Capitalist peace theory (CPT) has gained considerable attention in international relations theory and the conflict literature. Its proponents maintain that a capitalist organization of an economy pacifies states internally and externally. They portray CPT either as a complement to or a substitute for other liberal explanations, such as the democratic peace thesis, but disagree about the facet of capitalism that is supposed to reduce the risk of political violence. Key contributions have identified three main drivers of the capitalist peace phenomenon: the fiscal constraints that a laissez-faire regimen puts on potentially aggressive governments, the mollifying norms that a capitalist organization creates, and the increased ability of capitalist governments to signal their intentions effectively in a confrontation with an adversary. CPT should be based on a narrow definition of capitalism and should scrutinize motives and constraints of the main actors more deeply. Future contributions to the CPT literature should pay close attention to classic theories of capitalism, which all considered individual risk taking and the dramatic changes between booms and busts to be key constitutive features of this form of economic governance. Finally, empirical tests of the proposed causal mechanism should rely on data sets in which capitalists appear as actors and not as “structures.” If the literature takes these objections seriously, CPT could establish itself as central theory of peace and war in two respects: First, it could serve as an antidote to “critical” approaches on the far left or far right that see in capitalism a source of conflict rather than of peace. Second, it could become an important complement to commercial liberalism that stresses the external openness rather than the internal freedoms as an economic cause of peace and that particularly sees trade and foreign direct investment as pacifying forces.
Capitalist Peace Theory: A Critical Appraisal
Cuba in an Age of Economic Reform
Cuba in the second decade of the new millennium remains as interesting as ever, commanding a place on the world stage much greater than its small size would indicate. Fidel Castro passed away in November 2016 after 10 years of retirement from public life, during which time his brother Raúl assumed the leadership of the country and led Cuba through some very important political and economic changes that are still being played out. In 2011, a long delayed Communist Party congress mandated the scaling back of government employment and the re-creation of a services sector of the economy dominated by private economic activity. These market mechanisms have threatened the island’s vaunted egalitarianism but have moved the economy forward after years of stagnation. In 2013 Raúl declared the political reform of a two-term limit on the presidency, and in 2018 Miguel Diaz-Canal, a man in his 50s, assumed the presidency, signaling a shift of political control to a generation born after the revolution triumphed in 1959. The final results of these political and economic reforms, especially in the face of continued hostility from the United States, are not clear, but if they succeed, it will not be the first time that Cuba will be an inspiration to those in the world seeking a successful model of social justice.
Land-Related Conflict and Electoral Politics in Africa
Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.
Military Coups d’État and Their Causes
There have been three waves of scholarship on military coups d’état (or simply “coups”)—the unconstitutional replacement of chief executives by military officers—since the 1960s. The first used case studies to explore why the military overthrows governments. One of its central findings was that military uprisings were an integral part of political succession in many countries. A second wave produced the “aggregate studies” that were the first to deploy cross-national databases to identify the measurable features that distinguished more from less coup-prone political systems. These studies revealed, among other things, that coups proliferated in places with a history of instability. The third and current wave of scholarship takes advantage of the development of statistical software for limited dependent variables—then unavailable, now commonplace—to recast the quantitative research on coups. Two core findings have survived disconfirmation since the start of the third wave. First, higher income countries have fewer coups, though the effects are small (and become even weaker when models only contain developing countries). Second, “political legacy effects” mean that the probability of a coup declines with time since the last military uprising. Much of the latest wave of research pinpoints factors—like coup proofing, less inequality, or the end of the Cold War—that reduce the probability of a coup. The development of ever more sophisticated statistical techniques to divine the causes of instability, nevertheless, relies on off-the-shelf data sets and coup catalogs whose validity—properly understood as accuracy—is questionable. Only a greater attention to accuracy and complementary methods promise to produce a comprehensive account of why the military topples governments in some, but not in other, places.