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Fishing in the mild West: democratic peace and militarised interstate disputes in the transatlantic community


According to many of its proponents, the proposition that democracies do not fight each other is ‘as close as anything we have to an empirical law’. However, there have been several incidents among solidified liberal democracies where force was threatened or even used. Since these inter-democratic militarised interstate disputes (MIDs) almost always took place in the context of fisheries disputes, we examine two of these conflicts in detail: the cod wars between Iceland and Britain between the 1950s and the 1970s and the turbot war between Canada and Spain. We ask why these fisheries conflicts became militarised in the first place but did not escalate further. In both cases it was actually the presumed impossibility of a more violent escalation which led the parties to use force in the first place. Moreover, the (limited) use of force was almost always accompanied by the efforts of the parties involved to achieve some formalisation of international rules in the context of expanding regimes. Having demonstrated how some of the more prominent causal mechanisms stipulated by democratic peace theorists fail to convincingly account of these cases, we refrain from concluding that any of this falsifies the democratic peace proposition. However, in conclusion we do call into question the premises of the falsificationist methodology underlying much of the democratic peace debate on both theoretical and metholdological grounds. Reframing the democratic peace proposition in terms of a large-scale process of descuritisation, we contend, allows us to understand better how democratic interstate interaction remains inherently conflictive and possibly still subject to process of resecuritisation.

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* For helpful comments and instructive criticism we’d like to thank Rainer Baumann, Lennart Bergfeldt, Christian Büger, Matthias Dembinski, Nils Petter Gleditsch, David Haglund, Andreas Hasenclever, John MacMillan, Harald Müller, Torbjorn Knutsen, Wolfgang Wagner, Ole Wæver, Sascha Werthes and Reinhard Wolf as well as the participants of a PRIF research seminar. For technical assistance we are grateful to Sonja Schirmbeck and Johanna Rehner.

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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