Are democratizing states more likely to be war-prone? In a 2010 article in Security Studies, Evan Braden Montgomery and Stacie L. Pettyjohn answer this question in the affirmative, but not because of the conventional mechanisms detailed by political scientists. In “Democratization, Instability, and War: Israel’s 2006 Conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah,” Montgomery and Pettyjohn argue that Israel’s military campaigns in response to 2006 attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah demonstrate that Palestinian and Lebanese democratization led to Israel’s increased perception of threat. However, this is not because of the conventional argument that democratization led to the rise of elites who strove to use “belligerent nationalism” to increase their popular support. Rather, democratization enabled radical actors, Hamas and Hezbollah, to gain power, increasing Israel’s perception of threat and, thus, military activity.
Both conflicts also occurred between Israel and governments that were weak and societies that were divided, further increasing Israel’s sense of threat.
In each case, Montgomery and Pettyjohn argue that Israel’s military strategy was counterproductive. Israel tried to target Palestinian and Lebanese civilian and economic infrastructure in order to decrease the popularity of Hamas and Hezbollah and to put pressure on the governments to turn against these groups. However, in each case, this strategy backfired, furthering weakening the capability and legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fouad Siniora’s government in Lebanon. While Israel placed an economic embargo on the PA, Hamas was able to continue to function due to its independent sources of funding. And Hezbollah was better able to contribute to Lebanese reconstruction in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War than the government was.
Furthermore, in both cases, Israel’s campaigns added to the polarization of the population, despite Israel’s attempts to encourage support for moderate factions. Palestinian and Lebanese society each divided between those who blamed Hamas and Hezbollah for the destruction caused by the fighting and those who rallied around those groups.
Montgomery and Pettyjohn demonstrate that despite Israel’s intentions, Israel ended up contributing to the very factors that made its perception of threat higher: weaker moderate state actors and strengthened radical groups. This article also demonstrates a dilemma with regards to developing state capacity before processes of democratization. On the one hand, stronger state institutions can prevent the success of radical non-state actors; however, if radical actors are strong they may be able to use stronger government institutions for their own purposes.