We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Reliable Partners

How Democracies Have Made a Separate Peace

Charles Lipson

Publication Year: 2013

Democracies often go to war but almost never against each other. Indeed, "the democratic peace" has become a catchphrase among scholars and even U.S. Presidents. But why do democracies avoid fighting each other? Reliable Partners offers the first systematic and definitive explanation. Examining decades of research and speculation on the subject and testing this against the history of relations between democracies over the last two centuries, Charles Lipson concludes that constitutional democracies have a "contracting advantage"--a unique ability to settle conflicts with each other by durable agreements. In so doing he forcefully counters realist claims that a regime's character is irrelevant to war and peace. Lipson argues that because democracies are confident their bargains will stick, they can negotiate effective settlements with each other rather than incur the great costs of war.

Why are democracies more reliable partners? Because their politics are uniquely open to outside scrutiny and facilitate long-term commitments. They cannot easily bluff, deceive, or launch surprise attacks. While this transparency weakens their bargaining position, it also makes their promises more credible--and more durable, for democracies are generally stable. Their leaders are constrained by constitutional rules, independent officials, and the political costs of abandoning public commitments. All this allows for solid bargains between democracies. When democracies contemplate breaking their agreements, their open debate gives partners advance notice and a chance to protect themselves. Hence agreements among democracies are less risky than those with nondemocratic states. Setting rigorous analysis in friendly, vigorous prose, Reliable Partners resolves longstanding questions about the democratic peace and highlights important new findings about democracies in world politics, from rivalries to alliances. Above all, it shows conclusively that democracies are uniquely adapted to seal enduring bargains with each other and thus avoid the blight of war.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (28.5 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (27.8 KB)
pp. vii-viii

List of Tables and Figures

pdf iconDownload PDF (27.1 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (27.5 KB)
pp. xi-xii

My thanks go to friends and colleagues who have aided me throughout this project. Some commented on portions of the manuscript, others answered specific questions, and still others debated their views with me. My largest debt is to scholars at the University of Chicago, past and present. ...

read more

1. The Argument in a Nutshell

pdf iconDownload PDF (104.0 KB)
pp. 1-16

Democracies almost never fight wars against each other. This simple observation is one of the most powerful findings in international politics and one of the most throughly tested. But what explains it? The answer, I think, is that democracies have unique “contracting advantages,” which allow them to build stable, peaceful relations, based on multiple self-enforcing bargains. ...

read more

2. Is There Really Peace among Democracies?

pdf iconDownload PDF (126.6 KB)
pp. 17-46

Before trying to explain what causes the democratic peace, we need to be confident it is real. Democracies do seem to fight less frequently, but we need to know if the difference is statistically meaningful and can withstand the scrutiny of detailed case studies. That is no simple matter. ...

read more

3. A Contracting Theory of the Democratic Peace and Its Alternatives

pdf iconDownload PDF (129.1 KB)
pp. 47-76

The last chapter showed that the democratic peace is real. This chapter sets out a simple theory to explain it, based on constitutional democracies’ superior ability to forge reliable bargains with each other. We will then compare the contracting theory to other major approaches. ...

read more

4. Why Democratic Bargains Are Reliable: Constitutions, Open Politics, and the Electorate

pdf iconDownload PDF (142.8 KB)
pp. 77-111

These procedures make democracies more trustworthy and allow partners to gauge the depth of support for policies and promises on a continuous basis. They can see the strength and character of opposition and can reasonably judge the chances that opponents will come to power. ...

read more

5. Leadership Succession as a Cause of War: The Structural Advantage of Democracies

pdf iconDownload PDF (114.7 KB)
pp. 112-138

The last chapter dealt with all four sources of the democratic contracting advantage: transparency, audience costs, constitutionalism, and continuity of regimes. This chapter continues the examination of regime continuity, focusing on leadership succession. Succession crises are a frequent source of wars. ...

read more

6. Extending the Argument: Implications of Secure Contracting among Constitutional Democracies

pdf iconDownload PDF (133.0 KB)
pp. 139-168

Now that we have examined the contracting advantages of democracies, we want to see if the theory does more than explain the democratic peace. A robust theory should offer insights into a range of related phenomena. Looking beyond the questions of war and militarized conflict, we want to see what else our contracting theory predicts and then check these predictions against established research findings. ...

read more

7. Conclusion: Reliable Partners and Reliable Peace

pdf iconDownload PDF (114.0 KB)
pp. 169-190

Let’s quickly review where we stand and then consider larger issues. The starting point for this study, and for so many others, is a striking correlation: when two countries are democracies, they very seldom fight wars against each other. The first task is to see whether this relationship might be mere coincidence or the product of unrelated factors. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (268.9 KB)
pp. 191-248


pdf iconDownload PDF (724.2 KB)
pp. 249-260

E-ISBN-13: 9781400850723
E-ISBN-10: 140085072X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691122779
Print-ISBN-10: 0691122776

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Course Book