Preventive War and Democratic Politics

Presidential Address to the International Studies Association
March 1, 2007, Chicago



I define the concept of preventive war, distinguish it from preemption and other sources of better-now-than-later logic, and examine numerous conceptual issues that confound theoretical and empirical analyses of prevention. I then consider the argument that democracies rarely if ever adopt preventive war strategies because such strategies are contrary to the preferences of democratic publics and to the values and identities of democratic states. I examine a number of historical cases of anticipated power shifts by democratic states, and analyze the motivations for war and the mobilization of public support for war. The evidence contradicts both the descriptive proposition that democracies do not adopt preventive war strategies and causal propositions about the constraining effects of democratic institutions and democratic political cultures.