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Ethnic Conflict.docx

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McGill University
Political Science
POLI 244
Mahesh Shankar

TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2012: The IR of Human Rights and Ethnic Conflict  Interstate wars still exist, but are more rare than they were in the time of the World Wars. Conflict is still endemic, even when war does not break out (and as a result, there are economic drawbacks, less resources to countries, etc.)  The UN and other laws have had a focus on inter-state relations and conflict (ex. NPT), but intra-state wars are increasingly the greatest source of conflict.  Just as wars between states appear to have decreased, the amount of war within states has increased a great deal (ex. Rwandan genocide, Sudanese genocide, the former Yugoslavia, Serbians vs. Kosovars, Burma). Not all of these involve civil war, but they are still extremely costly in terms of losses of life.  Recent civil wars have centered around authoritarian leaders trying to hold onto power (ex. Egypt, Libya, Syria).  Norms of sovereignty, rules of war, etc. were built when inter-state conflict was the biggest concern, but they are problematic in the world we live in that is now characterized by increasing instances of intra-state war.  Ethnic conflicts are “disputes about “important political, economic, social, cultural, or territorial issues between two or more ethnic communities.”  Ethnic groups can be identified based on group name (easily identifiable to each other and others), common ancestry, shared myths/histories, shared culture, or their attachment to a specific territory. Schools of thought on ethnic conflict:  Primordialism sees group conflict as inevitable. Conflict is a result of the fact that differentiated groups exist in the first place. People are naturally born ethno-centric and people automatically differentiate from others. The result is conflict with groups they see as “the other.” For plural societies, conflict is inevitable. They believe there is nothing you can do about ethnic conflict because people believe so strongly in their ethnicity that living together becomes impossible (ex. Hutus and Tutsis were destined to kill each other). If this is true, all plural societies should be falling apart (ex. Canada should see as much conflict as other parts of the world).  Instrumentalism believed Primordialism is insufficient and can’t explain variation in why conflict occurs in some places and not others. Instrumentalists believe we must look at politics and leaders, who are the ones who make ethnic conflict possible by using ethnicity as a basis for mobilizing people. Others suggest that there are very rational material grievances (political, institutional, social, economic factors) that are picked up by leaders to mobilize along ethnic lines, which causes the ethnic conflict. An example is when the minority has more control than the majority (ex. Syria, Iraq), and it is institutionalized through things like electoral rules. "Ethnic Outbidding" is also an issue, whereby competition to attract popular support leads political actors to try appear the most supportive of ethnic claims, which causes an almost inevitable spiral toward conflict with other ethnic groups. ex) In Sri Lanka, the ethnic war began based on linguistic issues, because the British made English the official language, but the minority Tamils got better English education than the majority Sinhalese. This meant that at independence, the Tamils were put in charge and dominated economics. When the majority got control, they created laws making their language official, putting the Tamils at a huge disadvantage. ex) A minority province not getting their fair share of resources—in Indonesia there is a resource rich province, Ache, but the central government in Jakarta exploits this and does not reinvest the resources in Ache, which remains poor and undeveloped. This led to a violent separatist movement.  Constructivism believes that ethnicity is not always the primary identity, and identities can change. It is opposed to Primordialism. Identities can sometimes be cooperative and not conflictive, and conflict would not be a result. Constructivism is interested in how these identities become salient. They emphasize that once they are concretized through practice and subjective understandings, the identities can become internalized. But none of this is permanent. Ethnic groups are not destined to hate and fight each other just because their identities and understanding of the other are strong. ex) The case of the Hutus and Tutsis—these groups did not exist and view each other as different until the Belgian colonial rule. They were distinguished from each other arbitrarily, and this distinction was eventually codified. ex) Differences between Hindus and Muslims in India were not prominent until the British created them.  These groups are in close proximity, and the state as an impartial authority often keeps the groups form fighting with each other. The state could help them resolve the dispute. In some cases, the state is unable to do anything about the conflict because it is weak (without the material resources or the expertise). More frequently, the problem is that the leaders of the state itself belong to one ethnic group. If the state is too weak or a member of one group, it creates an anarchic self-help system that mirrors the international level. It also creates the security dilemma, and the security dilemma is a permissive condition for ethnic conflict. The existence of a security dilemma creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.  How can ethnic conflict be dealt with and resolved?  Partition is the most controversial solution—if conflict is irresolvable, why try to keep the people together? (ex. India-Pakistan, Cyprus, Israel-Palestine, Ireland). They argue mutual fears and tensions are high, and when people are intermixed this will create high levels of violence. The result will be the decimation of minority population in areas, which is natural separation. The argument is that instead of waiting until they natural separate through killing each other, you can impose the separation and prevent the death. The problem with this argument is that it’s very simplistic, and it leaves very little room for any possibility of reconciliation or political solutions. It disregards the possibility that separation might raise a whole new set of problem—it could just convert the internal conflict into an international one.  Instrumentalists are more optimistic about resolution—it is about the distribution of resources. They see consociationalism as the best option. This is an arrangement for a democratic system with broad power sharing between ethnic groups (ex. autonomy, veto, proportional resources). This system works on the assumption that given the right circumstances there is no reason why ethnic groups cannot cooperate. The challenge with this form of government is the design of such a system and getting various parties to agree to participate in this system and adhere to their commitments. It may not work well in practice unless the groups want to cooperate. ex) Lebanon uses this system, but it often falls apart when a group doesn’t follow through or backs out of
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