Democracies may find it harder to go to war but they do not find it impossible. As Sir Samuel Brittan acknowledges, the human tendency to divide the world into in-groups and out-groups poses a permanent problem. Alexander Hamilton observed “To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties situated in the same neighbourhood, would be disregard the uniform course of human events and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages” (Federalist Paper number 6).
That is why it is necessary to look beyond deterrence and diplomacy and ask what it is that makes it possible for democracies to fight wars against each other in the first place. Lower Saxony and Bavaria, for example, are both democracies and may have disputes but there is no threat of conflict arising between them. The reason is that neither has absolute sovereignty, that is the right to make war. The right to make war is a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.
The member states of the European Union, in their mutual renunciation of absolute sovereignty, are the best contemporary example of how the threat of war can be banished. Perhaps a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize is due to Jean Monnet.
This article was written by Richard Laming, a member of the Executive Committee of Federal Union. He can be contacted at email@example.com. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union. 5 June 2004