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Salience, threat, and mutual recognition in global comparison: implications for generalizability and policy

How far does the analysis of the foreign policy behavior of Middle Eastern monarchies in the postwar period stretch and travel? What insights can we gain beyond the 20th century and early 21st century, the Middle East, and beyond monarchies? And what does it mean for the actual conduct of foreign policy?

Because the logic of monarchic peace is based on developed nation-states that are governed by sovereignty and territorial integrity norms instead of the logic of authority and empire, the framework is not applicable to most periods before 1945. But what about the future, assuming that the trend of decreasing interstate war continues (Malesevic 2014)?

While the theoretical framework was developed for the analysis of war and war avoidance, this study gives some preliminary answers to this question as well. Ingroup dynamics between similar states not only prevent war but also might foster durable cooperation, alliance, and even integration. The overview over the Arab Spring period shows how monarchic solidarity, consisting of mutual support and institutionalization attempts, can play out even if interstate war is not on the horizon. Further patterns connected to monarchic identification might be established in future studies.

Of course, even though interstate war has become almost obsolete in the past decade or so, this does not make the study of war and peace irrelevant. There is roughly one interstate war per decade, and even if that number were to go down, that does not mean that it will disappear completely. Even if interstate war were to be completely replaced by intrastate war, some of the implications of this book might be applicable to the subnational level. This is true for the SIT mechanism: monarchic solidarity will remain highly relevant amid highly sectarianized conflicts, such as those that we can observe in the contemporary Middle East. Even with interstate war gone, interstate conflicts remain. This book shows that specific instruments, like subversion policies vis-à-vis another regime, are linked to an antagonistic foreign policy that does not recognize the other as part of a salient ingroup. Subversion might replace open war making outside of interstate wars, but the mechanism would still apply.

If the phenomenon is not confined to one particular time frame, what about regional bias? To what extent is the monarchic peace relevant only in the Middle East? Clearly the region of the Middle East remains the strongest case for monarchic peace given that it is the only remaining regional system containing a significant number of monarchies. While the initial descriptive statistical overview of the features of interstate war includes other authoritarian monarchies as well, they are mostly too few and dispersed to warrant any sweeping conclusions. However, core findings might be replicated in other regions and time periods.

Some regional concentrations of monarchies can be found at different times in the past, such as between Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in their jointly monarchic period or between Swaziland and Lesotho (before the latter democratized). Outside the World War II scope, some periods of monarchic peace thrived under the right conditions. Kelly’s Confucian peace between China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam in 1644-1839 (2012) might be such an example of a monarchic peace among culturally similar political entities. The dwindling number of monarchies between the world wars in Europa might also provide a fertile ground for where monarchic salience might have been high enough to become a politically relevant driver of foreign policy. Stronger tests of the monarchic peace can look at the relations of monarchies that straddle cultural or linguistic regions apart from Iranian-Arab relations, like Afghanistan and Iran before 1973 or Ethiopia and possible Saudi Arabia or Yemen until 1974.

One major factor that might obstruct the traveling of the concept to another region and possibly time is ideology. As the comparative case studies established, the salience of monarchism highly depends on factors that are not intrinsically tied to monarchic institutions, such as the absence of a divisive hierarchical ideology. Obviously, ideology was never confined to the Middle East, but it has historically been a region where it had a particularly strong impact on regional politics (cf. Telhami and Barnett 2002). Middle East monarchies by design and for reasons of regime security were less affected by transnational and rigorous ideologies, but that might not necessarily be the case for monarchies in other regions and time periods.

Because the MP is merely a subtype of the SPSP, the framework does not have to be confined to other monarchies at all: it can be applied to other types of similar political systems. A main strength of the SIT mechanism is that it is general enough to be applicable to any group of states with similar political systems, be they different sorts of monarchies or other types of states altogether, like democracies or military juntas.

Apart from empirical and theoretical implications, the patterns of the MP matter for makers of foreign policy. First, the refocusing of the DP as part of an SPSP further buries the ill-fated notion of peace through democratization. Although previous studies have already pointed to the destabilizing effect of democratization, mostly because of the heightened risk of conflict in the transitional period from autocracy to democracy (Cederman, Hug, and Wenger 2008; Mansfield and Snyder 1995), this has still left the possibility open that it is worth the risk once the transition has finished (Ward and Gleditsch 1998). If, however, it is not democracies but rather similar systems in general that are peaceful toward each other, democratizing individual members of the community might lead to conflict in regions where interstate war has been nonexistent, thereby disrupting regional stability instead of fostering it - even in the long run. Also, a regime change or transition lowers the number of monarchies (or other types of similar systems), which heightens the salience of the pre-existing ingroup. Because this might induce a feeling of threat, it would strengthen opposition to regime change and liberalization, because such moves could lead to further destabilization. However, this destabilization potential must still be weighed carefully against the potential benefits of democratization or liberalization for intrastate peace and prosperity.

In addition, the findings emphasize once again the necessity for broad and diverse channels of communication between political elites in order to foster regularized interaction that leads to familiarity and trust and thereby more cooperative relations. While institutionalists see institutions as information hubs that reduce complexity, this analysis showed how institutions function as community hubs and facilitators of ingroup identification. In contrast to many institutionalist accounts, the SIT narrative emphasized that the best international institutions for that purpose are small and intimate.

It is easy to overlook the handful of hereditary regimes that have clung to power until today. But monarchies, it seems, are far from being “an anachronism in the modern world of nations” (Hudson 1977, 166). Instead, the focus on monarchies can serve to uncover broad and meaningful patterns of interstate relations that might have been neglected but that could easily become relevant to our understanding of many other regions and types of states.

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