The Theory of Democratic Peace and Threat Perception

  • Citation: Farnham, Barbara. "The Theory of Democratic Peace and Threat Perception." International Studies Quarterly 47.3 (2003): 395-415.
    • Topics:
    • IR Theories
    • Keywords:
    • democratic peace
    • threat perception
    • liberal-democratic norms

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s assessment of Hitler as a potential threat to American security in the aftermath of the Munich crisis highlights the role of liberal-democratic norms in shaping the threat perceptions of democratic leaders. A critical factor in Roosevelt’s post-Munich expectation of future trouble for the United States was his judgment that Hitler’s contempt for democratic processes of accommodation forecasted unlimited aims. Since Roosevelt did not link his perception of threat to regime type, however, this episode also calls into question a central tenet of the theory of democratic peace: the notion that democracies invariably harbor a “presumption of enmity” toward nondemocracies. Nevertheless, the Munich case allows us to see which democratic norms do matter in threat perception and establishes that they are not simply the epiphenomena of state interests. Moreover, Roosevelt’s response to the Munich crisis shows that threat can be assessed primarily on the basis of intentions and suggests how democratic predispositions can provide indicators of intent. Finally, in analyzing why some democratic leaders derive diagnostic information about aggressive intentions from such indicators, while others do not, this article explores the connection between different leaders’ perceptions and the foreign policy processes of democratic states.

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