Title: A Rational Theory of Democratic Militarism
Name: Jonathan D. Caverley

Department of Political Science
Northwestern University
Scott Hall, 601 University Place
Evanston, IL 60208
(847) 491-7450

Year: 2007
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: My dissertation, A Rational Theory of Democratic Militarism, challenges previous findings that democracies are risk-averse in the wars they fight, are less threatening to other states, and rarely engage in overexpansion. The major explanation for this exceptionalism is the democratic cost internalization: the people shouldering the burdens of war also hold political power. Focusing on the distribution of costs within a democracy, I argue that the average voter will often find the aggressive use of force appealing because costs can be shifted to a wealthy minority by developing heavily capitalized armed forces.

The dissertation uses newly-collected data on military capital expenditure and capital stock to assess statistically the role of economic inequality in the development of military doctrine. In so doing, it demonstrates that democracies can use the military as a tool for redistribution. The dissertation proceeds to analyze the role redistribution can play in the initiation of militarized coercion, finding that democracies with higher economic inequality or more capital-intensive militaries pursue more instances of militarized compellence. These two factors also result in larger military efforts and flawed military doctrine during wartime.

I then trace the causal mechanism and show the theory's explanatory power through studies of two important cases of puzzling democratic aggressiveness: the expansion of the British Empire after 1867 and the American war in Vietnam.

If, as many historians assert, British defense spending in the late nineteenth century amounted to an imperial subsidy for the Victorian upper class, why did the British Empire grow so aggressively even as the franchise expanded? I argue that as European great power conflict grew increasingly heated, and the average voter increasingly poor, Britain pursued a capital-intensive form of empire-building, parlaying taxes on the relatively wealthy to maintain the necessary military labor required for balance of power politics, security of the homeland, and maintenance of great power status without resorting to conscription.

The chapter on the Vietnam War re-examines the United States relentless pursuit of a flawed, firepower-intensive counterinsurgency strategy in Vietnam despite clear evidence that this was not working. I challenge the dominant explanation for flawed counterinsurgency in the Vietnam War, which blames a myopic military bureaucracy and culture for failing to adapt its conventional doctrine to the conditions in Vietnam. Employing a variety of primary and secondary sources, my study reveals both military myopias limitations and its need to be nested within a theory of civilian leaders and the public that elects them. In doing so, I marshal evidence that, contrary to most histories of the conflict, Lyndon Johnsons administration played a crucial role in rejecting a more labor-intensive COIN approach in favor of a capital- intensive strategy that it understood to be less effective but that reflected the voter cost preferences.

Bibliography: Caverley, Jonathan. Explaining U.S. Military Strategy in Vietnam: Thinking Clearly about Causation. International Security 35, no. 3 (Winter 2011).

Caverley, Jonathan. The Myth of Military Myopia: Democracy, Small Wars, and Vietnam. International Security 34, no. 3 (Winter 2010), pp. 119-157.