International Politics by Ordinary Means: Conscription's Constraining Effect on Democracies Waging War

Doctoral Dissertation


In this dissertation, I examine whether democracies with conscript militaries (conscript democracies) experience greater constraints during military conflict than democracies relying on volunteers (volunteer democracies). I argue that the more socially representative nature of conscript armies compared to volunteer armies restrains democracies’ ability to wage war. This position coincides with arguments advanced by some scholars of the democratic peace (flowing from the work of Immanuel Kant) or the Vietnam War. However, it has rarely been tested, and never before using a cross-national statistical research design or with longitudinal case studies as I do.

From this theory, I generate hypotheses that I test using quantitative and qualitative methods. I use a statistical approach to test my hypothesis that conscript democracies experience fewer military casualties during militarized interstate disputes than volunteer democracies. This hypothesis assumes that as the numbers of conscripts increase in the armies of democracies, then democracies will act to end militarized disputes earlier before the number of military casualties increase.

This hypothesis also assumes that with more conscripts in uniform, the political leaders of democracies are more sensitive to domestic political pressure requiring them to minimize casualties. Since this dependent variable is process oriented (as opposed to military casualty figures, which are outcome oriented), I test this hypothesis with longitudinal case studies of Great Britain and Australia and President Richard Nixon’s prosecution of the Vietnam War. In the British cases, I compare that state’s involvement in the Korean War using conscripts with its use of volunteers during the Falklands War, while also examining the Defence White Paper of 1957, which ended British national service (conscription). In the Australian cases, I compare that state’s participation in World War I with volunteers to its use of conscripts during the Vietnam War.

From this research, the clearest conclusion is that conscript democracies experience fewer military casualties than volunteer democracies. In terms of the case studies, the Australian and American cases offer very strong qualitative support for several of my hypotheses. The British cases offer only generally mixed support for my hypotheses, because it is difficult to completely discount the role of alternative explanations in those cases.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04152009-230025

Author Joseph Paul Vasquez, III
Advisor Michael Coppedge
Contributor Michael Coppedge , Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Political Science
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2008-10-16

Submission Date 2009-04-15
  • United States of America

  • Australia

  • manpower

  • combat deaths

  • casualty

  • democracy

  • civil-military relations

  • Vietnam

  • Britain

  • casualties

  • professional

  • conscription

  • conflict

  • volunteer

  • militarized interstate disputes

  • democratic peace

  • draft

  • military sociology

  • Kant

  • national service

  • military

  • class

  • Falkland

  • Nixon

  • World War I

  • Korea

  • armies

  • war

  • soldiers

  • conscript

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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