Democratic Peace in South Asia?

  • Christian Wagner (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The problems and prospects of democratic peace have attracted both scholars of international relations and policy makers in recent years. The main argument is that the promotion of democracy will lower the probability of war because democracies have not yet gone to war against each other. The promotion of democratic governance therefore became one of the cornerstones of the foreign policies in both the U.S. and the member countries of the European Union (EU) in the 1990s. South Asia can surely be regarded as a region where the benefits of democratic peace would be more than desirable. South Asia’s image as a region of chronic instability was only to be seconded by U.S. President Clinton’s remarks in March 2000 that the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir is the ‘most dangerous place in the world’. The events following September 11 and the growing tensions between India and Pakistan after the attacks of Islamic militants on the Indian parliament in December 2001 have again increased the probability of a nuclear war in this part of the world. But the overall picture of the region is more complex. Besides the well-known conventional and nuclear security risks, South Asia is also among the poorest and least developed regions in the world according to international social and economic indicators. Despite these developments there are remarkable traditions of democratic rule at the same time. During most of the 1990s, South Asia was the biggest democratic region after the transition from authoritarian rule in Pakistan (1988), Nepal (1990) and Bangladesh (1990). Moreover, South Asia is the only region where western political institutions go hand in hand with a variety of non-western civilisations and where religion plays an active role in current politics. The only forms of Hindu and Islamic democracies are to be found in Nepal and Bangladesh, and Buddhism received a foremost place in the Sri Lanka constitution. In contrast to other Asian regions there is a strong commitment by South Asian countries to follow the development model that is included in the democratic peace debate. There is a great consensus for democracy and economic liberalisation. The constitutions of South Asian countries promote individual rights in contrast to community rights that created the debate on “Asian values” in parts of East and Southeast Asia some years ago. The ambivalent picture of conflict, poverty, and democracy offers an interesting test case for the theoretical assumptions of the democratic peace debate. In how far have periods of democratic governance on the domestic level as well as on the bilateral level brought about greater periods of peace as suggested by the theoretical debate? Will widespread democratisation and economic interdependence improve the prospects for peace and stability in the region? In order to address the problems and prospects of the democratic peace argument in South Asia, I will first give a short overview about the theoretical argument. In the second part, I will look at the domestic situation, the bilateral relations at the regional level and the role of economic interdependence and international institutions. Finally, I will draw conclusions about the applicability of the democratic peace argument for South Asia.


South Asia, Democracy, International Relations, Peace Research