McDonald: Great Powers and the Causes of Peace

Pat McDonald’s article has been accepted for publication in International Organization.

Title: Great Powers, Hierarchy, and Endogenous Regimes: Rethinking the Domestic Causes of Peace

Abstract: This paper blends recent research on hierarchy and democratization to examine the theoretical and empirical costs of treating regime type exogenously in the literature most identified with studying its impact on international politics. It argues that the apparent peace among democratic states that emerges in the aftermath of World War I is not caused by domestic institutional attributes normally associated with democracy. Instead, this peace is an artifact of historically specific great power settlements. These settlements shape subsequent aggregate patterns of military conflict by altering the organizational configuration of the system in three critical ways—by creating new states, by altering hierarchical orders, and by influencing regime type in states. These claims are defended with a series of tests that show first how the statistical relationship between democracy and peace has exhibited substantial variation across great power orders; second, that this statistical relationship breaks down with theoretically motivated research design changes; and third, that great powers foster peace and similar regime types within their hierarchical orders. In short, the relationship between democracy and peace is spurious. The international political order is still built and managed by great powers.