Small and Constrained vs. Large and Insular? The Role of Country Size and the Liberal Peace
Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 13 Sep 2010
Date Written: 2010
Existing conceptions of the liberal peace tend to emphasize the marginal effect of democracy, and assume that democracy has a homogeneous effect, independent of other attributes of states or dyads. We argue that a more meaningful assessment of the potential role of liberalism in international politics must consider net effects, taking into account differences in other features affecting state behavior, and how the effects of liberal factors may differ for small and large states. We show that common mechanisms highlighted in research on the liberal peace are unlikely to apply with equal force to large and small states. Large states are likely to be more insular, with a much higher capacity for unilateral action, and generally less interested in international cooperation. We show empirically that whereas standard liberal peace claims about the effects of democracy may characterize small democracies, large democracies tend to fight much more than the average for non-democracies.
Democracy fails to counteract the conflict proneness of large democracies, even when facing other democratic states. In this light, American exceptionalism may be seen as part of a more general tendency towards unilateralism for large and powerful states, including democracies.
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