Are some democracies more dangerous than others?
Minnich, Daniel Joel
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Two prominent literatures, the democratic peace and veto player theory, maintain that the democratic use of force is constrained by separated institutions of government and the placement of political actors whose agreement is required for policy decisions. I argue differently, positing that institutional context is the chief dimension along which democracies vary in their international conflict behavior. Reframing conventional veto player theory, I argue that the context in which veto players operate, whether collective or competitive, mediates their impact. In the former, political actors have motive to facilitate, not oppose, the policy process even when they have the opportunity to do so. In the latter, political actors have both the opportunity and motive to block policy change. An argument centered on institutional context refines how scholars think about domestic politics and international relations. In terms of the democratic peace research agenda, for instance, this dissertation elucidates the manner in which domestic institutional variation influences the foreign policy making of democracies. This dissertation also refines how scholars employ veto player theory as an explanation for the impact of domestic politics on aggregate policy outcomes. Veto players, whether institutional or partisan, do not always veto policy. While different institutional configurations produce a varying number of veto players, these veto players do not always constrain the democratic use of force. Results of pooled time-series cross-sectional analyses of twenty-nine democracies in the postwar period indicate that a collective institutional context, represented by weak legislative opposition to the executive and large coalition cabinets, has an enabling effect of the democratic initiation of conflict. Conversely, a competitive institutional context, represented by strong legislative opposition to the executive and smaller ruling coalitions, has a constraining effect. This dissertation concludes that democratic policy outcomes are determined not by any static institutional organization (as postulated by the democratic peace literature), or on any rigid distribution of veto players (as advocated by conventional veto player theory), but on a more dynamic dimension of institution context.