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Political Competition and the Initiation of International Conflict: A New Perspective on the Institutional Foundations of Democratic Peace




Goldsmith, Benjamin
Semenovich, Dimitri
Sowmya, Arcot
Grgic, Gorana

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Cambridge University Press


Although the empirical pattern of democratic peace is well-established, debate continues over its theoretical explanation. While theory tends to focus on specific institutional or normative characteristics within regimes, empirical studies often test this indirectly, using aggregate measures of types of political regimes as a whole. The analysis in this paper more directly assesses expectations about core characteristics of regime type for the likelihood of interstate conflict initiation. We advance a theory about political competition which leads to expectations that it, rather than political participation or constraining institutions, is the most important source of the observed democratic peace. Specifically, leaders facing a viable opposition are most concerned with forestalling potential criticism of their foreign policies. Initiating conflict with a democracy would leave them vulnerable to opposition criticism on normative and costs-of-war bases. Potential vulnerability to such opposition criticism can be seen as a necessary condition for the operation of mechanisms such as audience costs or public-goods logic proposed by existing theories. We present robust statistical and machine-learning based results for directed dyads in the post-World War II era supporting our argument that high-competition states avoid initiating fights with democracies.






World Politics


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Open Access

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