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Covert Operations, Wars, Detainee Destinations, and the Psychology of Democratic Peace

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Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


We explore US covert forcible actions against democratic governments and their citizens and show that interdemocratic use of covert force is common and can be accommodated within the theory of democratic peace. Grounded in the Perceptual Theory of Legitimacy, we argue that democracies are constrained by public perceptions of their legitimacy from overtly aggressing against other democratic states. When democracies desire to aggress against their democratic counterparts, they will do so covertly. We test the assumptions of the theory and its implication with (1) laboratory studies of the conflation of democracy with ally status and (2) historical analyses of covert militarized actions and prisoner detention, which show that US forcible actions, when carried out against democracies and their citizens, are carried out clandestinely.