Beyond mono-theoretical approaches: realism, liberalism and the explanatory crisis in the democratic peace theory
Theoretical accounts in search of explicating the no war phenomenon inherent in the democratic peace proposition continue to permeate the discipline of International Relations (IR) at an imposing rate, giving credence to claims that the democratic peace research programme has obtained a position of pre-eminence within the discipline. Moreover, continued theoretical engagement with the democratic peace has resulted in the steadfast progression in the endorsement and, in some instances, the outright utilisation (read: manipulation) of the democratic peace theory as a panacea for real-world challenges facing Western policy makers. The emphasis on the democracy-peace nexus, grounded in liberal interpretations of the democratic peace, is however inherently problematic as the debate on the democratic peace remains essentially a project-in-process. Explanatory accounts of the democratic peace have thus far proceeded through an ontologically dichotomous framework in which the democratic peace is reduced to either structural or agential (individualist) accounts of (international) social and political outcomes. This has pitted the structural prioritisation embedded within (neo-)realist theory against the patently individualist nature of liberal theories of the democratic peace. Coinciding with this has been a failure of theoreticians on both sides of the theoretical aisle in transcending the domestic-international dichotomy accruing from their theoretical frameworks. This has meant that the theorisation of the democratic peace has failed in a twofold manner. Firstly, and if conceived as a problem peculiar to the agentstructure problem in social theory, the mutual exclusivity of agents and structures, embedded within the theoretical frameworks of liberal and (neo-)realist conceptions of the democratic peace, does not hold. Secondly, the domestic-international dichotomy thus accruing from the ontological positions upheld by these theoretical frameworks has provided little room for an alternative (multileveled) account of social explanation. In an attempt at addressing these shortcomings, this study highlights the need for a conception of social theorisation and, by implication, the democratic peace more attentive to the import of both agents and structures, located at the domestic and international levels respectively. A multitheoretical approach to the theorisation of the democratic peace will be advanced, drawing on both the structural and individualist arguments embedded within (neo-)realist and liberal theories of the democratic peace. This should not be construed as an attempt at arriving at a theoretical synthesis. Such a conception is anathema to the approach to be advanced in this study. By arguing for a conception of social life as inherently complex, this study will further attempt to transcend the theory-universal (context-independent) explanatory accounts derivative of (neo-)realist and liberal conceptions of the democratic peace by pointing towards the import of context to social theorisation and social conduct. The exclusion of context in social theorisation, derivative of a positivist theory of science, is challenged by providing a conception of social theorisation and social conduct as subjected to issues of time and place. Within such a conception of social life stressing the interplay of forces within and across time and space, the notion of a theoretical synthesis cannot but be left by the wayside. The multitheoretical and context-dependent argument to be advanced will be bolstered by probing the peaceinducing forces in Anglo-American relations (1861-1863 and 1895-1896) and Franco-American relations (2002-). Anglo-American relations, 1861-63, focusing on the diplomacy of the Trent affair and beyond, has highlighted the extent to which a multitheoretical approach is theoretically tenable. Similarly, the Anglo-American crisis over the Venezuelan boundary dispute, 1895-96, entailing British appeasement of the United States, was grounded, in part, in an unfavourable distribution of military capabilities on the part of Britain vis-à-vis the United States. However, British appeasement was also grounded in the existence of liberal explanatory forces deeming any war against the (liberal) democratic United States as unacceptable. The theoretical argument postulated will conclude by probing the peace-inducing effects concerned with Franco-American relations in response to the Iraq War. That Franco-American relations were ever in any real danger of erupting into armed conflict (or even war) is, of course, beside the point. The argument, rather, will explicate the nexus between realist and liberal explanatory forces as mitigating factors in preventing the transformation from conflict to war, with the neo-realist emphasis on the peace-inducing effects of nuclear weapons and the comparable effect of liberal values and institutions fixing the range of acceptable outcomes.