Fateful Transitions: How Democracies Manage Rising Powers, from the Eve of World War I to China’s Ascendance, Daniel M. Kliman

Reviewed by Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson



Are democratic states better at ensuring peaceful relations between themselves amid large shifts in the distribution of power than nondemocracies? Although the democratic peace research program is well established, its arguments have been only loosely applied to cases of great power rise and decline. Daniel M. Kliman’s provocative new book, Fateful Transitions, seeks to fill the gap.

Kliman’s thesis is straightforward: yes, rising and declining democracies can
more readily ensure peaceful, cooperative relations between themselves than when rising states are nondemocratic because rising democracies can more readily reassure other states over their future behavior. In this telling, rising democracies can successfully convey information about their often benign intentions and, even when intentions are not benign, provide access opportunities for declining democracies to shape their long-term ambitions. Conversely, the closed nature of nondemocratic societies, their opaque decision making, and the absence of domestic checks and balances means that rising nondemocracies are less able to convey information or allow decliners to modify their intentions; the resulting uncertainty primes the system for competition.

Kliman’s work is a valuable contribution to the literature on the strategic choices of rising and declining gre

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