The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Dangerous neighborhoods: Why the ‘Democratic Peace’ may have more to do with geography than democracy

Figure: International Law and Policy Institute (

[Joshua Tucker: One of our regular features here at The Monkey Cage is summaries from political scientists of recently published research. Thanks to a generous collaboration from journal publishers, we have arranged for articles that are featured in this series to be “ungated" and made freely available to the public for a period of time following the post on The Monkey Cage. During this time, you can download (and keep) the article described in the post. So if you are interested in keeping up on recent political science research but do not currently have access to political science journals, these posts can be one way to get access to interesting recent articles.  The current post (begins below the five stars) is from political scientists Doug Gibler of the University of Alabama and Alex Braithwaite of the University of Arizona. They are reporting on research from their recent article “Dangerous Neighbours, Regional Territorial Conflict and the Democratic Peace.", which appears in the current issue of the British Journal of Political Science and will be available for free download through the end of October.]


Democracies do not go to war against each other, and democracies are less likely than other types of regimes to have disputes with each other.  These relationships form the core of what has come to be called the Democratic Peace.  Our article “Dangerous Neighbors, Regional Territorial Conflict, and the Democratic Peace,” demonstrates that this relationship actually has little to do with democracy and everything to do with where on the globe these countries rest.

Alex’s research (see his book here, and articles here and here) has demonstrated that the common method of analyzing “cross-sectional dyadic data” — which is information about pairs of states in successive years, like the United States and Canada in 1946, 1947, 1948, etc. — often produces biased results when examining international conflict.  Our statistical analyses assume that all cases in the sample we analyze are independent, but we know that’s rarely true for international conflict.  Rather, conflicts commonly cluster in specific neighborhoods or regions, and we show that these conflict “hot spots” strongly affect the democratic peace relationship.

Territorial hot spots also provide another way of measuring the border instability that has been important in Doug’s previous research.  His 2007 article found that the relationship between democracies and peace was spurious: border stability leads to both democracy and peace, making the observed relationship between those two variables disappear.  Doug used geographic markers such as mountainous territory and ethnically-divided borders to help identify stability (see also his 2012 book).  However, by changing the identification of stable borders to territorial hot spots, the study presents another means of validating the Territorial Peace argument that stable borders lead to both democracy and peace (see his earlier Monkey Cage posts, here, here, and here) while also correcting for the statistical problems identified in Alex’s work.

In the end we find that controlling for border stability with territorial hot spots eliminates the statistical relationship between pairs of democracies and peace.  We assessed a number of different model specifications of the relationship and only found an effect in one case.  When a region is already peaceful (i.e., absent any hot spots of territorial conflicts), democracies are more likely to be peaceful, but even then the substantive effects are incredibly small.  In short, the peace between democracies seems to be a product of stable neighborhoods.