutionary change, not just in the loose sense of ‘major’ transition, but in a specific sense of a fundamental change in state relations.

Clearly, the meaning of global change which I am proposing here is very different from that commonly indicated by ‘globalisation’. It differs in three major ways. First, it represents a change in which conscious, purposeful human action plays an important role, rather than the relatively mechanical process indicated by the term globalisation. Second, it is defined very much by political relations, which determine the context of economic and cultural change. Third, it is a set of radical and relatively sharp changes, rather than simply a gradual process. Furthermore, the global revolution differs from previous revolutionary transformations. It is not merely a more or less simultaneous international movement across a number of different nation-states. Rather, it involves a transformation of world order from the national-international order of the last two centuries to an specifically global order.

The global revolution is essentially a development from two major processes of the Cold War era, which I defined above as the final stage of national-international order and which contained many pre-global aspects. First, it is a further transformation of state relations and forms of the Western bloc-state, in the development of distinctively global relations and forms of state power. Second, it is a continuation of the democratic revolution, overcoming many of the constraints which were imposed on it from the Cold War period. These two trends come together to the extent that global state forms are defined in democratic terms, while democratic change increasingly shows a global dimension.

Recognition of the depth of the global revolution is limited because, in this unprecedented worldwide political transformation just as in any revolutionary change, there are many continuities (notably the national and international forms of state power). There are also many conflicts: the change is like every previous revolutionary transformation an uneven, contradictory and contested set of processes, meeting new obstacles which arise from remnants of the old relations and forms. It is also, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, very much an unfinished revolution.

The transformation of state relations and forms in general centres on the processes whereby the Western state-bloc, harnessing the globally legitimate institutions of the United Nations system as well as the wide range of more specifically Western international institutions, has established itself as the effective centre of worldwide state power. Secondary centres of power, notably the successors of the former rival Soviet bloc and the growingly powerful Chinese state, are increasingly but still problematically integrated into a larger, Western-centred conglomerate of state power. Tertiary centres, the major states of all continents and ‘regions’, are also increasingly, but very unevenly integrated. Some states remain largely on the margins: the extreme cases such as Iraq, Libya, Iran, North Korea and Serbia which have come into conflict with the West are defined as ‘rogue’ states, although even in these cases, there is some acceptance of international authority - at least in principle.

This transformation has generated a new name for globally legitimate authority, the ‘international community’, which is applied to the various manifestations of global and Western state power. These, of course, are shifting and variable - ‘polymorphous crystallisations’ of the global state rather in the way that Mann (1993) saw national power as fluid in form. There are two apparently contradictory sides to this legitimation of global state power. On the one hand, there is the assertion of Western and especially American power; the confirmation of the NATO as the dominant international military structure; and the preference of Western leaders for ad hoc alliances such as ‘contact groups’ rather than strong, enhanced permanent international institutions with clear legitimacy. On the other hand, there is the de facto as well as de jure embedding of Western and even American policy - despite the backwoodsmen in Congress - in wider international coalitions, the clear necessity of the United Nations as a legitimate institutional framework for Western power, and the real development of that framework.

Alongside this development of the global state is the unprecedented worldwide democratic revolution. The paradox of this revolution is that, of course, in form it is only partly global, and very largely national and international. As the Soviet bloc and then the Soviet Union itself unravelled from the late 1980s, and especially in the decisive period from the East German, Czechoslovak and Romanian revolutions of late 1989 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many states and republics were reconstituted on a democratic and national basis.

While the disintegrative tendency was clear, so was the integrative tendency. The new states which emerged from the Soviet collapse were mostly not - although some were and others tried to be - nation-states in the sense of effective, autonomous centres of military power. The more advanced and geographically Western of them, especially in east-central Europe, sought immediate membership of the European Union and NATO. Most, including even Russia itself, embraced key elements of Western ideology, worldwide political economy, international institutions and leadership.

Above all, almost without exception they embraced democracy. The democratic transition varied hugely from those states in which there were democratic revolutionary movements, to the many in which the old nomenklatura embraced democratic forms in order to restructure their power. However real or unreal the substance, democratic change was both for people and rulers alike - but often for very different reasons - a means of admission to and recognition by the new Western-dominated global world order.

The post-Cold War democratic revolution has not been confined to the former Soviet bloc. An early signal of it was the 1980s transformation of the majority of Latin American states from authoritarian and military to parliamentary-democratic rule. In the 1990s it has embraced large numbers of states in Africa and Asia. It includes such notable national changes as the ending of apartheid and the establishment of multi-racial democracy in South Africa. The Middle East is the major world-region least touched by this movement, although interestingly the Palestinian authority has been a forerunner of change towards elected authority, and post-revolutionary Iran also has genuine electoral processes.

In all regions democratic change has been linked to an increased if often critical orientation, by popular movements as well as governments, to international institutions and the Western-defined global order. Some major states, above all China, have to date resisted formal democratisation. Nearly all states are involved to a greater or lesser extent, however, in closely-linked global tendencies: no states have been immune to the social changes behind democratisation. It is not easy to envisage, therefore, the long-term exclusion of many states from at least limited or token involvement in democratic reform. There is very considerable momentum behind continuing democratic change, which state elites will find it increasingly hard to resist.

Democratisation is linked to global change particularly because of the new policies of the Western bloc and especially the United States. In the 1980s, after decades of supporting undemocratic regimes and promoting wars in the struggle with their Soviet rivals, Western leaders finally proclaimed democracy and peace to be appropriate worldwide. (Even in the early 1980s, under Reagan and Thatcher, the West was still willing to support or condone authoritarian, anti-democratic regimes and forces so long as they were anti-Soviet - although European governments were not always prepared to go along with these policies.) The conversion of the United States to ‘promoting polyarchy’ (Robinson, 1996) was, therefore, a recognition that popular pressures for democratic change were inevitable in many regions, and an attempt to manage them.

In the 1990s, especially under Clinton, the West has adopted an increasingly clear rhetorical stance of support for democratic change, pulling the rug from under old dictators rather as Gorbachev did from under the Stalinist rulers of some east-central European states. While the United States, especially, often retains close relations with those authoritarian rulers who manage to cling to power, it is usually clear that this is a pragmatic stance which does not pre-empt support for change, as was demonstrated in the Indonesian upheaval of 1998. The European Union, moreover, has reinforced this trend by putting relatively clear democratic conditions on new entrants from east-central Europe.

Related to these trends have been two more clearly globalist democratic developments. On the one hand, democratic social movements for social justice, environmental reform and democracy have emerged, and a ‘global civil society’ has been increasingly recognised by interstate international institutions. The idea of ‘international community’, while primarily understood in interstate terms, has also been broadened increasingly to include such civil society organisations. On the other hand, formal global-democratic institutions have become something more than a dream. The European Parliament has provided the first working model of an elected transnational parliamentary body. This has encouraged the idea of a formally based ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ (as advocated, for example, by Held, 1992).

Democracy in the new relations of war and peace

Following realist (or, for that matter, Marxist) assumptions, we might have expected the Western bloc to disintegrate once the discipline of the Cold War had gone. The post-Cold War years have indeed been ones of heightened economic competition - not only between national economies but between emerging regional economic blocs in Europe, North America and Pacific Asia. Military rivalry has been limited, however, to the disputes between the United States and Britain and France over NATO policy in the Balkans, and with Japan over ‘burden-sharing’ in the Pacific. These are hardly omens of fundamental new military rivalries between nation-states - or between imperialisms.

In the global era, established liberal-democratic states do not fight each other. But once again, it obvious that this is not simply because they are democracies, but because they are embedded in the raft of common Western and global state institutions. Indeed it is not just liberal democracies which do not fight each other: the major non-Western states (Russia, China, India, Brazil, etc.), whether democratic or not, are not likely to fight with the dominant Western powers.

Outside the Western core of global state power, however, national centres are more weakly integrated with its institutional structures, and regional institutions which might inhibit local conflicts are much weaker than they are in the core. In the Cold War era, interstate rivalries between major regional powers - such as between Russia and China, India and Pakistan and China, Indonesia and Malaysia, Iran and Iraq, Israel and the Arab states - led to wars and border incidents. While the integrative tendencies in the emerging global polity, including the democratisation trends, may increasingly inhibit wars, it clearly remains possible that such interstate rivalries will generate new wars.

It is clear that democratisation in itself is not a guarantee of war-avoidance in such conficts. Israel, the only internally democratic state in the Middle East, has also been the most belligerent; Indian democracy has been quite compatible with bellicosity towards Pakistan. Democratic as well as military governments may see war, so long as it can be kept limited and relatively cost-free, as a means of boosting popularity. Thus Yeltsin’s Russia sought a military solution in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, despite the lessons of the late-Soviet failure in Afghanistan. Only in defeat did Russia’s weak democracy penalise the regime for the new disaster, and then not decisively.

Manipulating democracy is the new trade of the old nomenklatura throughout the Soviet bloc, and especially in the successor states of the Soviet Union itself. In the Caucasus and central Asia, from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Georgia, Moldova and Tadjikistan, ruling elites - mostly but not exclusively staffed from the old regime - have won elections while, and through, waging war against neighbouring states or internal minorities. In contemporary democratising states, authoritarian-inclined regimes are likely to use electoral and military processes simultaneously to produce and reproduce their power.

Thus in the new ‘nation-states’ of Serbia (and the rump federal Yugoslavia which it dominates) and Croatia governing elites have used ‘democracy’ to legitimate war and genocide, and war and genocide to legitimate their national authority and electoral success. In both cases, of course, democratisation has been far from complete: particularly in Serbia, electoral rigging has been blatant, while in both states the freedom of opposition parties and media has been drastically restricted. Formal democracy has not seriously impeded war-making, nor war-making weakened electoral legitimation.

Indeed Kaldor (1998) explains how democratic forms have become part of the genocidal process of the ‘new wars’ of the global era. Whether waged by recognised states or by breakaway centres of power, electoral legitimation is actually part of the process of genocide. Knowing that in the global era ‘democratic’ legitimation is the path to international recognition, power-mobilisers seek to create ethnically homogenous territories in which they use identity politics and intimidation to ensure electoral majorities for their rule. Minorities or even majorities who do not fit with the rule which they seek to impose are expelled from their houses and land, villages and towns. While intimidation and low-grade violence often account for much of the process, physical abuse and even large-scale killing are also essential ingredients. After the expulsions - so-called ‘ethnic cleansing’ - elections or referenda confirm the new majority’s exclusive right to the territory.

The acquisition of territory by ethnic exclusion has been supported by ‘democratic’ means in earlier periods, as Michael Mann’s contribution to this collection shows. Hitler’s accession to power on his racist programme was backed by a substantial electoral base. More recently, Israel’s expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian population was legitimated by elections held among an overwhelmingly Jewish electorate: the remaining Arab population was too numerically weak and politically cowed to pose a serious problem to the state’s legitimacy.

In contemporary state-making and annexation, electoral legitimation via universal suffrage has become almost compulsory - no longer an option of convenience for nationalists. Excluded groups cannot be simply disenfranchised. Unless very small minorities in the population, they must, at least, be confined to territories outside the electoral base - on the model of the bantustans in apartheid South Africa. Often they cannot even be tolerated as powerless minorities. Hence the process of homogenisation has frequently been taken to the point at which these groups are virtually wiped from the territory to be annexed. Up to 90 per cent of non-Serbs may have been forced from Serbian-occupied territories in Bosnia in the early 1990s. Abkhazian separatists in Georgia, claiming to represent the less than one fifth of the region’s population who were ethnically Abkhaz, managed to expel the majority in their quest for an ethnically homogenous state.

The contemporary global revolution, while universalising democracy, has therefore generated a counter-revolution which utilises democratic forms. Democracy even becomes a cloak for its antithesis, genocide. Global democratic norms actually generate incentives to those who seek to gain power through war to perpetrate it in a genocidal manner. As interstate war has declined, the dominant forms of warfare have become genocidal, directed - like the Nazi war against the Jews - against unarmed civilian populations. But whereas the Nazi campaign was a sub-text of the interstate war across Europe, in contemporary wars genocide is often the principal form of violence, civilians the prime victims. In the Second World War, civilian victims were still an overall minority. In contemporary wars, they are the vast majority. Thus are democratic principles cruelly inverted in the new wars.

Where ethnic exclusion and genocide take place, they are rarely reversed even through globally-legitimate international interventions. Intervention usually occurs (if at all) after the main phases of war and genocide, not at a point when prevention is possible. Thus large-scale intervention in Bosnia did not take place until 1995, after three years of ‘cleansing’. Serious intervention was avoided in Rwanda even though it was obvious that a relatively small force could have stemmed the mass killings. After the event, United Nations-sponsored (in Bosnia, NATO-organised) forces eventually arrived in both cases, supporting in principle the processes of return of victims and bringing criminals to international justice. All of this was of course far too little and too late, as President Clinton and Secretary-General Annans acknowledged in their apologies to the Rwandan people and government for international inaction. But a similar pattern was still followed in Kosovo in 1998.

Western states - as well as the United Nations Security Council in which less democratic states like Russia and undemocratic states like China have major voices - are often more concerned with the forms of democracy rather than the content. For example, although the Serbian genocide in Bosnia implicated virtually the entire Serbian elite and all forms of state institution, Dayton legitimated Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity produced by the genocide. The West then supported ‘moderate’ Serbian nationalists, led by Biljana Plavsic, former deputy of the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. She was prepared to cooperate with the ‘international community’. The West thus condoned and legitimated this ‘acceptable’ Serbian nationalism by its ethnically-cleansed electorate (only to find in late 1998 that this same electorate ungratefully turned out the West’s client in favour of an unreconstructed nationalist).

Such cases emphasise more than ever the ambiguities in the relationships between democracy, war and peace. The global revolution is doubly unfinished. First, democratic change is only very partially accomplished. In some major states, it has either not developed very far or has been blocked. Even at the beginning of the 1989-91 revolutionary period, democratic change was defeated through military repression in China. Democratic reform in the Soviet Union was pursued hesitantly by Gorbachev, who fatally failed to secure Union-wide electoral legitimation for his reforms. The fragmentation of the Union led by Yeltsin resulted largely in a seizure of power by a new set of semi-authoritarian republican elites, who were mostly wise enough to wrap themselves in the forms of democracy while conceding minimal parliamentary control. Even in central Europe, where there was more content to parliamentary democracy than in the former Soviet Union or former Yugoslavia, some authoritarian trends remained. A balance-sheet of 1989-91 in the former Communist states must conclude that it was a very partial and uneven advance for democratic reform.

Elsewhere in the world, there are similar problems in democratic change. Essentially, there are three specific limitations. Many authoritarian states have still hardly seen significant reform. In many - if not most - of those where reforms have taken place, electoral systems are not underpinned by real institutional or cultural embedding of democracy, so that authoritarianism can often be maintained or recreated in ‘democratic’ guise. Finally, in most states, although civil society has been strengthened, it remains weak compared to in the established democracies, so that it is a poor counterweight to state power.

The second way in which the global revolution remains unfinished is the weak development of globally legitimate authority and institutional frameworks. The United Nations has recovered some of its standing, which was highly compromised during the Cold War, but it is poorly developed as a global authority system. The West, and especially the United States, which remains the real centre of power, refuses to invest resources or authority in legitimate global institutions. There is a deep structural contradiction in a global order which rests not just on national and international forms in general, but so disproportionately on a particular nation-state. United States superiority sustains the deeply embedded national ideology which sees American interests as the arbiter of global change.

The rest of the West, even the rapidly-developing European Union, remains incapable of articulating globalist strategies, institutions and ideologies in a way which can spur the development of a more coherent and legitimate global order. (Although at the end of the 1990s, the world economic crisis and the new ascendancy of social democratic parties in Europe were raising the profile of this agenda a little.) The legitimacy of the Western-United Nations bloc among non-Western elites, and even more populations, is highly variable and problematic. This is not just because of the continuing authoritarianism and nationalism in many states, but also because globally dominant interests and actually existing global institutions offer so very little to most of the world’s people.

In particular, the renewed global institutions remain far too accommodating to states and parties which launch wars. They largely failed to manage the outbreak of new, genocidal wars in the 1990s, and have managed the aftermath in ways which have offered little to victimised populations. The development of international legal institutions, especially the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the proposed permanent International Criminal Court, has been important, but slow and uncertain. (The United States has scandalously refused to cede even minimal authority to the proposed court.) Although there is some evidence that the numbers of wars in Europe and the former Soviet area is declining, with the stalemating of post-Cold War conflicts (Smith, 1998), the progress of global order so far offers little hope of any fundamental advance in the control of violence.

The unfinished character of the global revolution is part of the explanation for the problems more commonly associated with globalisation in the literature. The growing integration of the world economy, especially in sectors like finance and communications, poses new problems of management and regulation which are only partially amenable to the control of national state apparatuses, and which the Western state-bloc and its institutions are too slowly tackling. The failure to recognise that a partially global economy requires correspondingly strong global institutions is another sign of the inability of Western elites to provide leadership to worldwide change, despite their pivotal position in the emergent global order. Instability in the world economy is another factor in the instability of state relations and forms in the new era.

This analysis suggests that the global revolution will only be consolidated when a stronger, more coherent new structure of state relations and forms replaces those of the national-international order which is disintegrating. Further major upheavals are inevitable before the global revolution can be consolidated in anything like a stable order, in which conflict is managed institutionally rather than erupting in widespread violence. In this sense, the contradictory relations of democracy and war are likely to continue to mark the history of the early twenty-first century.

On the one hand, there are forces in global state institutions and civil society which are pushing towards the creation of a genuine, stable democracy both within national units and in expanded global state institutions. On the other, there are powerful forces in national states and societies which will continue to use war to counter this democratic revolution, and who will abuse democratic forms to create and legitimate their power. On the evidence to date, the dominant Western state-bloc and its American centre will continue to vacillate between these contending forces, often much more concerned with their own local interests than with global principles. The demonstration that there is a causal link between democratic government within states and peaceful relations between them may support the reorientation of Western - especially American - foreign policy towards the belated promotion of democracy, but it neatly returns the primary responsibility for a peaceful world order to local state elites. In an era when Western leaders are more willing to talk global and democratic than to commit real resources and effort to the construction of global democratic institutions, this may be a reassuring doctrine.

This is a situation in which the equation of democracy and peace is more a historic promise, which we are beginning to realise through global movements and institutions, than a settled pattern which we can identify with established democratic nation-states and their inter-relations. The given historic pattern, indeed, which continues to this day, is one in which democracy has been implicated too often in war, violence and even genocide. Overcoming this legacy, rather than complacently affirming the superiority of Western democratic states, is the real challenge.



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Table 1.

War and democracy in the national-international era and the global transition

world order period interstate



of warfare






for war


for peace

pre-national era 1648-1793 Westphalian European state-system limited, mainly colonial, wars limited mobilisation capacity pre-national monarchical and imperial democratic movements revolutionary new constitutional orders?
early national-international era 1793-1870 early inter-imperial revolutionary and counter-revolutionary national/ imperial


political mobilisation, but weak economic and social control revolutionary national, pre-democratic imperial state popular nationalism feeds war mobilisation; settlers attack indigenous


origins of liberal-democratic internationalism
high national-international era 1870-1914 high inter-imperial pre-total war - infrastructures created (industrialisation, mobilisation) - limited wars becoming bordered power-containers: growing economic and social control nation-state-empires: semi-democratic core, colonial peripheries growing democracy as infrastructure for nationalist-imperialist mobilisation socialist internationalism
crisis of national-international order 1914-45 politicised inter-imperial total war, including guerilla war: society as target of war, genocidal - world wars statist, emerging total control of economy and society politicised nation-state- empires: democratic vs. totalitarian used to seize power and launch war (totalitarians); war-mobilisation (democracies) victory of democratic allies creates stable democratic order in West
pre-global transitional era


Cold War bloc-system nuclear arms race and worldwide conflict; wars of national liberation, new inter-state and civil wars greater horizontal integration, vertical disintegration - slow loosening of state control bloc-states: Western democratic and Communist; Third World nation-states, democratic and authoritarian Cold War mobilisation; democracies back Third World wars; settler nationalists resist liberation Western bloc internally pacified, but Communist bloc fragments into wars
global revolution and early global age 1989- emergent global order genocidal wars of state disintegration;Western-UN global state vs. ‘rogue’ states and genocidal nationalists increasing interstate integration and regulation, decline of traditional welfarism and planning emergent global democratic UN- legitimated dominance of Western bloc more stable among new democracies slowly integrated into pacified West democratic forms harnessed by nationalist nomenklatura, even genocidists

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