The impact of international conflict on democracy
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The relationship between regime type and international conflict has been one of the most prolific research topics in contemporary scholarship of international relations (IR). The research has mainly focused on uncovering the pacifying effect of democracy, which is commonly called democratic peace. However, the reversed thesis of democratic peace, that is, the argument that peace causes democracy rather than vice versa, has been given far less attention despite the monumental implications the theory holds for both theory and policy. In this context, this study aims to examine whether or not, and to what extent, peace causes democracy, or conversely, international conflict undermines democracy. This study purports to demonstrate that, under some conditions, international conflict is likely to have a negative influence on democracy and/or democratic development, arguing that the existing research fails to appropriately specify the conditions under which international conflict has significant influence on democracy. Furthermore, the purpose of the study is to examine the hypothesis that power plays a crucial role as an intervening variable in democratic development because the perception of external threat caused by international conflict is mediated by the power statuses of the states involved. When it comes to empirical analyses, this study employs both statistical and case study methodologies with the aim of enhancing the purview of the analysis. The statistical analyses find: 1) perceived external threat has a negative impact on democracy; 2) involvement in international conflict has negative influence on democracy-particularly for weak and less democratic states; and 3) national defensive power is positively associated with democracy. The findings of the statistical analyses are strengthened by the case study in which the democratization of South Korea is investigated. The examination of the case of South Korea’s democratization shows: 1) the Korean War undermined the democratic development of South Korea by way of intensifying external threat perception among the South Korean people; and 2) South Korea was finally democratized only after it was freed from external threat posed by the North with its improved economic and military capability. From the theoretical standpoint, the current study proposes that research related to democratic peace is incomplete until it takes reversed causation into consideration. This study also suggests that international relations and comparative politics, which have been treated as separate research areas, can be understood as having an important common ground within the study of political science. Specifically, this study suggests that variables related to international security have a significant impact on domestic political processes such as democracy and/or democratization. In this sense, this study supports the “second image reversed” thesis. From a practical standpoint, this study implies that the current U.S. foreign policy centering on “proliferation of democracy” should be brought into question due to the potential side effects that coercive methodologies of democratization may cause for some states.