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Democracy and War: Are they Compatible?

In late 2001 the western world went to war against Afghanistan. It is very possible that in 2003 the US, at least, will go to war against Iraq. No country's government has been given an explicit mandate to declare war on Iraq and it is highly unlikely that any referendums will be held. Is this democratic?

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  1. It doesn't seem very practical to hold a referendum, but declaring war is probably the most serious decision a leader can make for their country. It does seem crazy that in the end it comes down to just one person's decision.

  2. Although there won't be a referendum, it is hardly one person's decision. A leader needs at least the backing of their party, even if they don't need it from their public.

  3. One of Bush's election pledges was to build a strong military force. It was hardly likely that he would build it up and then not use it!

  4. A referendum is a ridiculous idea, especially in the case of Iraq. Tony Blair produced a "dossier" of evidence describing Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, but presumably he wasn't able to reveal all he knows for security reasons. It is because declaring war is such an important decision that it should be left up to the people who have all the facts and can see the bigger picture.

  5. I've never heard of a referendum for war before, and I doubt it has a pragmatic application in the case of Iraq. The only justification for war is that it will result in a sustainable peace. 

  6. Re comment 4: A referendum may be impractical, but a convincing case must be made, both to the American public and the world at large. What "security reasons" could be more detrimental than concrete proof of weapons of mass destruction? To abdicate decisions of such importance to "the people who have all the facts" is weak minded and irresponsible. The people must have the facts so they may judge for themselves.

  7. I appreciate that 'argument from authority' is number 2 on your list of Invalid Arguments but I think it is valid in this case. The people cannot be fully informed without compromising sources. And anyway, the development of weapons of mass destruction and the complication of dual use equipment is probably too difficult an issue to inform people by CNN.   

  8. As you also point out in your Invalid Arguments some democracies aren't even allowed to declare war, only armed incursions, pre-emptive strikes etc.

  9. Personally, I believe annual general elections is the only way that democracy can be spread to all nations around the globe. Once THAT occurs there is little chance that any two democratic nations will go to war with each other.

  10. Annual general elections would not only be a huge administrative burden, but it could also lead to drastic policy changes each year as the parties swapped in and out of power. It would exacerbate the problem we have now of politicians only looking as far as the next general election.

  11. Although there wasn't very much public debate regarding the war on Iraq, the senate and house did agree to go to war. Even though, in the Patriot Act, the president no longer needs approval from congress to go to war. Before the Patriot Act, the president did have to have congressional approval before going to war, which would be a referendum of sorts, being that those who would debate it are representatives of the people. I also think that security is a rather undemocratic reason for lack of full disclosure regarding evidence. Democracies die behind closed doors.

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