Foreign Affairs Big Mac

What Ukraine means for IR’s weirdest theory, and for the field itself…
In 1996, columnist, international relations scholar and Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas L. Friedman penned an op-ed for the New York Times titled “Foreign Affairs Big Mac.” The column, about 700 words, analyzed a baffling trend he had noticed in international relations: no two countries with a McDonald’s restaurant had ever gone to war. Friedman called it the “Golden Arches” theory of conflict prevention.

The observation was genuinely shocking. Even the most foundational conflict theories of the International Relations (IR) field have long lists of exceptions: Democratic Peace Theory (which posits that democracies tend not to go to war with each other, even though they’re as likely to go to war overall as autocracies,) is case in point, unable to explain the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, or (depending on your definition of democracy) the Sicilian Expedition circa 415 BCE…

The theory admittedly relies on a particular definition of “war” that is admittedly arbitrary, but is nonetheless the IR field’s standard…There are two notable exceptions to the rule. The first is the Kosovo war…Friedman argued in his 1999 book that this exception proved the rule…The other exception is (or will soon be) Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine. At time of writing, casualty numbers are unconfirmed and hard to pin down, but the 1,000-death threshold looks increasingly likely with each passing day.


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