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Russia and Georgia destroy the McDonalds theory of war

Remember the McDonalds theory of war – that two countries advanced enough to have a McDonalds franchise could never go to war? Well, it’s finally been blown out of the water by the Russia-Georgia war of 2008.

McDonalds in Tbilisi, Georgia

Remember the McDonalds theory of war – that two countries advanced enough to have a McDonalds franchise could never go to war?

Well, it’s finally been blown out of the water by the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. Update: 24 February 2022 – and now Russia has disproved it again by invading Ukraine.

What? Georgia has a McDonalds??

Yep.  In February 1999, Georgia became the world’s 103rd country to embrace Ronald McDonald with open arms when a McDonalds restaurant opened in Tbilisi.  It’s pictured here and, if I do say so myself, is probably one of the world’s more attractive McDonalds restaurants.

Russia of course, has long been familiar with Ronald and his seductive ways – McDonalds opened their first Moscow restaurant way back in January 1990, hammering one of the final nails in the Soviet Union’s coffin.

What is the McDonalds theory of war?

Clearly tired of the vague, yet strangely complex theories that international relations theoreticians came up with to try to predict whether or not two countries would go to war, economist Thomas L Friedman took a fresh look at the whole concept.

In his 1996 article, he developed his McDonalds theory of conflict prevention – namely that “no two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other.” Why not?

“…when a country reaches a certain level of economic development, when it has a middle class big enough to support a McDonald’s, it becomes a McDonald’s country, and people in McDonald’s countries don’t like to fight wars; they like to wait in line for burgers.”

Basically, rich countries are civilized.  And war in rich countries is bad for business.

Wait a minute.  Aren’t countries with McDonalds always fighting?

Ronald McDonald's bomb

To say that countries with McDonalds franchises are immune from war is clearly not true – the United States, spiritual home of the Big Mac, is one of the most war-prone countries in the world.

But Friedman is clear that his theory doesn’t apply to wars between one country that has a McDonalds and another that doesn’t.  And not one of the countries that have been squashed by the mighty American military machine has (so far!) had a McDonalds.  The bombing of Kosovo was (technically) not a war, I’m told – it was a conflict between an alliance of countries, and a single country (although admittedly every single country taking part had a McDonalds at the time of the conflict).

Equally, neither do minor border skirmishes by countries like India and Pakistan count, even though they’re both rather partial to a burger.

And, true, there have been plenty of civil wars in countries with McDonalds franchises.  But they don’t count either, says Friedman – because McDonalds franchisees are the ultimate in unscrupulous businessmen:

McDonald’s in Moscow delivered burgers to both sides in the fight between pro-and anti-Yeltsin forces in 1993.

So, there you have it.  While we’re at it, I’d note that the Russia-Georgia war has also dealt yet another blow to the Democratic Peace Theory – assuming, of course, that you class either Russia or Georgia as a functioning democracy.


  • This theory was refuted by events long ago. The first McDonalds opened in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1988, and had over a dozen restaurants operating during the NATO bombing in 1999.

  • Cheers Harry & Tim.

    I’ve amended the post to point out that the war in Yugoslavia was technically a conflict between a group of countries and a single country – tenuous, I know…

    And Friedman deals with the Israel-Lebanon conflict in his article – ongoing wars that started before the introduction of McDonalds don’t count (!).

  • So Mcdonalds Theory of War has been well and truly destroyed, however, the theory holds true when it comes to the glorious and civilized game that is cricket! No Cricketing nation has ever gone to war against another cricketing nation!

  • I’ll start by noting that Indians are partial only to VEGGIE burgers:
    Anyway, this may topple the McD’s theory, but I’m not so convinced it refutes Kant. After all, Russia is definitely not a functioning democracy: Look at the unjustifiable government influence in elections and the stifling of free speech (i.e. killing and exiling journalists and the complete government ownership of Russian TV, the main source of information). As for Georgia, it’s a bit early to tell, but history doesn’t make me very optimistic.
    Alec L

  • Interesting post, Andy.

    The McDonalds theory of war has always been a spurious fantasy bordering on the delusional, as is much of Friedman’s work.

    However, the Democratic Peace theory, if taken to its core, still holds up – I believe an important condition within that theory is that _only_ countries which are _fully-developed and functional democracies_ will not go to war against one another. Neither Russia nor Georgia fulfill that condition.

  • The McDonalds theory, the Democratic Peace theory and the Cricketing Nation Peace theory may lie in tatters, yet the AFL Non-Agression Law still holds strong! No two countries that play Australian Rules Football have ever gone to war with eachother!

  • Hi Gabriel – thanks for your comment!

    Although both countries do have McDonalds at the moment, the first McDonalds in Argentina was opened in 1986, four years after the end of the war.

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