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When do democracies prefer coups to peace? The cost of domestic-accountability in interdemocratic policy disuputes Bant, Graeme

Abstract

Democratic Peace theorists argue a democracy’s elected-leader will not impose the costs of war upon their citizens out of fear those citizens will retaliate by voting them out of office. This domestic-accountability mechanism (DAM) promotes peace by imposing constraints on elected leaders. However, I argue Democratic Peace theorists have paid insufficient attention to a major implication of the DAM, namely, that for the very same reason an elected leader will not declare war, an elected leader cannot accept domestically-unpopular demands imposed by a more powerful democracy when important policy disputes arise within democratic dyads. In such cases, the DAM which prevents war also facilitates lower-cost conflict such as coups. I examine declassified records from the National Security Archives and the U.S. Department of State Archives pertaining to the British and American coups in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) – two cases Democratic Peace Theory has ill prepared us to understand. I show how the coups were conducted to nullify the DAM in Iran and Guatemala (by replacing elected leaders with dictators), thus paving the way for a dispute settlement more favorable to British and American interests. This study implies that the benefits of democratization are not as significant at lower levels of conflict.

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